Doug Farrar of Bleacher Report's NFL1000 compiled a list of the best defensive schemes in the NFL, and both the former and current defensive coordinators of the Los Angeles Rams make the list.
Coming in at #9 is Gregg Williams’ Dime Defense:
Throughout his career as a generally effective and sometimes controversial defensive coordinator, Gregg Williams has relied on multiple schemes. But one that has defined his recent tenures with the St. Louis/Los Angeles Rams and the New Orleans Saints before that is the use of dime defense as a base defense with a movable safety/linebacker as the fulcrum on which the dime coverage can turn into nickel quickly.
He did this with Roman Harper in New Orleans, and with Mark Barron on the Rams. Now that he’s the Browns’ defensive coordinator, he’ll no doubt use former Michigan safety Jabrill Peppers, one of the team’s three first-round draft picks, in that role.
When I analyzed Peppers’ tape in April, I saw a player who could do everything from playing outside and slot cornerback, to aligning as a deep safety, to coming down to help stop the run at linebacker depth. With his skill set, it was going to be a matter of a team deciding Peppers fit in their defense. The second the Browns took him with the 25th overall pick, I knew Peppers had found his niche.
Much like Barron did in Williams’ defense, Peppers will likely be tasked with reading the running backs pre-snap, only to break off and cover a tight end based on the offensive formation. And at linebacker depth, Peppers could also blitz, or back off into deep coverage.
Williams has said there’s more Buddy Ryan than anyone else in what he does, which would lead you to believe he’s a blitz-heavy coach with an eye on bringing as much pressure as possible. That’s changed to a large degree, as Williams has accepted and adjusted to the fact that the NFL is now a matchup league. It’s more about spacing your defenders against the pass than it is rushing the passer with basic coverage behind.
From his dime defenses, Williams can call all the safety blitzes and inverted coverages he’s always preferred, but make no mistake: The defensive backs rule the roost in the defenses he calls now.
Interesting to say the least.
Though at times the Rams defense could be ineffective, specifically at the end of games, there were times where they also looked downright dominant. Williams should have some fun pieces to work with in Cleveland.
Now, coming in at the #1 (!) ranked scheme is Wade Phillips One-Gap 3-4 defense:
Wade Phillips got most of his defensive concepts from his father, Bum, a longtime NFL head coach and defensive genius.
Bum tried to bring the 3-4 to the American Football League in the late 1960s with the San Diego Chargers, but head coach Sid Gillman wasn’t having it, so Bum had to wait until he got the Houston Oilers’ head coaching job in 1975. Once there, Bum’s one-gap 3-4 defense became a highly effective strategy, and Wade—who started in the league as his dad’s linebackers coach in 1976—has taken his father’s philosophies and perfected them.
Wade has been a defensive coordinator in several NFL cities since 1981, and through his last few stops in San Diego, Dallas, Houston and Denver, his defenses have alternated between a 3-4 base and a four-man nickel rush with great effectiveness. He’ll be the Los Angeles Rams’ defensive mastermind in 2017, and the extent to which he’ll be able to take the Rams’ 4-3 personnel and excel should prove to any naysayers that in his case, the base 3-4 isn’t what you think it is.
Most 3-4 defenses alternate between two-gap fronts in which linemen are directed to react to offensive movement, or hybrid fronts in which one- and two-gap concepts merge together. However, Wade’s base defense brings 3-4 personnel—three defensive linemen, two inside linebackers and two outside linebackers—with an aggressive attack mentality. Phillips prefers lighter nose tackles and bigger ends, with outside linebackers optimized to rush the passer.
So, if there are concerns that Phillips is going to turn the great Aaron Donald into a passive two-gap tackle, or Robert Quinn into a reactive run-stopping end, there shouldn’t be.
"If he can’t fit in, you’re doing the wrong thing," Phillips said about Donald in February, per Myles Simmons of the team’s official site. "He can probably fit into any defense. We’re going to try to get him one-on-one as much as we can — no matter what he’s playing. No matter where he’s lining up, we’re going to try to get him one-on-one because he can beat people one-on-one. So that’s what we have to do as far as our scheme’s concerned, is utilize a guy like him — put him in position to make the plays he can make."
The one-gap base 3-4 should see Donald penetrating at both nose tackle and outside tackle, and he’ll have a more traditional four-man role when the Rams move to their nickel package. But wherever Phillips lines up his players, history tells us they’ll be in their best positions to succeed.
That should appeal to all Rams fans.
Wade Phillips has annually been a terrific DC, and far more often than not he turns defenses that once struggled into top units. With the bevy of talent the Rams have on defense, we’re all hoping and expecting that Phillips can once again work his magic, and potentially even turn this defense into a top 5 - or better - unit.