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Is it time for the Los Angeles Rams to consider playing ILB Micah Kiser?

It’s time to at least consider a change at ILB with the duo of Cory Littleton and Mark Barron struggling.

Green Bay Packers v Los Angeles Rams Photo by John McCoy/Getty Images

The Los Angeles Rams are having the exact season they envisioned when they exploded on the scene making one crazy move after the next in the offseason. Sitting at 10-1, the Rams are in firm control of the NFC West, the NFC Conference, and have a legit shot to ensure not only a playoff bye week, but that the road to the NFC’s side of the Superbowl will have to go through Los Angeles.

Now, you might ask, why would the Rams make any changes if what you just said was true?

And I definitely understand that angle. Even with the Rams’ struggling run defense, they’re 10-1 with a loss coming against the New Orleans Saints that had way more to do with struggles against the pass against the run.

But hear me out.

The Rams are 31st in the league allowing 5.2 yards per carry to opposing running backs. They are 21st in the league at allowing 119.9 rushing yards per game. The run defense as a whole comes in at 28th per Football Outsiders DVOA metric. The numbers obviously aren’t pretty, but they could potentially be worse had the Rams not been in major leads against certain teams.

When it comes to looking at why they’re struggling, I generally believe it has more to do with the ILB duo of Cory Littleton and Mark Barron as opposed to the defensive lineman or outside linebackers. Now, let me preface by saying this: It’s not that everyone has played the run tremendously and two guys are the scapegoats to dragging the entire unit down, but they’ve played a central role when it comes to the struggles in run defense. Barron started the season on the sidelines as he nursed an injury that kept him out for four weeks and that could very well have something to do with his play thus far. He simply hasn’t looked like the same Mark Barron we’ve come accustomed to. The one who had sideline-to-sideline speed, excelled in coverage, played physical and tough, and stuck his nose in gaps even when his size told us he had no business being in there. As a duo, Barron and Littleton are missing far too many tackles, and with neither being a “true” inside linebacker (Barron a converted safety, Littleton a converted edge) their lack of instincts shows.


Diving deeper into the two, it’s widely speculated that Barron wont be a Ram after this season. Barron initially took a pay cut to begin this season which was likely the reason they kept him around, but his cap hit next season is at a grand $9.6m with only a $2m penalty. The following year is also at $9.6m with only a $1m penalty. Those numbers represent the sixth highest paid ILB in the league on an average per year (APY) case.

Littleton is in the last year of his contract at only $635k but is a restricted free agent (RFA) next season. That means the Rams essentially can choose to do whatever they want with him next year and my money says he gets tendered at a decent level (2nd rounder or 1st) and he returns.


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On this snap, Littleton is left at ILB and has the responsibility for Kansas City Chiefs RB Kareem Hunt. He essentially has a free chance at Hunt and completely misses the tackle which turns into a huge gain.

Here’s another missed tackle completely untouched by Littleton:

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There are many instances of both guys missing tackles, and off the top of my head at least one bad blunder in coverage by Barron against 49ers TE George Kittle that went for a large gain.

What’s next

Is it time to give fifth-round pick ILB Micah Kiser some playing time? Kiser is known to be a very smart, instinctive, downhill and physical linebacker. At 6’0” and 244 lbs, Kiser has the size and profile of a true inside linebacker who has the strength to bang with offensive lineman for four quarters.

In the preseason, Kiser racked up 26 total tackles in four games as well as two pass deflections. Now, is Kiser going to suddenly step in and save the Rams’ run defense? No, probably not. But he can inspire the defense to play better, he can offer solid ability to tackle, he’s a tremendous blitzer as evidenced by his 19 college sacks, and can even be spelled on third downs by Barron if he becomes a liability in coverage. Also, the Rams are slated to face the Lions, Cardinals, and 49ers in 3/5 of their last games. If there’s a time to experience something different, see if you have an immediate upgrade in Kiser, or just see what you have for the future, the time would be now.

Rookie linebackers

Darius Leonard: 114 tackles, 6 sacks, 4 forced fumbles, 1 INT

Leighton Vander Esch: 102 tackles, 2 INT’s

Fred Warner: 84 tackles, 1 forced fumble

Roquan Smith: 81 tackles, 4 sacks

Tremaine Edmunds: 78 tackles, 1 sack, 2 forced fumbles

Ironically, rookie linebacker play across the league is outstanding right now. Darius Leonard (who they call Maniac) and Leighton Vander Esch (LVE) lead the NFL as both are in the top-2 in tackles, and both are playing at an all-pro level. Warner has been outstanding as a third-round pick and Smith and Edmunds have shown flashes of play that prove why they were early first-round selections.

I’m not saying the linebacker duo is fully to blame for the Rams’ struggles in run defense necessarily, because they’re not. The defense has still made enough plays to secure 10 wins (well, with the offense doing almost all of the heavy lifting). But, if there is a possibility at an upgrade — and if it isn’t, you can always simply go back to the duo of Barron/Littleton — isn’t it worth exploring?