Starting in 2010, the Los Angeles Rams became a team powered by their defense. Partially because their offenses stunk and partially because their defenses didn’t, the team’s overall outputs were often determined less by the fecklessness on offense as much as whether or not the defense could take over games.
The quality of the personnel wasn’t beyond most observers grasps.
Just three years ago, MMQB’s Andy Benoit anointed the Rams’ defense as what would be the NFL’s best for the 2015 season. Frustratingly, that defense would finish 13th in the NFL in points allowed and a wildly disappointing 23rd in yards allowed. The next year, former Head Coach Jeff Fisher’s last, the Rams improved into the top 10 in yards allowed but dropped to 23rd in points allowed.
With the hiring of Defensive Coordinator Wade Phillips, Rams fans were eager to see a new unit evolve within the confines of the 3-4 system Phillips has run since...well, forever. And perhaps it was glossed over by the overall improvement of the team with an 11-win, division championship season and a complete turnaround on offense, but the defense wasn’t a top unit last year. Finishing 12th in points allowed and 19th in yards allowed and lacking a consistent pass rush when not aided with blitz support, the defense was capable but hardly exceptional.
And so we go into 2018 for the first time in about a dozen years with the expectations leaning more heavily on the offensive side than on the defensive side. This with a DC of Phillips’ caliber and the reigning Defensive Player of the Year, DL Aaron Donald.
But stranger still is how big the 2018 offseason was for the defense. Longtime EDGE Robert Quinn and defensive captain ILB Alec Ogletree? Gone. Exceptionally high name recognition additions in DL Ndamukong Suh, CB Aqib Talib and CB Marcus Peters? All on board.
And so we head into training camp on Thursday trying to figure out how to pull this unit up. Should we expect them to be a top 10 unit even without stellar edge rushing capability? We’ll have to see how the inside and outside linebacking spots aside from ILB Mark Barron shape up throughout camp and the preseason as we head toward setting up the 53-man roster into the regular season, The other units are manned with an incredibly high level of talent so it likely matters less though it still matters substantively.
It just sets up a legitimate challenge for the Rams as a whole, for Head Coach Sean McVay, for Phillips and for that extremely talented defensive roster.
How do they assert themselves as one of the NFL’s better defensive sides to ensure they’re not holding the offense back especially if the Rams are back in the playoffs this year?
They start setting up their answer to that question on Thursday.