Sean McVay might have to go coach hunting again next year if Brandon Staley keeps this up.
The LA Rams made a bold and somewhat controversial move in firing Wade Phillips after three good seasons with the defense, turning the duties over to the 37-year-old Staley. I don’t find hiring Staley to be controversial whatsoever, especially when giving McVay credit for being one of the best talent evaluators ... that I can possibly think of through my entire (yet simple) brain.
The Rams have a case to be made as the best defense in the NFL. Not everyone would agree and not every stat would say so, but I’m not talking about stats. I’m talking about debates and since there’s no way to say which team actually has the best defense without question, we can at least agree that LA is in the conversation.
Few other teams in the NFC could bring a better case to be made as to who will be the most dominant over the next 12 weeks. Here is a little bit of evidence (with a small dose of improvement opportunities) for the Rams.
4.9 net yards per pass attempt allowed
I wanted to use Stathead to see where LA’s yards per pass attempt allowed ranked all-time through five games but “opp Y/A” was not an option. Instead I had to fudge around a little bit with attempts against and yards against and eventually I got into a place where I could comfortably say that the Rams were special.
Staley’s defense ranks second in passing yards per game allowed at 197.8. Only the Indianapolis Colts (179.6) are better. The Colts have done this on only 155 attempts against as compared to 181 against the Rams, which gives LA the best Y/A (6.2) and net Y/A allowed (4.9) in the NFL.
Since 2000, 34 teams have faced at least 170 attempts against their defense and held their opponents to under 1,000 yards. It is especially difficult to do in 2020, although it is safe to admit that the Giants, Eagles and Football Team do not exist in the present era.
LA is the only team of the 34 from this season. The Patriots, Bills and Panthers did it in 2019 and the first two of those teams finished in the top-three for net yards per pass attempt allowed. New England was first in pass defense DVOA, Buffalo was sixth and Carolina was 12th.
No team did it in 2018, but the top-ranked pass defense of the Jacksonville Jaguars — featuring Jalen Ramsey — did it in 2017. Seven other teams did it in the last decade, including the Super Bowl champion 2015 Denver Broncos and the 2012 Seattle Seahawks, who went on to win the Super Bowl the following year.
QBs against the Rams: 116 of 181, 64.1-percent, 5 TD, 4 INT, 6.2 Y/A, 5.75 adjusted Y/A, 4.9 net yards per attempt, 81.3 passer rating and LA ranks third in pass defense DVOA.
There was concern about if the Rams would be able to create a pass rush sans Dante Fowler Jr and without a proven addition in his place, but over the last three weeks Los Angeles has 17 sacks, which is the most in the NFL.
Aaron Donald has 6.5 of those, Troy Reeder has three and Morgan Fox has two during that period of time.
It’s unclear if the Rams have actually found a consistent pass rushing presence, other than Donald. It is also encouraging that Staley has helped create the all-around most dominant pass rushing unit during these last three games. The Rams had 50 sacks under Wade Phillips last season, not a low bar to reach, but what’s more important is that quarterbacks continue to struggle in the coming weeks, regardless if someone other than Donald reaches double-digit totals or not.
18 points per game allowed
The last time the Rams ranked in the top 10 for points allowed was 2001. They are currently third, which would be their highest ranking since 1977, when Sean McVay’s grandfather John McVay was 46 years old.
Los Angeles has allowed 90 points and last season, seven teams allowed 90 or less after five games. The Patriots had only allowed 34. We can expect that the Rams will have some more games like they did against the Bills, but the fact that they’ve so thoroughly dominated their less talented offensive opponents speaks to a quality of coaching that doesn’t allow the defense to play down to their opponents.
They’ve been playing well above them.
The Rams are tied with the Seahawks and Browns for fifth in total pressures, with 46. The Steelers have 64 pressures, nine more than second place, despite playing in one fewer game than most teams.
1.73 Expected Points Added
The Rams are one of only four teams to have a positive EPA by their defense.
-1.0-percent rush defense DVOA
I can’t say that I think the Rams look poor against the run. Devin Singletary made a few nice plays from what I recall. Nothing really significant has happened on the round game against LA in the last two games and they held Washington to 38 rushing yards, although what choice did Football Team really have to run?
This -1% DVOA (Defense-adjusted Value Over Average) ranks 24th and while I do not find it to be concerning, perhaps run defense and tackling will be an improvement opportunity for Staley’s defense moving forward. And if they continue to get better, the Rams will find themselves in more exclusive company in the playoffs.