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6 supporting players on the Rams who’ve helped the defense become elite

Sung or unsung, these guys help Aaron Donald and Jalen Ramsey get the job done each week

NFL: Chicago Bears at Los Angeles Rams Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports

If you want to believe DVOA, then the Los Angeles Rams only have the eighth-best defense in the NFL. If you haven’t been able to tell already this season, I am losing faith in DVOA. The Rams’ placement on their list only makes it more suspicious as a useful tool.

Despite handing Russell Wilson his worst nightmare performance of the season, Los Angeles only ranks ninth against the pass by DVOA. But they rank first in touchdown passes allowed this season and first in net yards per pass attempt allowed.

Despite ranking fifth in rushing yards allowed, they only rank 12th in run defense by DVOA. The Rams are the only team this season to hold an opponent to under 100 passing yards and under 60 rushing yards in the same game — and they’ve done it twice.

LA ranks second in points allowed, second in yards allowed, second in yards per drive allowed and first in points per drive allowed.

I’m grateful for additional information at our disposal, like DVOA, but same as any other stats, even including yards, what it fails to capture far out-measures what it tells us. The difference is that DVOA users don’t understand that and their egos won’t allow them to admit it.

DVOA says that the Rams defense isn’t elite.

Russell Wilson, held without a touchdown pass for only the second time in his last 30 starts (with the other instance being last Week 14 against the Rams) probably doesn’t agree.

In both of those scoreless games for Wilson, the Rams featured Aaron Donald on the defensive line and Jalen Ramsey at cornerback. The only major differences between last season’s game and right now would be defensive coordinator Brandon Staley, linebacker Leonard Floyd and several losses on that side of the ball that don’t feel nearly as damaging as they once did.

Donald and Ramsey are not only the stars but they deserve the credit they get for LA being as dominant as they’ve been, especially when speaking about the NFL’s best player and unlikely-but-deserving MVP. There are others who deserve credit and maybe aren’t getting as much, but that could soon change. I expect there to be more than two Pro Bowlers on the Rams’ defense when those lists are announced. Will some of these players be on it?

Leonard Floyd, OLB

Free agent: 2021

Floyd was named NFC Defensive Player of the Week for his three-sack performance against the Seahawks on Sunday. He now has seven sacks, tying a career-high with seven games left to play in the regular season. He also has 15 QB hits, which is only two fewer than Donald. Floyd’s 21 total pressures is tied for the 11th-most this season with Chase Winovich and Emmanuel Ogbah.

I can admit mistakes. It wasn’t long ago that I was calling Floyd an underwhelming signing who didn’t seem to be doing much other than making maybe one big play per week. Well, the accumulation of that over two and a half months has now given him quite a resume and he’s had five sacks and nine QB hits in the last three games.

It seems that Floyd will only be with the Rams for one season and it could also be his first Pro Bowl season.

Darious Williams, CB

Free agent: 2021 (restricted)

Williams was 26 when he started his first NFL game, which came late last season with the Rams. Despite being a late bloomer, Williams has six interceptions in his last 11 games and he leads the NFL in passer rating allowed (which is also an extremely flawed stat, not only on the offensive side of the ball, but especially when attempting to attribute it to defensive players) this season according to PFF.

Williams will be a restricted free agent in 2021 and while that is good news for LA, it does seem like almost too much of a bargain. Will Williams be able to parlay his season into a Pro Bowl nod (he wasn’t on the ballot initially, but has since been added) and a contract extension in 2021? I kind of think that the Rams will choose to draft a cornerback or two next year and be content with the fact that Ramsey is the highest paid player at his position in the NFL. They will still have Williams’ rights in 2021 and an opportunity to have him for another year.

Troy Hill, CB

Free agent: 2021

I don’t know anybody who knows the Rams better than former Turf Show Times managing editor Joe McAtee and if Joe says that Troy’s been the most underrated player on the team three years running, I listen. He’s a playmaker. He’s glue. He’s the secret weapon in between the guys getting all the hype. And he’s probably playing his last season with LA because Hill can’t possibly be a secret to the rest of the NFL anymore.

Staley has blitzed Hill 14 times this season, creating two pressures. Hill had only blitzed once under Wade Phillips. So that’s been another aspect of his game added this season.

Micah Kiser, ILB

Free agent: 2022

Floyd isn’t the only Rams player to win NFC Defensive Player of the Week honors, as Kiser took it home in Week 2, only his second career game on defense. (Donald won the award in Week 5 ... I repeat: EIGHTH IN DVOA.)

(Troy Reeder didn’t win Defensive Player of the Week, but he’s one of only two players this season to record 10 tackles and three sacks in a single game and the other player to do it, Devin White, did win the honor. Not that Reeder is going to be on this list, but the Rams are perhaps that close to having four players win the award in 10 weeks.)

Kiser doesn’t have the well-rounded stats of his predecessor Cory Littleton, but after missing seven tackles in Week 1, he’s only missed three in the last seven games and he leads the team with 71 total. There’s room for improvement in this area, but I’d be remiss to leave out the man in the middle.

John Johnson, S

Free agent: 2021

Every Rams fan is aware of Johnson, the fourth year safety who was highly productive during the Super Bowl season, but he deserves a shoutout for returning from injury and starting all nine games this year. Johnson has 61 tackles, one interception and five passes defensed. Pro-Football-Reference credits him with 5.5 yards per target allowed and zero touchdowns. He’s also the quarterback of the defense, having taken over signal caller duties under Staley this season.

“I know I’ve been telling you guys, but I love talking to John Johnson on that headset,” Staley told reporters this week. “All right, it gives me so much confidence knowing that he’s on the other end of that line and he’s so steady, he’s so calm.”

Michael Brockers, DE

Free agent: 2023

Say what you want about Brockers’ ceiling, he’s put in nine seasons with the Rams and his unlikely return to the team in 2020 has given him the opportunity to be a part of perhaps their best defense yet. Brockers’ three sacks matches his 2019 total and while his overall pressures are down (only six), we’ve seen that players around Donald and Brockers are capable of getting to the quarterback and winning NFC Defensive Player of the Week honors!

He was also integral to keeping the defensive line together when A’Shawn Robinson missed the first nine weeks, only debuting last week against Seattle.