Despite fair criticism and skepticism of a Raheem Morris defense that entered the season with such high expectations, no team in the NFL has allowed a lower passer rating through these first six games than the 2021 Los Angeles Rams. And the slate of quarterbacks that they have faced is not exactly made up of slouches either, as three of them could count themselves in the early stages of an MVP race: Tom Brady, Kyler Murray, and Russell Wilson.
The other three: Andy Dalton, Carson Wentz, and Daniel Jones.
The Rams defense has held opposing quarterbacks to a passer rating of just 81.6 (third-lowest in the NFL total, lowest among teams with six games played) and six touchdown passes (lowest of any team that has played in six games) and the upcoming schedule suggests that Morris might even have LA back in the top-three in points allowed when the Rams enter their Week 11 bye:
- Week 7, Jared Goff and the Detroit Lions
- Week 8, Davis Mills and the Houston Texans
- Week 9, Ryan Tannehill and the Tennessee Titans
- Week 10, Trey Lance and/or Jimmy Garoppolo with the San Francisco 49ers
Those teams rank 19th, 21st, 23rd, and 26th in offensive passer rating through six weeks of the 2021 season. Moreover, they have especially struggled of late, as the Titans are 17th, the 49ers are 24th, the Lions are 25th, and the Texans are 28th over the last four weeks alone.
The Rams do not face a top-10 passing offense again until facing the Green Bay Packers and Aaron Rodgers in Week 12.
You can quibble with the inclusion of passer rating — it’s just an arbitrary passing statistic that I am choosing for the purposes of generating a discussion but if you find a passing statistic that you’d prefer that shows that one or any of these teams is actually “good” at passing the ball, I’m open for it* — the point is that the LA Rams have made their defensive philosophy work for them so far.
Because the Rams are 31st in plays allowed per drive and 23rd on third down conversion rate allowed, but the result is no less six touchdown passes in six games. Allowing one passing touchdown per game is especially difficult in the modern NFL, but the difficulty of the task is exacerbated when facing Brady, Murray, and Wilson in half of your contests.
Now Raheem Morris gets to plan for Jared Goff and Davis Mills.
Goff has managed only two touchdown passes in his last four starts for the 0-6 Lions. Davis Mills, a third round pick out of Stanford, has been in some ways better than some of his high profile rookie counterparts, but the Texans have only scored 9, 0, 22, and 3 points respectively in their last four games. Mills ranks 30th in passer rating, ahead of only Justin Fields and Zach Wilson.
*Ryan Tannehill has proven to be a much better quarterback than what we’ve seen this season and he hasn’t had a healthy A.J. Brown, Julio Jones of late, but has no less struggled to stay off the ground (league-leading 20 sacks) and to score touchdowns (six in five games).
It will be a while before anyone says that the Rams are a good defense again, but you could look quite prescient if you start telling your friends and co-workers that Morris will soon have his “Brandon Staley moment”. LA ranked 16th in defensive DVOA headed into their Week 6 contest against the Giants, and on Sunday they had their strongest defensive performance of the season:
- The 19.06 Expected Points Added for the defense wasn’t just a season-best, it was the first positive defensive performance since posting a 0.85 against Dalton’s Bears in Week 1.
- Four takeaways was LA’s best mark since forcing five turnovers against the Arizona Cardinals in the final game of 2019.
- The 261 total yards allowed was the Rams’ best such performance of the season; the Rams had two sub-200 yard and 11 sub-300 yard games in 2020.
I would expect the Rams to be a top-10 defense in DVOA headed into their next four matchups, and that stretch seems to be ripe with opportunity to keep rising.
More defensive notes to share with your friends and co-workers, two groups that should always remain separate:
- Terrell Lewis has a sack in three straight games
- Leonard Floyd has 4.5 sacks in his last four games
- Lewis, Floyd, and Ogbonnia Okoronkwo all ranked in the top-10 for pass rush win rate this week (thank you Aaron Donald)
- Donald actually has more sacks (3.5) through six games this year than he had through six games in every other season besides 2015, 2018, and 2020.
- Taylor Rapp and Troy Reeder each have two interceptions, while Jalen Ramsey, David Long, Robert Rochell, and Nick Scott each have one.
- The Rams rank fourth in total pressures and are tied for third in QB hurries, which will sometimes cause an interception.