The Los Angeles Rams had one of the NFL’s best pass defenses of 2020, ranking first in passing yards, passing touchdowns, and yards per pass attempt allowed. This helped the Rams rank first in points and total yards allowed too and it got defensive coordinator Brandon Staley interviews with virtually every team that had a head coach opening. Staley went to the LA Chargers — conveniently the best gig was also in the same home stadium — and the Rams had to find a new defensive coordinator.
Is that the reason why the LA Rams now rank 25th in passing yards and 27th in total yards allowed?
Raheem Morris didn’t have much prior experience as a defensive coordinator prior to 2021, but he did have a long resume as an NFL assistant coach, with a few years of running the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as well. Morris vowed to keep around a lot of what Staley did, including moving Jalen Ramsey into the “Star” role, and because of that Ramsey has spent the majority of his snaps this season playing in the slot.
According to Next Gen Stats, Ramsey is playing the slot in 56% of the snaps in 2021, which is more than 3x higher his snap% of 2020, and more than 5x what it was in 2019.
Jalen Ramsey has aligned in the slot on 72% of his snaps so far today, his highest rate in a game since his first career game (Week 1, 2016: 83%).— Next Gen Stats (@NextGenStats) October 3, 2021
Ramsey Slot CB Alignment Rate by Season
2021: 56%#ARIvsLAR | #RamsHouse
If Ramsey is the NFL’s best cornerback, should he be spending that much time in the slot?
In the Rams’ 37-20 loss to the Arizona Cardinals in Week 4, Sports Radar tracked Ramsey with four targets, allowing one 18-yard completion over the middle of the field to DeAndre Hopkins. But Ramsey also got the better of Hopkins on a number of plays, when he was in coverage on Hopkins, of course. David Long, Jr. had no such luck.
Long was said to be targeted six times, allowing six completions for 92 yards, including a touchdown by A.J. Green that posterized the third-year cornerback. Through four games, Long has now been the nearest corner on 19 attempts, allowing 13 receptions for 171 yards.
But Ramsey has been the nearest corner on 26 throws, allowing 15 receptions for 126 yards, an average of 4.8 yards per target.
Long is allowing 9.0 yards per target.
The third option, Darious Williams, may also not be playing in his best position anymore. Though Williams has been more of a shutdown corner during the first year-and-a-half of sharing the field with Ramsey, quarterbacks are not afraid to go after him in 2021.
Williams has allowed 21 completions on 29 near-targets, giving up 182 yards with one touchdown and 6.3 yards per target. Williams has allowed 76 yards after the catch, which is already nearly half-as-much as the 155 YAC that he allowed in 16 games last season. In the most recent episode of The Ringer NFL Show, Benjamin Solak specifically called out Darious Williams as the biggest reason for the secondary’s downfall in the first month of the year, which is surprisingly good news for David Long to not be mentioned.
The question for us now is: Should Raheem Morris have kept this much of Staley’s system or is that simply a system best meant for Staley? Should Jalen Ramsey be spending so much time in the slot, with David Long and Darious Williams on the outside, or is he too valuable to not just be covering an opposing team’s best player for the entire game? Ramsey’s never had such a good argument for Defensive Player of the Year before and yet somehow that might also mean that LA’s pass defense is worse than it could be if he wasn’t in the Star.
Should Morris keep things the same or is it time to shift around these names in the defensive backfield? Again.