After Sunday’s loss to to the Green Bay Packers, where the Los Angeles Rams defense gave up 36 points and 400 offensive yards, fans are left venting their frustrations about a defense that has struggled in three consecutive losses.
Was the defense really that bad?
Yes and no. The offense and special teams certainly put defensive coordinator Raheem Morris’ squad up against the wall by turning the ball over three times inside their own 30 yard line and giving up a interception return for a touchdown. Punter Johnny Hekker didn’t help with some poor kicks.
But when Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers, had time to pass, he carved up the LA defense with short throws that were wide open. The Packers did not have a strong running game, totaling 92 yards and averaging 2.9 per carry. They stayed committed to the run and chalked up 32 carries, and a lot of that yardage can be attributed to poor tackling
So, whose to blame?
So far in this week’s survey of Rams fans, 48-percent of respondents have answered that Raheem Morris should be fired right now, while 37-percent believe he should be fired if the defense falters against the Jaguars in Week 13. Is Morris to blame?
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Certainly, the tackling problem is squarely on the players. Too often, extra yardage is gained by the opposition when arm tackles are broken, or bad angles are taken. So too are unforced errors. These mistakes have really shown up in the Ram losses.
However, when LA defenders are seven to ten yards off receivers in third down situations, certain areas of zone coverage are consistently attacked, and QB’s are using short passes as six yard handoffs, scheme and philosophy must called into account.
Are there answers?
The strength of last season’s stellar defense was disguising the packages and mixing up the looks to keep the opposing QB’s from being comfortable. This years unit seems to try the opposite, let the short passes be completed and try to tackle receivers short of the first down stick. The schemes may be similar but the philosophy is night-and-day. The Rams have accumulated aggressive players, they need to be let loose.
Even though the LA braintrust didn’t pay attention to last week’s suggestions on how to reinvigorate the offense, here are some musings on what can be done to tighten up the defense.
#1 Play more man coverage
It’s been 11 games, the secondary is not going to suddenly make this soft scheme work. Playoff-caliber teams will have the discipline to take the easy underneath stuff and the talent at skill positions to turn short throws into yards. Jalen Ramsey is a premier cover cornerback and Darious Williams is at his best when being sticky and aggressive. If Raheem Morris wants to keep the two-high safeties, go ahead, but be willing to play to his personnel’s strengths.
#2 Give David Long Jr. another look in nickel packages
Yes, I remember A.C. Green posting him up in the Arizona Cardinal loss, but Donte Deayon and Robert Rochell have struggled mightily on a week-to-week basis. Long Jr. did not get nearly as much rope as these two and has more experience. Against the Packers, wide receivers simply ran past Deayon on multiple occasions.
#3 If you are going to play zone, play it more aggressively
Back in the day, we used to call it “playing the route” in zone coverages. If a WR comes into your area, get on him and stay on him until he leaves your area. The Rams underneath coverage is giving up too much space, allowing for unhindered catches and chain-moving yardage. Don’t let the opponents use the passing attack as extended handoffs.
#4 Use more stunts, loops, angles and blitzes
The Rams have the players to be pass rush monster. Aaron Donald, Leonard Floyd and Von Miller should be causing havoc. Something is amiss and Raheem Morris’ read-and-react zone coverage HAS to have a pressure component to force quarterbacks into mistakes. Using some gladiatorial tactics could force offensive line mistakes. Take a player like Troy Reeder, he’s best when he’s charging downhill into gaps. Use his aggression for run blitz and to get AD loosened up from the double-teams. Versus the Packers, when the Rams were able to apply pressure on ARod, he looked mortal. His success came when he threw short and on-rhythm. This is particularly applicable in a playoff environment when the importance of each possession is magnified.
What about the run?
Attentive readers will wonder why all the suggested changes are concerning the pass defense. The answer is twofold. One, the Ram rush defense is a top 10 unit right now and the pass defense is in the mid twenties. And two, better tackling would make the biggest difference, but that has to be done on an individual basis and cannot be improved markedly by philosophy/scheme changes.
Teams that have got ahead of LA, have pounded the run late in games against a tired defense. The Ram offense can be the biggest help against this. Against the Pack, they had 14 drives and none of them went for three minutes. There has been a huge deficit in time of possession in Los Angeles’s four losses.
Will things improve down the stretch?
After next Sunday’s Jacksonville Jaguar tilt, there will no gimme’s. The gameplan on how to attack the Ram defense is simple and obvious. All the remaining opponents have the coaching staffs and QB’s to patiently follow that gameplan. There is only one question left, “Can the LA defense stop them?”