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No, Rams should not play tighter coverages versus Tampa Bay

LA should not depart from the approach that has won them 13 games so far this season

NFL: Las Vegas Raiders at Los Angeles Rams Joint Practice Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

In 2020 under first-year defensive coordinator Brandon Staley, the Los Angeles Rams adopted a coverage scheme that plays from depth - using two high shells to reign in chunk yardage plays and forcing opposing offenses to be patient. It’s a sound approach, and one that has slowed down even the most high-flying offenses in football this season. Raheem Morris, who himself is receiving head coaching interviews one year after Staley left for the Chargers, has built on these coverages schemes and added his own wrinkles - such as an increased amount of blitzes.

There are few offensive play caller and quarterback pairings that are capable of being patient versus the Rams’ roof of coverage, and we saw just how frustrated Kyler Murray and Kliff Kingsbury grew last week in the wildcard round.

Unfortunately for the Rams, Tom Brady is one of those quarterbacks. He is has proved after decades in the NFL that he is capable of taking what the defense is giving him over and over again until his team can punch the ball in the end zone.

Brady’s performance against LA in Week 3 of the 2021 regular season is a fine example of this, where he completed 41 of 55 passes (75% completion) for 432 yards and 1 touchdown. However, the good news for the Rams in the division round of the playoffs is that this is a perfectly acceptable box score for Brady - and forcing him to have a repeat performance is a winning recipe for Los Angeles.

I know what you’re thinking, “Brady carved up Morris’ defense last time. Are you crazy? There’s no way the Rams win again if the GOAT is completing 75% of his passes” - but this is just not the case.

You see, the Rams defense needs to do exactly what it is designed to do:

  • Prevent explosive plays, which can spark offenses and increase the likelihood of long touchdown drives. 6-8 yard completions won’t kill you, but giving up chunk plays will.
  • Make sound tackles once passes are completed.
  • Stop the run using a gap and a half assignments. Make tackles for loss to get the opposing offense off schedule.
  • Rotate safeties to create confusion for the quarterback, forcing him to hold the ball for a beat longer.
  • Use high pressure generators such as Aaron Donald and Von Miller to force errant throws - resulting in incompletions or turnovers.

The game plan for the Rams should be clear. It’s okay if Brady routinely completes underneath passes for 6-8 yards, but from time to time they will fall behind the chains and will have to push the ball down the field. The job of the LA defense is to force these opportunities as much as possible, and then win the 3rd and long situations when they arise. Yes, this probably results in a gaudy box score for Brady, but generating and converting these favorable circumstances are more significant to the determination of the final score.

Fortunately for Los Angeles, they have two of the best players (Miller and Donald) in the NFL at forcing tackles for loss - which will be important in getting Brady and the Bucs off schedule:

Simply put, the Rams should not deviate from the plan that has won them 13 games so far this season. This defensive scheme has been effective for the better part of the last two years, and the team has beaten Brady in both previous contests without abandoning what they do best.

Since LA’s 6-1 hot streak that started back in Week 13, the defense has kept the opposing quarterback out of the end zone for five of seven games - keeping scoreless the likes of Trevor Lawrence, Murray (Week 14), Russell Wilson, Tyler Huntley, and then Murray again (wildcard). Some might call it “bend, not break”, but what matters is winning in the red zone and preventing touchdowns. What takes place between the 20-yard lines is mostly irrelevant.

It is perfectly reasonable to expect Brady to carve up the Rams’ underneath coverages, but that’s okay. The outcome of this game will be decided by the team that wins the key situations - such as 3rd and long and in the red area. The more of these situations that arise, the better the Rams’ chances will be on Sunday afternoon.