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Rams Week 1 PFF Defensive Grades: Ernest Jones performance hidden by loss

The second-year linebacker is the top-ranked at his position after one week

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NFL: Buffalo Bills at Los Angeles Rams Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Despite the 31-10 loss to the Buffalo Bills, the Los Angeles Rams roster graded out in the top half of the league according to Pro Football Focus. It was clear that the offense was the responsible party for Thursday’s letdown. The Rams defense forced four turnovers, but the offense could not turn those turnovers into points.

Outside of the 3x Defensive Player of the Year, who received promising PFF grades? Which positional groups hurt the defense as a whole?

In order to gain a sense of the performance of the roster and its direction, Pro Football Focus (PFF) graded out all the players from the Week 1 contest. Using the PFF grades and the eye test of watching the game, I will provide a weekly evaluation and grade. As the season continues, I will include an overall grade and the trend of the position group.

(If you missed yesterday’s grades for the offense, check it out here.)

DL

Aaron Donald: 81.7, A’Shawn Robinson: 53.1, Greg Gaines: 50.1, Marquise Copeland: 78.9, Bobby Brown III: SUS, Mike Hoecht: 60.0, Jonah Williams: 45.0

Hard to grade the defensive line in this game. Buffalo’s offensive game plan was to get the ball out of Josh Allen’s hands under 2.5 seconds.

Aaron Donald recorded his 99th career sack. I run out of things to say on a weekly basis about how great (Greatest of All Time) AD99 is. Needless to say he led all NFL defensive tackles in pass rush win rate in Week 1. It won’t be the last time…

Hard to evaluate A’Shawn Robinson (64% defensive snaps) and Greg Gaines (93%), but obviously A’Shawn is the presence to defend the run game. The Rams were average against the Bills in that department.

Copeland only 8 of 59 snaps (14%), but I did see him win against the right guard a few times. His grade was second highest among the defensive line, though he did play significantly less.

Week 1 Grade: C+

ILBs

Bobby Wagner: 72.5, Ernest Jones: 91.2*, Travin Howard: IR, Christian Rozeboom: DNP, Jake Hummel: DNP

Bobby Wagner had seven tackles (five solo), one tackle for loss, and added a sack in his Rams debut. He doesn’t have the explosiveness and elite power that he had in his prime with the Seattle Seahawks, but he is still a significant upgrade for the defense. If it isn’t Josh Allen, I think Bobby Wagner holds any other quarterback out of the endzone on the quarterback’s rushing TD.

Ernest Jones played 34 of 59 snaps (58%) and he paced the entire team in PFF grades. Not to mention, Ernest Jones was the #1 ranked ILB in the NFL after Week 1. There were no significant splash plays that he made, but his run defense grade was 93.8, which is a fantastic sign for the “sophomore” linebacker. Hopefully, the Rams find a way to use Jones in more “two-backer” sets within a nickel defense that plays quarters coverage.

Week 1 Grade: B+

EDGE

Leonard Floyd: 37.7, Justin Hollins: 31.6, Terrell Lewis: 68.5, Keir Thomas: 60.0, Daniel Hardy: IR

The edge rushers were invisible against Buffalo. The starters: Floyd and Hollins only tallied five tackles (four solo). Yes Ken Dorsey (offensive coordinator) and the Bills got the ball out intentionally quick but at some point, the edge rushers have to win their one on one’s to get some semblance of pressure. Floyd and Hollins could not. For Floyd, it’s a tough look for a guy making $20 million on average annually. As for Hollins, if he does not make an impact soon, Terrell Lewis could get the promotion opposite of Floyd. Hollins (59% snaps) and Lewis (39% snaps) are close in snap share. Perhaps this might be the first defensive change that unfolds down the line.

Week 1 Grade: F

CBs

Jalen Ramsey: 54.5, Troy Hill: 76.5, David Long Jr.: 58.5, Robert Rochell: DNP, Cobie Durant: DNP, Derion Kendrick: INA

Yes, Jalen Ramsey has struggled in three of his last four games. His assignments during those: Mike Evans, Ja’Marr Chase, and Stefon Diggs. He’s still one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL, if not the best. I do notice that when Jalen consistently plays 10 yards off, he is not able to get into a groove. Hopefully Raheem Morris can mix things up with their zone scheme with some man coverage sprinkled in. Or perhaps, tightening the zone cushion. Need more info on Ramsey, I thought this show of his was a great view to learn about his head space and approach each week:

Troy Hill returned to Los Angeles and wasted no time creating a turnover which he had an act for doing in the latter half of 2020. His versatility to play outside and inside is a great chess piece moving forward so that he can switch out with Jalen Ramsey in the star role.

The only other cornerback used was David Long who didn’t stand out, giving up a deep pass to Gabriel Davis for 47 yards.

Week 1 Grade: C-

S

Nick Scott: 85.2, Taylor Rapp: 65.9, Jordan Fuller: 62.3, Terrell Burgess: DNP, Russ Yeast: DNP, Quentin Lake: PUP

Nick Scott showed in Week 1 that he belongs on the field. Despite a stiff arm from an above-average sized quarterback, Scott played great in run defense. He was a tad late on a few short passes in the middle of the field, but I expect that timing to be cleaned up as the starters get up to game speed.

Rapp was average, collecting four tackles (one solo). We’ll see how long he can hold off Jordan Fuller who played 31% of the defensive snaps as the third safety.

Burgess and Yeast did not play, while Lake continues to remain on the Physically Unable to Perform list.

Week 1 Grade: C

Special Teams

Riley Dixon: 66.2, Matt Gay: 74.9

Taking over for Johnny Hekker, Dixon punted 4 times for 181 yards (45.3 avg). He landed two punts inside the 20.

Matt Gay picked up right where he left off in 2021, crushing a 57-yard field goal for his first field goal of the year. He was also 3 for 3 on touchbacks on kickoffs.

Brandon Powell had four kickoff returns for 67 yards (16.8 avg), an underwhelming average, in large part because of the poor kickoff protection.

Week 1 Grade: C+

Coordinators - Raheem Morris & Joe DeCamillis

Raheem Morris failed to make an adjustment quick enough. Buffalo picked apart the Los Angeles defense with short passes. When LA finally went with one high safety, Buffalo connected on an explosive play to Gabriel Davis. Hopefully, McVay and Morris realize that opposing offenses will do this early in games and learn to counter with tighter zone coverage or linebacker blitzes to move the quarterback off his spot.

DeCamillis has stability at the kicker and punter positions. But punt coverage and kickoff returns need work.

Week 1 Grade: D+ (Morris), C- (DeCamillis)

Poll

Which defensive player will have the best "rebound" game in Week 2?

  • 10%
    Greg Gaines, DL
    (23 votes)
  • 14%
    Leonard Floyd, EDGE
    (31 votes)
  • 74%
    Jalen Ramsey, CB
    (160 votes)
214 votes total Vote Now