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How will Raheem Morris scheme around lesser talent on defense?

As LA embraces its youth movement, the veteran coach’s scheme comes into focus

Los Angeles Rams Mandatory Minicamp Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images

The Los Angeles Rams don’t seem willing to call their offseason roster strategy by name. There’s no reason to beat around the bush — LA is rebuilding and they’ve decided that 2023 will be the year they intentionally take a step back on defense.

In the rear view mirror are stars that helped bring a world championship to Los Angeles: Jalen Ramsey, Bobby Wagner, and Leonard Floyd. Filling the remaining voids on the depth chart are 40 wide-eyed rookies that hope to carve out a role on the next version of the roster capable of contention.

Ultimately the majority of the weight shifts to defensive coordinator Raheem Morris to maximize young talent and develop a defense that can support an offense seemingly capable of succeeding right away. How will Morris adjust his defensive scheme without being able to feature star players?

What went wrong in 2022?

Pass rush and pass coverage work in tandem, and the Rams very rarely had both working at the same time last season.

It’s a recipe that resulted in near disaster and a late-season collapse. Opposing offenses dictated production to the defense instead of the usual “take what the defense is giving you”. Morris’ unit sat back on their heels while defenders watched underneath passes being completed one after the other. They gave up long drives and a lot of yards week in and week out, though for the most part they were still able to prevent the big play to give their offense a chance.

The Fangio-Staley defensive scheme has taken over the NFL, and Morris continues to deploy that style of defense despite cutting his teeth in other coaching roots. This scheme works best when it’s aggressive—when you can suffocate offenses by keeping a roof over their vertical routes and convert underneath zone coverages into match/man and break on short passes. The Fangio-Staley scheme is multiple and confounding, but when you don’t have the talent to maximize it’s potential the result can be ugly.

That’s what happened to the Rams last season, and the Minnesota Vikings were in the same boat. Head coach Kevin O’Connell saw how well the scheme worked during his time in Los Angeles under Sean McVay and brought those principles with him to Minnesota; however, Ed Donatell lasted just a single season before he was replaced by former Miami Dolphins head coach Brian Flores.

What’s next for Raheem Morris?

New York Giants v Minnesota Vikings Photo by Stephen Maturen/Getty Images

The Vikings hire of Flores and the success of the New York Giants last year under Wink Martindale are interesting parallels for Morris in 2023.

Flores was brought to Minnesota to elevate a defense without significant reinforcements—to make scheme the focus and complicate the picture for opposing quarterbacks. This approach mirrors what Martindale was able to accomplish last season, though he is a known risk taker and asks his defense to live on the edge.

The Giants were able to put together a playoff caliber defense despite fielding a secondary full of castoffs and relative unknowns. Martindale asked them to either win fast or lose quickly, and they leaned into the variance instead of allowing offenses to kill them with a thousand papercuts.

Both the Vikings’ plan and the Giants success should serve as models for Morris, and LA’s defensive coordinator will need to take a vastly different schematic approach to 2023.

Morris has put his own wrinkle on the Fangio-Staley style of defense, which at times has meant bringing more blitzes—previously that was Ramsey off the edge or Wagner in the interior. Ernest Jones might take up the mantle of interior blitzer, and perhaps the Rams will move around their one true chess piece, Aaron Donald, more than they have in recent years—deploying his talents on the edge on obvious passing downs.

The Rams don’t have much to lose this season, so why not make a dramatic scheme shift on defense and attempt to confuse opposing offenses with multiple looks and increased aggression? If Raheem Morris can piece together a solid defense and help LA complete their rebuild quicker than expected, we might be talking about him as a head coach next year instead of as a defensive coordinator.

Chicago Bears v Los Angeles Rams Photo by Harry How/Getty Images