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Is the downfall of the Rams defense being overblown?

Are the Rams personnel losses on defense being overblown?

Seattle Seahawks v Los Angeles Rams Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

When it comes to the Los Angeles Rams defense in 2023, there’s little doubt that they’ve lost a good amount of talent. Leonard Floyd and Bobby Wagner were cut and Jalen Ramsey was traded away to the Miami Dolphins. That doesn’t mention that the team opted not to bring back Greg Gaines, Nick Scott, or Taylor Rapp.

The Rams defense will look much different than it did a season ago. With all of this uncertainty, several media outlets have them ranked inside the bottom-five, if not as the worst group in the entire league.

It’s hard to fault them.

The optimism surrounding the Rams defense isn’t high. It would be a shock to many if they ended up inside the top-10. However, maybe they don’t have to be for the Rams to have a successful season in 2023.

It used to be that you needed a top defense to win or be successful in the NFL. As the saying goes, ‘Defense Wins Championships’. Just because something is said, doesn’t make it true. And that’s the case in the modern NFL.

Not including last year’s Super Bowl teams, 19 of the previous 22 teams had offenses in the top-10.

Only 10 of the 22 had defenses ranked inside the top-10. Out of those teams, only three had offenses that ranked outside of the top-10. Two of those teams won the Super Bowl, but both were also historically good defenses in the 2015 Denver Broncos and 2013 Seattle Seahawks.

Meanwhile, out of the 10 teams that had a top-10 offense but defense ranked outside of the top-10, five won the Super Bowl.

This holds true for last year’s Super Bowl winner as well. The Kansas City Chiefs had the number one offense in EPA, but their defense ranked 15th. They also ranked 17th in defense DVOA.

You can’t win a championship or be successful without defense, but defense no longer wins championships or is key to a team’s success. The days of the Steel Curtain, Monsters of the Midway, and Doomsday Defense are over. Now, you better be able to put out an offense that can compete with Patrick Mahomes, Josh Allen, and Jalen Hurts.

This isn't to say that defense is irrelevant. There are elements of defense that are obviously still needed. That starts with having an elite pass rusher. For the Chiefs last season, that was Frank Clark. The Rams obviously had and still have Aaron Donald. The year before, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers had Shaq Barrett. An elite pass rusher can help mitigate an elite quarterback.

The data above is obviously a year old, but many of the points it makes still stands, especially in the modern NFL game.

Now where do the Rams fit in all this?

Comparing the current Rams defense to other championship defenses doesn’t make a lot of sense. However, we can see how current teams are being built in the modern landscape of the NFL and use that data to determine how the Rams defense might be able to find some success.

It’s unrealistic to think that this defense or this Rams team is going to compete for a Super Bowl. Still, the losses that they suffered on the defensive side of the ball may be overblown when it comes to the team outlook in 2023. Simply put, with the current rules in place, defense doesn’t matter as much as it once did.

While the Chiefs have Mahomes and he allows for a larger margin of error, they can still be used as the primary example of what a modern NFL defense can look like with an elite offense. That’s the formula for the Rams in 2023.

As TurfShow Times’ Cliff Jackson wrote earlier this offseason, it’s possible that the Rams are using the Chiefs’ team-building strategy. It makes sense considering both teams are built relatively similar.

Last offseason, the Chiefs made the controversial decision not to bring back defensive backs Tyrann Mathieu, Daniel Sorenson, and Charvarius Ward. They drafted four defensive backs in the draft and all four of them ended the season with more than 300 snaps.

While the Chiefs finished the season ranked 17th against the pass, the young players got better as the year went on. From Weeks 12 to 18, the Chiefs actually ranked eighth against the pass in EPA.

Sound familiar?

That’s very much what the Rams are looking to do this season. The youth in the secondary in Cobie Durant and Derion Kendrick each got meaningful experience in 2022. There will likely still be bumps, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see them find their groove and play better into the later stages of the year.

When looking at the Rams defense, they don’t have an elite edge rusher, but they do still have an elite pass rusher. A good pass rush can take pressure off of a young secondary. Donald is a unicorn that the Rams can use to their advantage.

It may take a Herculean effort by Donald for the Rams defense to be salvageable next season. However, the goal here shouldn’t be to have a top-10 or top-5 defense. The philosophy should be for the offense to carry the team while the defense continues to mature.

The Chiefs had an offense to achieve this and Clark played at an extremely high level in 2022. The combination of both of those things helped their young secondary.

Now, this isn’t a “how can the Rams be more like the Chiefs” column. Much like teams tried to replicate the Patriots with Tom Brady and Bill Belichick, if you try to replicate Andy Reid and Mahomes, you will lose.

This is only to say that in the year 2023, defense is less important. Yes, the Rams lost some important pieces on their defense. At the end of the day, talent is still needed. However, if the Rams can get the offense back to a top-10 level, they still have Donald to lead the defense that has some intriguing talent. A good offense can take pressure off of an inexperienced defense and give the team some building blocks heading into 2024. That should be the goal.

In a modern NFL that is dominated by offense and scoring, getting that part right is crucial to the Rams success. The defense may not be elite next season, but given current team building strategies that have had proven success, their losses may be overblown.