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Will Rams continue to see adjustments from Raheem Morris defense?

Will Raheem Morris’ adjustments on defense be on display for the Rams against 49ers in Week 2?

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NFL: Los Angeles Rams at Seattle Seahawks Steven Bisig-USA TODAY Sports

The Los Angeles Rams defense stole the show in Week 1’s win against the Seattle Seahawks. After allowing 13 points in the first half and giving up a touchdown drive in which Seattle didn’t even face a third-down, the Rams defense shut down the Seahawks after the third quarter. Raheem Morris’ defense allowed just 12 total yards in the second half and completely shutout their division rival on the scoreboard.

Following last season, there were rightfully some criticisms of the Rams defense and the way that they were playing. There was a reason for why they were playing more “off” on wide receivers, but too much of something can be a bad thing.

Morris mixed it up on Sunday and there were some noticeable changes.

For starters, since Sean McVay arrived in Los Angeles, the Rams have implemented a 3-4 defense. Wade Phillips began the transition as McVay’s first defensive coordinator and this continued with Brandon Staley and then in 2021 and 2022 with Morris. In Week 1, there was a shift.

Since Morris has taken over, the Rams’ base defense has been a 3-3-5 which is your standard nickel package. That has been consistent over Morris’ three years as the Rams lined up in a 3-3-5 on 28 percent of snaps in 2021 and 32 percent of snaps in 2022. On Sunday, the Rams were in that same area at 36 percent.

The shift, however, came in the Rams’ “true” base defense looks.

As mentioned, over the last two years under Morris, the Rams have remained as a 3-4 team. In 2021 and 2022, they lined up in a 3-4 on 17 percent and 15 percent of snaps. On Sunday, that number was zero. Instead, the Rams utilized a 4-3 look 20 percent of the time which was their second most frequent defensive formation.

This is a dramatic shift from Morris and lines up with what he did in Atlanta with the Falcons in 2020. It was the case throughout that season, but especially during the first five weeks when Morris was only the defensive coordinator and not also the interim head coach. The Falcons were a 4-3 team and lined up that way on 14 percent of their defensive plays in Weeks 1-5 and 21 percent for the season.

Now, too much is often made of whether or not a team is 3-4 or 4-3. In the modern NFL, most teams line up in nickel anyway to match 11 personnel looks. As I said earlier, the Rams primary look was still their 3-3-5 which is three defensive linemen, three linebackers, and five defensive backs. The huge uptick in 4-3 looks for the Rams is interesting nonetheless.

It also shows just how much the Rams and Morris are adjusting to their personnel. During the offseason, Los Angeles lost Greg Gaines and A’Shawn Robinson who were space-eaters along the defensive line that were good for a true 3-4 look. Without a big nose tackle along the defensive line to occupy space in the run game, it makes some sense that the Rams would turn to more four defensive linemen looks.

Additionally, when you look at the Rams edge rushers, utilizing a 4-3 also makes sense. Rookie Byron Young gives them some versatility as a player who can play standing up or with his hand in the dirt.

This doesn't mean that the Rams are getting away from their philosophy that they took under Staley that was defined by limiting explosives. As The Athletic’s Jourdan Rodrigue noted,

“The Rams’ defense is built to stop the explosive pass play, but this summer players and coaches workshopped tighter coverages out of their match zone foundation because they believed they’d be playing with a lead more frequently in 2023 and that would allow them to play more aggressively.”

According to Rodrigue, the Rams gave up just three explosive plays against the Seahawks which was the second-least for any team in the NFL in Week 1. While they played 87 percent of their snaps in some type of zone coverage, the defensive backs played much tighter on Seahawks wide receivers.

It’s only one game, but it will be interesting to see how these trends from Week 1 continue over the next month or two. However, it’s obvious that Morris made changes over the offseason. These changes fit more with what the Rams are also able to do on offense.

The performance was encouraging as Los Angeles led the NFL in second-half defense EPA at -0.533. Still they only ranked 21st in overall EPA and 22nd in defense DVOA. The defense isn’t perfect and there are going to be lapses which is to be expected with a young group. Good moments like the second-half against the Seahawks only show what the group is capable of as a unit.