The Los Angeles Rams are pretty good on defense this season. In fact, more than halfway into the season and just ahead of their Monday Night matchup against Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the Rams possess one of the best defenses in the entire NFL. Just check the stat sheets. Those numbers don’t lie. After uncorking another round of pain on Russell Wilson and the Seahawks Seahawks at SoFi Stadium last week in a 23-16 win, the Rams are No. 2 in total defense.
Led by the inside/outside combo of defensive lineman Aaron Donald and cornerback Jalen Ramsey, the Rams can also boast of having the No. 3 passing defense and No. 5 unit against the run this season. That’s pretty good for a team that has been typically recognized under head coach Sean McVay as an offensive-minded ballclub. McVay and his team are proving otherwise.
“I think it’s a great opportunity to be able to continue to build and grow from,” McVay said after the Rams win. “This is a great offense, someone that we have a tremendous amount of respect for, but our defense has been stout all year. You know, you can only play the teams that are on your schedule and these guys have done a great job answering the bell week in and week out the turnovers. And really, the second half play. I mean, I can’t say enough about our coaches adjustments and really they were outstanding from the jump, but really just to be able to make some of those adjustments, you see some of the looks that we get protection wise, where guys are unblocked unabated, right to (QB) Russell Wilson. And we’re still being able to play with some good numbers on the back end. I’m just so impressed and so pleased with them. But now we’ve got to keep it going.”
The number the Rams defense put on Wilson and the Seahawks’ explosive offense is a clear indicator of just how good this unit is. Russell came into the contest head and shoulders over the rest of the league as the leading MVP candidate. He left Inglewood, California, reduced to looking like a rather ordinary quarterback.
The Rams defense peppered Wilson with 12 hits, forced the Seattle star into three turnovers (two interceptions, one fumble), and dropped the Seahawks quarterback six times for sacks. That’s not all, folks. Wilson left the game with a 57 percent passer rating against the Rams. To say that Wilson and Seattle’s offense had a bad day at the office would be an understatement.
Seattle was averaging just over 34 points a game before they met up with the Rams for the first time this season. Thanks to McVay’s defensive unit knocking the crap out of Wilson and putting a lid on Seattle’s offense, the Seahawks scoring average has dropped to 31 points per game.
“They’re a good football team and they have a lot of things that they do well,” said Wilson, who finished the game completing 22 of 37 passes for 248 yards and two picks. “We did a lot of things really well too. We did convert on some of our third downs. We made some key plays there and this and that, we battled throughout the game. We knew it was going be a tough challenge. It always is a tough challenge in an NFC West game against the Rams and us, it’s always a battle. So, I just think that in terms of staying on schedule, When I refer to that, I’m really more so talking about the turnovers and when we don’t have those then we have a great chance.”
Giving them a chance meant getting high-flying wide receiver D.K. Metcalf an opportunity to make plays. That didn’t happen because Ramsey, widely considered to be the top one-on-one cornerback in the league, was all over him, limiting the Seattle pass-catcher to just two receptions for 28 yards. Metcalf was targeted four times by Wilson.
“Well, we actually targeted him a few times early on, but they covered it, they dropped back,” Wilson said. “We had him early on a crossing route. Unfortunately, they dropped right into it. So, I think I hit (WR Freddie) Swain right down the sideline. And then we had a few other plays that we tried to go to him, but unfortunately, they either pressured or something happened and that’s just the name of the game. But I’m always looking for him, he’s such a great player, he can do so many great things for us and we were able to find him a couple of times there in the second half.”
One of the keys to the Rams’ success on defense this season is not giving up a whole bunch of yards in the passing game. Rams defensive coordinator Brandon Staley said that formula is built on every player doing their part.
“I think team defense is the reason,” Staley said during a mid-week press conference with the media. “Pass coverage is the pass rush and your pass coverage or put together. I think what we’ve been able to do is the 11 guys that are in the game – they have really strong command of how we’re trying to play, both from a rush perspective and from a coverage perspective. We’re playing that complementary ball that I’ve kind of talked about since training camp. I think that you’re seeing the guys – on all three levels of the defense, really understanding how to play together, the advantage of that and how we can create opportunities for several different people to come alive within our scheme.
More crazy stats provided courtesy of the Rams defense is that Los Angeles is holding opponents to just over a shade of three points (3.2 points) a game in the second half of ballgames. Seattle tallied just three points in the NFC West Division battle. Brady and the Buccaneers will provide a more unique challenge for Los Angeles. But from what the Rams defensive unit has shown thus far, a tough, disciplined and physical approach to handling things, might be the solution as it was against the Seahawks.
McVay, while lauding the play of his defense, views winning as a team concept.
“It’s definitely been the strength of our team, but we are a team,” McVay said. “I’ve been so pleased with them and that’s something that has been consistent and really remained true through the first nine games that we’ve had. So, very pleased, but what I do want to see is a complete team. I think that we were really on the verge of showing that where the way that our offense came out, the way that we played and I think we’re a couple plays away. It feels like that could be a 35, 40 point game, but it wasn’t, and we’re never going to make excuses. We’ve just got to be a little bit better and that’s collectively, but it’s about winning the football game. That’s definitely the main focus and concentration.
Editor’s note: Featured image caption: Los Angeles Rams defenders surround Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson (3) in a game played Sunday, Nov. 15, 2020, at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, California. Photo credit: Los Angeles Rams