The Los Angeles Rams made a concerted effort to improve a young and talented defense in the off-season. Those changes began with the hiring of legendary defensive coordinator Wade Phillips. He brought in a new scheme (3-4), and the person it affected most might have been free safety Lamarcus Joyner.
Joyner is now tasked with covering the back end of the Rams defensive backfield. Fortunately, he’s healthy enough to handle that role after missing time with a hamstring injury. The Rams count on Joyner to set the tone for the entire secondary.
The diminutive Joyner often threw his body all over the field in a hybrid slot corner/safety role like the Arizona Cardinals’ Deone Bucannon in previous years. This season, the Rams moved Joyner’s position with the aim at keeping him healthy. It appears that the move has worked for both Joyner and the Rams.
Whether it be the ferocity with which he plays or his smaller stature, Joyner continues to struggle with injuries. He has yet to complete a 16-game season healthy, including the two games Joyner missed earlier this year. When healthy his impact is noticeable, and the Rams do not take that for granted. Joyner intercepted the first two passes of his career this year. He also allowed zero plays over his head last game, which is the most important job of the position.
Joyner still makes some mistakes. For example, during the first quarter of the October 22 game against Arizona, the Cardinals ran an in-route with Jaron Brown running over the middle. In that Cover 1 concept, the defender (Joyner) must take away the middle of the field unless another receiver is going deep. Joyner arrived late, leading to a quick Cardinals first down. Joyner played well, except for that and a later arrival on a deep post in the second half.
He hurried Stanton in the second quarter and would have recorded a sack if not for some nifty footwork by the quarterback. He also consistently ran over the top of Larry Fitzgerald as part of a double team. Joyner will only get better with his assignments, and his playmaking ability has never been in question. He is putting the big three of skill, work, and health all together, and dividends are paying off for the Rams this year.
Joyner’s task against the New York Giants will be to follow the eyes of future Hall of Famer Eli Manning. Known as a turnover machine in his recent years, Manning has actually only thrown five interceptions thus far. Joyner and the rest of the Rams will look to add to that number tomorrow in against the Giants.