The Los Angeles Rams surprised the fans and the league by struggling on defense early in the season. From Week 2-4, the defense surrendered an average of 32 points per game. Fortunately, they quickly turned it around, giving up 33 points combined in their next three games, including a 33-0 shut out of the Arizona Cardinals in Week 7. Adjustments by defensive coordinator Wade Phillips changed the defensive structure for the better.
Learning curve for the 3-4 defense
Many fans pushed the panic button early this season, but the reality was that the defense made a huge adjustment. The switch from the 4-3 to 3-4 defensive scheme is significant, especially since the core of the Rams defense carried over from that unit this year. They were used to playing in a 4-3 defense.
The transition especially impacted linebacker corps, particularly Alec Ogletree. As the season has moved forward, Ogletree and his teammates figured it out, and their confidence level appears to be peaking. Defensive coordinator Wade Phillips has plenty to do with the developed success. One of the beneficiaries from Phillips’s coaching is Mark Barron; he has become one of the league’s best linebackers.
Aaron Donald’s return
The Rams played only one game without defensive lineman Aaron Donald, but it was more like two or three games. As the famous saying goes, “practice makes perfect,” and Donald was anything but perfect during his first couple games back in action. He progressively got better, but the defensive scheme change challenged him further. Donald is now back to his normal dominant self that Ram fans have all come to know and love.
New roles for the defensive line
Donald’s role wasn’t the only one that changed, Michael Brockers recently shifted from defensive tackle to defensive end. The move seemed strange at first considering Brockers’s original role, but he has excelled since the switch, and all of this really became possible due to the success of rookie Tanzel Smart. The entire defensive has stepped up. Tyrunn Walker has shown flashes of dominance, but the biggest surprise is Matt Longacre. He consistently pressures opposing quarterbacks and leads the team with four sacks. Other notable contributors are Morgan Fox and Ethan Westbrooks.
Holding players accountable
Phillips’s no-nonsense football code of conduct is exactly what makes him a legendary coach. He benched and cut safety Maurice Alexander knowing that the Rams are thin at safety. It was a risky move considering that Alexander’s replacement was rookie John Johnson. The results couldn’t have worked more in the Rams’ favor. Phillips knows exactly to do with the Rams’ talent, and by providing a rookie like Johnson an opportunity to step up, the team got better. It also put the Rams on notice that failure to commit to any of the team’s standards will result in termination. The defense is stronger and more disciplined than what we’ve seen a long time.