The Los Angeles Rams have stumbled to a 4-5 record with one of the NFL’s least productive offenses and some of the most frustrating finishes of the season. The team has been denied touchdowns on multiple occasions and quarterback Case Keenum and his offensive line have been punching bags for analysts all over the country. When looking at their record and seeing the troubled offense in action, one might say that the Rams are a broken team that needs a lot of work to find success. However, a closer analysis shows how accomplished the Rams are on defense.
The Los Angeles Rams Defense Should Be Appreciated
The fact is that the Rams should not have their four wins. For two of those victories, they did not even score a touchdown. With the exception of the win against the Tampa Bay Bucanneers, their highest scoring victory was a 17-13 game against the Arizona Cardinals.
The defense has won every game for the Rams this season and they have set the team up to win some of the other games that eventually resulted in losses. When left to the offense, the team simply does not win. For example, after holding the Carolina Panthers to only 13 points at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, this offense was unable to get a drive going and lost the game by a field goal. In London, the defense held strong against New York Giants threats like Odell Beckham Jr. to keep the team to 17 points, then a last second interception derailed hopes for an overseas triumph.
This is important because it allows an appreciation for one of the league’s top units, who have been overshadowed by their poor offensive counterparts.
The Los Angeles Rams entered 2016 with many questions on defense. Some of these included new middle linebacker Alec Ogletree, new weak side linebacker Mark Barron, as well as the losses of defensive backs Janoris Jenkins and Rodney McLeod. Though respected by many, these changes worried fans and analysts alike.
Halfway into the season, the statistics have proven that the worries were wasted. Despite their mediocre record, the Rams are currently the ninth overall NFL defense according to Pro Football Reference statistics. They are ranked above the defending Super Bowl champion Denver Broncos, the very expensive New York Giants, and the first-place Houston Texans.
Many subject their team opinions to the limited scope of the eye test and yes, a team’s overall record is more indicative of their team’s level of play. However, as the adage goes: the numbers do not lie.
The Rams are ninth in the NFL in total points given up at 173. With two games where the unit refused to allow even one touchdown and another two where only one touchdown was scored, this statistic may not be surprising. Perhaps more shocking and the bigger evidence of the defense’s efficiency is the fact that they lost their first game by giving up 28 points. Their performance after the first loss has been nothing short of elite, even if their team record does not reflect it.
The team also ranks as eighth in the league for passing yards with only 2,015 allowed. This number once more surprises as the losses of Jenkins and McLeod had cast a looming shadow of doubt on their secondary. The return of E.J. Gaines and the outstanding play of Lamarcus Joyner and Maurice Alexander have been the difference for their defensive back unit, filling the big shoes without missing a step. This ranking is also without doubt helped by their pass rush, which has lacked on sacks, but has been key on quarterback pressures.
Speaking of the defensive front, the Rams also boast a mere six rushing touchdowns against them in their first nine games. They boast one of the league’s fiercest front sevens that includes Aaron Donald, Robert Quinn, and Alec Ogletree, all of whom have been performing even above their high expectations. Thus, the low number of touchdowns allowed should come with little wonder.
Finally, and in their most definitive statistic, Los Angeles ranks an elite sixth in total yards given with 2,943. Even with five losses, coordinator Gregg Williams has developed a team that puts up a tough wall against high powered offenses led by names like Russell Wilson, Larry Fitzgerald, LeSean McCoy, and Matthew Stafford, to name only a few.
Of course, a defense of this caliber has its long list of stars, but every unit has its standout.
Trumaine Johnson has been everything the team has wanted this season. The team certainly looks good in franchise tagging him in the off-season. Though an injury sidelined him for a bit, he still has nine passes defended and an interception. More importantly, he has risen as the leader of this unit and the defense itself. As with all of these standouts, Johnson has taken the young players under his wing and led by example, emerging as one of the most feared cornerbacks in this league.
Alec Ogletree has inherited Gregg Williams’ defense and under the guidance of Hall of Fame linebacker Mike Singletary, he has taken quickly to his leadership position. Ogletree leads his team with 60 tackles and both an interception and a forced fumble, both of which clinched victories. Part of this unit’s impressive play can be attributed to Ogletree who has embraced the leadership role, rallied his troops behind their goals, and delivered an elite product.
Last and definitely not least, there is the A-list Aaron Donald. The quick and effective defensive lineman continues to impress in his third season with five sacks and the disruptive force that only comes behind number 99. The anchor of this front seven, Donald has only grown faster and smarter this year in forcing offensive linemen, running backs, and quarterbacks to circle their game against him on their calendars and mentally prepare for the competition he will bring.
The Rams have very quietly emerged as one of the league’s top defenses that could be a stalwart force for years to come. Under Gregg Williams, the unit has been consistent and a problem for even the elite offenses it has lined up against this year. It seems that with the stellar special teams, the only problem left to solve for the NFC West team is the offense. But with the start of quarterback Jared Goff imminent, this may be on its way to a top level as well. With unity in every phase of the game, the Rams are on their way to becoming true contenders. The question that remains is simply how soon.