This morning, Rambin’ Fan broke down the front seven of both the Chicago Bear and the St. Louis Rams, which ended up slightly favoring the Bears. Now we look to the secondary, the skill positions on the defensive side of the ball that have seen a recent hike in value with the transformation of the NFL in a shotgun formation, pass happy league. One of the new cliches in football is that “you can never have too many quality corners” on the roster, as the St. Louis Rams know too well. Last season, the Rams had their Top 3 corners on IR before the midway point of the season. This year, it seems as though they are handing them out like candy during Trick-or-Treat, with the for-nothing trade of Josh Gordy to the Colts and the release of Jerome Murphy. So, how do the Rams bounty of corners and safeties stack up against the Bears…
The Rams used a 2nd rounder and 3rd rounder on cornerbacks in this years draft after the disaster of last season. It if weren’t for the background knowledge of last season’s disaster, one may have been surprised with the drafting moves after the high-profile acquisition of Cortland Finnegan from the Tennessee Titans. Regardless, the mixture of old and new has meshed well together thus far in the season. Finnegan, Janoris Jenkins, and Bradley Fletcher have all played extremely well so far this season. Against the Lions, the corners picked off two of Stafford’s passes, returning one for 34 yards and the other for a touchdown. More impressively, Bradley Fletcher shut Calvin Johnson out of the game for a couple of quarters, while Jenkins and Finnegan played man coverage on Detroit’s shifty slot receivers and big tight ends. Against the Redskins, the corners completely took away the passing game, forcing RGIII and Co. to attempt to win with their legs. Griffin was held to 20 completions for 206 yards, with 33% of those yards coming the 68 yard touchdown as a result of blown coverage by the safety. They allowed Washington to move the chains only four times in third down situations, and picked off RGIII for the first time in his NFL career. So far, opposing quarterbacks have averaged a 61.75 quarterback rating, only 7.25 yards per completion, and given up only 2 passing touchdowns versus 4 interceptions, one of which was returned for a touchdown. More impressively, Jenkins and Finnegan are both in the Top 5 in solo tackles on the Rams, with 9 and 14 tackles, respectively.
The Bears corners have also been extremely impressive, even in their loss to the Green Bay Packers. The corners have actually played against fairly similar quarterbacks; one game against a high profile rookie (Luck and RGIII) and one against a Pro-Bowl caliber, pass-first signal caller (Rodgers and Stafford), and both have fared well against them. In fact, the Bears defense was essentially the only factor that kept Chicago in the game against the Pack, after Cutler misfired on four interceptions. Unlike the Rams, the Bear typically do not play in their nickel package, meaning that Charles Tillman and Tim Jennings are the lone men on the outside. However, both have played superb so far in their first two games. Jennings leads the league with 3 interceptions, and leads the Bears with 6 pass deflections. Tillman, who is often avoided by quarterbacks, hasn’t quite matched those number, but had a huge forced fumble against Green Bay that could have kept the Bears in the game. Jennings and Tillman aren’t as active in the tackling game, which is likely the result of the sure tackling at the linebacker level. They held Aaron Rodger to 219 yards passing, with only a single touchdown, an interception, and a pathetic 29.3 quarterback rating. However, the Bears employ zone coverage a significant amount of the time, while the Rams’ corners line up in press man-to-man for a majority of the game, so it is hard to compare the two apples-to-apples. The fact that the Rams have more quality depth at the position would typically give them the nod, but the similarities in yardage allowed, touchdowns allowed, and interceptions is too striking to pronounce anyone the winner.
Advantage: Tie, 3-2-2
If there was one weakness on the Rams defense, aside from defensive tackle, it would be the safety position. The Rams have only allowed one long touchdown so far in the regular season, and it looked to be the result of blown coverage on the part of the safety. This was a big problem during the preseason, with Craig Dahl starting in place of the injured Darian Stewart. Stewart is easily the best safety on the team in terms of pass defense, but has been held out with an apparent injury all season, even though he is listed as the starter on the depth chart. Dahl has not been bad, but has definitely not been phenomenal by any stretch of the imagination. He is currently leading the secondary with 15 combined tackles, but has yet to record an interception, pass deflection, or force a fumble. Quintin Mikell is in a similar boat, although he has been pretty consistent in coverage since he was crowned the Rams starter when they acquired him from the Philadelphia Eagles and dropped O.J. Atogwe. For the most part, the safeties have not had to do too much. Jeff Fisher has given the safeties primarily a deep, Cover 2 role, asking them only to keep the field in front of them and not asking them to play much man coverage. The duo has not overwhelmed thus far in the regular season, but there also hasn’t been that much to complain about from the pair.
The Bears use their safeties in a relatively similar way, although Major Wright is a much more athletic safety than either Mikell or Dahl. However, it has really been the play of Chris Conte that has excited, after picking off Andrew Luck in in the season opener. Both safeties have shown a willingness to help in run support, and haven’t give up anything deep so far. The Bears are also much deeper at the position, with Craig Steltz manning the bench, losing the top spot on the depth chart after starting all 16 games last season. The Rams, on the other hand, are backed by a pair of UDFA from his years draft class, one of which is currently nursing a hamstring injury sustained during a kickoff last week against the Redskins. Athleticism, depth, and play-making ability of the Bears safeties give them the edge over the adequate starters in St. Louis.
Advantage: Chicago Bears, 3-3-2
With the St. Louis Rams taking the cake on the offensive side of the ball and the Bears getting the nod on the defensive side of the ball, neither team currently has the advantage in the game. To break the tie, we will breakdown the special teams units, specifically the kicking/punting and return games. If you did not get a chance to check out the other breakdowns you can get to the by clicking on the links below: