Both the St. Louis Rams and the Miami Dolphins have been pretty below average this season on offense, which is surprising given that the teams have a combine 5-5 record on the year. How do teams that cannot score offensively win games? Defense. Both teams have been phenomenal on the defensive side of the football, and it is the primary reason that the Rams and Dolphins have been in nearly every games this season. So, how to the two defenses stack up position-by-position?
While the defensive line is multidimensional in terms of their duties in the front seven, the down linemen are typically measured in terms of their pass rushing abilities. The St. Louis Rams and Miami Dolphins are both among the leaders in wrangling down opposing quarterbacks, tied for 7th most in the league with 15 sacks each.
The Miami front four is composed of Odrick, Starks, Soliai, and the defenses only true Pro-Bowl caliber player, Cameron Wake. The starting linemen on the team account for 11.5 out of the 15 total sacks, with each player contributing at least 0.5 sacks this season. Even their rotational defensive end, Olivier Vernon, has contributed half of a sack. The Miami defensive line is responsible for 69 of the teams 325 tackles (21.3%), which is roughly on par with the typical contributions from the men up front. However, they only account for 4 tackles for a loss out of the 14 total TOL takedowns on the team, 3 pass deflections out of the team’s 29, and have zero forced fumbles by the starting defensive linemen (although, Olivier Vernon has 2 forced fumbles, and Tony McDaniels has the only defensive fumble recovery).
Similarly, the St. Louis Rams defensive line has accounted for 11 of the 15 total sacks, with Chris Long and Robert Quinn carrying a bulk of the load, with 9 sacks between the two of them. In terms of tackles, the defensive front four have accounted for 55 of the 317 total tackles (17.3%), which is not surprising given the reliance on the nickel package and the absence of Michael Brockers for the first 3 (more like, three and a half) games of the season. Continuing the pattern of similarity, the St. Louis Rams line has attributed 4 of the 18 tackles for a loss, but only one of the team’s 25 pass deflections this season, while forcing and recovering one fumble.
The real difference maker for the St. Louis Rams is the return of Michael Brockers to the defensive rotation. Since Brockers came back into the lineup in Week 4, the St. Louis Rams have recorded 11 of their 15 sacks and allowed only one rushing touchdown, after allowing 5 touchdowns in the previous 3 games. He forces opposing teams to focus their blockers on the interior of the defensive line, whereas before, teams could double and triple Long and Quinn on the outside, and single block Jermelle Cudjo or Kellen Heard on the interior of the line. A single-block, or chip block from a running back or tight end, will not contain Long or Quinn, which has been demonstrated over the past couple of games.
With the addition of Brockers, the Rams have as much quality depth as any team in the league at defensive line, with seven different lineman contributing at least 4 tackles this season… certainly more depth than the Dolphins. They also have much younger and much more talented rotation, having three 1st-rounders in their starting lineup in Brockers (2012), Quinn (2011), and Long (2008), with Quinn and Long progressing in each of their seasons in the league. The Dolphin are bare after their fifth man on the depth chart and have only two “proven” players on their defensive line. Starks is playing well above the level his career would indicate, having averaged only 3.5 sacks per season, let alone 3.5 in the first five games. Cameron Wake is the only true threat on the defensive line, but really hasn’t been a constant presence in the opposing backfield, with 4.5 out of 5.5 of his sacks coming in a single game against the Arizona Cardinals. At the end of the day, the St. Louis Rams are deeper, younger, and more talented on the defensive line as a whole, and it will show on Sunday at Sun Life Stadium.
Advantage: St. Louis Rams, 3-2