The St. Louis Rams are the best defense in the NFL that no one talks about. Sure, they get thrown in the mix when people are discussing the NFC West, but typically that is simply a tag at the end of the discussion. Regardless of perception, the Rams have arguably the best defense in the NFC West, and maybe the entire NFL, which is supported by the fact that they rank in the Top 10 in nearly every major defensive category. More impressive than simply making the Top 10 in those statistical categories is their progression as the season has continued. Splitting the season right down the middle, the St. Louis Rams have improved in nearly every possible category on defense…
|Weeks 1 through 3||Weeks 4 through 6|
|Record||1 Win, 2 Losses||2 Wins, 1 Loss|
|First Downs Allowed||66||51|
|Hits on Quarterback||12||21|
|Tackles for a Loss||14||16|
Aside from turnovers, there is no category that has not been improved on in the last 3 games of the season. Looking at some of the more meaningful numbers, the St. Louis Rams have cut their points allowed by 57.7%, or from 78 point in the first half of the season to only 33 points in the second half of the season, and cut their yards allowed by 26.4%. In terms of getting to the opposing quarterback, the defense had a 9 more hits on the quarterback and 10 more sacks in the last three games compared to the first three matchups.
All of those numbers would not mean very much if they weren’t, at the end of the day, translating into wins. The Rams started off 1-2, losing to both opponents they faced from the NFC North. Against the Detroit Lions, the had been ahead for much of the game, but lost on a last second touchdown pass from Matthew Stafford. Against the Chicago Bears, the Rams were within a single score until about 9 minutes left in the 4th quarter when Sam Bradford through a pick-6, pushing the Bear ahead by two touchdowns, essentially ending the game. The point is, they were both winnable games, games that may have swung in the other direction if the defense had kept the teams out of the endzone.
Now, the defense cannot be to blame for either of those games. In fact, the defense may have been the only variable keeping them from being a blowout, since the offense was not having any success moving the ball or putting points on the board. However, the defenses play may have been the difference in the Rams 2-1 record in the second half of the season. In the two wins, the offense only managed 36 points, with only 14 of them coming from the offense. The rest came from Greg Zuerlein’s 5 field goals and Johnny Hekker’s throw for a touchdown on a fake field goal attempt, contributing 22 of the 36 total points. The real difference was that the defense only allowed 16 total points from the Seattle Seahawks and the Arizona Cardinals.
The Green Bay Packers will come into the Edward Jones Dome in hopes that they can be the third team in the division to snag a win from the St. Louis Rams. However, with the return of Michael Brockers to the lineup and the progression of the linebackers and young secondary players, the Pack will not be facing the same team that the Bears or the Lions matched up against earlier in the season. The Rams truly are a team on the rise, and it has started with the defense. The Rams in the second half of the season are getting to the quarterback more often, averaging nearly 5 sacks and 7 hits on the quarterback per game and shutting down drives early, not allowing teams to reach the first down markers or get into field goal range. The Rams have only allowed 3 touchdowns in 3 games, and would likely be touting a 3-0 record if Zuerlein had made any one of the three field goal misses against the Miami Dolphins. If the offense can put points on the board, which they have so far against 3-4 base defenses and/or weak passing defenses, Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers could be in for a long day on Sunday.