For the last couple of weeks, Rams Nation has debated the “hiring” of Rob Ryan as defensive coordinator for the St. Louis Rams. Many optimists wondered what Ryan could do when handed the keys to an already dominate defensive roster. Others were more pessimistic, relishing in the fact that Ryan has never transformed a defense into a “top” unit in the league. The one point that all sides seemed to agree on was the reluctancy to convert the defense from the current 4-3 base (or, more accurately, a 4-2 base) to the 3-4 base that Ryan had primarily used in both Cleveland and Dallas.
The hire threw a wrench in several mock drafts, with mocker transitioning from a first round focused on the offensive line to one that helped in the transformation of the defense to it’s new perceived scheme. The St. Louis Rams have two starting-caliber NFL linebackers on their current roster, and very little depth at the position, if any at all. Running out of the 3-4 base means that the Rams would need to come up with, not only an outside linebacker (an overall need), but also another inside linebacker, to pair with James Laurinaitis. Walter Football, one of the leading draft analysis sites, compensated for this apparent “need” in their last draft, projecting the St. Louis Rams to take a flyer on the downtrodden Manti Te’o. While it is unlikely that he will fall that far in April, the transition to this drafting mindset in the mocks around the league emphasized the projected change within the St. Louis defense.
Fast forward to Tuesday, Jan. 29th, when the St. Louis Rams announce that they would not be hiring Rob Ryan as the defensive coordinator. Several sources, including those from the organization, reported that Fisher nixed the deal due to a lack of common philosophy on the defensive side of the football. Reading between the lines, that likely means that Ryan did want to attempt the conversion to the 3-4 base, and that Fisher, correctly, snubbed the idea. For many, the lack of hiring was welcomed with open arms. However, no Rob Ryan also means that the St. Louis Rams are still without a defensive coordinator. Naturally, several names have been thrown out there in connection with the job.
All eyes are currently on ex-Cleveland Browns’ defensive coordinator, Dick Jauron. Jauron runs a very similar style of defense to the scheme already in place in St. Louis. If that wasn’t enticing enough, Jauron has a defensive resume that could stack up to nearly any coach currently in the NFL, with eight year experience as a defensive coordinator in Jacksonville, Detroit, and Cleveland. On top of that, Jauron has served for 10 years as a defensive backs coach (Bills, Packers, and Eagles) and 10 years as a head coach (Bears, Bills, and Lions, as an interim). Last season, even with several injuries and suspensions depleting the defensive roster, the Browns finished middle-of-the-pack in most major statistical categories. However, the Browns were one of only six teams in the AFC to finish with a positive turnover differential, ending their season with 18 interceptions (T-6th in the NFL) and 14 forced fumbles (T-16th).
According to Pro Football Focus, the Cleveland Browns were the 6th best team in coverage, had a positive “grade” in every category (aside from pass rushing), and were the 12th best overall defense in the NFL. For comparisons sake, the St. Louis Rams graded out negatively in every defensive category, and were ranked 25th overall, sandwiched between the Eagles and the Lions. The Browns’ defensive roster is inferior to the St. Louis Rams, at least in terms of overall talent and potential. Outside of Phil Taylor, D’Qwell Jackson, T.J. Ward, and Joe Haden, there isn’t another recognizable player on the roster. Imagine what Jauron could do with Robert Quinn, Chris Long, and Michael Brockers up front, James Laurinaitis and Jo-Lonn Dunbar in the second level, and players like Janoris Jenkins, Cortland Finnegan, and Quintin Mikell in the secondary. It will also help that the St. Louis Rams’ offensive appears to be significantly ahead of the Browns’, who graded out as the 4th worst offense in the NFL, committing 26 turnovers (18 interceptions and 8 fumbles). Brandon Weeden seemed to be coming on at the end of the season, especially in connection with Josh Gordon, but was abysmal at the start of the season, forcing the defense into some extremely difficult situations.
There should be no rush for the St. Louis Rams to hire a coordinator, at least until after the Super Bowl. The most important characteristic of our next DC should be someone that can use the system that has already been implemented to work their defensive magic. Jauron is a life-long 4-3 man, with a special niche for bringing out the best in the secondary. Only time will tell if he will be manning the St. Louis sideline in 2013, but he would definitely have my vote!