Jan 13, 2013; Foxboro, MA, USA; Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt (99) salutes after a sack of New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (not pictured) during the first half of the AFC divisional round playoff game at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports

How Do The St. Louis Rams Fit In The Top 5?

On Tuesday, Bleacher Report’s Matt Miller had some fun on Twitter, giving his answer to any “Top 5″ question that his followers might have sent his way. Naturally, the typical categories were given… top quarterbacks, top offense, top defense, etc. However, there were a handful of more specific Top 5s that might peak a Rams’ fan interest.

 

Top 5 Defensive Back Corps

Miller:  Seattle, Denver, Green Bay, Tampa Bay, and San Francisco

The first three names on the list are no-brainers, ranking 1st, 2nd, and 5th respectively in pass coverage last season, according to Pro Football Focus.  However, the Bucs were the worst secondary in the NFL last season, and essentially wiped the panel clean for 2013. Dashon Goldson from San Francisco and Darrelle Revis from New York are all expected to automatically morph together into a cohesive unit… doubtful. Eric Wright was ranked 66th among corners last season, allowing 14.6 yards per catch and snagging only one interception. Mark Barron was ranked 75th out of 88 safeties that played at least 25% of their teams total defensive snaps. Pair those two with a cornerback coming off of a significant ACL injury and a safety that benefited from playing behind the best linebacker corps in the NFL and you have… apparently a Top 5 defensive back corps. Maybe Top 5 in name recognition…

San Francisco is even worse! Donte Whitner allowed more receiving touchdowns than any player in the NFL last season, and allowed an NFL-high 128.5 passer rating when quarterback threw at him in coverage. There were no upgrades to fix the messy cornerback group that got destroyed in the Super Bowl, with Terrell Brown likely being the only competent defensive back still on the roster. They lost the battle for Louis Delmas, lost the battle for Ed Reed, and they scrambled to take Eric Reed with their first selection in the draft. The 49ers’ overall defense will still be fine, but the secondary had better hope Justin Smith is back at full health, or this mediocre group will get exposed quickly.

The Rams could make an argument for Top 5 next season, with Cortland Finnegan and Janoris Jenkins returning, and Trumaine Johnson ready to fill in on the outside on the nickel package. The question mark will be around the two safeties; one a rookie and one with injury troubles. In 2011, when Darian Stewart was full strength, was put up solid figures in the a number of key areas, including pass deflections, sacks, and overall pressures on the quarterback. McDonald has been showing sparks in OTAs, even stopping the superhero-like performance of Jared Cook… at least on one pass. There is certainly a case to be made against them in the Top 5, but they deserve more recognition than the lowly 49ers’ squad or the diva-filled bunch in Tampa Bay.

 

Top 5 “Surpise” Teams

Miller: Kansas City, Arizona, Carolina, Tampa Bay, and Philadelphia

In all fairness, Miller had little to no characters to explain how he interpreted the term “surprise.” It could have been listing teams that would surprisingly not be fighting for the #1 overall pick in the 2014 draft, or it could have meant surprise contenders for the playoffs. It might be a good thing that the Rams are no long on this type of list. Hopefully, that means the team has passed the threshold of low expectations and is finally being labeled at viable in the minds of analysts.

 

Top 5 Current Head Coaches

Miller: Belichick, Harbaugh, Harbaugh, Tomlin, and Coughlin

Hard to argue against any of these names, especially if playoffs and Super Bowls are the measuring stick used to gauge superiority. However, both Harbaugh brothers are mere rookies in the game, and will both finally be entering an era mostly-filled with players and schemes of their choosing. The Steelers have enjoyed four playoff appearances in six years under Mike Tomlin, but they haven’t made a deep push since their 2008 Super Bowl Championship. In 2011, the were outed by Tim Tebow and the Denver Broncos in the first round, and got edged out by the Cincinnati Bengals and Baltimore Ravens last season. In my view, Tomlin has done little to “revamp” the roster since taking over, and now will have to win with an aged, Bill Cower-era roster of Ben Roethlisberger, Troy Polamalu, and Heath Miller. What Jeff Fisher has done to the St. Louis Rams’ roster in just over 15 months is simply astounding. If we are talking about “what have you done for me lately,” then Coach Fish has certainly got to be in the discussion for Top 5 in 2013.

 

Top 5 Pass Rushers

Miller: Cameron Wake, Aldon Smith, Clay Matthews, J.J. Watt, and Geno Atkins

Wake is a beast… Watt is beaster… and Atkins might be the beastest! However, Aldon Smith and Clay Matthews are both a mere products of their scheme and the players around them. The 3-4 pass-rushing outside linebacker might be one of the most overrated positions in football, supported by the fact that both of those players were in the Pro Bowl. How did Aldon Smith fair once Justin Smith went down with injury… ? Zero sacks from Week 15 on through the Super Bowl (i.e. six games). Matthews is more respectable than that. However, he did not record a sack in 33% of his regular season games, despite blitzing on 84.4% of the opponents’ passing plays. So, 439 blitzing attempts, getting shuffled to the weak point in the offensive line, and not having a designated blocker and managing only 14 sacks… not Top 5 to me!

I am slightly biased towards 3-4 defensive lineman and 4-3 linebackers in this category, namely because, typically, they have numerous responsibilities that would inhibit their ability to generate huge “pressure” numbers. Von Miller, the only 4-3 outside linebacker to make the Pro Bowl roster last season, showed with last season, with 19 sacks and 86 total pressures, all while hammering out 51 defensive stops (i.e. tackles that result in an offensive failure). A pure pass rusher that doesn’t rely on his scheme to get him his numbers.

In terms of pass rushers from the defensive line, you have to love a 4-3 defensive end that gets keyed on with a double-team on every play ranking 2nd among all lineman in pressures. The top guy overall  is Geno Atkins, with 78 pressures last season. In a close second you have the monster, J.J. Watt, with 76 total pressures. And, tied with the 2012 Defensive Player of the Year is none other than… Chris Long, who also managed 76 pressures. However, unlike the other two players on the list, it isn’t his first time in the Top 3. In fact, in 2011, Long ranked 1st overall in the league in pressures, with a mindblowing 83 combined sacks, hits on the quarterback, and hurries. Tack on the fact that Chris Long, and the Rams’ defense, have typically spend a fair majority of their snaps against offenses that are nursing a lead, and you have more than enough to slot Long in a Top 5 pass rusher spot.

 

Top 5 4-3 Base Defenses

Miller: Seattle, Tampa Bay, Baltimore (?), New York Giants, and Denver

Really… Baltimore? Even in some imaginary world where the Ravens did play primarily out of a 4-3 base,  can anyone name the starting front-seven of the defending Super Bowl champs? Naturally, Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil will be on the outside. However, after Jameel McClain’s injury and Rolando McClain’s retirement, the projected starters are now a 2nd round rookie and… who knows?! On top of that, they are slotting a 4-3 defensive tackle as their new 3-4 defensive end.

Rams are returning the entire “sack title” roster from 2012, with the addition of the top 4-3 outside linebacker prospect in the 2013 NFL Draft. Enough said…

 

Top 5 Defensive Lines

Miller: San Francisco, Baltimore, Buffalo, Detroit, Houston

Bills… *drops mic*

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