Rams defense looking to rise to the top in 2015
It’s safe to say there is a premium for defensive-minded coaches in the NFL.
Dan Quinn, former defensive coordinator of the Seattle Seahawks , and Todd Bowles, former defensive coordinator of the Arizona Cardinals, were two names tossed around in the conversation of almost every head coaching vacancy this offseason. In fact, there may have been just as much coverage on teams waiting to speak to Quinn during the Seahawks’ Super Bowl run as there was on the actual game. Defensive-minded coaches are proving to be of high value in a league that has seen an incline in the rules awarding many offensive advantages.
The departure of these two top dogs leaves defensive coordinator Gregg Williams and the St. Louis Rams fighting to become the alpha dog.
The Rams finished 2014 ranked 13th in the league with a division-high 40 sacks. However, those 40 sacks are the second-lowest total by the team since 2010. The most in the past five years? 53 in 2013. There is room to improve here.
There was a nice finish in the forced fumble department. St. Louis finished with 18, recovering 66% of those fumbles. Again, the highest percentage in the division. The only team in the division to outrank the Rams here was Seattle. The Seahawks finished with 22 forced fumbles, but only recovered 45% of the time.
The secondary for St. Louis has been the weak spot of this defense for a number of years. The Rams have averaged 14 interceptions per year over the last five years, less than one per game. This includes an anemic 13 in 2014. The San Francisco 49ers paced the entire league in this category last year with 23. Even with these less than stellar takeaway numbers, St. Louis’ defense gave up 22.1 points per game last year, ranking tied for 16th. That’s right on par with division opponents. San Francisco came in at 21.3 (10th), Arizona at 18.7 (5th), and 15.9 for Seattle (1st). It’s safe to say, there are some REALLY good defenses in this division.
Aaron Donald (99) looks on against the Seattle Seahawks at CenturyLink Field. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
The Cardinals promoted their outside linebackers coach, James Bettcher, to defensive coordinator in the wake of Bowles departure. They stayed in-house for this move in an attempt to keep their success going. Posting a paltry 18.7 PPG in scoring defense last year, and two years removed from 47 sacks in 2013, this defense is is trending up. It will be interesting to see if Bettcher can match the intensity Bowles brought with him to New York, but expect this unit to try to meet the challenge in 2015.
Seattle also stayed in-house by hiring their former defensive backs coach Kris Richard as their new defensive coordinator. A defense still licking their wounds from Super Bowl XLVIII, Richard will look to meet the high standards Quinn left behind. The spotlight will always shine brightest in Seattle with some big personalities on the defensive side of the ball, but Richard has put together one of the greatest defensive backfields the league has ever seen. He should be very dangerous with an entire defense at his finger tips.
With Vic Fangio jumping ship to Chicago, the 49ers were also in the market for a new defensive coordinator. Jim Tomsula may have been the obvious choice for some, but by moving him into the vacant head coaching role, he was out of the picture. Enter, stage right, Eric Mangini. Mangini spent the last two seasons on the offensive side of the ball for San Francisco, but made his chops as a defensive coach. This includes stints with the New England Patriots, New York Jets and Cleveland Browns. He was able to find success with the Patriots, but fell short in New York and Cleveland. Mangini should be considered the weakest of coordinators in this dog-eat-dog division.
Once again the Rams are on the doorstep of greatness. Williams has yet another year of reputation with his players and has jockeyed himself into a position to take the top spot in the division. Change brings opportunity, and opportunity brings the potential for success.