LA Rams News: Can this team run Brandon Staley’s defense?

LA Rams News:  DC Brandon Staley has a vision for the defense, but can the Rams run it?

The LA Rams face changes in 2020, but nowhere more so than their defense. Change is neither good nor bad, it is merely different. Typically, change happens because the “old ways” stopped progressing, and a “new way” is needed to advance further. Is it possible that the LA Rams defense had plateaued, despite the presence of All-Pro players Aaron Donald and Jalen Ramsey? Well the NFL has an uncanny habit of adapting, and offenses discovered the weak link in the Rams defense was to run it right at them.

Now, it’s up to the LA Rams to adapt.  Somehow, the team must stiffen against the run, while maintaining pressure on the quarterback and ample pass defense upon receivers. That’s a pretty tall order, let alone for defensive coordinator Brandon Staley, who is himself pretty new to the NFL coaching circuit.

Trench warfare

Based on the defensive philosophy made famous by his mentor Vic Fangio, Staley’s defense has basic components needed to make it all work.  The defensive line must be incredibly strong. While they line up in one-gap alignment (between blockers), their assignments are frequently two-gap in nature (take on a blocker head-on, and shed that blocker to tackle the running back).  In the offseason, the LA Rams added strongman A’Shawn Robinson, brought back longtime Rams run-stopper Michael Brockers,

The linebackers must be able to stop the run, take on blockers, provide adequate pass coverage, and create a pass rush. What’s so different about that? Well, the pressure placed on the linebackers is huge. The LA Rams linebacker will need to diagnose plays quickly, arrive at the right position to make the play, and deliver the tackle.  The Rams cannot ride run or pass specialists at the linebacker position. All the while, the team’s success depends upon that pass rush coming from the edge. Both Von Miller and Khalil Mack excel in this defensive scheme. in 2020, the Rams believe that rookie Terrell Lewis is cut from the same cloth, and many NFL veteran pundits believe he is the real deal.

Camouflage coverages

Perhaps the greatest difference in the defensive scheme is the role of defensive backs.  Defensive backs no longer embrace the role of either man or zone coverage. In this defensive scheme, they do both and must be able to play safety, outside corner, or slot cornerback.  We witnessed how the new defensive scheme was reflected in the NFL draft with the early selection of hybrid safety/cornerback Terrell Burgess. How crazy does it get in Brandon Staley’s design? The Rams defensive coordinator has immediately struck up a repoire with All-Pro CB Jalen Ramsey, and they have discussed moving him around all over the defense.

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Opposing offenses cannot possibly be prepared for all the possible coverages if the Rams take Ramsey anywhere on the defense.  That creates a cascade of issues for the offense. It forces the quarterback to locate all the defenders and determine his best matchup, it forces hesitation on the pass, creating more time for the pass rush to sack the quarterback, and it creates an opportunity for the best pass defender in the NFL to play the ball and the quarterback’s eyes, and create turnovers.

Multiple defensive formations

Of course, disguising coverages is just one trick in the magic show for Brandon Staley. At its maturity, his defense is a full-blown magical performance. What shape will it take? What will fans see on the field to demonstrate this defense is that of Brandon Staley’s design?  Well, for starters, the Rams base 3-4 defense will likely be the exception rather than the rule.  The Rams could go formations can flex throughout the course of a game, and not be predictable based on field position, down, or distance.

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It’s that “what they show” versus “what they do” that will trigger confusion on offense.  But confusion is only half of the battle. Unless the Rams defense leverages that split second hesitancy into a sack, a tackle-for-loss, a turnover, or a stop on third down to force a punt, it’s just choreography.  At the end of the 2020 NFL season, we will judge the results of the change effected by Brandon Staley. Will it be a change that benefits the team, sets the team back, or simply a changing of track that requires more time to gain traction? For now, it’s just a change. But like many doors opening, there is a new future awaiting anyone courageous enough to walk through.

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