Explaining why LA Rams defense devalued linebacker position

(Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images)
(Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images) /
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LA Rams Sean McVay Kevin O'Connell Brandon Staley
(Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images) /

Defense discussions

The LA Rams defense, like that of any other NFL team defense, is categorized as either a 4-3 defense or a 3-4 defense.   There are no other base categories recognized in the NFL today.  The 4-3 refers to the base defense with four down linemen and three upright linebackers.  Similarly, the 3-4 refers to the base defense with three down linemen and four upright linebackers. Any other version is considered a “sub-package”.

The defense can swap out a linebacker for a defensive back, placing five defensive backs on the field. This five-defensive-back defense is often referred to as the nickel-defense.  If the offense goes with an empty backfield, some defenses counter with another linebacker/defensive back substitution, commonly referred to as the dime-package. As the NFL has modified the rules, offenses that once ran heavily, now pass heavily  With the exception of an occasional team, average NFL offenses now count upon 65 percent of their offense as a result of their passing plays.

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2018 to 2019 changes

The LA Rams defensive personnel groupings for 2018 was a base 3-4 at 43 percent of the time, which was second-most in the league. The team ran with the nickel package 34 percent of the time, which was the 29th-most frequent usage in the NFL. The Rams’ use of the dime package in 2018 was 22 percent of the time, good enough for the eighth-ranked usage of the formation.

We can see from the 2019 tables that the Arizona Cardinals and Seattle Seahawks remain in base defense more often than any other teams in the league, while the San Francisco 49ers played nickel-package 70 percent of the time. The Rams eventually learned from experience that they needed to commit more players to blocker roles to face their NFC West rivals. And while we were there, we peeked in at the Denver Broncos. Curiously, the Broncos were a base 3-4  for 27 percent of the time, dime-package for eight percent of the time, and nickel-package a whopping 65 percent of the time.  Why check the Broncos? What Denver’s defense did, the LA Rams defense will likely do in 2020.