Can the LA Rams hold out with just Reeder and Young?

Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports /

The LA Rams are 1-1 without ILB Micah Kiser playing. Can the team hold out with Kenny Young and Troy Reeder until he returns?

The LA Rams run a 3-4 defense, and are down to just two healthy inside linebackers on the roster. While that is a deep concern for many, it is not something that seems to be a significant concern for the LA Rams coaching staff. Right now, there are other matters on their radar screen. There is the matter of ball security, and the fact that the Rams have not had a good handle on the ball since the bye week.

First, a fumble to the Seattle Seahawks, two interceptions to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and then two fumbles and two interceptions to the San Francisco 49ers. That’s not only not improving, but it is getting worse geometrically. So that’s claiming a lot of coaching time.

Then there is the matter of QB Jared Goff. After two 300+ yards passing, he crashed back down to earth with just 198 passing yards. Since the bye week he is 85 of 109 passes for 876 yards, two touchdowns and three interceptions, so that is claiming a lot of coaching time too.

Linebacker limbo

With so many fires springing up on the offensive side of the ball, there is little focus upon the Rams defensive roster, and the dluting effects of losing players slowly to injury over the course of the season. The Rams are down to just Kenny Young and Troy Reeder to cover the inside linebacker for the foreseeable future. Young has been Steady-Freddie, playing in all 11 games this season but has only seen action for 48 percent of the defensive snaps. He’s made 36 tackles and one tackle for a loss.

Reeder has only been active on defense for four games, resulting in seeing action in just 20 percent of the defensive snaps. But he has 36 tackles as well, with three tackles for a loss. You see, he recorded a trio of quarterback sacks against Washington. In just 141 defensive snaps, Reeder has amassed 29 tackles. For comparison purposes, Rams LB Micah Kiser has 558 defensive snaps and recorded 77 tackles.

‘Reed’-ing quarterback’s eyes

The struggle with putting Reeder in for Kiser is pass defense. Reeder has allowed 29 completions out of the 34 passes thrown his way (85.3 percent completion), with 356 yards and a touchdown. Kiser has allowed 32 completions of the 50 passes targeting his receiver (64 percent completion), for 300 yards, three deflected passes and three touchdowns.

That is why the Rams attempt to dedicate Reeder to run defense, and compensate by adding defensive backs to add additional pass coverage. As we witnessed against the San Francisco 49ers, offenses can target Kiser even in limited coverage territory by directing the wide receiver, tight end, or running back to flood his area and allow the quarterback to await the inevitable separation.

Rams letting it ride on Reeder

In spite of those vulnerabilities, the Rams defense held up well against an impassioned 49ers offense. So can the Rams hold out with only Troy Reeder and Kenny Young as healthy inside linebackers on a 3-4 defense? While we are urging the Rams to seek help at inside linebacker from NFL Free Agency, there is no indication that these Rams have made any effort to do so.

The Rams will be truly tested again this week, this time by the Arizona Cardinals (6-5). If the Rams lose their second game in a row, but this time based on poor defensive play by Reeder, they may shop for reinforcements. Otherwise, the Rams are what the Rams are. They are a good defense.  And yet, it’s difficult to fight the ‘what if they had a solid linebacker’ daydreaming that eagerly awaits taking me away whenever Troy Reeder misses a tackle.

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Don’t get me wrong. I want the Rams to uncover gems at the inside linebacker position. I think that Micah Kiser can definitely be good enough with a bit more experience and if the team finds a way to get his snap count down to 60-70 percent for games played. But for now, it’s time to button up. The Rams continue their trek to the playoffs, and are doing so with the minimum number of healthy players at ILB for their 3-4 defense. This is going to be one helluva ride through the white water rapids. Let’s hope we all enjoy the ride and reach our destination safely.