One of the most difficult positions to find yourself as a coach in the NFL is following a popular and effective predecessor. Comparisons will come organically and automatically. But in the event of having a very effective predecessor, it becomes an impossible situation. Any success will be the after-effects of the last guy to hold the position. Any challenges or struggles will be the responsibility or fault of the new guy.
So that inevitable unrest that will come when the LA Rams give up more points than many are comfortable with needs to be delayed as long as possible. That’s on new defensive coordinator Raheem Morris, and that needs to be his top objective this season. After all, the Rams defense enjoys the return of three monumental players: Outside linebacker Leonard Floyd, defensive back Jalen Ramsey, and defensive lineman Aaron Donald.
Now, we are not in any way, shape, manner, or form, declaring that the Rams must finish the 2021 NFL season as the top-ranked NFL defense to have a chance at winning Super Bowl LVI. In fact, it’s very likely that the Rams defense will regress naturally, and that in turn may not impact the team’s chances at a Super Bowl win.
Pressure, pressure, I feel pressure
It’s simply a fact that the pressure is mounting for the Rams to advance further than 2020, and the team made it as far as the Divisional Round of the NFL Playoffs last year. This year, the team will be expected to do just as well. To accomplish that, the team will need to get solid contribution from all three phases of the team
The Rams have certainly made significant roster changes to add additional scoring ability to the offense and have added significant contributors who should have a role in turning around the special teams’ play. But the defense has lost key contributors and is restocking the roster with rookies. Even if the rookies eventually show up as solid additions, there is a natural learning curve to reach their full potential this season.
Part of the critical pieces to success for the Rams this year is for all aspects of the team to deliver as expected. That will mean a significant improvement in special teams, a noticeable boost to the offense’s ability to score, and a strong showing by the defense to contain opposing offenses and prevent them from scoring. It’s that third and final piece that may prove to be the most difficult.
No September shootouts, please?
While the Rams have been successful in recent years in limiting the Chicago Bears’ ability to score, the team will face the Indianapolis Colts (with new quarterback Carson Wentz) and the defending Super Bowl Champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
They are both formidable offenses and will test the Rams reconfigured defensive strategy to the limit. It is critical for the defense to show up large in the early part of the season to instill the necessary confidence in the team that they are still capable of shutting down the opposition. That will allow the offense to add plays as Stafford progresses.
Hopefully, the Rams will not face any September shootouts. But perhaps even more critical, the Rams cannot in any way afford to blow a lead. Either scenario will open a can of worms for the defense that will haunt them through the entire season. The best hope for the Rams this season, on defense, is to play solid fundamental defense. After the team gets a solid foothold on offense and special teams, then the defense can slip a little.
Until the Rams offense demonstrates the ability to pile on the points, the pressure will be on the defense to ensure that any lead is enough to win the game.