LA Rams: Evolution of NT role and 2021 impact to Rams defense

Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports /
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LA Rams News
Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports /

Staley’s modifications

Whether or not he deserved to be released, the LA Rams defense had reached its plateau under Phillips. The Rams changed the basic defensive philosophy at the beginning of the new season and then worked within that philosophy to change up coverages and blitzes.  That is the way a majority of the NFL defenses go about their business.

When Staley arrived, he brought a new dimension to the LA Rams 3-4 defense.  Learning his craft from another great defensive coordinator Vic Fangio, Staley lined his trio of defensive linemen in the Eagle formation. That dictates that the nose tackle plays over the center but can shade to either side. The defensive ends play off the offensive tackle, but shades to the inside.  One of the Rams inside linebackers shades to the other side of the offensive center and the two outside linebackers line up outside of the offensive tackles.

By aligning in this manner, the defensive players have a tremendous advantage against the run, as they begin the play by being in the running lanes.  Unlike the five-man front of Phillips, this Eagle formation forces offensive linemen to rely upon double teams to open running lanes, which in turn frees up a defender to make the play. The Rams disguised their looks on each play and then disguised their defense further for each team that they faced.

The nose tackle, surprisingly, takes on a huge number of double teams because he is the fulcrum of the defense. While 2019 was a learning period for nose tackle Sebastian Joseph Day, he matured and was ideal to play that role in 2020. The Rams rushing defense was so good because the real work was handled upfront. All that was truly needed by the linebackers were to stay home, read the offense, and play basic defense. Casey Sulley from does an outstanding breakdown of the Rams 3-4 defense under Brandon Staley, and I recommend you check it out.  It shows how the Rams pushed tremendous pressure on the quarterback, despite only rushing four.