Intervention time: How LA Rams lopsided TOP impacts defense

Mandatory Credit: Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports /
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Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports /

TOP and the Rams defensive effectiveness

The LA Rams hired Sean McVay to be the team’s head coach in 2017. Since that time, the Rams have enjoyed three different defensive coordinators. During this time, the team employed Wade Philips as the defensive coordinator for three seasons – 2017 through 2019. The teams employed Bradon Staley as the defensive coordinator for one season – 2020.

And finally, the team has hired Raheem Morris as the defensive coordinator for 2021. Now, let’s examine the defensive effectiveness of each coordinator and the relationship to TOP for each. If true, there should be a correlation between how well the defense played and how long the Rams controlled the clock. Let’s see.

Wade Phillips

When Wade Phillips took over for the LA Rams defense in 2017, the team was tasked with learning his version of the 3-4 defense. For defensive rankings, we are using ESPN stats. For TOP ranking, we are using

Year     Rank (Yds)  Rank (Pts)   TOP rank
2017    19th              12th              21st
2018     20th             20th                8th
2019     13th             17th              22nd

Of course, one of the factors not considered in this correlation table is the fact that the Rams offenses in 2017 and 2018 were among the top-ranked offenses in the league. That does alleviate some of the pressure on the defense from stopping every play to stopping enough plays to win.

Let’s see if we can learn more from the next two defensive coordinators?

Brandon Staley

Three things happened to help the Rams’ defensive performance in 2020. For starters, the LA Rams offensive production plummeted, which meant that opposing teams no longer found themselves in shootouts with the Rams. Additionally, the Rams committed heavily to the running game to help out quarterback Jared Goff. And finally, the Rams installed a new defense based on the defensive philosophy of NFL defensive Sensai, Vic Fangio

Year     Rank (Yds)  Rank (Pts)   TOP rank
2020     1st              1st                  5th

The Rams excelled at the new defense because they have the personnel to run it with incredible precision. The trouble was that NFL offenses had found a strategy that was quite effective at neutralizing it. The first sign of trouble began when the winless New York Jets found that a patient and relentless attack on the middle of the defense, at the middle linebackers, could prove to be enough to win the game.

The strategy was perfected by the Green Bay Packers in the Divisional Round of the NFL Playoffs and has since been used any number of times by opponents so far this season.