What is the LA Rams defensive identity under DC Raheem Morris?

Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports /

There are a lot of complaints about the LA Rams defense so far in 2021. Some are legitimate and are based on some of the shortcomings of the team that occurred in one game or how the defense has trended so far this year. Other complaints are of the whimsical variety. Those complaints want coaches fired, players cut, and front office executives run out of Los Angeles.

For our purposes today, let’s try to compile valid reasons for some concerns and try to identify them. Not all of the “they suck at…” reasons I’ve found on social media or the comments section are correct. After all. Many comments are simply over reactionary. The Rams’ defense was not the top defense at the beginning of 2020. In the first six games, the Rams were 4-2 and had allowed an average of 19 points per game. But after three games, the same defense allowed 24 points per game.

How did the Rams get such a strong beachhead? Well, the four wins in those first six games all came at the expense of the floundering NFC East. So it was an easy set of openers for that defense, a set of games that really didn’t push the defense to get it right too quickly.  That has not been the case so far in 2021.

The Rams defense has faced the likes of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Arizona Cardinals in 2021, both offenses are loaded. The Rams are 1-1 against those two powerhouses and 3-0 against the rest of their schedule.  So after five games, what exactly are the Rams doing on defense?

Ranking the Rams

So far, the LA Rams are the 23rd-ranked NFL defense in terms of yards allowed. They are the 19th-ranked defense in terms of rushing yards allowed, and the 23rd-ranked defense in terms of passing yards allowed. So the Rams are in bad shape, right? Well, tap the brakes a bit on that.

The Rams are the sixth-stingiest defense in terms of allowing passing touchdowns at six so far this year.  They are also fifth-ranked defense in terms of quarterback sacks at 14 so far this season. Finally, they are the sixth-ranked defense in terms of interceptions with five interceptions so far this season.

While they are the 19th ranked defense in terms of yards, they are the 22nd-ranked defense in terms of rushing touchdowns allowed, and the 15th-ranked defense in terms of creating fumbles. In the big picture, the Rams run defense is the weak link. But now for a more important question. Can the Rams win a Super Bowl ‘as is.’?

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Recent trends

In 2017, the Philadelphia Eagles had the fourth-ranked defense in the NFL and won the Super Bowl. In 2018, the New England Patriots had the 21st-ranked defense in the NFL and won it all. IN 2019, the Kansas City Chiefs had the 17th-ranked defense in the NFL and won it all. In 2020, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers had the sixth-ranked defense in the NFL and won the Super Bowl.

The point is that the LA Rams needn’t have the top defense to win it all. Rather, they need to have an effective defense. At 4-1 against teams that have an aggregate 15-10 record, the Rams are winning games and beating good teams in the process.

The Rams are still learning their defense and the coaches are still familiarizing themselves with the players. And with the New York Giants, the Detroit Lions, and the Houston Texans on the schedule over the next three weeks, the defense should improve its standing among NFL defenses significantly.

The Rams are 4-1 and are just getting started. Is the defense a finished product? No, not in the least. But it’s not a train wreck either. It’s simply a work in process that the Rams hope to have finished by the time the 2021 NFL Playoffs arrive.  After all, the only statistic that counts is the win-loss record. Unlike 2020, where the Rams beat up on bad teams early, the Rams are holding their own against some of the best teams in the NFL.

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And they are winning in the process.

So what is the LA Rams defensive identity under defensive coordinator Raheem Morris? So far, it appears to be a defense that is far stronger at defending against the pass than the run. Will that be good enough to win a Super Bowl?

We’ll find out soon enough.