Reasons behind this Rams underperformer showcases an easy 2024 fix

Los Angeles Rams Offseason Workout Raheem Morris
Los Angeles Rams Offseason Workout Raheem Morris / Jayne Kamin-Oncea/GettyImages

The angst of LA Rams fans against the struggles of OLB Michael Hoecht in coverage was almost a weekly event throughout the 2023 NFL season. But while the results of Hoecht's coverage were worthy of dissent, the reasons behind his coverage were far out of his control. We did a mini deep-dive on OLB Michael Hoecht when the team offered him a Qualifying Tender Offer to extend with the team for one more season. Fan reactions to his extension were not warm and fuzzy. But fans' dissent was misplaced. The problem was Hoecht's coverage.

Why was he used in coverage?

The problem starts with the odd man front. In a 3-4 defense, the offensive configuration dictates which outside linebacker will be used as a pass rusher, and which OLB will be forced into coverage. Opposing offenses quickly detected that vulnerability, and ran their offensive formations in such a way that Hoecht was the outside linebacker who drew coverage duties:

Per Pro Football Reference, in 962 defensive snaps, Hoecht allowed 24 receptions on 31 targets. Per Pro Football Focus, Hoecht was committed to coverage in 256 snaps. That's an incredible misuse of Hoecht in the defense. In stark contrast, teammate Byron Young allowed 13 completions in 17 targets. That is not quite half the number of passes thrown at his receiver.

The responsibility to provide coverage in the flat is not suddenly whisked away. The defense simply has to do a much better job of deploying players to provide coverage in the flat. There are some options that are clearly low hanging fruit to solve part of the problem. The team can prioritize finding a coverage-quality outside linebacker to rotate in for the most frequent scenarios when Hoecht was forced into coverage in the past.

Another option is to disguise coverages. Former DC Brandon Staley mastered that technique. In real life application, the method would deploy a nickel or dime defensive back into the flat, and redirect Hoecht into a blitz or coverage over the middle role.

Another on-the-table option is to amplify Hoecht's use as a hand-in-the-dirt defensive lineman. The Rams could address the retirement of DT Aaron Donald by returning Hoecht to his DT role. There is a true need to generate positive production with the now-vacated defensive snaps, and Hoecht is a viable option for that role.

The Rams are returning 81 tackles and 6.0 quarterback sacks to this defense is a solid move for the team. Now, it will be up to new DC Chris Shula to ensure that his scheme plays to Michael Hoecht's inherent strengths.