The LA Rams defense over the past six seasons of Head Coach Sean McVay's tenure has been based on two basic principles. The Rams defensive front was tasked with applying a lot of pressure on the opposing quarterbacks. And the Rams secondary was tasked with defending the pass. In terms of defending the run, the Rams truly did not factor that into the mix until the arrival of new defensive coordinator Raheem Morris.
When he arrived, the Rams added more oomph to their inside linebacker position and seemed to be less aggressive with reinforcing the pass-rushing outside linebackers. That change in philosophy was never more on display than in the 2022 NFL season when the LA Rams' two best defensive players (in terms of durability and production) were arguably their inside linebackers, veteran Bobby Wagner and second-year Ernest Jones.
While the Rams are touted as running a 4-3, the defensive look will shift to a 5-1 alignment in nickel defense sub packages, with the Rams deploying a weak rotation Cover 3. That gives the Rams optimal spots to rush the passer, as well as defend the run effectively.
Can Rams play the same defense in 2023?
In the play below, the LA Rams are in a nickel package against the Seattle Seahawks. The Rams box safety, Taylor Rapp, is dually tasked with pass defense for crossing routes as well as closing into the box on a running play. In the play shown in the embedded video below, the Seahawks' ball carrier advances the football seven yards before being brought to the ground.
But there are two keys to the play above that the Rams must now be concerned about. The LA Rams benefitted from incredible production out of nose tackle Greg Gaines, who was frequently double-teamed yet still managed to hold his ground at the point of attack. This year, the Rams will need to rely upon younger defensive linemen to supply that fireplug-like middle to the defensive line of scrimmage.
The second key is the fact that whoever is tasked with safety must be incredibly adept at quickly diagnosing and reacting to the play in real time. In 2022, the Rams' safeties seemed to be cut from the same cord of wood, both leaning to run support rather than pass defense. This year, the Rams will need to get veteran production out of the position, despite the likelihood of that player competing in their second year in the NFL.
I'm not convinced that the Rams will be able to run a defense in 2023 that is identical to that of the past. The Rams do not have the same level of confidence in either the pass rush or the secondary as they had previously. What will that mean for the Rams defense in 2023? I suppose we will all need to stay tuned to find out.