Staley’s philosophy will influence Raheem Morris D
With just a week to go into the LA Rams ‘season opener against the Chicago Bears, a team whose defense has generally been tough to exploit for the Rams’ offense. See, the Bears adopted the defensive philosophy of a Vic Fangio, while the LA Rams defense had used the defense of former defensive coordinator Wade Phillips.
In 2020, the LA Rams went from being the Phillips version of the 3-4 to the Fangio version of the 3-4 when the team hired Fangio’s understudy in the coach of outside linebacker Brandon Staley. The transformation made a lot of people nervous as it was a new defensive strategy. Not only did this signify a new shift in philosophy, but the Rams’ defensive staff were a bit exhausted from free agency defections.
So what the LA Rams did was shift the focus of the pass defense from a pass rush to an emphasis on pass coverage.
The Rams began to hide the covers, converting to a divided field cover where one part of the football field was made up of men, while the other part of the field was an area. The Rams also put emphasis on the blitz and looked to the top four to generate the majority of the pressure on the quarterback. It was a wise move as the slowing down in the quarterback’s ability to read defensive coverage gave defensive tackle Aaron Donald enough time to get the sack. To recap, here’s a video depicting the transition from Wade Phillips style of defense to Vic Fangio style:
The LA Rams didn’t stop there, however. The team learned that Brandon Staley’s defense can stop the big plays, but was a bit sensitive, with the LA Rams emphasizing defensive backs and emphasizing inside linebackers. Facing the Green Bay Packers and quarterback Aaron Rodgers, the Packers exploited the Rams’ vulnerabilities in the middle of the defense and attacked the inside of the team with a volley of rushes and short passes.
The Morris method
In response, the Rams will likely infuse some level of defensive concepts into Cover-2, as explained in this second video here:
Whether in split-field / split-zone coverage, or Cover-2 concepts, NFL offenses have the flexibility to adjust their games to create favorable matchups. The advantage the defense always has in any of the defensive schemes above is the ability to mask what the quarterback sees and can interpret.
One of the new strategies employed by the LA Rams this year will be to make more use of Jalen Ramsey’s versatility to cover slot receivers on short or intermediate routes if the offense succeeds there quickly. This will allow the Rams to play on the short end of the court while continuing to defend the big game with several defensive backs.
Another novelty could be the use of blitz. While Staley’s defense didn’t use blitzes very often, Raheem Morris reaffirmed the role of inside linebackers. One such way to deploy a more aggressive pass rush is to drop the two outside linebackers into pass cover and send an inside linebacker down the middle through the A gap after the quarterback. The Rams have enjoyed great success with Troy Reeder as the inside defenseman who battled the Washington soccer team in 2020. Look for more of this type of defense pass rush in 2021.
The Rams have learned that disguising the covers has led to great things for the defense in 2020. Now the team will try to use that knowledge to formulate an even better defensive strategy this year. Ultimately, it’s not just the players, but the game plan, that creates success. But with two All-Pro defensemen in Aaron Donald and Jalen Ramsey, the Rams have a head start to find that success.