In recent weeks the Rams defense has shown flashes of dominance and the ability to finish games. With a young core of guys becoming more comfortable by the week in Wade Phillips’ scheme, this unit could be the X factor in a run towards the playoffs.
1. The Return of Lamarcus Joyner. Joyner has missed the past 3 games with a hamstring injury, and hasn’t played a full game of action since week 2. Joyner is the Swiss army knife of the Rams defense, offering the versatility to play both safety and drop down and cover the slot. This is also the first game that the young pair of Joyner and John Johnson will start at safety. In just five combined starts the two have combined for 5 passes defensed, 2 interceptions, and 1 touchdown. Sunday could be the first of many starts for this duo of the future.
2. Aaron Donald. AD took a few games to perform to his insane standards, but the past few weeks he is looking as dominant as ever. He has single-handedly wrecked opposing teams game plans of late, and is now up to 36 QB pressures according to PFF. For context the next best player has 30 pressures, and Donald missed week 1! 99 is back.
3. Cornerback play. Nickell Robey-Coleman was one of the Rams best kept secrets heading into the season; maybe not so much anymore. The 25-year-old slot God, has been a terror at nickelback already notching 4 passes defensed, 2 interceptions, and a forced fumble (and recovery). One the outside Kayvon Webster, who signed a two-year deal this offseason has played well in recent weeks and has shown to be an elite tackler. And lastly, Trumaine Johnson, who hasn’t had a great year, has yet to allow a touchdown and has offered solid play as well.
4. Pass rush. A wildly inconsistent unit has been feast or famine this year. Quinn has been a major disappointment this year and Barwin hasn’t been much better. Surprisingly this unit is tied for second in the league with 20 sacks. This likely due to well-timed blitzes from Wade Phillips, and not indicative of our outside rushers ability. However, expect guys like Donald and Brockers to continue their dominance on the interior and hopefully younger guys like Longacre and Fox earn more chances to shine.
5. Run defense. The single biggest hole on this defense (no pun intended) this year by a long shot. A combination of poor angles/tackling, loss of contain, and inability to get off blocks has lead to one of the worst run defenses in the league. But if there’s one thing you should never do, its doubting Wade Phillips’ ability to adjust. In the past three games this unit has allowed two long runs of 70 and 75 yards. Aside from those they’ve allowed 275 yards on 76 carries (3.6 ypc). The key to eliminating the explosive runs falls largely on the shoulders of Alec Ogletree and Mark Barron. If they can clean up their inconsistencies (which is a big “if”), the run D can become solid.