Los Angeles Rams: Do the Rams have a Championship Caliber Defense?

by Blaine Grisak
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They say defense wins championships. Even in a league in which offense is so important, defense remains a crucial part of the championship process. Since 2013, there is one statistic that is common among every Super Bowl champion – they all ranked inside the top-10 in scoring defense. The Los Angeles Rams defense has gotten a lot of criticism this season. However, they currently rank tied for seventh is scoring defense.

That bodes, the question, do the 2021 Rams have a championship caliber defense. To do this, we’ll compare the Rams defense to other aspects of other defenses that went on to win the Super Bowl since 2013. We’ll do our best to compare how those defenses faired through seven weeks and then where they ended up at the end of the season.

Stats such as DVOA will only be able to be looked at from an overall season perspective. However, because we currently have seven weeks of data, that’s 41% which is a good sample size. The teams we’ll be looking at are listed below along with their opponents’ record through seven games.

2021 Los Angeles Rams (6-1): 9-19
2020 Tampa Bay Buccaneers (5-2): 13-13
2019 Kansas City Chiefs (6-1): 14-13-1
2018 New England Patriots (5-2): 15-12
2017 Philadelphia Eagles (6-1): 11-16
2016 New England Patriots (6-1): 10-17
2015 Denver Broncos (7-0): 13-15
2014 New England Patriots (5-2): 11-16
2013 Seattle Seahawks (6-1): 13-15

NOTE: Stats on the left are through seven games, stats on the right are through the whole season. For example No. A | No. B. No. A would be the stat through seven games or Weeks 1-7 while No. B is the stat through the entire season. Stats that remain alone are just through the season because it’s not available through seven games. 

Stats for EPA and success rate were taken from Ben Baldwin’s RBSDM. DVOA is credit to Football Outsiders. General stats credited to Pro Football Reference, Team Rankings, and ESPN

Passing Defense

Total Yards

2021 Los Angeles Rams: 1834 yards
2020 Tampa Bay Buccaneers: 1577 | 3945
2019 Kansas City Chiefs: 1600 | 3542
2018 New England Patriots: 1931 | 3943
2017 Philadelphia Eagles: 1910 | 3637
2016 New England Patriots: 1811 | 3806
2015 Denver Broncos: 1203 | 3193
2014 New England Patriots: 1456 | 3837
2013 Seattle Seahawks: 1334 | 2572

Yard Per Attempt

2021 Los Angeles Rams: 6.46 YPA 
2020 Tampa Bay Buccaneers: 6.3 | 6.39
2019 Kansas City Chiefs: 6.32 | 6.09
2018 New England Patriots: 6.77 | 6.52
2017 Philadelphia Eagles: 6.61 | 6.05
2016 New England Patriots: 6.59 | 6.39
2015 Denver Broncos: 4.95 | 5.57
2014 New England Patriots: 6.36 | 6.68
2013 Seattle Seahawks: 5.54 | 4.91

If you asked most Los Angeles Rams fans, they would probably say that the Rams give up too much, too easy through the air. The Rams may rank in the bottom-10 in passing yards, but they rank in the top-10 in net-yards gained per pass attempt. In other words, those yards are going nowhere.

All nine of these teams won the Super Bowl and the Rams rank seventh among them in total yards and sixth in yards per attempt. The Rams are right where they need to be and they have the offense to make up for the deficiencies on offense like the 2015 Denver Broncos or 2013 Seattle Seahawks had. It should also be noted, that five of these teams improved as the season went on.

The fact of the matter is, when teams are trailing, they’re going to throw the ball more. At 6-1, the Rams have been leading a lot. No defense has been thrown on more this year than the Rams. Because of that, the raw yardage number is going to be high.

Sacks

2021 Los Angeles Rams: 20 sacks
2020 Tampa Bay Buccaneers: 25 | 48
2019 Kansas City Chiefs: 20 | 45
2018 New England Patriots: 9 | 30
2017 Philadelphia Eagles: 18 | 38
2016 New England Patriots: 11 | 34
2015 Denver Broncos: 29 | 52
2014 New England Patriots: 18 | 40
2013 Seattle Seahawks: 23 | 44

Interceptions

2021 Los Angeles Rams: 10 interceptions
2020 Tampa Bay Buccaneers: 9 | 15
2019 Kansas City Chiefs: 6 | 16
2018 New England Patriots: 10 | 18
2017 Philadelphia Eagles: 7 | 19
2016 New England Patriots: 5 | 13
2015 Denver Broncos: 9 | 14
2014 New England Patriots: 7 | 16
2013 Seattle Seahawks: 11 | 28

A big thing with this Rams defense is that they turn the ball over and they get to the quarter. Through seven games, only the 2015 Denver Broncos and 2013 Seattle Seahawks recorded more interceptions than passing touchdowns allowed. The Los Angeles Rams are currently achieving that right now. The Rams are one of three teams in the NFL with more interceptions that touchdowns allowed along with the Buffalo Bills and New Orleans Saints.

Touchdowns

2021 Los Angeles Rams: 7 touchdowns
2020 Tampa Bay Buccaneers: 9 | 15
2019 Kansas City Chiefs: 8 | 21
2018 New England Patriots: 17 | 29
2017 Philadelphia Eagles: 12 | 24
2016 New England Patriots: 9 | 21
2015 Denver Broncos: 5 | 19
2014 New England Patriots: 11 | 24
2013 Seattle Seahawks: 6 | 16

Passer Rating

2021 Los Angeles Rams: 80.4 passer rating
2020 Tampa Bay Buccaneers: 84.3 | 94.3
2019 Kansas City Chiefs: 84.9 | 80.8
2018 New England Patriots: 87.7 | 85.4
2017 Philadelphia Eagles: 89.1 | 79.5
2016 New England Patriots: 87.6 | 84.4
2015 Denver Broncos: 69.6 | 78.8
2014 New England Patriots: 85 | 84
2013 Seattle Seahawks: 66.1 | 63.4

The Rams passing defense doesn’t get enough credit for how difficult they make it on opposing quarterbacks. Opposing quarterbacks are only achieving a passer rating of 80.4 this season. On this list, only the 2015 Broncos and 2013 Seahawks did better. Both of those defenses are considered two of the best defenses since the 2000 Ravens.

DVOA (Season Only)

2021 Los Angeles Rams: -9.0%
2020 Tampa Bay Buccaneers: -5.4%
2019 Kansas City Chiefs: -3.9%
2018 New England Patriots: 9.5%
2017 Philadelphia Eagles: -3.8%
2016 New England Patriots: 14.7%
2015 Denver Broncos: -23.3%
2014 New England Patriots: 5.4%
2013 Seattle Seahawks: -30.2%

In DVOA is where you can really see the Rams’ dominance in the secondary. On defense, teams want to be in the negative and the lower the number, the better. Because positive numbers represent more scoring, defense is better when it’s negative. Again, only the 2015 Broncos and 2013 Seahawks have better numbers. Those numbers are so high, that they can be considered outliers.

EPA

2021 Los Angeles Rams: .036
2020 Tampa Bay Buccaneers: -.048 | .043
2019 Kansas City Chiefs: .027 | .012
2018 New England Patriots: .091 | .009
2017 Philadelphia Eagles: .038 | -.070
2016 New England Patriots: .091 | .000
2015 Denver Broncos: -.250 | -.101
2014 New England Patriots .034 | .023
2013 Seattle Seahawks: -.125 | -.163

Success Rate

2021 Los Angeles Rams: 50.8%
2020 Tampa Bay Buccaneers: 43.9% | 46.5%
2019 Kansas City Chiefs: 48.4% | 45.7%
2018 New England Patriots: 46.3% | 44.3%
2017 Philadelphia Eagles: 47.9% | 44.1%
2016 New England Patriots: 50% | 45.4%
2015 Denver Broncos: 40.8% | 41.2%
2014 New England Patriots: 46.6% | 45.7%
2013 Seattle Seahawks: 35.5% | 42%

EPA and success rate might be two of the most important stats. These tell the story on a play-by-play basis and what’s exactly happening. With EPA, again, teams want to be in the negative on defense because defense is better when its negative and positive represents offensive scoring. For success rate, on defense you also want a lower number.

The Rams are obviously slightly high in this group, ranking ninth out of nine teams. The 2016 Patriots are the only other team at the 50% threshold through seven games. Teams are having success throwing the ball against the Rams. However, six of the nine teams improved as the season went on and the same should be expected from the Rams.

This was a defense that lost two key starting players in the secondary and have dealt with a fair share of injuries to Darious Williams, Robert Rochell, and Terrell Burgess. As the Rams get healthy and get more experience, things will flow better.

Run Defense

Total Yards

2021 Los Angeles Rams: 783 yards
2020 Tampa Bay Buccaneers: 462 | 1289
2019 Kansas City Chiefs: 1042 | 2051
2018 New England Patriots: 832 | 1803
2017 Philadelphia Eagles: 469 | 1267
2016 New England Patriots: 646 | 1417
2015 Denver Broncos: 625 | 1337
2014 New England Patriots: 884 | 1669
2013 Seattle Seahawks: 641 | 1626

Yards Per Carry

2021 Los Angeles Rams: 4.4
2020 Tampa Bay Buccaneers: 3.00 | 3.6
2019 Kansas City Chiefs: 4.99 | 4.9
2018 New England Patriots: 5.2 | 4.9
2017 Philadelphia Eagles: 3.81 | 3.8
2016 New England Patriots: 3.8 | 3.9
2015 Denver Broncos: 3.68 | 3.6
2014 New England Patriots: 4.4 | 4.0
2013 Seattle Seahawks: 3.71 | 3.9

The Rams run defense is actually performing much alright. Of these teams, the Rams rank sixth in yards and yards per carry.  Being able to control the clock can be important, especially when an offense is as strong as the Rams. However, the 2019 Chiefs allowed over 2000 yards on the ground and finished 12-4 on the way to the Super Bowl. The Patriots in 2014 and 2018 also didn’t focus on stopping the run. Still, they ended up hoisting the Lombardi Trophy.

Touchdowns

2021 Los Angeles Rams: 7 touchdowns
2020 Tampa Bay Buccaneers: 5 | 10
2019 Kansas City Chiefs: 9 | 14
2018 New England Patriots: 3 | 7
2017 Philadelphia Eagles: 4 | 7
2016 New England Patriots: 3 | 9
2015 Denver Broncos: 5 | 10
2014 New England Patriots: 4 | 6
2013 Seattle Seahawks: 4 | 4

DVOA (Season Only)

2021 Los Angeles Rams: -14.3%
2020 Tampa Bay Buccaneers: -31.4%
2019 Kansas City Chiefs: -.7%
2018 New England Patriots: -12.9%
2017 Philadelphia Eagles: -27.7%
2016 New England Patriots: -26.6%
2015 Denver Broncos: -27.8%
2014 New England Patriots: -12.6%
2013 Seattle Seahawks: -17.9%

The Rams are right in the middle of the pack in run defense DVOA. Again, the teams were able to run the ball against the 2019 Chiefs, and the 2018 and 2014 Patriots. However, the 2018 Patriots and 2019 Chiefs had top-six offenses to counter it. The Rams are built very similarly.

EPA

2021 Los Angeles Rams: -.067
2020 Tampa Bay Buccaneers: -.288 | -.209
2019 Kansas City Chiefs: -.009 | -.025
2018 New England Patriots: -.198 | -.138
2017 Philadelphia Eagles: -.150 | -.196
2016 New England Patriots: -.182 | -.131
2015 Denver Broncos: -.132 | -.181
2014 New England Patriots: -.060 | -.097
2013 Seattle Seahawks: -.200 | -.129

Success Rate

2021 Los Angeles Rams: 40%
2020 Tampa Bay Buccaneers: 25.2% | 32.1%
2019 Kansas City Chiefs: 47% | 43.1%
2018 New England Patriots: 35.7% | 39.5%
2017 Philadelphia Eagles: 30.7% | 30.9%
2016 New England Patriots: 38% | 38.1%
2015 Denver Broncos: 33.3% | 29.7%
2014 New England Patriots: 45.5% | 40.6%
2013 Seattle Seahawks: 35.5% | 35.5%

Exactly like above, the lower the number in EPA and success rate, the better. These stats give a fuller picture of what’s happening on a play-by-play basis. Again, in the run game, the Rams are almost identical to the 2019 Chiefs and 2014 Patriots. We’ll see if the Rams can get below 40% as the season goes on.

Total Defense

Total Yards

2021 Los Angeles Rams: 2572 yards 
2020 Tampa Bay Buccaneers: 2039 | 5234
2019 Kansas City Chiefs: 2642 | 5594 (17th)
2018 New England Patriots: 2729 | 5746
2017 Philadelphia Eagles: 2379 | 4904
2016 New England Patriots: 2457 | 5223
2015 Denver Broncos: 1828 | 4530
2014 New England Patriots: 2340 | 5506
2013 Seattle Seahawks: 1975 | 4378

Points

2021 Los Angeles Rams: 146/20.9 
2020 Tampa Bay Buccaneers: 142/20.3 | 355/22.2
2019 Kansas City Chiefs: 150/21.4 | 308/19.3
2018 New England Patriots: 179/25.6 | 325/20.3
2017 Philadelphia Eagles: 146/20.9 | 295/18.4
2016 New England Patriots: 117/16.7 | 250/15.6
2015 Denver Broncos: 112/16 | 296/18.5
2014 New England Patriots: 154/22 | 313/19.6
2013 Seattle Seahawks: 116/16.6 | 231/14.4

Turnovers

2021 Los Angeles Rams: 12
2020 Tampa Bay Buccaneers: 12 | 25
2019 Kansas City Chiefs: 11 | 23
2018 New England Patriots: 14 | 28
2017 Philadelphia Eagles: 12 | 31
2016 New England Patriots: 9 | 23
2015 Denver Broncos: 17 | 27
2014 New England Patriots: 14 | 25
2013 Seattle Seahawks: 19 | 39

While the Rams give up a lot of yards – the third most on our list – they also don’t allow a lot of points. As mentioned in the opening paragraph, all of these defenses finished top-10 in scoring. All of these defenses went on to win the Super Bowl. Through seven weeks, the Rams rank fifth in points allowed. Like other defensive stats, all but one team got better as the year went on. The Rams are giving up 20.9 points per game, which is only 0.3 points more than the Buccaneers last season.

The Rams also do a very good job at turning the ball over. All but one team had more than 10 turnovers after seven weeks. As you can see, the turnover numbers are very comparable and where championship defense are.

Third Down

2021 Los Angeles Rams: 43.2%
2020 Tampa Bay Buccaneers: 38.9% | 41.25%
2019 Kansas City Chiefs: 36% | 36.6%
2018 New England Patriots: 45.1% | 37.93%
2017 Philadelphia Eagles: 32.9% | 33.61%
2016 New England Patriots: 41.9% | 36.33
2015 Denver Broncos: 31% | 32.34
2014 New England Patriots: 46% | 38.43
2013 Seattle Seahawks: 36.6% | 34.92

Red Zone (Season Only)

2021 Los Angeles Rams: 42.31%
2020 Tampa Bay Buccaneers: 59.38
2019 Kansas City Chiefs: 53.03
2018 New England Patriots: 63.46%
2017 Philadelphia Eagles: 50%
2016 New England Patriots: 52.83%
2015 Denver Broncos: 56.52%
2014 New England Patriots: 52.63%
2013 Seattle Seahawks: 39.02%

Defenses need to show up when it matters. In the NFL, most of the time, that’s on third down and in the red zone. The Rams only rank seventh among these teams on third-down, and are one of four teams that allowed more than 40% of third-down conversions through seven weeks. The Rams will need to get better in this area.

However, in the red zone, the Rams are very good. Teams are only scoring touchdowns in the red zone at a clip of 42.31%. The only team to do better is the 2013 Seattle Seahawks through the course of the season. We’ll see if the Rams can keep it up, but they are off to a very good start.

DVOA (Season Only)

2021 Los Angeles Rams: -11.1%
2020 Tampa Bay Buccaneers: -14.6%
2019 Kansas City Chiefs: -2.6%
2018 New England Patriots: 1.4%
2017 Philadelphia Eagles: -12.2%
2016 New England Patriots: -1.6%
2015 Denver Broncos: -25.2%
2014 New England Patriots: -2%
2013 Seattle Seahawks: -25.1%

According to DVOA, among these teams, the Rams have fifth best defense. Teams that are comparable in other areas such as the 2019 Chiefs and 2014 Patriots, are under -3% while the Rams are above -10%. As a unit, the Rams are performing very well.

EPA

2021 Los Angeles Rams: .003
2020 Tampa Bay Buccaneers: -.125 | -.037
2019 Kansas City Chiefs: .013 | -.001
2018 New England Patriots: -.001 | -.039
2017 Philadelphia Eagles: -.010 | -.109
2016 New England Patriots: -.003 | .-045
2015 Denver Broncos: -.207 | -.130
2014 New England Patriots: -.004 | -.021
2013 Seattle Seahawks: -.151 | -.151

Success Rate

2021 Los Angeles Rams: 47.3%
2020 Tampa Bay Buccaneers: 37.9% | 42%
2019 Kansas City Chiefs: 47.8% | 44.8%
2018 New England Patriots: 42.9% | 42.7%
2017 Philadelphia Eagles: 43.5% | 40%
2016 New England Patriots: 45.9% | 42.9%
2015 Denver Broncos: 38.1% | 37.1%
2014 New England Patriots: 46.1% | 43.8%
2013 Seattle Seahawks: 40.4% | 39.6%

The Rams have an overall defensive EPA of .003 which currently ranks 10th in the NFL. However, that number is only good enough for the eighth team in the group. The Rams’ 47.3% success rate also ranks eighth. It will be something to monitor, but we’ll see if the Rams improve as the season goes on. Either way, you can see they are right there with other teams that won the Super Bowl.

Conclusion

What does all of this mean? You can interpret the numbers however you want. However, the overall point is that while some have said that the Rams defense is bad, it’s actually comparable to more than half of the last nine Super Bowl winners. This defense is good enough right now to win a Super Bowl, especially considering what’s on the other side.

When comparing the 2021 Rams defense to other defenses on this list, they are most comparable to the 2019 Kansas City Chiefs and the 2014 New England Patriots. Both those teams had offenses and quarterbacks capable of overcoming any mishaps. The Chiefs had the fifth highest scoring offense while the Patriots ranked fourth.

Do the Rams have a championship caliber defense? Only time will tell. However, with Aaron Donald and Jalen Ramsey, they certainly have the superstars to make it one. When comparing to other defenses who have won over the last nine years, they also compare well.

The defense will be tested over the next couple of weeks when they take on the Tennessee Titans and the Green Bay Packers. However, if Week 3 against the Buccaneers said anything, this group will be up for the challenge.

 

 

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Will Carella
Will Carella
1 month ago

Blaine this was awesome bro!!! Appreciate the work you put in

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