St. Louis Rams Defensive Scouting Report

This year, Jon Ledyard and I will be collaborating our scouting reports. We’ll play to our strengths – he’ll be focusing on the individuals while I’ll be looking at overall scheme. These reports will be broken down into two articles, one for offense and one for defense.

Our reports for the St. Louis Rams’ defense.

ALEX’S SCHEME REPORT: 

The Rams, as you know, employ a 4-3 defense. Their defensive line is scary and I’m sure Jon’s section will highlight that group, effectively putting fear into the minds of every Steelers’ fan. But what people don’t talk about is the coaching staff. Gregg Williams is the defensive coordinator and Bountygate aside, has been in the league forever with relatively good marks. Their defensive line coach is Mike Waufle, coaching defensive line in the NFL since 1998. Over the last eight years, Waufle coached teams have averaged over 44 sacks per year. Three times over that span has his group recorded over 50 sacks, including the Super Bowl winning 2007 New York Giants.

Aaron Donald primarily plays the three tech, meaning he’ll flip to either side based on the offense’s strength. The defensive line pieces will flip around so it’s hard to get a read on exactly where an individual plays. Expect each Steelers’ lineman to have different matchups throughout the game.

Donald has played on over 75% of the Rams’ snaps in the first two games. Michael Brockers is at just under 62% and free agent acquisition Nick Fairley has seen 27% and 21% of the snaps over the first two weeks – pretty scant playing time. Of course, this rotation keeps their DL fresh.

St. Louis will play with two three techniques, players lined up between guard and tackle to each side, instead of the traditional three/one technique.

STLD3Tech

Seven of the Rams eight sacks have come from their defensive line. Cornerback LaMarcus Joyner has the other.

Their defensive line really gets after it, too. Similar to Cameron Heyward or Stephon Tuitt, you’ll see Donald and Brockers running downfield after the ball.

They will mix up their personnel groupings, running a 4-2-5 nickel and a 3-2-6 dime package, the latter often having strong safety Mark Barron in the box. Barron has played on 30% snaps the first two weeks. Like we saw with the San Francisco 49ers last week, the Rams do a nice job of mixing up their coverages. Lot of late snap rotation from two high to a single high look.

Here’s a pretty typical example of their rotation. From two-high to single high in Cover 3 Sky.

STLDTwoSky STLDSky2

And a little more extreme. The nickel defender rotating and becoming the middle third defender while both safeties rotate down. Turns into a Cover 3 look.

STLDTwoHigh3

 

STLDTwoHigh4

STLDTwoHigh5

On third and short to medium, expect to see a lot of man-free coverage, Cover 1. Earlier downs show more of a mix between man and zone.

And true to a Gregg Williams defense, it’s not vanilla. You might think that because they have a strong front four, they would routinely drop seven and play it safe. But the Rams show some aggressive blitz looks.

Here’s a five man pressure with defensive backs coming off of each edge, meeting and sacking Russell Wilson.

STLDPressure1 STLDPressure2

Here’s Williams dropping Donald into coverage, athletic enough to carry Jimmy Graham down the seam.

STLDDonald

That’s a defensive tackle playing man coverage on one of the most athletic tight ends in the league. Has to be the only player, and the only coordinator comfortable enough to trust it, in the league to be asked to execute that assignment.

In 2014, six of the Rams’ sacks came from defensive backs, one of the highest marks in the league. For reference, the Steelers had zero of those.

JON’S INDIVIDUAL REPORT: 

My scouting report on the Rams offense was admittedly scathing, but their defense is a much more competitive group, featuring one of the best units in football in the trenches. Statistically the Rams have struggled to stop the run after shutting down Marshawn Lynch in Week 1, giving up 182 rushing yards to Matt Jones and Alfred Morris last week. Despite being banged up, the St. Louis secondary has been on point this season, giving up only 205 yards passing per game through two weeks.

Defensive tackle Aaron Donald has quickly become one of the best defensive players in the game in just his second season, terrorizing offensive lines with his quickness, burst, and elite hand usage at the point of attack. Simply put, Donald is as dominant an interior defensive lineman as I can remember seeing, and he’s only going to keep getting better.

I mean….I’m still speechless on this play. The hand usage, the body control, the quickness…how many times have we seen a defensive tackle work out of a double team with a perfectly executed spin move? By the looks of things, the Redskins offensive line shares our surprise at the move. Donald is a marvel.

He may already be the most talented pass rusher amongst all interior defensive linemen in football with 2.5 sacks already, but Donald is also nearly unstoppable as a run defender. Jeff Fisher allows his crew to do a ton of one-gap penetrating, which perfectly suits Donald’s elite first step and burst off of the ball.

He’s not alone on a defensive line that is loaded with talent either, as Robert Quinn remains one of the best speed rushers in the game.William Hayes and Chris Long round off a deep group of edge rushers, while Nick Fairley and Ethan Westbrooks give the Rams great depth on their interior defensive line behind Michael Brockers and Donald. Eight sacks in two games is nothing to sneeze at, and there have been plenty more quarterback pressures that don’t go on the stat sheet.

All are tremendous fits as one-gap penetrator types, as Fisher’s defense thrives on athleticism and physicality along the front. Brockers and Donald are as heady as they are physically impressive too, with the former saying he knew what play Seattle was going to run to attempt to pick up a first down on fourth-and-short in overtime, based on the formation the Seahawks were in.

Brockers, showing great power and hand usage at the POA, gets the first hit here on Lynch, before Donald comes flying in to finish the running back off. Brilliant play by two of the best in the business to win the game for St. Louis.

Long doesn’t have the lateral quickness of a Quinn or even a Donald, but even at 30 years old, his burst off the line of scrimmage is impressive. He’s a better run defender than Quinn (who most teams will try and run at), and still appears to be the emotional leader of the Rams defense along with James Laurinaitis.

Laurinaitis, whose name I did spell correctly on the first try by the way (Ed Note: Gold star awarded), was one of my favorite players in college during his years at Ohio State. It seems like he’s been around forever, but the middle linebacker is only 28 years old entering his seventh season. He’s as physical and nasty as ever, but he’ll still overrun tackles and has trouble getting off blocks. Laurinaitis is a good scheme fit in St. Louis, and will fly all over the field with good quickness.

Alec Ogletree is a highly athletic linebacker who the team will roll out in coverage with solid results. He’s still raw, especially for a first rounder, but his natural abilities and quickness allow him to make a lot of plays others at his position can’t. He will bite on play-action fakes, badly at times.

JONSTLD

Takes several false steps here and is very slow to recognize the fake. Not uncommon for Ogletree, as positional discipline remains a concern.

If you think Ogletree’s positional discipline is an issue, meet Janoris Jenkins, cornerback for the St. Louis Rams. The fourth-year pro has a lengthy history of biting on double moves and pump fakes, allowing plenty of big plays due to his risky style.

Jenkins (right outside corner in the above GIF) is extremely talented and athletic, but his skills have gone to waste due to his lack of cerebral prowess. He’s incredibly quick to close on the football, and even more willing. Unfortunately for him, teams know that and utilize his tendencies against him consistently.

The loss of E.J. Gaines is a big one for St. Louis, but Trumaine Johnson is quickly becoming the team’s top cornerback. He’s not as athletic as Jenkins, but Johnson has the length and instincts a lot of teams want in their corners.

LaMarcus Joyner is the jack-of-all-trades in this defense. Played safety and corner in college, and mans the nickel spot for St. Louis with good results. Strong run defender, physical corner, and excellent tackler.

The Rams safeties are two of the brighter players at their position in the league, as T.J. McDonald continues to grow into a complete player. He’s smart and technically sound in coverage, while providing ferocious run support and in-the-box physicality.

Rodney McLeod is as quick as it gets for a safety, and he’s often used in single-high situations with Mark Barron or McDonald closer to the line of scrimmage. The defense will also operate from their base 4-3 look with either Barron and McDonald acting as the third linebacker and the other as the strong safety, while McLeod mans his free safety spot. Little similar wrinkle to San Francisco in their desire to get three safeties on the field at one time thanks to the uncommon depth they enjoy at the position.

Despite all their young promise in the secondary, St. Louis will give up plenty of underneath passes attempting to take away the big play. Opposing quarterbacks have completed almost 81 percent of their passes through two weeks, the second worst mark in football for a defense. That said, opponents average of 6.7 yards per pass attempt is one of the lower marks in the league, so St. Louis has done a good job taking away the deep ball and making teams earn their progress on short-to-intermediate throws.

Granted, neither Seattle nor Washington offers the pass-heavy, downfield arsenal that Pittsburgh boasts, so Sunday will be a very new challenge for St. Louis’ defense.

Punter Johnny Hekker has a pretty average leg with poor hang time from what I saw on tape. Because of his short kicks, return men often don’t have a lot of space to work with, and his coverage unit was fantastic against Washington after giving up a punt return touchdown to Tyler Lockett in Week 1.

Isaiah Pead and Mo Alexander are the gunners and both do their jobs very well from what I saw on tape. Bradley Marquez is the upback, but I noticed he is very eager to get out of the backfield and hit someone down the field. Perhaps a little too eager, something to keep an eye on.

  • Hypo Cycloid

    This makes you wonder how the Redskins even scored on them.

    This is the game we will miss Pouncey most. Wallace and Foster aren’t exactly athletically gifted linemen, and will have to try to block the most athletically gifted tackles in the league. I think Ben isn’t going to have much time at all in this game and will be taking a lot of those short completions unlike the last couple games. Bell being back will help since he is so good at blocking and will probably see a lot of dump offs to him in this game. If this offense is successful against that front, it will be because of Bell.

  • Slab

    Love the articles. Small note only offered because this article format will continue each week- Shouldn’t it be “Jon Ledyard and I”? Has nothing to do with the article, only offering it up if you care. Not the grammar police.

  • Slab

    Maybe more of a Nix/Bell backfield, too.

  • Alex Kozora

    You’re right Slab. I’ll fix it. Thanks.

  • LucasY59

    The thing that stands out the most to me is them allowing the short passes and giving up a high percentage on completions

    Ben needs to get rid of the ball quickly to negate their pass rush so the short underneath stuff needs to be the go to play call for Sunday (ESPECIALLY with Bell coming back and being a great pass catcher out of the backfield)

    AB and Wheaton should do well with the shorter routes as well (the Rams give too much cushion, kinda like the Steelers) and AB especially can turn a short pass into a big gain. DHB will be useful as a blocker in those situations and also on the times where they use PA or Double moves to go deep

    Heath should be clutch as always and should keep his consitent (almost under the radar) production going

    Gilbert and Beach will have to do well against the DE’s and like I said Ben getting rid of it quickly will make their jobs a lot easier

    Foster and DeCastro will most likely be rotating (based on how the D is rotating) on Donald and Brockers and Foster will most likely be the one needing Wallace’s help on most snaps (regardless of which of the two he is going against) I think DD can hold his own with either but also has a lot of work ahead of him, a good showing on Sunday might put him out there to start getting some PB attention (him being out of Pounce’s shadow a bit could make some pay more attention to him as well, the OL has not fallen apart with the absense of the All-Pro Center, and I think DeCastro’s play is a big reason for that)

    I think the run game should be fine as the Rams D is stronger against the pass, and running at them will help the O alot (help the whole team, if they can control the clock) wear the D down and give them a good one two punch of Bell and DLO, which like I said earlier can create some big play opportunities with play action.

    I think there is a good possibility that the team has a lot of success on Sunday, but a lot will be determined by which Rams team shows up, same could be said about the Steelers, both have had hugely different outcomes and performances week 1 vs 2, week 3 will show which is the true identity of each team

  • Ask Questions Later

    Poor Cody. I knew thee well… 🙁

    In all seriousness though, this game is going to be very close. No Pouncey? Check. No Martavis? Check? Aaron Donald being Such 2.0? Check. Honestly, I hope the Online is going to be okay after this.

  • Slab

    Thanks for the articles! I feel like like I learn something each week.

  • blackandgoldBullion

    That’s a nice young team with the ob ious studs on the D line. O line on the other hand is very raw and a big problem. If they could improve Foles is good enough that they would contend in a year or two. Arizona stays healthy and they might even run away with that division.

    Excellent test for the men of steel. And Fisher will sometimes pull out as many trick plays as necessary at home.

  • RMSteeler

    Steelers seem to start each game with a run off tackle for 0-2yds. I’d like to see what they can do against the 3-2-6 dime package by showing a 3 WR w/Bell or Heath split out and D Will at HB. Seems one way to get the extra DL off the field. I guess they can try slide the line and have Ben roll for more time to throw, too. Might see an early end around and screens to Bell to see how they react. Ben in the pocket in a standard set may not do that well, but maybe the O line is up to the task since Bell and D Will are so good in pass/blitz pro. This should be a good tune up for the Ravens.

  • Bill

    In the first picture the defensive tackles lined up in the 3 technique, but they are not between the center and the guard is the last paragraph states.

  • dano

    So what is it with their defense? Why with all that pass rush do they allow so much through the air? Thought Janoris Jenkins was good and Trumaine Johnson was even set for a new contract this offseason. Plus their safeties and mostly high round picks, including Barron being a first round pick, even if traded