St. Louis Rams Need to Ignore Defense in the Draft and Focus on Offense
After witnessing Dallas Cowboys running back DeMarco Murray trample the St. Louis Rams defense for 253 rushing yards during Week 7, it's difficult to ignore the gaping holes on the defensive side of the ball.
That is, unless the Rams offense is much, much worse. Which it is.
The St. Louis offense was not just conventionally bad in 2011. They were inept even in comparison to some of the worst teams in recent NFL history.
The Rams scored a measly 12.1 points per game after finishing with a 2-14 record.
The 2007 Dolphins (1-15) scored 16.6 points per game.
The 1999 Browns (2-14) scored 13.5 points per game.
The 2000 Chargers (1-15) scored 16.8 points per game.
The 2008 Lions (0-16) scored 16.6 points per game.
But forget the fact that the Rams were outscored by some of the worst teams of the last decade, or that they're just one of five teams in the last 10 years (with the 2009 Rams being another) to score less than 200 points in a season (193).
The simple fact is that the St. Louis defense was not the reason for the Rams losing 14 games last season.
The offense was the worst in the NFL when it came to converting third downs (28.0 percent), while converting just 64 out of 228 third-down attempts.
Just to give you an idea of how truly awful those numbers are, the New Orleans Saints converted 118 times on 208 attempts (57.0 percent), and the average conversion rate in the NFL was 38.1 percent.
On top of that, the Rams were 30th in average time of possession per game (28 minutes, 11 seconds).
With that in mind, did the defense have a realistic shot at succeeding?
The offense couldn't score and they forced the defense back onto the field 72 percent of the time on third downs. On top of that, they could not maintain possession for any significant amount of time whatsoever.
The defense had to deal with fatigue after constantly being forced onto the field, which resulted in a false portrayal of their true capabilities.
But other than being forced into an impossible situation thanks to the offense, what other factors indicate that the defense is better off?
Level of Talent
The offense has two Pro Bowl-caliber players—running back Steven Jackson, and newly-acquired center Scott Wells.
Jackson will turn 29 years old before the start of next season, and Wells is 31.
Meanwhile, the defense has four players who can perform at a Pro Bowl-caliber level—linebacker James Laurinaitis, defensive end Chris Long, safety Quintin Mikell and newly-signed cornerback Cortland Finnegan.
The two premier offensive talents are aging, while the defensive stars are all well within their prime, except for the 31-year-old Mikell.
Additionally, the defense has three up-and-coming players who are expected to greatly contribute as starters—defensive end Robert Quinn, safety Darian Stewart and defensive tackle Kendall Langford.
The defense has one more starter, cornerback Bradley Fletcher, who is expected to play at an acceptable level if injuries are no longer an issue for him.
As a result, eight of the 11 defensive starters are thought of as dependable players, but there are still questions regarding both outside linebacker positions, as well as the second defensive tackle position.
While the defense has just three questionable positions, the offense is lacking in multiple areas—left guard, right tackle, tight end, wide receiver and backup running back.
Clearly, the offense is desperately in need of reinforcements. More so than the defense.
Severity of the Needs
While the offense is lacking top-notch playmakers, who are typically found early on the the draft, the defense has needs that can be addressed with late-round picks.
Defensive tackle and outside linebacker are the only desperate positions on the defensive side of the ball, but neither of those positions require premier draft picks.
The Rams run a 4-3 defense, and while the outside rush linebacker is a vital part of a 3-4 defense, there's not a lot of value in 4-3 outside linebackers.
There were 16 NFL teams who ran the 4-3 defense on a regular basis last season, which means there are 32 starting linebackers for that system.
Of those 32 starters, 21 of them were acquired in the third round or later, while 15 were drafted in the fourth round or later.
Only seven of the 32 starters were first-round picks, while just four were selected in the second round.
Of the 11 outside linebackers selected in the first or second round, Chad Greenway (Minnesota Vikings) is the only one who has been to a single Pro Bowl (2011).
In fact, of the 32 starting outside linebackers, the only one who can be considered an elite defensive talent is Lance Briggs (Chicago Bears), who was a third-round draft pick in 2003.
When taking all of that into consideration, maybe using a second-round pick on Zach Brown (North Carolina) is not such a hot idea.
Defensive tackle, on the other hand, is more of a priority in the 4-3 defense, but it's another position that doesn't require top-notch talent.
Of the 32 starting tackles in a 4-3 defense, 19 of them were acquired outside of the first two rounds.
Out of the five 4-3 teams who finished with a top 10 defense, just three of the 10 defensive tackles from those teams were first-round picks, while just one was a second-round pick.
Meanwhile, offensive production requires more of an investment.
When looking at each NFL team that finished with a top 15 offense and taking the two top receivers from each of those teams, here's what you'll find...
Half of those 30 receivers are either first- or second-round picks, while 20 of them were selected in the first three rounds.
Just 10 of the 30 receivers were found in the fourth round or later.
The Rams own four picks in the first three rounds of the upcoming draft, but there's honestly nothing more nauseating than seeing a mock draft that has the Rams using two or three of those picks on defensive players.
Should the Rams ignore defense in the draft until at least the third round?
Obviously, mock drafts don't dictate the actual mindset of the front office, but there has to be some concern considering head coach Jeff Fisher has a defensive background.
Since the defense is the better unit, perhaps it's logical to dedicate more resources towards that side of the ball in order to build a dominate defensive team.
However, at the end of the day, no matter how "shutdown" a defense is, a team cannot win without outscoring the opponent.
Also, there's Sam Bradford and his $78 million contract. As long as he's averaging $13 million per year, the Rams must do everything in their power to allow him to succeed. That means surrounding him with talent.
Out of the four receivers currently on St. Louis' roster, Austin Pettis was drafted higher than any of them (third round), which isn't going to cut it.
As long as the people in charge treat offensive production like a joke, we'll continue to get a laughable performance from that side of the ball.
Not that Fisher and Co. are striving to ignore offense, but at this point there's no reason to believe that the offense has improved compared to last year's team.
So whether it's help at receiver or help on the offensive line, the Rams will not produce more wins until they can score points.
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