The first difference that you notice when watching the St. Louis Rams play defense in 2012 compared to the same team—if you can call it that—in 2011 is the play of its defensive backs.
Free agent Cortland Finnegan and rookie second-round draft pick Janoris Jenkins have been such a tremendous upgrade over the cornerbacks that were called upon to defend the passing game last season.
The cornerback position has by far been the most fluid of the Rams’ defensive position groups.
The team’s starting safety tandem from one year to the next has been the same (Quintin Mikell and Darian Stewart).
St. Louis’ defensive line has been built with the same philosophy (though also improved) as it was in 2011, as well.
First-round rookie defensive tackle Michael Brockers has missed the overwhelming majority of the season to this point and played next to free-agent acquisition Kendall Langford when he has been able to take the field.
Last season, the Rams plugged in two free agents in the middle of the defensive line. Neither of them is there this season.
James Hall, the team’s right defensive end in 2011, departed this offseason and was replaced by Robert Quinn in the starting lineup.
Quinn was called upon to rush the passer during his rookie season last year.
There has been a lot of turnover among the St. Louis linebackers, but James Laurinaitis has been a constant in the middle.
In 2011, the Rams were not one of the most statistically porous pass defenses. That was simply because the team defended the run so poorly.
Opponents weren’t forced to pass out of necessity and took advantage of their option to throw the football against an injury-riddled secondary.
But in 2012, the 3-2 Rams have handled themselves quite well on the back end of the defense.
Finnegan’s notoriously nasty attitude has spread to the rest of the defensive backs, and they’re playing like it.
With only one cornerback from last year on the roster (Bradley Fletcher), St. Louis has been locking up opposing passing games. They have only allowed two touchdowns in five games and picked off eight passes.
Last season, the Rams had 12 interceptions and surrendered 21 touchdowns.
That was while allowing 4.8 yards per carry.
Even without the services of its first-round pick (for the most part) this season, St. Louis has reduced its rushing allowance to 4.4 yards per carry.
Through five games, St. Louis is allowing the third-worst passer rating to opposing quarterbacks this season (66.6).
It’s time that the Rams defense gets the respect it deserves.