After franchise quarterback Sam Bradford was placed on injured reserve, fans and media members alike completely wrote the St. Louis Rams off. No one believed they would win another game the rest of the season. Despite the harsh reality, this notion wasn’t far-fetched by any means.
Backup signal-caller Kellen Clemens doesn’t exactly strike fear in opposing defenses, and the Rams' schedule the rest of the way was littered with top-notch contenders. One of those top-notch contenders was one of the most successful teams in the NFL, the Seattle Seahawks.
Heading into Monday Night Football, pundits made it known that St. Louis was going to get blown out in front of its home crowd. Defensive coordinator Tim Walton’s defense was the only chance the Rams had to keep the game close.
Lo and behold, his unit came up big when this team needed them to the most. Defensive ends Chris Long and Robert Quinn lead the charge by tallying six quarterback sacks, two quarterback hits and three quarterback hurries on 50 combined pass-rush snaps.
Additionally, the Rams defense held the Seahawks offense to 135 yards total on 40 plays. Seattle never had a chance. No matter what offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell’s offense tried, it was stuffed to the tune of 3.4 yards per play.
When the clock struck zero, Seattle had managed to garner seven measly first downs and two third-down conversions on 11 attempts. Not exactly an inspiring output considering the Seahawks offense has proven in the past that they have the potential to be incredibly explosive when healthy.
Unfortunately for the Rams, pressuring the quarterback, holding the ‘Hawks to seven first downs and winning the time of possession battle wasn’t enough. As expected, Clemens was ineffective more often than not, and two costly turnovers killed scoring drives.
St. Louis ended up falling 14-9 when it was all said and done.
However, that doesn’t mean the Rams' astonishing performance on defense should go unnoticed. According to Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Walton’s unit put together the best single-game performance statistically since the team moved to St. Louis in 1995.
Sure, some will defend the Seahawks because they were missing both of their bookend tackles, but that doesn’t matter. Injuries are a part of the game—it’s that simple.
So, what did the Rams do to keep Russell Wilson and Marshawn Lynch at bay? They stacked the box, sent pressure from every which way and forced the Seahawks to live and die by the deep ball. For 39 plays, their playcalls worked to perfection.
The one play that got away from the Rams happened late in the third quarter. On a second-down pass play, Wilson faked to Lynch and delivered an absolute strike down the left sideline to wide receiver Golden Tate. After Tate secured the laser throw, he scampered into the end zone for an 80-yard touchdown.
If you take that one throw away, the momentum in the game doesn’t shift and the Seahawks offense would have had a mere 55 yards to their name. Unluckily, the NFL doesn’t work that way. Every play counts, and saying “what if” doesn’t get you anywhere.
Nonetheless, it’s safe to say St. Louis lit a fire under its own behind and potentially found a game plan that could be a recipe for success from here on out.
The Rams' uptempo, attacking style of defense put Wilson under siege on 12 of his 25 dropbacks. According to the analysts at Pro Football Focus (subscription required), the second-year quarterback out of Wisconsin completed one pass on five attempts with pressure in his face.
Also, when blitzed, Wilson’s quarterback rating was a pedestrian 51.6. A tip of the hat to the Rams, they exposed the Seahawks' weak offensive line with their exotic blitz packages and a four-man rush. Realistically, they couldn’t have drawn up a better plan of attack.
|Pressure||Dropbacks||Att.||Com.||Com. %||Yds||Sk||QB Rating|
|Plays under pressure||12||5||1||20.0||2||7||79.2|
|When not blitzed||12||9||6||66.7||113||3||149.3|
Pro Football Focus
To keep games close and competitive in the future, a similar strategy on defense is the only way to go. There have been way too many games in the past where the Rams defense sits back and lets teams nickel and dime them to death with shallow crossers underneath.
At 3-5, this team has nothing to lose. Whether it’s the Seahawks, San Francisco 49ers or Tennessee Titans, Walton needs to keep being creative in his approach. Blitzing and running twists and stunts along the defensive line will keep rival offensive lines on their toes.
The Titans aren’t hurting as bad as the Seahawks are up front, but they are vulnerable, especially on the right side. Right guard Chance Warmack and right tackle David Stewart have turned in below-average outings in pass protection week in and week out.
Together, they have allowed eight quarterback sacks, three quarterback hits and 29 quarterback hurries. In terms of total quarterback pressures, Warmack is allowing a pressure once every 14 pass attempts and Stewart is surrendering a pressure once every 13 pass attempts.
Pro Football Focus
Long and defensive tackle Kendall Langford will benefit most from Warmack's and Stewart’s downfalls in Week 9. Neither defensive lineman has had trouble getting after the quarterback this season. As a duo, they have joined together to produce 6.5 quarterback sacks, four quarterback hits and 18 quarterback hurries.
As a whole, offensive line play in the NFL has regressed the last few years. Which, in turn, means it’s a good time to be a defensive lineman.
Will the Rams defense turn in another historic performance this coming Sunday? Probably not, yet there’s no question last week’s output against the Seahawks was a building block for the rest of the season. Confidence goes a long way in this league, and we all know this team needs all the confidence they can get right now.
Even though the offense looked unwatchable (at times) and hapless under Clemens’ guidance, Walton’s defense will give Rams fans something to cheer about over the course of the final eight games of the season.