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2017 Colts Opponent Scouting Report: Will the Rams Defense Reach the Next Level Under Wade Phillips?

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NFL: Los Angeles Rams at Oakland Raiders
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On September 10, 2017 the Indianapolis Colts travel to the City of Angels to take on the Rams. In this week one match up I sought to understand our opponent and get a better idea for what we’re up against. The Rams have a new coaching staff and the team is stocked with high draft picks from years past. These aren’t the same Rams that we played in 2013 and hopefully the outcome is a little different this time too. Let’s learn more about the new look Rams.


Relative to the offense, one thing remains consistent on the defensive side of the football: turnover was vast in LA this off-season. In 2017, the Rams will welcome Wade Phillips as their defensive coordinator. If you want a good schooling on Wade’s scheme all you need to do is Google “Wade Phillips scheme” and you’re instantly hit with about 350K returns for what is referred to as the “Phillips 3-4”.

I know this, because I’ve done it. In my research I read a lot of articles (not all 350k) that breakdown the defense and how it separates itself from others that look like it on the surface. Of everything I read the most thorough comes from our friends over at Turf Show Times. You should do yourself a favor and read all of this piece by Eric Nagel. tl;dr:

[Speaking of a typical 3-4] In a 3-4, the single defensive tackle lines up directly over the center (0 technique, otherwise referred to as a nose tackle) and the ends are a 5 technique (give or take). All three lineman are responsible for two gaps (as opposed to one in a 4-3)...

...both inside linebackers typically have a two-gap responsibility (they defend the bubbles in between the defensive end and nose tackle). The outside linebackers only have one gap - the C-gap - on the outside of the offensive tackle.

The Wade Phillips 3-4 1 Gap

What? I thought you said everyone (except the OLBs) have a two-gap responsibility in a 3-4? Not so fast. Phillips isn’t so cut and dry, because not all players can handle that level of responsibility.

The idea of the Phillips 3-4 isn’t that everyone always has a 1 gap responsibility, sometimes there will be players that are 2 gapping, but the fact that a 3-4 has its down linemen playing a fast 1 gap scheme at all is unusual, and Phillips has had a lot of success with it.

If you’re struggling with the idea of a 1 gap system and a 2 gap system this should help.

What’s the big deal? Well it allows the line to fire off the ball and not have to read or react to anything. They’re playing their gap and getting penetration. Remember when the Colts had Freeney and Mathis at their peak and a bunch of small quick DT’s, they were playing 1 gap. Today, they play 2 gap.

None of this matters if their players suck. And unfortunately for the Colts, despite only winning 4 games last season, the Rams defensive line is really strong.

Defensive line

Last year the Atlanta Falcons offense was really good — both in the air and on the ground. For the season they averaged 120.5 rushing yards per game and 4.5 yards per carry. Both ranked in the top 5 in the league.

So when the LA Rams (4-12 finish) played the eventual Super Bowl loser you would expect they would have run all over them. Instead, the Rams held them to 66 yards on 25 carries for an average of 2.64 yards per carry.

  • Mostly because of things like this:

The line fills every gap and isn’t pushed back at all. As a result, Freeman had nowhere to go, tried to cut back, and got dropped for no gain.

  • Same Story:

Last year, this group was really good, and it’s generally accepted that they have one of the most talented defensive lines in all of football. Here’s the catch; two of their three projected starters will miss our Week 1 match up.

On the first day of padded practice veteran Dominique Easley suffered a torn ACL, meanwhile Aaron Donald has yet to report to the team and is working out on his own. The dispute is over the fact that the two time all-pro DT is set to make $1.6 million this season while playing on his rookie contract, which is an insane bargain for the Rams. Donald is asking for an extension for substantially more money and I can understand his holdout — I also understand why the Rams wouldn’t want to set that precedent.

Ultimately it means the Colts aren’t going to be competing against the best the Rams defense has to offer.


There’s a chance you’ve heard about the LA Rams starting linebackers. If you haven’t, they sport two converted Safeties as their ILB’s and are starting Robert Quinn at one OLB spot. ILB Alec Ogletree was named second team All-Pro last year and Marc Barron just moved full time to LB this year form an athletic duo. In case you forgot about Quinn he finished with 19 sacks in 2013 and has battled injury for the past two seasons.

  • Reminder:
  • Same guy:

Hopefully for the Colts, Robert Quinn doesn’t rediscover his old form until week 2.


  • Corner

The Rams CB1 is named Trumaine Johnson. By all accounts he’s good. How good? He’s good enough that the Rams made him the highest paid corner in the league this year by using the franchise tag on him for the second year in a row.

So they have one spot filled, but who lines up on the other side of their press man defense? All indications point to Kayvon Webster a 5th year pro who came to LA from Denver following Wade Phillips to his new home. I haven’t been able to find a lot of information on Webster but I’ve seen a lot of “if’s” surrounding him — including “if he can”, “if they do” — which likely means he will be targeted early and often.

  • Safety

What about those Rams safeties? For a team that sports two converted safeties to play linebacker, it’s more than a little ironic they have a converted linebacker playing strong safety. Maurice Alexander is what happens when you draft a “project player” and he develops as planned. PFF listed him as the most improved safety from 2015 to 2016. It’s PFF I know, no one cares. For the record I don’t like using PFF rankings to empirically state one player is better than another, please note that’s not what I’m doing here. PFF noted a large increase in the quality of his play from one year to the next, which leads me to believe he has actually progressed as a player.

The free safety spot is filled by former nickel cornerback Lamarcus Joyner. He’s expected to drop down to play CB some in addition to his role as the starting FS. I get the feeling he’s the Rams version of Darius Butler, if Darius Butler were five years younger.

  • Gamepass doesn’t provide All-22 during preseason, so I’m not sure what happened:

I just hope it happens several more times just like this in week 1.

Final thoughts

Wade Phillips is an excellent defensive coordinator. His scheme is good but more than that he knows how to use his players effectively. The Rams front 7 is chock-full of talented players and their secondary seems unsettled at best. Despite their talent this is a defense that can be scored on. They have question marks at some positions and they’re playing in a new system, there will be opportunities to put up points if our Colts can execute.