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2021 Opponent Scouting Report: Week 2 Rams Defense, loaded with talent from top to bottom

Chicago Bears v Los Angeles Rams Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

Overview

On September 19th, 2021 the Indianapolis Colts will host the Los Angeles Rams In this Week 2 match-up, I sought to understand our opponent and get a better idea of how they may attack our Colts.

This offseason the Colts and Rams competed off the field for the services of quarterback Matthew Stafford. In the end Stafford went to LA and now the Colts will try to make Stafford regret his trade destination. Soon we’ll know if they can do just that.

Let’s see what we can expect in week 2.


Defensive System

A season ago the Rams brought in Brandon Staley to be the teams defensive coordinator. Staley responded by turning a unit that was middle of the pack in 2019, into the top ranked defense in the NFL. In the offseason Brandon Staley was hired as head coach (as all Sean McVay coordinators eventually are) of the Los Angles Chargers. To replace the 38 year old defensive whiz the Rams decided on Raheem Morris. Morris comes to LA after most recently filling in for Dan Campbell after his firing last season in Atlanta.

The most interesting part of this hire is the fact that the defenses Morris has been in charge of in the past are nothing like the defense that the Rams had so much success with in 2020. Brandon Staley brought a defense to the NFL unlike any other at the professional level. It’s been noted time and time again that it looks like a college defense but blended with what Vic Fangio taught Staley during their time together.

Morris on the other hand was accustomed to the Dan Campbell (Seahawks) cover 3 and cover 1 heavy defensive systems. So seeing how Morris plans to adapt will be interesting. If week one is any indication of Morris’ long term plans for the Rams defense, it seems he realized that taking over the top ranked defense from a year ago and changing everything they do at a fundamental level might be a bad idea. So far the 2021 Rams defense looks much the same as it did a year ago.

Morris claims that these Rams use a base 3-4 and while it’s true they do line up in a 3-4 from time to time, these Rams were in a 3-3-5 the majority of the time against the Bears. Here’s what that looks like:

While in this formation they sent five rushers, six times, by my count. For context they were in the 335, 35 times and they sent five rushers 12 times, total. They never sent more than five pass rushers regardless of formation. The Rams were content to use this formation regardless of the personnel grouping that the Bears used. Toward the end of the game, when it was obvious the Bears would be passing the Rams used a lot of 2-3-6 groupings. Here’s what that looked like:

The defender lined up over the Bears tight end is a defensive back. The two linebackers in two point stances did rush the passer nearly every time so in effect this is a dime defense.

Otherwise the Rams mixed in some 2-4-5, some 4-2-5 and at least one 4-3 formation.

What do they do from each of these formations? I can give you a lot of information but I can’t tell you what coverages they were in. I charted the game using the TV copy, which isn’t great but the all-22 wasn’t available and even though it’s out now, I just don’t have time to go back and chart all of the coverages. In future articles I hope to be able to do this, but no luck this early in the season.

It is interesting that on third down they split 2-4-5, 2-3-6 and 3-3-5 formations almost evenly. They only sent five rushers twice on the money down but most interestingly of all, the Bears ran 28 first down plays but the Rams only forced them into 11, third downs. Of those 11 attempts the Bears converted five times. Five times the Rams got a stop. Four times the Bears went for it on fourth down, they turned the ball over on downs all four times. The Rams forced one punt and intercepted one third down pass in the end zone.

The Rams didn’t force stops as much as the Bears drives sputtered out and instead of kicking field goals, or in a couple of instances just punting the ball away and forcing the Rams to drive the length of the field, the Bears walked away with nothing.

The last interesting thing about this defense that I’ll write about here, are all of the interesting ways the Rams use star cornerback Jalen Ramsey. Last week the Colts had to deal with Jamal Adams, this week it’s Ramsey. Ramsey isn’t the prolific pass rusher that Adams is but the Rams do like to send him on blitzes and he will line up all over the defense, just like Adams does for Seattle. I’ll talk more about Ramsey in the section on defensive backs but his role for this defensive system had to be mentioned here.

Did you see that cornerback knock the pulling guard back three yards? That’s a big reason why the Rams have made a habit out of moving their CB1 all over the field.

Let’s take a look at who the Rams will have running this 3-3-5 heavy system.


Defensive Line

The names to know here are Sebastian Joseph-Day, A’Shawn Robinson, Greg Gaines and Aaron Donald. Joseph-Day and Robinson are both dealing with knee injuries they suffered during their week one game. Neither practiced Wednesday but as of right now, both are expected to play. Greg Gaines is a listed nose tackle and played on 36% of the Rams snaps in week one.

I know you’re not really interested in Joseph-Day, Robinson or Gaines. No, I know you’re in this section for the star of this show; Aaron Donald. I don’t think I really need to tell you much about him, you probably already know he is a three time defensive player of the year, six time first team all-pro, seven time pro bowler. Aaron Donald is as good of a defender as the NFL currently has and we will see him on Sunday.

A glancing blow

Aaron Donald made Jason Peters look like the toddlers at my kid’s daycare when a big one runs into a little one and somehow the collision sends them flying. Jason Peters is better than Julie’n Davenport. Just thought I’d throw that out there.

He’s great but he’s not perfect

Here Donald beats his man with a quick swim move and while he redirects the runner some, the left guard is able to get just enough of Donald to prevent him from making the play, while also ensuring that there is no one in the gap the running back is about to squirt through after the tight end crashes inside on the nose tackle.

The Chicago Bears are a poorly coached team from a game management standpoint. There were a lot of really awful decisions made but from a schematic standpoint, they have a lot of interesting plays, specifically run concepts that seemed designed to take advantage of Aaron Donald and his style of play:

Here the Bears target Donald and you can see he believes a trap coming, no one touched him and the ball carrier is coming his way. On a normal trap block the right guard would have pulled to his left to try and kick Donald out of the hole. You see Donald start to square up to try to keep from getting pushed out. Instead Donald gets whammed from behind and instead of going inside of him, the run was designed to go outside of Donald. Wham concepts that target Donald and use his quickness and aggressive nature against him, could pay dividends.

Big Q would have given a better chip

Here Jason Peters is tasked with reach blocking Aaron Donald. Jason Peters best days are behind him, he’s 39. Jason Peters is a 9 time pro bowler, two time first team all-pro and a four time second team all-pro. One day Jason Peters will be in the Hall of Fame, but even when Peters was 29, this would have been a nearly impossible block to make with the help he got from his guard on this play.

Quenton Nelson would have done a better job in that regard but I’m not sure how much it will matter depending on who starts at left tackle this weekend.

Either way, they need a plan

Again, Big Q would have handled that rep better but blocking that up isn’t an exact science, especially when you know you have to get the best defender of his generation blocked.

The Bears did a great job keeping Donald off of Dalton, all things considered. His lone sack came on fourth down in absolute garbage time. Rams fans are calling it a “game sealing sack” and in a way that’s true, but this game had been sealed for at least ten game minutes before Donald pinned his ears back on fourth and 10.

Aaron Donald is an amazing player. The Bears did a great job minimizing his statistical impact on the game, but given the fact that they had to plan most of the game around blocking that one player, Aaron Donald still had a huge impact on the game as a whole.

Watching Quenton Nelson and Aaron Donald go toe to toe will be interesting. I expect both men to best the other at times. Just remember that if Nelson has struggled with anything at all in his career it’s been against players with a blend of tremendous size and quickness. This one will be fun to watch up front.


Linebackers

The names to know when it comes to the Rams linebackers are Justin Hollins, Leonard Floyd, Troy Reeder, Terrell Lewis and Kenny Young.

Reeder and Lewis played sparingly in week one but both men got some burn when the Rams brought extra linebackers on the field. Hollis and Floyd will line up on either side of the defensive line and on most snaps one of them will rush the passer while the other drops in coverage, unless the defense only has two traditional defensive linemen on the field. On those plays both men will usually attack going forward.

Kenny Young’s presence on the field couldn’t be missed last Sunday. Young had a good game but more than just that, on most downs Young was standing opposite the quarterback as the Rams only off-ball linebacker. Often a defensive back would drop into the box but as far as actual non-rush linebackers are concerned, most of the time Young is the guy. The Rams gave up a lot of rushing yards but there weren’t many times David Montgomery was able to get extra yards due to a mistake from Kenny Young. Like I said, Young is just one guy and if one of the front five fail to fill a gap or a defensive back doesn’t fill his lane, Kenny Young can’t just magically fix those mistakes. You should expect to see Kenny Young on the field for every Rams defensive play.

This is what I mean

He can also do things like this

Kenny Young is a good linebacker who will do what he can to keep Jonathan Taylor in check on Sunday.

Justin Hollins has six career sacks, two of them came in week one against the Bears. Hollins looked good but it’s too soon to say that he will turn into a feared edge rusher. Never the less watching how Hollins performs against a Colts offensive line that struggled in week one will be interesting.

Hollins:

How did Aaron Donald miss this sack? The only explanation I can come up with is that the Bears must have covered Andy Dalton with butter on the sideline and Dalton spent all offseason working on his forearm shiver, because nothing else makes sense. Dalton’s buttery jersey was no match for Hollins who avoided Dalton’s (obviously potent) forearms all together.

I could show you a lot of Leonard Floyd clips but this is my favorite

2020 was Floyd’s first season with the Rams and he turned in a 10.5 sack season, which was three and a half more than Floyd had in his two years with the Bears. Given the clip above I hope Paris Campbell steers clear of Floyd this weekend.


Defensive Backs

This section of the article is a lot like the defensive line section, I’m going to tell you all of the “other” guys before I get to the star of the show. Sorry, it’s just how I like to do things around here.

Darious Williams, David Long and Robert Rochell are the “other” cornerbacks you can expect to see on Sunday. Williams went undrafted out of UAB in 2018, at just 5’9” and coming from UAB it’s not that surprising that he went undrafted. What’s more surprising is how good Williams was in 2020 (and also in 2019 but in a more limited role). He had four interceptions and allowed just a 54% completion rate, per Pro Football Reference. Just so you have some context Xavier Rhodes allowed a 52% completion rate a season ago. Not bad for a guy they picked up off of waivers.

David Long played 57% of the Rams defensive snaps and came away with their lone interception on the day. Long is a good young corner who we should see plenty of on Sunday. Robert Rochell was a fourth round pick in the 2021 NFL draft out of Central Arkansas. Rochell is 6’2” and the word on him before the draft was that he was an athletic marvel given his size. We’re just one game into his pro career so there’s no way to know if Rochell will be able to maximize the use of his tremendous physical gifts but his first game went as well as anyone could have hoped. He was in on 39% of the Rams snaps, was targeted twice and registered one pass break up. Rochell is young and will no doubt have some struggles, we’ll see how he does this week.

In 2019 Taylor Rapp was a talented prospect coming out of Washington. A lot of people believed he would be taken in the first round just due to the football he put on tape in college. Then he ran a 4.76 40 yard dash time at his pro day, which is pretty slow for a safety and insanely slow for a safety you might have been thinking about taking inside the first 32 picks. As a result he fell all the way to the end of the second round where the Rams took him with the 61st overall selection. Since his selection it seems like the concerns with his athleticism were somewhat founded. He has struggled in coverage but has been very good stopping the run and as a tackler in general.

Jordan Fuller is a really interesting player. A sixth round pick in the 2020 NFL draft out of Ohio State, Fuller has exceeded all expectations. In his second season Fuller was named a team captain by his teammates. You might notice that Fuller is the Rams defender who has a green dot on the back of his helmet which signifies that he is the player getting the defensive plays in from the sideline and calling the plays in the huddle. Normally this is a role that is filled by a linebacker. In LA, it’s filled by Fuller. You should expect to see him on every Rams defensive snap,

Jalen Ramsey is arguably the best cornerback in the NFL. He’s excellent in coverage, he’s good against the run and he doesn’t shy away from contact as he is a very good tackler for the position. Ramsey is a two time first team All-Pro and a four time pro bowler. He is an elite defensive back and the Rams will use him all over the field in as many ways as they can dream up. Here are some Jalen Ramsey clips:

I don’t like this

This group is headlined by Jalen Ramsey but it’s a deep group filled with very good players the Rams found that no one else seemed to want. The Colts receivers aren’t more talented than this group. Anything could happen but I don’t believe we’ll see a ton of Colts receivers getting open unless they have been schemed that way.


Final Thoughts

The Rams were content in week one to sit back and let the Bears drives fizzle out on their own. It seemed like they knew Andy Dalton wouldn’t be able to make plays once the field shortened up the closer he got to the goal line. This Rams defense was elite a season ago, and they still might be but the Bears did everything they could to hand the game to the Rams from a coaching standpoint. Frankly I’m not sure how Adam Ga... I mean Matt Nagy still has a job as a head coach in the NFL.

If the Rams come out and let the Colts march down the field the same way the Bears did, it will be up to Frank Reich to make sure his team can convert those drives into points. The Colts need to convert long drives into points, eliminate turnovers and know when to try to pin the Rams offense deep and when to try to convert on fourth down. If they can do those things, our Colts will have a chance.