There are a lot of question marks surrounding the Rams this upcoming season, but the biggest ones engulf the defensive side of the ball. All of these questions circle back to one man; new defensive coordinator Brandon Staley. Who is this new mystery coordinator?
Like his head coach, Sean McVay, Staley is under 40 but has a wealth of football knowledge. He began his coaching career in 2006 at Northern Illinois as a Graduate Assistant. From there he had stints with St. Thomas, Hutchinson CC, Tennessee, John Carroll, and James Madison, before landing his biggest opportunity with the Chicago Bears.
For two seasons, from 2017-2018, Staley was the outside linebackers coach under DC Vic Fangio. When Fangio was hired by the Denver Broncos as their Head Coach in 2019, he brought Staley with him to fill the same position. This is really all we have to gauge what Staley’s defense could look like.
Analyzing The Rams Potential Defensive Scheme
So let’s take a look at what Vic Fangio has done over the years, which should give us a glimmer of what to expect the Rams defense to look like this year.
It may be an outdated phrase, and yet the term “Defense Wins Championships” still remains primarily true. When the Rams played in the Super Bowl two years ago, they were one of the highest-scoring offenses in the league, but they ran into the Patriots top defense and could only muster up 3 points. That same season, they faced Vic Fangio’s and Brandon Staley’s Bears and were awarded a similar result. Goff threw four interceptions, Gurley rushed for 28 yards, and the offense scored a total of six points.
Bill Belichick will go down as one of the greatest coaches of all time, but when it’s all said and done, Vic Fangio will go down as one of the greatest defensive minds to coach in the game. And Staley has been soaking up that greatness like a sponge.
Take a look at what some of the great offensive minds, including McVay, have said about Fangio:
McVay: “For us, I think Fangio and the Bears did an outstanding job of a sound scheme with versatility mixed with great players. And clearly what New England did down the stretch was impressive. Those are the two defenses that gave us the most trouble. I thought the Saints were excellent as well.”
Matt LaFleur: “There are so many guys and every system is different, but I look at Vic Fangio. Just the fronts and the multiple looks you get from him. That’s incredibly difficult.”
Kyle Shanahan: “My hardest has probably always been Vic Fangio. He does so many things with his personnel groupings that he puts you in a bind with protections. He ties a lot of stuff together. Playing against him, I feel he packages stuff very similar to how I would think. [Bill] Belichick is very similar. They do it in a different style. You know they don’t just run their defenses. They figure out what you’re doing and then they think about how to stop what you’re doing and that’s very similar to how I am. I don’t just run my offense. I have no idea what I’m going to call until I know what defense I’m visualizing and trying to attack. It’s fun.”
So what does Fangio actually do? One of the most important things in a Fangio defense is versatility. Players need to have the ability to not only move around and perhaps play out of position, but also play multiple scheme concepts: man, zone, etc.
This is certainly something that Staley will implement in Los Angeles. The Rams have a core of very talented players, and Staley will ultimately put them in the best position to succeed, but because they have constructed a roster of guys that can do a multitude of different things, they can be used in a number of different schemes.
Staley was asked if he would stick to a 3-4 base defense. His response was that the Rams would run a traditional base defense, but that wouldn’t necessarily mean that they would actually be in that look with personnel very often. When Staley was in Chicago, the Bears ran their Nickel package 84% of plays. For those that don’t know, Nickel packages refer to having five defensive backs on the field, typically removing one of the linebackers. Staley will also run a number of Dime packages or six DBs on the field.
This is important to note because, with the loss of Cory Littleton to free agency, there was a lot of concern about who the Rams would replace him with. A concern that was not addressed in free agency, and not until the 7th round of the draft. However, when you look at who they did draft, and how often they will run Nickel and Dime, it makes a whole lot more sense.
Safety Terrell Burgess was drafted in the 3rd round out of Utah. He is an extremely versatile player and can play in the box close to the line of scrimmage, or as the high safety and last line of defense. When you combine that with John Johnson and Taylor Rapp, you have a very potent set of safeties that can really play anywhere on the field.
I bring all of this up to reiterate that the Rams will not need a pair of middle linebackers in the traditional sense as they will run plenty of sets with smaller versatile DBs.
Not to mention blitz packages that will utilize extra pass rushers in definite passing situations.
There is still plenty of unknown about what the defense will look like, but one thing is for sure, Brandon Staley was brought in by Sean McVay to be innovative and inject some change into a tired system. There will also be plenty of in-game adjustments and different personnel groupings. Outside of Aaron Donald things may look very different, and that isn’t necessarily a bad thing.