Rams Defense Fails Its First Major Test

LA Rams Defensive Line During Training Camp. Photo Credit: Ryan Dyrud | The LAFB Network
LA Rams Defensive Line During Training Camp. Photo Credit: Ryan Dyrud | The LAFB Network

Of course the week a glowing review of Brandon Staley and his defense is written, that defense would have its worst performance to date, OF COURSE. Apologies for jinxing the Rams defense last weekend because that’s the only logical explanation. Well, not the only explanation as in that piece the weaknesses of the Rams defense were laid out, and the Buffalo Bills exposed those weaknesses to a 35-32 win. Now if this game were played 10 times this was the only timeline in which the game would be this wonky. That said, going forward the Rams need to clean up a lot of things, otherwise, their 28-3 deficit could very well happen again.

The biggest liability on the Rams defense, for now until the end of the season if ever, are the linebackers. Coming into the season, PFF ranked them as the worst linebacker corps in the league and boy did that bear out on Sunday. Samson Ebukam and Micah Kiser were routinely torched in coverage and they also struggled to make tackles. What was equally disturbing is that no Ram defender recorded double-digit tackles. Leonard Floyd was the only linebacker that managed to get any kind of meaningful pressure on Josh Allen. In fact, Floyd has been the only linebacker on the roster to consistently get to the quarterback through the first three weeks. Brandon Staley has yet to truly develop anyone outside of Kiser but even then he’s still a work in progress. The secondary has been used to mask the liability at linebacker and it worked for two weeks but when the secondary isn’t playing its best game either that causes a domino effect that allows for the Bills to convert on 3rd &22.

As great as the secondary has played, they were exposed as well. Jalen Ramsey lost the battle against Stefon Diggs and Troy Hill wound up being the hire rated defensive back on Sunday.

Losing Jordan Fuller for a long stretch of the game ended up being more consequential than any sixth-round pick (outside of Tom Brady) in quite some time. Taylor Rapp had to sub in and he was constantly picked on in pass coverage and allowed big plays, especially in the first half.

Darious Williams got a pick last week and not only was he picked apart this week but he also caused the game-sealing penalty. Fans can cry foul but given the Rams PI karma, this was coming, and that play doesn’t happen if the Rams could make a stop on 3rd & 22.

Yes, John Johnson caught a pivotal interception but as a unit, the secondary got TORCHED by Josh Allen, and worse yet, seemed absolutely perplexed and flummoxed in coverage. That’s likely not going to happen again given the talent and football IQ of that unit but it was alarming.

Aaron Donald managed to single-handedly take over the game in the fourth quarter. He registered two sacks, a plethora of pressures and a forced fumble and recovery. That leviathan of a man was the one-man wrecking crew that everyone except Skip Bayless seems to recognize, and, outside of Morgan Fox, who registered a sack himself, the defensive line did not generate much pressure.

The Rams defense alarmingly ranks near the bottom in total pressures despite Donald leading the league in QB pressures. This is something Staley needs to address because if they want to compete against the great teams they need to find a non-Aaron Donald source of consistent pressure. If they’re to win their division they need to stop Russell Wilson, if they want to win the NFC they might have to shut down Aaron Rodgers, and if they are to win the Super Bowl they need to go nuclear on either Patrick Mahomes, Lamar Jackson, or if 2020’s insanity carries over into early 2021 Josh Allen again. They need to generate pressure.

Normally, a game this wacky can be chalked up as an anomaly but given the flaws on the Rams defense, this game should be the type of wake-up call that forces them to go to meetings. Fortunately, they face a struggling Giants team that is without Saquon Barkley so the defense has a chance to get back on track.

The Rams defense has the ability to be great but now that its rock bottom has been revealed the real work begins. Here’s hoping Brandon Staley can rebound and go back to being the guy written about a week ago.