There are no moral victories in football. Just 16 games to win or lose. The Rams are 2-1 after a dramatic and controversial last drive. But the game wasn’t lost on that drive, it was lost in the first half. Although giving up a first down on a 3rd and 22 is really bad, too.
The Rams defense gave up 21 first-half points and 28 before they were able to record their first sack. There is plenty of blame to go around. But, who needs to step up on defense, is the question heading into week 4.
Who Needs To Step Up On The Rams Defense After Giving Up 35 Points?
In week two, Micah Kiser took a huge leap forward. He racked up 15 tackles, forced a fumble, broke up a pass, and was named NFC Defensive Player of the Week. Kiser is one of the former backup/role player, now starter that the Rams need to step up in a big way this season.
In week three he regressed to his backup level production. Against the Bills, he was only in position to assist on four tackles and one QB hit while playing on 100% of defensive snaps. He also failed in coverage against Bills TE Tyler Kroft, putting the Bills up 21-3.
Kiser is the best player on what is the Rams weakest defensive group, the linebacker corps. Generally, his position is filled with a team leader, because inside linebacker is often a communication lynchpin on defense. It is evident that Kiser had a hand in the communication breakdown that led to those early points.
While tackles isn’t a great metric to judge overall defensive talent, it is a telltale sign, especially for linebackers, that a player is getting to the right spots at the right time. AKA: reading the offense. Kiser’s poor production shows that he was thoroughly fooled by the Bills offense.
Whatsmore, the Rams linebacker depth chart is thin. Kiser has to be out there on every down, and the Rams can’t afford a bad game by him. When he steps up, it really shows. But when he fails to show up for the game, it gets ugly, as demonstrated in Buffalo.
If you talk to any junior high football coach, they will tell you that football is about blocking and tackling. Troy Hill might need to spend a few days with that coach. He missed 5 tackles against the Bills. Beyond tackling Hill had a rough outing. He gave up 80 yards on 7 catches. He gave up 10 yards per target. Compare that to Jalen Ramsey, who gave up only 3.3 yards per target.
He also gave up a long catch to Cole Beasley because he was expecting help from a safety. Who botched that play is unknown, but given his reaction, there was a miscommunication.
Similarly to Kiser, Hill was a long-time backup and until the Bills game had been playing up to snuff. Heading into the season, there was some buzz around Hill taking over the starting job. He left last season with a 76.4 PFF rating and played well in camp. No one was expecting him to be the next Jalen Ramsey, but football fundamentals are required of a guy taking 98% of the reps.
Hill must also be a tide that raises all ships. The secondary is young and are taking their lumps as they navigate the learning curve. Sophomore, Taylor Rapp has struggled this season and rookie Jordan Fuller Is battling an injury and is questionable for this week’s game. Hill is the veteran along with Jalen Ramsey. The biggest step he could make is by helping the inexperienced improve.
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Brandon Staley’s defense was on their heels and looked confused for most of the first half. The team as a whole missed 8 tackles and had several miscommunications that led to big plays. That shows a lack of preparation. They were unable to stop the run but once Brian Daboll had them biting on the run, space opened up downfield so Allen could find open receivers for big strikes.
Containing Josh Allen’s big-play ability was Staley’s main concern heading into the game and Devin Singletary was used to exploit this focus. Singletary rushed for a season-best 71 yards, at 5.5 yards per rush. He also caught four passes for 50 yards. He was basically able to do so because Staley was so concerned about getting beat deep. He left the defensive front hanging, over-relying on a very simple defense to contain the line. Which translated to a lack of pressure on Allen. Once the Rams were forced to defend upfront, Daboll was able to strike downfield. Using the very effective Bills 10 personnel group. In this game, it was 64% effective. They used that grouping 8 times in the first half, with an 88% success rate.
The last two games the Rams have had a tough time stopping the run. The Eagles gained 191 yards on the ground, but Carson Wentz was never able to get the passing game going, so it was never an issue for the Rams.
Staley won’t face any particularly daunting running attacks in the next few weeks, but in week six the Rams will face off against the 49ers. Of course, the 49ers have led the charge of the innovative ground game and Kyle Shanahan always has a plan to burn defenses with the run game. Staley can use the next few weeks to address those concerns and show he can scheme to stop the run.