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Los Angeles Rams: Defense First? Not Any More

November 17th, 2018 · No Comments · NFL, Rams

Those of us who grew up as fans of the Los Angeles Rams, over three decades, from 1960 to 1989 … we expected that if they won — and they tended to — it mostly would be about the team’s defense.

The Rams offense tended to be vanilla, and not a quality vanilla.

No, it generally was up to the 11 guys on defense to move the Rams along, and into the playoffs, thanks to colorful and elite players.

That notion has been turned on its head, here in 2018. The Rams are one of the most potent and aggressive teams on offense but, to our surprise, a bit, they are sub-average across the board on defense.

This is of interest as the Rams prepare for their Monday night home game against the Kansas City Chiefs, who are 9-1 — just like the Rams. In a game some suggest could be a Super Bowl preview.

Which is just weird, for us old-timers, who counted on the Rams defense to help out the often hapless offense.

In the 1960s, it was the Fearsome Foursome defense, for a team coached by George Allen, that led the way to the playoffs. A bunch of those guys were superstars, or at least elite: Defensive linemen Merlin Olsen and Deacon Jones, linebackers Maxie Baughan and Jack Pardee, safeties Eddie Meador and Richie Petitbon.

The Rams won their first 11 games in 1969 but lost their final three, back when the season was 14 games long, then went to Minnesota in the playoffs and lost 23-20 on a predictably frigid day in Minneapolis.

Rams quarterback Roman Gabriel was voted MVP that season, but not because he had great statistics. The offense managed only 10 points over its final three games, handing home-field advantage to the Vikings. Who took full advantage of it.

In 1979, the Rams reached the Super Bowl for the first time and, again, it was all about the defense. There was the game in Seattle were they throttled the Seahawks so completely that the hosts finished with minus-7 yards. Yes. Minus-7. Still an NFL record. I was there. I saw it.

That team featured more household names on the defensive side of the ball. Jack Youngblood, Jim Youngblood (no relation), Larry Brooks, Nolan Cromwell, Jack “Hacksaw” Reynolds, Rod Perry, Pat Thomas …

They got to the Super Bowl by shutting out the Tampa Bay Bucs 9-0, in Florida, in the NFC title game, and were holding on tight against the Steelers in Super Bowl 14, at the Rose Bowl, when safety Larry Brown blew a coverage, the key play in a 31-19 defeat. Note: The Rams were ahead at the end of each of the first three quarters (19-17 after three), against the offense of Terry Bradshaw, Lynn Swann, John Stallworth and Franco Harris.

Oh, and that was the Jack Youngblood who played every snap on defense despite having suffered a broken leg against Tampa Bay, two weeks earlier. Said Jack, before the game: “Ain’t no time for laggin’ back now.”

Jump forward another decade, to the Rams of coach John Robinson and Kevin Greene. And we put Greene ahead of quarterback Jim Everett because Greene did not melt down in the NFC title game, as did Jim Everett, who took the infamous “phantom sack” as the Rams melted against the San Francisco 49ers, losing 30-3.

Five years later, the Rams had moved to St. Louis and, if nothing else, they got a productive quarterback who tended to come through in the clutch, in Kurt Warner, and they won a championships for St. Loo.

Meantime, many Los Angeles Rams fans had switched off on their former team, and paid not all the much attention to it — and how it had become an offense-oriented team behind Warner.

Now, comes the biggest regular-season game in the recent history of the franchise, in its third season back in Los Angeles.

And those who follow the team, conditioned to counting on the defense to save the day, see a Rams team that is all about touchdowns and first downs, with coach Sean McVay organizing the offense and quarterback Jared Goff running it.

The Rams have some guys with big names, on the defensive side of the ball, particular tackles Aaron Donald, the league’s second-highest-paid defensive player ($135 million over six years), and Ndamukang Suh.

But these Rams are giving up yards and points in massive quantities. They are last in the league in yards allowed per rush (5.2 per opponent carry). The passing defense is 21st in a 32-team league in yards allowed per passing attempt (7.7).

Much of the trouble is in the secondary and at linebacker. The Rams are missing Aqib Talib, an expensive free-agent cornerback, and cringe at the dreadful performances by Marcus Peters, another free-agent corner. But it isn’t the secondary alone.

Some of it has to be defensive coordinator Wade Phillips, known as a “genius”, at least when he joined the Rams. But whatever he dials up, it rarely seems to work.

Those who have been watching the past few weeks have seen the Rams give up 103 points in their past three games. Granted, the offense twice outscored the other guys (Green Bay 29-27, Seattle 36-31), with that 45-35 defensive debacle in New Orleans plopped in between.

It’s unnatural, I tell you. Having to hope the offense plays as well as it has all year, and hoping the leaky defense can scrounge up a couple of stops, and maybe even a three-and-out, against Andy Reid, Patrick Mahomes & Co.

The Rams are 11th in total points allowed, at 216. 11th! That’s 21.6 points per game conceded. Merlin Olsen would be appalled.

We are not used to this, us old-time fans. We didn’t know about Warner and the Greatest Show on Turf, so this is all pretty much new. It creeps us out, to see opponents chunk their way down the field.

We are happy but still surprised when Goff and ace running back Todd Gurley march down the field with precision and seeming ease. That is not how it is supposed to work for the Rams, as we know them.

I am looking forward to Monday, to see if they can out-finesse the Chiefs.

What I fear is that, before it is over, legendary defensive end Jack Youngblood will be watching somewhere, covering his eyes, like the rest of us.



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