With the promise of an improved offense, the Los Angeles Rams’ defense is preparing for an encore performance.
Last season, three-time Defensive Player of the Year Aaron Donald and All-Pro cornerback Jalen Ramsey spurred the unit to the top of the NFL.
Both star playmakers return after a 10-6 campaign that resulted in divisional playoff loss to the Green Bay Packers. So does outside linebacker Leonard Floyd, who signed a four-year, $64 million contract after a career-best campaign in which he tallied 10.5 sacks.
But gone is defensive coordinator Brandon Staley, who inherited a defense that ranked ninth in efficiency and improved it to first in his only season before departing to become the Los Angeles Chargers’ head coach. Enter defense coordinator Raheem Morris, who held the same post last season with the Atlanta Falcons for five games before being promoted to interim head coach.
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Morris takes over a defense that permitted a league-low 18.5 points in 2020.
He is expected to maintain what Staley installed, including the base 3-4 scheme, but will add some of his own wrinkles to shape a unit that can propel the Rams to Super Bowl LVI at SoFi Stadium next February.
“I don’t think it’s pressure,” Morris said at his introductory news conference when asked about taking over the league’s top-ranked defense. “I think it’s more of an opportunity.”
Last season, the Rams ranked No. 1 in passing yards permitted per game at 190.7. They ranked No. 3 versus the run, allowing only 91.3 rushing yards per game.
However, there’s room for improvement, especially at creating turnovers. The Rams forced 22 turnovers last season, which ranked 10th, and intercepted 14 passes, ranking 12th.
Entering the NFL draft last month, Rams coach Sean McVay said the Rams did not have any glaring holes that needed to be filled. Along with Donald, Ramsey and Floyd, the Rams also return cornerback Darious Williams, whose coming off a breakthrough season that included four interceptions, and defensive tackle Sebastian Joseph-Day, a former sixth-round pick who is entering his third season as a starter.
But some of their key playmakers have departed.
Four defensive starters left this offseason, including veteran defensive lineman Michael Brockers — who was traded to Detroit — outside linebacker Samson Ebukam, cornerback Troy Hill and safety John Johnson III.
The Rams used five of their nine draft picks to select defensive players: South Carolina linebacker Ernest Jones, Texas A&M defensive lineman Bobby Brown III, Central Arkansas cornerback Robert Rochell, Northwestern defensive lineman Earnest Brown IV and Concordia-St. Paul outside linebacker Chris Garrett.
“You look at each of them and there’s a vision that we have for them and how they fit, how they provide value for a football team,” said McVay, who’s entering his fifth season as coach.
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