In recent weeks, a lot has been made about the Rams’ “soft” zone coverage. However, for many, the cover piece to the defense is the (non-offense) root cause of LA’s struggles in the first half of the season. Currently, the Rams sit at 22nd overall in passing DVOA, which measures efficiency (Football Outsiders). Since Head Coach Sean McVay was hired, the Pass DVOA of the Rams has never dipped under 11th.
McVay hired Wade Phillips as his original DC, opting to move on from him after the ’19 campaign. In the three years Coach Phillips was at the helm; the Rams finished 4th, 11th, and 8th in passing DVOA. The Rams hired Brandon Staley in ’20 to revamp the defense and usher in the two-high boom we are seeing now as more teams are moving to a Fangio philosophy in coverage. The ’20 rams would finish 9th in passing DVOA. Raheem Morris took over from Staley after he left for the Chargers and had a Pass DVOA of 6th overall and a Super Bowl.
Fast forward to the ’22 campaign, and the wheels have fallen off the secondary. Ironically, the run defense is one of the best in the NFL. LA currently sits at #3 in Run DVOA and #2 in run-stop win rate. The defense designed in LA puts a premium on winning match-ups at the line of scrimmage. Doing so allows the defense to commit more bodies into coverage, and in a coverage first world, you want plus numbers in the backend. Kirby Smart of Georgia has turned this philosophy into a defensive juggernaut (below).
So, could the Rams’ struggles in the secondary be attributed to a significant lack of pass rush? If LA is doing a great job against the run, maybe they need another elite EDGE to place opposite (or beside) Aaron Donald. The loss of Vonn Miller in free agency stung, but looking at the numbers, it hasn’t affected their pass rush.
One of the significant anomalies for the Rams’ defense is that they sit second overall in team pass rush win rate (ESPN) yet are dead last in pressure rate (PFF). Let that sink in. In reality, the Rams are winning their one-on-ones up front, something this defense was designed to maximize (they still have Donald). The main issue is that they are not creating any pressure off those victories.
Now, let’s revisit the “soft” coverage element and put it into context. First, the Rams are a Cover 3-based defense that tends to play off-ball CBs. According to PFF, the Rams run the highest rate of Cover 3 at 48% of their snaps. Only the Colts run more at 49.5%. In all, they run a variation of Cover 3 on about 57% of their snaps. Finally, they run Cover 1 at the lowest rate and only have 59 snaps of press. The next closest (Broncos) has almost 100 more reps of press. So your eyes are not deceiving you; the Rams’ coverage is, in fact, “soft.”
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