The Rams earned the label of “super team” this off-season by overhauling their team via trade and free agency. These moves primarily focused on the defense and added such stars as Ndamukong Suh, Marcus Peters, Aqib Talib, and Sam Shields.
A starting defensive line of Suh, Michael Brockers, and Aaron Donald looks like King Ghidorah to an opposing offense. A secondary with Talib, Peters, Shields, Nickell Robey-Coleman, Lamarcus Joyner and John Johnson III, isn’t quite the “Legion of Boom” but its definitely a tough assignment. Unfortunately, this super D has one glaring flaw and that’s a yet to be determined pass rush.
The Rams are razor thin at linebacker. That might not seem like a big deal when Donald and Brockers are coming from the outside but it becomes a problem when there isn’t any other outside pass rush that scares an opponent. Currently, second-year Samson Ebukah and fourth-year Matt Longacre are the starting outside backers.
Ebukah generated two sacks in his rookie year and could make a leap with a full year under defensive coordinator Wade Phillips. He was a major contributor on special teams as well. Longacre has 5.5 sacks to his name and its possible he too could make a leap but he’s coming off a back injury.
On the inside is Mark Barron and third year Cory Littleton. Barron is a decent tackler and given his prior role at safety is their best coverage linebacker. Littleton hasn’t seen the field much during his two seasons and it’s a big question whether he can make an impact.
Behind them are a lot of rookies and young guys. The star of the group is Ogbonnia Okoronkwo whom the Rams drafted in the 5th round. He could develop into a classic Wade Phillips pass rusher. The problem is Okoronkwo is recovering from foot surgery and is missing out on much-needed reps.
The good news is fellow rookie John Franklin-Myers, is working out as both a defensive end and an outside linebacker. He could be the immediate injection of youth Okoronkwo was projected to be.
The one veteran pass rusher the Rams were able to bring in is seventh year Ryan Davis. Davis has fourteen career sacks with the Bills, Jags, and Cowboys. Much like the departed Robert Quinn, he is making the transition from defensive end to linebacker.
Quinn struggled in his transition which is why (coupled with his contract) the Rams were content to trade him to Miami. Davis doesn’t have the injury history Quinn had and if he can take the majority of the snaps from Longacre the Rams could have some stability at outside linebacker.
Of the young guns competing for a spot the other two names generating interest are second-year Ejuan Price and rookie Justin Lawler. Both have turned enough heads during the off-season program and earned a lot of playing time during the preseason game against the Raiders. Price got the start opposite Ebukam and perhaps he finds his way into the rotation.
The pass rush is taking a by committee approach. On paper that might be a problem because if the team has this many pass rushers to on the field, they still might not have an actual pass rush. Still, there isn’t a better person to chair a committee of would be pass rushers like Wade Phillips.
Some might think it was foolish to get rid of Quinn and fellow linebacker Alec Ogletree but both weren’t answers either. Ogletree, in particular, was an athlete that never learned the position. His preseason with the Giants looked like a continuation of last year where he couldn’t be more toast if the coaching staff covered him in butter. Plus the Rams shedding their cap hits (which in Ogletree’s case was puzzling) allowed them to add their big stars.
There is little margin for error in the NFC. The Rams play a first place schedule and thus must take on Philly, Minnesota, and New Orleans as well as potentially dangerous offenses in Green Bay and San Francisco. These all present chess matches on both sides of the ball.
The defenses in Philly, Minnesota, and New Orleans are more complete than LA. The lack of pass rush doomed the Rams last year against Philly and in the playoffs against Atlanta. They need a few members of their motley crew of pass rushers to stand out if they are to take control of the conference. There is still half a preseason left and that’s plenty of time to find an answer but it’s likely this won’t resolve itself until Halloween. Hopefully, the other stars give them cover while they figure it out.