The final game of the 2012 NFL regular season is upon us, as the Rams
will travel to Seattle
this week, into the maw of that nightmare the Seahawks
call a homefield advantage.
It's been a good season for the Rams, to be honest. Better than I personally expected. I wasn't particularly sanguine about the team's future under Jeff Fisher, but so far so good for the Fisher regime. (Of course, I would be remiss if I didn't also point out the Steve Spagnuolo Rams were 7-9 and barely missed the playoffs just in 2010 before the wheels fell back off somehow last year. What I mean to say is this: things can change in a hurry in the NFL.)
With the end of the season approaching, I thought we should take a quick look at what the Rams have done statistically this year. Starting today, we'll look at the defensive side of the ball.
Last year, the Ram defense was, well, it was kind of a mess. The defensive line, such a strength in 2010, got old in a hurry -- in the middle, anyway -- and the secondary just collapsed under the weight of an almost unimaginably bad run of injuries among the corner corps.
The Rams ranked 22nd overall in total defense by yards, 26th in points scored against. They allowed 407 points total on the season, an average of 25.4 per game. When you're allowing nearly four touchdowns per outing, you just aren't going to win many. It was a shocking fall from the season before, when the team gave up 20.5 points per game -- 328 total for the year.
The 2012 iteration of the defense hasn't been a revelation, exactly, but it's certainly been a step up. The Rams this season rank pretty much middle of the pack in both yardage and points allowed; fifteenth in yards per game and fourteenth in points per, respectively. That's 21.9 points per game, for the record, significantly better than last season but not quite up to 2010 standards.
In fact, the Ram defense of 2012 is a study in centrism. To wit, they rank fourteenth in points per game, fifteenth in yards per game, fifteenth in passing yards per game, and sixteenth in rushing yards. That's...honestly kind of amazing. Oh, and just to throw another log on this particular fire, the Rams are currently in a three-way tie with Pittsburgh and Carolina for thirteenth in team sacks, with 35.0 total. A bit above average, but not exactly intimidating, either.
Weird stat of the day: the Arizona Cardinals have allowed 22.0 points per game this season, almost exactly in line with the Rams, despite leading the NFL by a wide margin with 56.0 sacks. Obviously, one stat isn't going to tell you all you need to know about a defense, but you would think a team able to consistently pressure opposing QBs would be among the league's elite, wouldn't you?
The picture it paints -- the Rams that is -- is that of a defense with neither glaring weaknesses nor any particular strengths. And that's not necessarily a bad thing, by any means. For a defense largely rebuilt on the fly after last year's debacle (particularly the secondary), middle of the pack is more than acceptable. You're talking about a defense with some remarkably young and awfully exciting talent, as well, with Robert Quinn, Michael Brockers, and Janoris Jenkins all among the more dynamic players you're going to find at their respective positions. What I mean to say is this is a defense with middle of the road present performance, but some significant upside for the future. (Considering the knucklehead element when talking about both Jenkins and Quinn, though, and you have to admit to a little extra risk as well, to be fair.)
And, of course, all of that without addressing the elephant in the room, which is the fact this defense has done all of this without an official coordinator, since Gregg Williams remains suspended for his part in the New Orleans Saints' bounty program. Honestly, I really have no idea what to say about that as far as the future. I would assume having your coordinator -- who, regardless of scandalous douchebaggery is still a remarkable defensive mind -- back on the sidelines would have a positive effect, but I honestly don't know how well Williams' system would mesh with this particular bunch of players. That's something we're just going to have to leave in the future for now, I suppose.
Bottom line, this is a pretty good defense. Better than it could have been, certainly. Fisher and Co. have done a nice job of installing a defense in one season already perfectly capable of keeping the Rams in most games, despite not being exactly a dominant force.
Then again, as I believe I said earlier,, things can change quickly in the NFL. See the Spagnuolo defense 2011 vs Spagnuolo defense 2010 case for details. The Rams right now seem to have a pretty solid base on the defensive side of things, and the numbers bear that out. With an enormous bounty of draft picks coming over the next couple seasons, they could be in a position to build something special. As always, only time will tell, though.