2018 Rams look into the mirror and see 2017 Jaguars
The veteran approach worked for the Jacksonville Jaguars last season.
The Los Angeles Rams are hoping the same approach works for them in 2018.
The Jaguars slogged to a 3-13 finish in 2016, their ninth consecutive non-winning season. Jacksonville had not been to the playoffs since 2007 and hadn’t won a division title since 1999. The Jaguars had a quality defense, finishing sixth in the NFL in 2016. But with only 33 sacks and 13 takeaways, they lacked the plays and playmakers to get that defense off the field.
So Jacksonville spent freely in free agency, signing defensive end Calais Campbell to address the pass rush and cornerback A.J. Bouye and safety Barry Church to address the plays. Campbell collected 14 ½ sacks to finish second in the NFL individually, and Jacksonville vaulted to second as a team with 55. Bouye intercepted six passes and Church four as Jacksonville vaulted to second in the NFL as a team with 33 takeaways.
That reinforced defense also allowed the second fewest points and yards in the NFL, powering the Jaguars to an AFC South title and the AFC championship game. Both Bouye and Campbell were voted to the Pro Bowl.
The 2017 Rams had sacks and takeaways, finishing in the top five in both categories with their 28 takeaways and 48 sacks. But Los Angeles lacked a slam-the-door element to their defense, still allowing too many yards (19th in the NFL) and too many points (329).
So the Rams aggressively pursued veteran players who could help defensive coordinator Wade Phillips slam that door in 2018 and allow Los Angeles to take the next step as a contender. The Rams captured the NFC West last season with an 11-5 record but lost in the opening round of the playoffs.
The acquisitions were eye-popping. Start with the NFL’s highest-paid defensive player, defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, who signed with the Rams after becoming a salary-cap casualty at Miami. He was the second overall pick of his draft (2010) and has been voted to five Pro Bowls in his eight seasons. He has 51 ½ career sacks.
Trades gave the Rams the best coverage tandem in football, landing cornerbacks Marcus Peters from the Chiefs and Aqib Talib from the Broncos. Like Suh, both entered the NFL as first-round picks and lived up to their draft hype.
Peters was the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2015 and intercepted 19 passes in his three seasons, tops in the league. He has been voted to two Pro Bowls. Talib is a five-time Pro Bowl selection who was a key element of a top-ranked defense that helped the Denver Broncos win a Super Bowl in 2016. He brings 34 career interceptions to Los Angeles.
They fortify a defensive unit that already features three players chosen in the Top 15 of drafts – Pro Bowl tackle Aaron Donald, fellow tackle Michael Brockers and inside linebacker Mark Barron. Donald has been to four Pro Bowls himself and is considered the best inside pass rusher in football.
This offseason the Rams did trade away their leading tackler, inside linebacker Alex Ogletree (95 tackles) and their leading edge-rusher Robert Quinn (8 ½ sacks). But upgraded cornerback play should lead to more coverage sacks. And that’s where Phillips can put his stamp on all this talent.
Phillips is the Godfather of NFL pass rushes. Everywhere he coached his pass rush has terrorized quarterbacks. His defenses have led the NFL in sacks four times, and two other times his pass rush has led a conference. His defenses generated 61 sacks at San Diego in 2006, 59 sacks at Dallas in 2008 and 56 at New Orleans in 1983.
The pass rush is where it’s at in today’s NFL. On paper, Phillips has the talent at his disposal to generate 50-plus sacks for the 10th time in his coaching career. When you tackle the quarterback, good things happen. Jacksonville can attest to that. The Rams hope the same offseason approach can work for them in 2018.