Defensive tackle Aaron Donald and cornerback Jalen Ramsey, two players most every NFL fan knows, are the two stalwarts on the Los Angeles Rams defense and the two biggest causes for concern for the Green Bay Packers on Saturday. But another element of what the Rams will bring into Lambeau Field is their multiple defensive fronts, which will give Aaron Rodgers a lot to diagnose on every play.
Under defensive coordinator Brandon Staley, the Rams have a young coordinator heading into the biggest game of his coaching career – yet the former Chicago Bears outside linebackers coach has enough familiarity with the team’s scheme and how to play in Lambeau that will certainly give the squad a bit more insight.
But the most unique element of this defensive scheme for Staley is how his background coaching under Vic Fangio has translated into being able to shut down the run while consistently maintaining a two-high safety look, giving Ramsey a lot of run in 1-on-1 matchups and keeping his safeties open for line of scrimmage and coverage opportunities.
By having Ramsey, Staley is able to leave him by himself on an island, just like Jaire Alexander has earned under DC Mike Pettine, which helps free up his two safeties for help over the top, to the other starting CB, or down in the box to help play the run. The ability for Ramsey to shut down whoever lines up across from him is certainly quite impressive, but that advantage will be put to the test when Davante Adams lines up across the LOS from him.
For Adams, staying away from the reach of Ramsey’s hands, which he loves to use in LOS lock-up techniques, is going to be key, as will his feet when he leaves the line at the snap of the ball. Adams has one of the, if not the, quickest first and second step in the league, and putting himself in such favorable positions for the ball is made very easy by his LOS get-off.
Press or in loose coverage, Adams is able to use his first two steps to dictate his route on the play and his inside/outside position, just by driving off his first movements and not giving anything away through the direction and motion of his hips – many WRs are able to use their speed to get out of breaks quickly yet their CB counterparts can follow them solely because they are following the directionality of the WRs hips and where they are pointed.
Outside of the ongoing scheme changes that the Rams will use, Staley’s up-front elements set the tone from the first snap. Casey Sully of Weekley Spiral provides a great breakdown of what the Rams throw out there in their front seven, including how their front can easily shift from 3-4 to 4-3, depending on down, situation, and distance.
Being able to throw a 3-4 front personnel-wise that looks like an offset 5-2 front on TV helps set LA up to stop both the run and the pass, as the two OLBs that sit outside the three down linemen help press the pocket up the field while setting the boundaries to push any running plays inside the tackles. And if that is not enough, then Staley is not afraid to put a safety down in the box to add an eighth man up front, capable of blitzing the QB, stuffing the run, or even dropping back into coverage to set up either a Cover 3 or Cover 4 protection on the back-end.
Donald earns so many double-teams because of his pure strength and because of the threat that he is on the inside, but what really sets himself apart is how even when teams gameplan away from him, he still becomes a factor in the play. The best defensive lineman in the league, Donald’s role in this defense is integral to its success, due in part to how much his play opens up the LBs and drop-down safety behind him.
By not always having to include an extra man down in the box due to Donald, the Rams are so strong covering both ways of moving the ball – Donald frees up his LBs to crash down to stop the run, and he takes on 1-2 OL every play to help free up LBs in either pressure or coverage roles. While his sack numbers are quite impressive for a DT, he earns every single tackle, sack, and fumble that he records – nothing comes cheap.
Rodgers is going to have to use the play-clock to his advantage yet again on Saturday, bleeding it down to the end to hopefully force the issue and make the Rams reveal their coverage early enough pre-play so the offense can make an adjustment. If he is able to diagnose what the safeties are doing, that can help give clues as to what the seven in-box men are doing, paving the way to either establish the run or attach the defense through the passing game.뿓뿓뿓
Mike Johrendt has been an avid fan of the Packers ever since he can remember. He is now a writer at PackersTalk and you can follow him on Twitter at @MJohrendt23