Bill Feig/Associated Press
The front office signed three-time All-Pro defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh to pair with reigning Defensive Player of the Year Aaron Donald, and it also brought in star cornerbacks Aqib Talib and Marcus Peters to make things easier on that dynamic duo up front.
Those three additions have a combined 12 Pro Bowls under their belts, and it’s not as though the D was bad before they arrived. With the venerable Wade Phillips in charge, it was fair to wonder if the Rams defense would become a tremendous asset this season.
The first three weeks of the regular season only reaffirmed that notion, with the Rams surrendering just 36 total points in three consecutive double-digit victories over the Oakland Raiders, Arizona Cardinals and Los Angeles Chargers.
But ever since, the Rams defense has shockingly transformed from aid to Achilles’ heel.
Gregory Shamus/Getty Images
On Sunday, for the first time this season, it cost them a game.
Don’t be surprised if it happens again. Don’t be surprised if it costs them their season before we hit February.
Despite a strong offensive performance on the road against the New Orleans Saints on Sunday, the Rams lost by a double-digit margin to a team that they just might have to meet again in January. The loss increases the likelihood that said meeting will take place in the Bayou, not Southern California, and it also alerted the football world that the Rams are officially fallible, even vulnerable.
The Rams have faced four potential NFC playoff teams in the last six weeks. They’ve given up at least 27 points in each of those games.
They merely held on to beat the Minnesota Vikings at home in Week 4, slipping past an opponent that was traveling on short rest while allowing 31.
Ten days later, they surrendered 31 more in Seattle, despite the fact the Seahawks had scored no more than 24 points in each of their first four games. They won by two.
Then, there was last week’s less-than-stellar defensive showing against a struggling Green Bay Packers team. They survived thanks in part to a late-game special-teams gaffe from Green Bay, but they still gave up 27 in a two-point home win.
Indeed, those were all victories, which made it easier to look past the hints that the Rams could have a problem on their hands.
Los Angeles made it too easy for Drew Brees and the New Orleans offense Sunday, allowing 35 points in the first half at the Superdome. Brees was nearly perfect, while Alvin Kamara, Michael Thomas and Ben Watson were nearly unstoppable in what might have been a rout if not for a big second-half effort from Jared Goff and the L.A. offense.
Jeff Duncan @JeffDuncan_
The Saints are going through the Rams defense like it’s Swiss cheese. Five first-half drives. Four touchdowns and a fumble.
The Rams were 8-0 entering this game, and they continue to own the best record in the NFC, but was that start ever really sustainable? They crushed the depleted San Francisco 49ers in Week 7, but the combined scoring margin in their other five games since Week 4 is just plus-four.
No, the schedule hasn’t been easy. But it’ll be even tougher in January, and between now and then, they still have to deal with Seattle and the defending Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles. They still have to travel to Detroit and Chicago for tough roadies, and they have to use up a “home game” on the 8-1 Kansas City Chiefs in Mexico City.
Neither Talib nor Peters has helped. The former has spent the majority of the season on injured reserve, which is always a larger-than-usual risk when you sign a 11-year veteran. The latter has been victimized time and again in coverage and was often embarrassed by Thomas on Sunday. They remain strong up front, but Suh also isn’t the player he once was and it again feels as though Donald has too much weight on his shoulders.
Lindsey Thiry @LindseyThiry
Marcus Peters said he got beat on the touchdown pass to Michael Thomas, and that he does not think he has played well the last few weeks. He owned it, and appeared dedicated to fixing it. https://t.co/BFL2suCnmG
On Sunday, Donald was the only Rams player to even touch Brees, who wasn’t sacked on 36 dropbacks. They didn’t intercept him, either. Just like they didn’t intercept Rodgers or Russell Wilson or Kirk Cousins. In those four big games against Minnesota, Seattle, Green Bay and New Orleans, they had just three total takeaways on D.
That unit is by no means a disaster, but it isn’t getting off the field on third down, it isn’t making enough high-impact plays and it has done more harm than good in every important game the Rams have played this season.
Critically, it isn’t giving the offense a margin for error, which will become problematic when they’re facing smart and talented opponents who have studied two seasons’ worth of L.A.’s offensive tape.
That’ll be the case in the new year, and it might result in a nightmare finish for the league’s latest Dream Team.
Brad Gagnon has covered the NFL for Bleacher Report since 2012.