How the biggest surprise of the Rams defense turned their season around for good

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Updated: November 27, 2017

When Wade Phillips was hired to be the Rams defensive coordinator much was made about how it would affect the pass rush. Aaron Donald was to be the clear beneficiary while Alec Ogletree had the potential to be Wade’s new Von Miller/Shaun Merriman. Donald has come on after his hold out and Olgetree has been quite productive.

The biggest surprise and the primary reason the Rams’ defense has found success is because of what’s happened with the secondary. The secondary was a major cause for concern because Trumaine Johnson hadn’t been great to this point, John Johnson was a rookie safety, and Lamarcus Joyner was moving from corner to safety.

Phillips brought corner Keyvon Webster from Denver and the team acquired Nickel Robey-Coleman in free agency. What started out as a cobbled together cast of characters, has now become a unit that is now a primary force on a stacked defense.

In retrospect it shouldn’t be a huge surprise that the secondary is this good. One of the tenets of a Wade Phillips defense is excellent secondary play. In Denver, he had Aquib Talib, Chris Harris, and T.J. Ward. They made the pass rush that much more dangerous because receivers couldn’t get open while the pass rush did its thing.

Last season the run defense eroded (a current problem in Los Angeles) but the pass defense was top ten all time (per Football Outsiders). Phillips is great at recognizing what his players do well and put them in positions to succeed. Once again, Wade has done it but what’s more remarkable is how the unit looked on paper.

Trumaine Johnson was given a second franchise tag which made him the highest paid corner this season. That seemed like an odd distinction given that he only had one interception last season. Johnson has yet to give up a touchdown this season and he has two interceptions on the season. He has become a terrific corner under Phillips and helped shut down the Saints receivers. Lamarcus Joyner was asked to move from slot corner to safety after being a slot corner for the beginning of his career.

The Rams had let Rodney McCleod leave in free agency and with Mark Barron becoming a linebacker there was a massive void at safety. Joyner has matched his career total for interceptions and has really grown into the position. Keyvon Webster and Nickell Robey-Coleman have contributed greatly and Webster’s experience in Phillips’ secondary has shown dividends. The biggest surprise this season has been rookie John Johnson.

John Johnson was drafted in the third round out of Boston College. The pick was seen as a welcome and necessary addition to a depleted secondary. All of a sudden he found himself as a starter and has developed into a legitimate safety. He has one interception on the season but has demonstrated solid cover abilities and is a decent tackler.

His ability is surprising given the steep learning curve for rookie defensive backs. The Rams’ pass rush will always be the cited as the primary engine that drives the defense but the development in the secondary deserves praise. They do an excellent job at shutting down receivers and allowing the front seven to cause havoc. Once the playoffs hit they should be able to show everyone that they are one of the best units in football.

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