Rams-Saints study session: Defense

December, 17, 2013
12/17/13
4:00
PM ET
ST. LOUIS -- Some thoughts and observations on the St. Louis Rams' 27-16 win against the New Orleans Saints after reviewing the All-22 film.

• The Rams' defensive game plan against New Orleans was nearly perfect. A few things stick out in terms of what the Rams did to make it work. Keep in mind, you have to have a defensive line as deep and talented as the Rams to succeed, but if you do, the blueprint is there to be followed (especially given a spotty Saints offensive line). The Rams spent most of the game with both safeties high, leaving seven in the box and daring the Saints to run the ball. Likewise, they put the onus on their linebackers to stay disciplined to not allow those backs to do much damage when they caught the ball out of the backfield. In coverage, the Rams clearly made it a point to take away Drew Brees' first and second reads. The message was clear: force Brees to work through to his third and fourth progressions with the belief that by the time he did, the pass rush would get home. Brees threw 56 times, very rarely do you see him look at his first receiver, throw it and get a completion. Good scheme, even better execution by the Rams' defense.

[+] EnlargeDrew Brees
Chris Lee/AP PhotoRams DE Robert Quinn sacks Saints QB Drew Brees for his first of two sacks in their Week 15 game.
• By now, you've probably seen all the reasons why Rams defensive end Robert Quinn should be firmly in the mix as defensive player of the year after another crowning achievement against the Saints. There's not much more that needs to be said about his efforts, but I do think the game's first play for the Saints' offense showed some growth worth pointing out in Quinn's game. He's made a living off bending the edge and winning on the outside, but he beat Charles Brown with a strong inside move to force Brees into an interception. Quinn's game has diversified, not only in his ability to stop the run in addition to his pass-rushing skills, but he's also developed a wider array of pass-rush moves.

• One more thing on Quinn: I dare you to find a play that combines overwhelming athleticism with relentless effort like his second sack, forced fumble and fumble recovery in which he essentially just robs Brees of the football. Signature play for the highlight reel.

• It shouldn't go without notice that Quinn was far from the only one doing damage upfront. The whole defensive line was in on the action whether it was tackles Michael Brockers and Kendall Langford stuffing the run or William Hayes doing the same and getting after Brees, everyone was involved. End Chris Long played very well despite another offsides penalty. There were multiple plays where he and Quinn seemed to be in a race to the quarterback and it just so happens that not many players in the league would beat Quinn in one of those races.

• One player who stood out as deserving special mention is end Eugene Sims. Sims has quietly put together a good year, but he had perhaps his best game against the Saints. He created pressure, he was excellent against the run and he drew a holding penalty deep in Saints territory to back them up even further. When things are humming for this defensive line, everybody eats. Even Matt Conrath made a couple of plays.

• Aside from pressuring Brees, the Rams did an excellent job of taking away the deep ball. Brees attempted only seven passes 15 yards or further downfield, completing just two and both of those came late on a couple of apparent communication breakdowns. As mentioned earlier, the Rams left their safeties to roam on the back end and this was the best performance from that position the Rams have received all year. T.J. McDonald was active and around the ball, so was Rodney McLeod, who also played a lot of slot corner. And Darian Stewart deserves credit for his work as well. With a huge task like Jimmy Graham on the other side, the Rams left safeties over the top to help take him away and that's precisely what they did.

• In the steady-as-he-goes department, James Laurinaitis was strong again with two plays standing out, both in coverage. On one, Laurinaitis tracked a third-down pass coming across the field, kept awareness of where the first-down marker was and made a solid tackle after allowing the completion to get off the field. On another, he dropped deep in zone down the middle of the field and delivered a big hit to jar the ball loose and force an incompletion for another stop. Quietly, he's also had a strong season.

• Linebacker Alec Ogletree was all over the field in this one. He did a nice job in coverage, seeing Graham on a fairly regular basis and coming up to help against the run. In one two-play sequence, Ogletree sniffs out a run and takes on a blocker to allow a teammate to make the tackle and he followed by sniffing out a screen and dropping Darren Sproles for a 5-yard loss. Perfect examples of Ogletree's improved instincts.

• Cornerback Janoris Jenkins deserves major props for his performance with back spasms bothering him. He's so competitive in coverage and he was particularly outstanding in the red zone with pass breakups against bigger targets Graham and Marques Colston in the end zone. The key? Textbook technique and recognition.

• The Rams weren't perfect in this one, they struggled early in the game with tackling and allowed the Saints to move the ball with some bad angles and whiffs, but they managed to survive with a nice interception from cornerback Trumaine Johnson and a blocked field goal from Brockers. Once they cleaned up the tackling, particularly against running backs catching it, the Saints struggled to get anything going.

• Most important, the defense did an excellent job of taking away the big play. Even as the Saints put some points on the board late, they had to work hard for every inch they got. An 18-play scoring drive in the fourth quarter is no way to get back in the game. Again, good scheme, better execution.

• Another nod needs to go here to the special teams, which were once again excellent. Punter Johnny Hekker continued his brilliance and it should be noted that his first punt pinned the Saints deep to help create the situation leading to McDonald's interception and a quick early lead.

Nick Wagoner

ESPN St. Louis Rams reporter

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