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zackn
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Sat Jul 13, 2019 8:27 am

The Rams’ versatile and talented safety corps could raise their defense’s game

Vincent Bonsignore

https://theathletic.com/1072582/2019/07 ... nses-game/

On a defense that returns eight of 11 starters, the easy assumption is that the Rams are merely hoping to be as good in 2019 as they were in 2018. The unit turned a corner during the last month of last season, trimming its points per game from 25.6 points allowed over the first 11 games to 20.2 over the final five. Factor in the outstanding defensive performance against the New England Patriots in Super Bowl LIII, and keeping the status quo is an acceptable objective.

By no means were the Rams a dominant defense. After all, they surrendered 24 points per game, 20th best in the NFL. But thanks to their explosive offense, that was plenty good enough.

That said, there is cautious optimism some of the changes the Rams made could result in subtle improvements that yield significant rewards.

If, say, new nose tackle Greg Gaines or Sebastian Joseph-Day and new inside linebacker Micah Kiser are better fits in the run game than the players they’re replacing, the Rams defense, which ranked 23rd against the run (122.3 yards per game on 5.07 yards per carry) could make notable strides.

The “fit” theme can also be applied to safety, where the Rams signed veteran free agent Eric Weddle to replace Lamarcus Joyner and drafted Taylor Rapp to add depth and versatility. Their presence, combined with emerging star John Johnson at free safety and valuable reserve Marqui Christian, has the potential to elevate the Rams in both pass coverage and run defense.

On paper, the safety corps offers defensive coordinator Wade Phillips an abundance of options as intelligent pieces he can deploy all over the field. For a defense that plays in base formation 30 percent of the time, that versatility is invaluable. And given how the Rams’ third and fourth safeties combined for 406 snaps last year — or roughly 40 percent of the team’s overall defensive snaps — Phillips figures to keep relying on his reserves to carry out assignments.

Here is a closer look at the Rams’ safeties.

John Johnson

In so many ways, the drafting of Johnson in 2017 was a perfect marriage between player, skill set and defensive scheme. Not only did the former Boston College star play in a 3-4 defense with the Eagles, but he also excelled at both safety positions, cornerback, linebacker and even as a down lineman.

That flexibility certainly caught the eye of the Rams, and by Johnson’s second season last year, Phillips was lining him up all over the field depending on the package. He tapped into Johnson’s intellect and versatility as a pass defender and run stopper, allowing Phillips to be more creative at other positions. Knowing Johnson could handle cornerback duties, Phillips was able to get another safety on the field.

Johnson finished last year with 118 tackles, four interceptions and 11 pass breakups, leaving him at the doorstep of Pro Bowl and All-Pro honors. He rose from a good NFL strong safety to a nearly great one with room to grow as he enters his third year. Now paired with Weddle — a free safety who’s also smart and versatile and adept in pass coverage and run defense — count on Johnson’s flexibility expanding even more and Phillips devising ways to accentuate his multi-faceted skill set.

Eric Weddle

Now in his 13th season, Weddle showed very little signs of decline last year with the Ravens while being an impact player both in the pass and run games. According to Pro Football Focus, Weddle surrendered just 111 yards in pass coverage and was particularly effective when lined up against wide receivers, allowing just a 57.0 passer rating in those matchups. Of his 68 total tackles, 54 were solo, and according to PFF, he missed on only five of 78 tackle attempts.

Weddle’s intellect fits perfectly on a Rams defense loaded with savvy defenders, and his communication at the back end of the defense will benefit the entire unit and guard against breakdowns. His ability to line up as a potential pass rusher, only to drop back in pass coverage while waving teammates into position, creates nightmare situations for quarterbacks trying to read potential holes in pass coverage. Weddle’s presence will also allow Phillips the confidence and freedom to use Johnson in even more ways than he did last season.

Weddle is also durable, having played all 16 regular-season games in nine of his 12 years and never playing less than 13 in any of them.

Taylor Rapp

The Rams drafted Rapp in the second round out of Washington, and while they envision him as the long-range heir apparent to Weddle, he is expected to see the field as a significant rotation piece as a rookie.

Rapp fits right in with the Rams’ versatile and physically tough safeties. Much like Johnson did at Boston College, Rapp played all over the field as a three-year starter at Washington. And while his best skill attribute is diagnosing run plays as a box safety and then packing a punch as he strikes a ball carrier, he proved dependable as a pass defender and was particularly good when lined up against tight ends.

Expect Rapp to carve out an immediate role in the Rams’ three-safety sets as a physical presence and enforcer who is able to defend tight ends and provide toughness and intelligence as a run defender.

Marqui Christian

Christian broke through in 2018 as a solid rotational player for the Rams while registering a career-high 33 tackles in 348 total defensive snaps. The question now is how much will Christian’s playing time be affected by the addition of Rapp (provided the rookie picks things up in the classroom and sees the field, as the Rams expect).

Christian is a fierce competitor, having overcome injuries and his 2016 fifth-round draft status to carve out a role on a Super Bowl defense. So don’t expect him to simply step aside now that Rapp is on board.

However, the Rams didn’t invest a second-round pick on Rapp with the expectation of having him just sit around biding his time. He’s too good to keep on the sideline, and that could mean Christian has to surrender some playing time.

Still, as a fourth safety and an excellent special teams player, Christian provides good value on a deep roster. And if someone is lost to an injury, there is a comfort level he can deliver when called upon.

***

Other safeties in the mix: Nick Scott, Steven Parker, Ramon Richards and Jake Gervase.



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zackn
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Sat Jul 13, 2019 8:28 am

We all know there are good reasons to expect a top-notch secondary this year, and a versatile one that exploits its ability to disguise coverages and line up players in different spots and roles. IMO if the pass rush improves this year it won't just be if Fowler comes through, it will also be because of how Wade uses his versatile and deep secondary to build some hesitation into what opposing offenses can do.



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Wildflecken
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Sat Jul 13, 2019 10:53 am

zackn wrote:
Sat Jul 13, 2019 8:28 am
We all know there are good reasons to expect a top-notch secondary this year, and a versatile one that exploits its ability to disguise coverages and line up players in different spots and roles. IMO if the pass rush improves this year it won't just be if Fowler comes through, it will also be because of how Wade uses his versatile and deep secondary to build some hesitation into what opposing offenses can do.
Spot on assessment. A Wade Phillips defense finishes towards the top of the league when he has the scheme fit defensive backs required to execute his design. When it is operating on all cylinders the defensive backs are creating coverage sacks for the defensive front and the defensive front is creating interceptions for the defensive backfield with pressure, hurries etc,

IMO Joyner was far from a scheme fit safety for Wade's design and this fact was exposed often in 2018. Lets hope for good luck on the injury front for 2019 because the Rams are loaded with scheme fit talent for Wade at the safety position.



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zackn
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Sun Jul 14, 2019 12:14 am

Wildflecken wrote:
Sat Jul 13, 2019 10:53 am
When it is operating on all cylinders the defensive backs are creating coverage sacks for the defensive front and the defensive front is creating interceptions for the defensive backfield with pressure, hurries etc,

... the Rams are loaded with scheme fit talent for Wade at the safety position.
Yeah it's really an embarassment of riches.

Talib, and all that means. Peters in a better place, with Wade and him understanding each other better. Robey-Coleman is a top slot corner. Long I think should be able to add something, plus he's good depth. Weddle is Weddle, Johnson is Johnson. Even slowed down Weddle brings a lot---smarts and instincts and good on the field chess playing. Christian is experienced and solid, and Rapp adds something too, with his instincts and smarts and ability to play a variety of roles.

That's 8 different guys to draw on to come up with situational packages. And you can tell these guys are already really into it and eager to play together.

I just can't help but think it's gonna be good.

...



49RH8R
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Sun Jul 14, 2019 11:48 am

i love our secondary now but it could get ugly after this year. talib and peters are FA's and who knows how long weddle can keep it up. JJ is a FA after 2020 and will be expensive since he'll be one of the better safeties in the league. goff's extension is going to effect a lot of players like JJ, peters and littleton.

snead/rams were very smart to draft rapp and long now. i see us taking another CB and S next year too. that or we'll take 2 CB's and get another safety after 2020.



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Wildflecken
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Sun Jul 14, 2019 1:52 pm

49RH8R wrote:
Sun Jul 14, 2019 11:48 am
i love our secondary now but it could get ugly after this year. talib and peters are FA's and who knows how long weddle can keep it up. JJ is a FA after 2020 and will be expensive since he'll be one of the better safeties in the league. goff's extension is going to effect a lot of players like JJ, peters and littleton.

snead/rams were very smart to draft rapp and long now. i see us taking another CB and S next year too. that or we'll take 2 CB's and get another safety after 2020.
Goff to me seems to be willing to take the Brady route regarding his contract? Goff I do believe wants to win more than anything else. I am not saying he does not want to be paid, he will. But unsure he wants to put team in a position they cannot remain competitive. Unsure Goff wont be willing to take something less than market value, understanding a pocket passer needs protection to be successful in this league.

IF Goff does seek to set records financially at the qb position, The question for Rams when contract time comes, Is Goff a talent who elevates the play of the talent around him? Is he a qb who can put team in playoffs, year in, year out despite the financial restraints his contract would place on team?



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zackn
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Sun Jul 14, 2019 3:07 pm

Wildflecken wrote:
Sun Jul 14, 2019 1:52 pm
49RH8R wrote:
Sun Jul 14, 2019 11:48 am
goff's extension is going to effect a lot of players like JJ, peters and littleton.
Goff to me seems to be willing to take the Brady route regarding his contract? Goff I do believe wants to win more than anything else. I am not saying he does not want to be paid, he will. But unsure he wants to put team in a position they cannot remain competitive. Unsure Goff wont be willing to take something less than market value, understanding a pocket passer needs protection to be successful in this league.

IF Goff does seek to set records financially at the qb position, The question for Rams when contract time comes, Is Goff a talent who elevates the play of the talent around him? Is he a qb who can put team in playoffs, year in, year out despite the financial restraints his contract would place on team?
First, Goff signing an extension is not going to have as huge an effect as some worry it will. That's a separate discussion.

Second, no, there is no such thing as a player giving a hometown discount on a 2nd contract. The 2nd contract is the one where players cash in.

And Brady took no such discounts. He cashed in too. His 2010 contract made him the highest paid player in the league at the time. He did not start taking discounts until after his 3rd contract. In fact if you see players take hometown discounts it's older veterans who do it after their 2nd contract when they start to factor in where they would like to play.

As for what qbs get on a 2nd contract.

That's pretty much a set amount and it goes up each year. There is very little room for variation in that. The question you ask with a 2nd contract is, do I want to keep him as the starter, or start over. If you don't pay him what the market amount is that year, then someone else does.

A qb is either seen as a starting caliber guy or not, and if he is, he gets the numbers for a starting qb's 2nd contract. If he's not, then, he does not get those numbers....and if he doesn't, it shows a lack of faith in the qb and it's a sign that he's not viewed as a franchise caliber qb.

Here are the QBs who signed TOP 2nd contracts since 2012. They all got the going market for the year they signed:

* Newton, Luck, Wilson, Cousins, Carr, Dalton, Garoppolo

Limiting it just to the first round (so there are not a few dozen names to sort out), here are the qbs drafted in the 1st round from 2012 on who DID NOT get market value 2nd contracts. They either signed low-end contracts (low for that year's market, which indicates there were doubts about them), or got injured, or just did not pan out:

* Tannenhill, Bortles, Griffen, Bridgewater, Ponder, Gabbert, Locker, Weedon, Manual, Manziel.

When it comes to 2nd contracts, here's how it goes. You look at Goff and ask if he belongs on the first list or the 2nd list. If he goes on the first list (which he should) then he gets what 2nd contracts are for qbs the year he comes up.



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69RamFan
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Sun Jul 14, 2019 9:48 pm

^^^^^^^

Goff has the same agent as Wentz,

No way he takes less than what Wentz received, an avg of 32mil/year...

His agent won't let that happen.....

Especially if we make another SB run...

The RAMs have Goff's salary projection calculated in with the salary cap numbers going up each year...



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