Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images
It’s okay if you’re having deja vu watching this team. It’s been easy to overlook the Los Angeles Rams this season. They’ve largely been out of view, eclipsed by the Seahawks in the NFC West, and overshadowed by the promise of the Arizona Cardinals. It pushed the team to being a bit of an afterthought, but on Saturday the Rams made a point of showing that they aren’t just still alive in the playoffs, they’re also scary enough to be a real threat.
When we think of fear in the modern NFL it comes from elite quarterbacks making unstoppable throws, and receivers so athletic they can’t be halted by scheme or talent alone. In a lot of ways the Rams are a throwback to the not-so-distant past, and this is what’s going to make them a team to fear in the NFC.
Los Angeles didn’t just stop Seattle, they obliterated the Seahawks — making Russell Wilson look like a bottom-tier quarterback in the process. A combination of pressure and coverage made it a long, long day for Wilson, who finished completing just 11-of-27 passing for 174 yards, and giving up a pick-six for good measure. Statistically there have been more dominant defenses, but there’s something entrancing about this team. A quality you can’t quite put your finger on. They don’t bend, they don’t break, they just punch you in the mouth for 60 minutes, leaving you feeling demoralized and frustrated as a result.
The look of Russell Wilson on the bench, as if the weight of the world is crushing him. DK Metcalf fuming while he paced the sideline, like he could toss his helmet out of frustration at any moment. It’s a quality that can’t be summed up on paper. We’re accustomed to elite teams having at least one element of their defense being top-tier, but every single part of the Rams’ defensive puzzle is pieced together with a single goal in mind: Utter infuriation.
We’ve seen great defenses before, but it wasn’t until the fourth quarter that it really dawned on me, this team is like the 2002 Tampa Bay Buccaneers. There’s that same level of hopelessness that comes from facing Aaron Donald that Warren Sapp had at his peak, but the pairs it with pass rush capabilities that Simeon Rice had. The secondary is as impenetrable as well, with Jalen Ramsey being their Ronde Barber, and John Johnson every bit as fearsome as John Lynch, perhaps more so.
The comparison go beyond players too, and extend to the numbers as well.
Considering how offense-focused the NFL has become, these are largely comparable stats — and like the Buccaneers, the Rams’ offense might not be good enough to win games on its own, but it thrives on battering a demoralized team, and slowly gobble field position.
That’s how Jared Goff, 12 days removed from thumb surgery, was able to beat one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL. Well, more aptly, the bruising running of Cam Akers was the real reason the Rams succeeded on offense. The point remains though: At a time where we’ve become conditioned to believing that offense is what wins in the NFL, the Rams are out here playing some of the scariest defense we’ve seen in almost 20 years.
So, watch out NFC. The Rams are putting it together, and you better have a plan to get past them.