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  1. #1
    Goldenfleece's Avatar
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    Is a top 10 D too much to ask for?

    Lately I've been asking myself just how much we can really expect to improve this year. With this offense we could potentially make it into the playoffs with a defense that ranks in the mid-teens, but could Haslett turn this defense into the kind we need to last into the playoffs?

    So, I thought I'd take a look at some of the stats. First, I thought I'd see just how often teams in recent years have produced a top defense coming off a really bad season. Since 2001, only Pittsburgh and Tampa Bay have been in the top 10 in total defense every year, but Denver, Baltimore, and Washington have all only missed one year in the last 5. Still, in the last four years 17 different teams have cracked the top 10 that weren't there the year before, and 12 of them weren't even in the top half of the league the year before. So I thought I'd take a look at these 12 to see what they had done in the offseason to make such significant jumps. Here's what I found:

    Team Rank Improvement Notable Offseason Changes
    '02 Colts - 30th to 8th - New head coach Tony Dungy; drafted Triplett and Freeney
    '02 Panthers - 32nd to 2nd New head coach John Fox; healthy Dan Morgan
    '02 Titans - 26th to 10th - Return to form*;added Lance Schulters; Keith Bullock became a starter; drafted Albert Haynesworth
    '03 Patriots - 22nd to 7th - Added Roosevelt Colvin, Rodney Harrison, Ted Washington
    '03 Jaguars - 18th to 6th - New head coach Jack Del Rio; added Hugh Douglas, Mike Peterson
    '03 Cowboys 19th to 1st - New head coach Bill Parcells
    '04 Jets 20th to 6th - New defensive coordinator Donnie Henderson; added Jonathan Vilma
    '04 Eagles 19th to 10th - Return to form*;Added Jevon Kearse, Jeremiah Trotter
    '04 Redskins 24th to 3rd - Return to form*; New head coach Joe Gibbs, new DC Gregg Williams, two former defensive coordinators hired as assistants; added Marcus Washington, Shawn Springs; drafted Sean Taylor
    '05 Bears 20th to 2nd Brian Urlacher and Mike Brown return from injury; Lovie's second year
    '05 Panthers 19th to 3rd Return to form*; added Ken Lucas; several players return from injury
    '05 Packers 24th to 7th Huh? All I can figure is that the opponents must have spent most of the game running down the clock with short runs. Only New Orleans defended against fewer passing plays

    '06 Rams 30th to ? New HC Scott Linehan, new DC Jim Haslett; added Will Witherspoon, La'roi Glover, Corey Chavous, Fakhir Brown; Travis Fisher and Jerametrius Butler return from injury; drafted Tye Hill, Claude Wroten, Victor Adeyanju

    *By "Return to form" I mean the defense was a top 10 unit, then dropped dramatically and in the designated season re-entered the top 10. This is to distinguish between defenses that merely had a bad year (i.e. the '05 Panthers were no surprise because they had been top ten 2 out the 3 seasons prior) and defenses that came out of nowhere (i.e. the Panthers in '02 coming off a 1-15 season)


    I think it's a good sign that in the last 4 years, 5 different coaches have turned around poor defenses and made them top 5 units in their first year with the team. In fact, most of the "out of nowhere" defenses on that list have first year head coaches. So we know it has been done before, but can Haslett do that to our defense? Let's look at his track record in his first year at each new job:

    Saints 1995 (before Haslett became DC):
    Total D: 23rd (21st passing, 22nd rushing) Scoring D: 18th (15th passing, 17th rushing)
    Saints 1996 (DC Haslett):
    Total D: 13th (27th passing, 3rd rushing) Scoring D: 20th (13th passing, 19th rushing)

    Steelers 1996 (DC LeBeau):
    Total D: 3rd (3rd passing, 7th rushing) Scoring D: 4th (5th passing, 7th rushing)
    Steelers 1997 (DC Haslett):
    Total D: 5th (1st passing, 21st rushing) Scoring D: 11th (2nd passing, 22nd rushing)

    Saints 2000 (HC Ditka):
    Total D: 20th (20th passing, 20th rushing) Scoring D: 28th (23th passing, 30th rushing)
    Saints 2001 (HC Haslett):
    Total D: 11th (10th passing, 14th rushing) Scoring D: 10th (20th passing, 10th rushing)

    Here are all of his defenses' ranks in total & scoring defense:
    DC
    New Orleans 1996 - 13th, 20th
    Pittsburgh 1997 - 5th, 11th
    Pittsburgh 1998 - 10th, 7th
    Pittsburgh 1999 - 10th, 12th

    HC
    New Orleans 2000 - 11th, 10th
    New Orleans 2001 - 19th, 27th
    New Orleans 2002 - 28th, 26th
    New Orleans 2003 - 18th, 14th
    New Orleans 2004 - 32nd, 28th
    New Orleans 2005 - 14th, 28th

    The two times that he has inherited a weak defense from his predecessor, the teams saw major jumps the first year he was there. In fact, the first year he was in New Orleans, he led the Saints to their first and only playoff victory in team history. As a head coach, he had a number of defenses in the bottom half, but when he was able to focus solely on his work as a defensive coordinator he never had a defense ranked worse than 13th. Top 10 probably is a little too much to expect in the first year, but low to mid teens looks like a definite possibility.
    Last edited by Goldenfleece; -08-10-2006 at 08:18 AM.


  2. #2
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    Re: Is a top 10 D too much to ask for?

    I think the variable in here that's missing is talent. I really don't think the Rams have the talent to be a top ten defensive squad. I'm not sold on the secondary.

  3. #3
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    Re: Is a top 10 D too much to ask for?

    Well Done GoldenFleece..

    I agree we have talent on the D side...

    Leonard Little
    Corey Chavous
    Hargrove
    Kennedy
    Fisher and Butler have shown some flashes at times


    Now WItherspoon, and some interesting rookies such as Wroten, Hill and Adeyanju. Top ten D maybe too optimistic but in the teens maybe not unrealistic?

    I believe this team can be a contender if the D improves, Bulger remains healthy, the safety position is not a bust, and no major break downs at the TE position.

    If all of these pieces fit then look out NFL.....

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    Re: Is a top 10 D too much to ask for?

    I think the variable in here that's missing is talent.
    I agree, but the difference in scheme should account for something. Just as Lovie's aggressive scheme produced better results (2003) than Marmie's a year later (2004). Are we a top 10? It would take 100% health, and 0% waiting for "potential".
    "Before the gates of excellence the high gods have placed sweat; long is the road thereto and rough and steep at first; but when the heights are reached, then there is ease, though grievously hard in the winning." --- Hesiod

  5. #5
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    Re: Is a top 10 D too much to ask for?

    Overall, I do not think the Rams need to be a top 10 D to make the playoffs. They may need to play like a top 10 D at times to win consistently. However, a new scheme with a lot of new faces seems to indicate that there may be some defensive breakdowns here and there.

    imho they need to be less passive and at least match takeaways with the giveaways. If the Rams finish with a positive on takeaway ratio - they will be a good D.... good enough to be a playoff team.
    Last edited by AugustaRamFan; -08-10-2006 at 11:44 AM.

  6. #6
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    Re: Is a top 10 D too much to ask for?

    I don't think the fact that it's the first year in this defense is going to be a problem. Too many new head coaches have come in and immediately turned around the defense of their new team. Out of all the new head coaches in the last four years, about a third of them (8/21) had a top ten defense in their first year with the team. That increases to half (8/16) when you look at just coaches who either were hired because of their defensive credentials or brought in a defensive coordinator who had previous head coaching experience.

    As far as talent goes, my biggest concern in the secondary is depth at safety. Sure, our corners aren't great, but I see a lot more teams making big strides on defense by bringing in a top lb or dl than teams that sign a top shelf corner. Oakland, Buffalo, and New York had poor defenses even with Woodson, Clements, and Law on the field. Rolle didn't really improve the Ravens that much. The Chiefs signed Sammy Knight and Patrick Surtain to boost their secondary last year, which was enough to get them from 32nd in pass defense to 30th. The Vikings were supposed to have one of the best secondaries in the league last year with Smoot, Winfield, Sharper, and Chavous starting. They finished one spot ahead of us in pass defense. Meanwhile, the Jaguars had the 7th best pass defense with Mathis, Wright/Cousin, Grant, and Cooper/Sensabaugh starting. Prior to 2005, Wright and Cousin had 10 interceptions in a combined 17 years in the league. Kenny Wright couldn't even start for the Texans before he came to Jacksonville and was made a starter. That's the difference a pass rush makes (the Jaguars also finished 3rd in sacks).

    I think our defense is going to live or die on the play up front. In order to have a top defense this year we need Kennedy to keep the blockers off Spoon and Pisa, and we need Little, Glover, Hargrove and the rest of the rotation to be able to generate a strong pass rush even when we don't blitz.
    Last edited by Goldenfleece; -08-10-2006 at 11:15 PM.

  7. #7
    RealRam's Avatar
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    Thumbs down Re: Is a top 10 D too much to ask for?

    ...Could Haslett turn this defense into the kind we need to last into the playoffs? --GoldenFleece
    Excellent, excellent analysis GF!

    My answer, particularly after seeing tonight's game Vs. Colts, is an unequivocal, supportive and enthusiastic 'YES'.

    Haslett's commitment, experience, and style should yield a very significant change for the better in improving the Rams D from, as you have so well studied and described in terms of other teams' record...

    from 30th to 10th!

    Sure, there's so much to prove still, so much work ahead (can we say "Denver Broncos"?), but the first steps have been, most definitely, taken in the right direction.

    And IMO, that's all we can ask for now. Today our Rams provided us with a positive, albeit unconfirmed, answer.

  8. #8
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    Re: Is a top 10 D too much to ask for?

    Ha! Sorry for the misleading reply above.

    I meant, 'NO', it's not too much to ask for. 'YES', we may get there, in 2006!

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