The Venturi Effect
By Jim Thomas
ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
FOXBOROUGH, MASS. — As he stood on the sideline two weeks ago at FedEx Field, linebacker Pisa Tinoisamoa turned to Jim Haslett and commenced with the ribbing.
"What do you think of the new coordinator?" Tinoisamoa asked. "Pretty good, huh?"
"Get away from me, Pisa," Haslett replied.
Kidding aside, the results have been just short of astounding since Rick Venturi replaced Haslett as Rams defensive coordinator. With the firing of Scott Linehan on Sept. 29, Haslett moved to head coach from coordinator; Venturi was elevated from linebackers coach to the coordinator's spot.
Haslett said he made only two defensive calls in the Rams' 19-17 victory at Washington. And those calls, Haslett said, "weren't very good." So on game days, Haslett basically has become obsolete when it comes to calling a defense. It's Venturi's show.
"That's all right, as long as we win," Haslett said. "Rick and I have been together for so long that we kind of think alike and see things a lot alike."
Yet somehow things have been better under Venturi. Dramatically better:
— In the first four games under Haslett, the Rams allowed 37.8 points per game. In two games under Venturi, it's 15.5 points per game.
— Under Haslett, the defense allowed 412 yards per game. That's dropped to 355 yards
— Under Haslett, opponents had a 44 percent conversion rate on third down. Under Venturi, it's 36 percent.
— Under Haslett, the defense had only one takeaway in four games. They've had seven in two Sundays with Venturi.
So how do we explain the Venturi Effect? The same defenders who routinely missed tackles, botched coverages and blew gap assignments are suddenly breathing fire. And they've done it against two of the more productive offenses in the NFL in Washington and Dallas. What gives?
"I don't know," Venturi said. "I hope that it continues. It's a weekly challenge. I think the things we've done the last two weeks is we've maintained hustle, but we've played more cohesively. Cohesion is everything. We've tried to make it our mantra to be a swarming, run-to-the-ball defense."
Hustle is great, but hustle alone won't work if players are out of position and not working as a unit. Being out of position leads to holes — holes for running backs and holes in pass coverage.
To help emphasize the big picture and drive home the importance of cohesion as a unit, Venturi has the entire defense watch tape together, instead of breaking off by position (line, linebackers and secondary).
"That's something I believe in," Venturi said. "I consider myself a teacher first, so we spend a little more time watching tape together as a unit, to try to make sure that everybody totally understands what everybody else does."
But even the players are hard-pressed to explain what's going right for a defense that seemingly did everything wrong just a few weeks ago.
"I was actually even talking to my wife about it," defensive tackle Adam Carriker said. "I was like: 'It's not like we changed our schemes. It's not like we've got new personnel. Same people. Same defense. It's just how we're playing.' "
Whatever the reasons, players clearly are responding to Venturi. The energy level is higher. They are flowing to the ball. And the overall play has been more physical.
"We're more relaxed," defensive tackle Clifton Ryan said. "The insecurity of not knowing if (Linehan) was going to be here or not, that affected all of us. That was a lot of pressure.
"And just getting that out of the way, now we can put the focus on football. ... Rick's really holding us accountable. I love Rick. He's a fiery guy. He's been around for a long time, and he wants the best for us. You guys are out there watching practice. He's hobbling to the ball (himself), trying to get us to the ball."
Along the way, safety Oshiomogho Atogwe says Venturi has been a stickler for detail.
"He's really a master of techniques and doing things exactly the way they're supposed to be done, so that everybody fits together in the course of a game," Atogwe said. "That's helping us to be more technically sound and more detail oriented."
Venturi has simplified some things, such as the way some defensive calls are made.
"You're not going to play fast unless you're totally positive what you're going to do," Venturi said. "Players make decisions in milliseconds, so they have to be totally confident in one another and what they do."
He's also done some, uh, redecorating in the defensive meeting room. The huge "goal chart" that used to hang on a wall, detailing all sorts of statistical categories on a weekly basis?
"We physically took it out," Venturi said. "Because we wanted the emphasis on one thing, and that was points allowed. I'm not stat-oriented other than that stat. So it was symbolic in a way. Let's get rid of all this, and let's think about one thing first, and that's keeping the point total down."
So far it's working far better than anyone could have expected. On Sunday against New England, the Rams will try to hold an opponent under 20 points for the third week in a row. The last time the Rams did that was the 2001 season, which was the last time the Rams played in the Super Bowl.
"Hopefully, it keeps going," Venturi said. "But you're either seven days away from elation or seven days away from humiliation in this league."
Re: The Venturi Effect
I know this is a small sample size, but I think it's very interesting how some people make better head coaches than they do coordinators. Haslett knows that he need to let Venturi do his thing, and he lets him do it. Whatever it is that has worked so far, I hope he keeps it up.
Re: The Venturi Effect
Great idea to get rid of the stat chart. The Defense needs to only concern itself with "STOPS". Under Linny, everyone ran through us like 'ROTO-ROOTER'.
Re: The Venturi Effect
I think Venturi is blitzing more than Haslett did and I also think that this defense is better without Tye Hill in the lineup. Offenses would routinely look for him in key situations and usually convert. It's also looking like a good decision to start Ryan over Glover.