THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. – In the midst of everything the Rams defense has gone through over the last eight months, safety John Johnson III says finishing No. 1 in total defense and in the top five in multiple other significant categories is an accomplishment to be proud of.
"A season like this, with what we're going through, all the protocols, all the adjustments we had to make, it means a lot that we could band together and go from a Zoom meeting on the computer to on the grass and with a new defensive coordinator, everyone buying in, it just shows you the work and dedication we put in from April until now," Johnson said during a video conference Tuesday.
Los Angeles enters Saturday's Wild Card game against Seattle (1:40 p.m. PT, FOX) on the heels of finishing the 2020 regular season allowing the fewest yards per game in the NFL (281.9), fewest passing yards per game (190.7), fewest points per game (18.6) and third-fewest rushing yards per game (91.3). It has also generated the second-most sacks (53), trailing only Pittsburgh's 56.
Bills quarterback Josh Allen was the only 300-yard passer allowed by the Rams defense all season, and no opposing running back ever eclipsed 100 rushing yards in those 16 weeks.
"I think we're very proud of the way we've competed," Rams defensive coordinator Brandon Staley said. "Certainly your goal, no matter what level of ball you're in, is just to become the best version of yourself and wherever that takes you, I think that you can live with. I think that's something in my background, being a teacher's son and coach's son, you just want to take your group that you have and try to maximize that group within that particular season. This season, I think that we did that and that led us to the rankings where we finished. And I think for all of us, us coaches and players, we can say in the 2020 regular season that we were the top defense and that's something that we can take with us for a long time and I'll be very proud of."
The Rams defense was able to accomplish the feat behind the leadership of fourth-year safety Johnson – who has been the defensive signal-caller this season – and breakout seasons by his teammates, like defensive lineman Morgan Fox (career-high six sacks), outside linebacker Leonard Floyd (career-high 10.5 sacks), cornerback Darious Williams (team- and career-high four interceptions) and cornerback Troy Hill (team- and career-high three defensive touchdowns), among others.
The number of different contributors, in addition to the defense's consistent performances, is what makes the unit special, according to Rams defensive lineman Aaron Donald, and one of the biggest reasons why they're in the position they're currently in.
"I think it comes down to guys just making plays and it isn't just one or two guys, I've been saying it all year," Donald said during a video conference Thursday. "It's guys stepping up in a big way, at any time and making plays to help us win games. When you tend to do that week-in and week-out on a consistent basis, and there aren't too many drop-offs, that's what it's about. You can't just dominate one week then have three weeks where you fall off. I think this year has been different from this defensive standpoint just because it's been consistently dominant."
Fox said the focus throughout the season was on winning games, not rankings. While the group is happy they accomplished such a feat, their attention has shifted toward the playoffs and bigger goals now.
"It is a cool achievement," Fox said. "I think everyone saw it and noticed it, but everyone's focused on Seattle and winning everything. We're pumped about it, but it's not done."