THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. – Meeting with his unit on Monday, Rams defensive coordinator Brandon Staley took them all the way back to training camp.
In wake of a completely virtual offseason, those 7-on-7 sessions during the acclimation period in early August represented the first chance to install Staley's new scheme in-person and on grass. With eight games of live action in their minds as a backdrop, the progress was apparent.
"I think that in order for you to show your guys how far you can take it, sometimes you need to show them how far they've come," Staley said during a video conference on Wednesday. "So for them to see their first snaps in that acclimation period in some of the walk-thrus, and then our very first snap of training camp to the last snap of Miami, I think that you realize how much work we've put into this and how far we've come as a group."
Traditional statistics have the Rams defense ranked in the top five in multiple categories at the midway point of the season.
Los Angeles has the No. 2 total defense and No. 2 scoring defense in the league. It has allowed the second-fewest passing yards and fourth-fewest rushing yards per game. It's tied with the Pittsburgh Steelers for second-fewest first downs allowed, while opponents are only converting 33.3 percent of their third down attempts, third-lowest in the NFL. L.A. also makes few self-inflicted mistakes, tied with the Jacksonville Jaguars, New England Patriots and Green Bay Packers as the fourth-least penalized defense (40).
Broken down further:
- Opponents failed to eclipse 250 passing yards in six of their first eight games.
- No running back has rushed for 100 yards (or more). While the Cowboys' Ezekiel Elliott reached 96 yards in Week 1 and the Eagles' Miles Sanders 95 in Week 2, no running back has had more than 71 in the six games since.
"We've just been getting better," Rams defensive lineman Aaron Donald said during a video conference Thursday. "You know, I've been more proud of just how consistent we've been playing the last couple of weeks, because obviously, we're a good defense, but there was weeks where we had a great week and then we came back and was okay, but the past couple of weeks we've been consistent. So we've just got to keep that up and keep feeding off that, keep pushing each other and feeding off each other's energy and continue to dominate."
The purpose of this teaching tool wasn't just to show the defense's growth, though. If they progressed that quickly in the first half of the season, what does that tell them about what they can achieve in the second half?
"We're definitely light years of where we once were in training camp," Rams linebacker Kenny Young said during a video conference Monday. "And now, it's, how can we take it to the next level? The cool thing about it is, we have all the players, we have all the character, we have the know-how."
That confidence will be put to the test against a Seahawks offense ranked No. 1 in the NFL in scoring (34.3 points per game) and No. 3 in total offense (415.0 yards per game), led by the NFL's leading passer in quarterback Russell Wilson (317.6 yards per game).
Still, there is perhaps no better opportunity to measure that growth than that kind of matchup.
"I think as you are aware, there's much more to be done," Staley said. "There's so much. We have such a long way to go. I think that that's what we're excited about and certainly these next eight games will test us each and every week."