Among the myriad changes in store for the 2020 Los Angeles Rams is a different defensive coordinator piloting a unit that boasts two of the very best at their positions: Defensive tackle Aaron Donald and cornerback Jalen Ramsey.
The Rams are coming off a season in which they allowed 22.4 points per game, which was tied for 15th in the NFL. Hardly horrible, but hardly stellar. It was also the 18th straight season in which the Rams defense finished ranked outside the top 10 in scoring defense – a mark tied for second all-time behind the Bengals' 19, per NFL Research.
As the Rams offense looks to reestablish its footing and introduce new players, holding down opposing offenses should be paramount in 2020 when Staley begins directing the defense.
With Donald and Ramsey, Staley will continue a trend of working with star defenders. A season ago, Staley was the outside linebackers coach for the Broncos and the preceding two seasons was with the Bears (who had the No. 1 scoring defense in 2018). Hence, Staley has coached the Broncos' Von Miller and the Bears' Khalil Mack in each of the last two seasons. He also has history coaching linebacker Leonard Floyd, who didn't exactly work out in Chicago, but will be looked upon in Los Angeles to realize his potential and aid in replacing a slew of defensive losses.
Phillips' departure is certainly not the only one for the L.A. D, as linebackers/pass rushers Clay Matthews and Dante Fowler are gone and so too is linebacker Cory Littleton, quite possibly one of the league's most underrated defensive talents.
In the eyes of some, Phillips' departure was a bit surprising. Aside from the aforementioned streak of finishing outside of the top 10 of scoring defenses, the Rams were second in the league in takeaways (82) and Pro Football Focus bestowed them with the sixth overall team grade for defense last year. And, of course, that was a season removed from going to the Super Bowl.
It's likely the safety spots and off-the-ball linebackers could prove worrisome for Staley, but he has plenty of talent up front and on the corners.
Of course, when fans think Rams defense, they will think of Donald and Ramsey.
Ramsey is set to play his first full season with L.A. after he was traded out of Jacksonville during the 2019 regular season. Per NFL Research, he and Darius Slay are the only cornerbacks to make the Pro Bowl in each of the last three seasons.
Then there's Donald, perhaps the greatest player in the NFL. A two-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year and an All-Pro five seasons running, Donald is just the third defensive tackle in league chronicle to earn a Pro Bowl nod in each of his first six seasons – joining Steelers icon "Mean" Joe Greene and another Rams all-time standout, Merlin Olsen. Thus far, Donald has compiled 72 career sacks, which is the most by a defensive tackle in his first six seasons, per NFL Research.
The cupboard certainly isn't bare as it relates to the Rams defense, but there's been departures aplenty.
Two superstars are the highlight and other talent is there (such as cornerback Troy Hill and defensive lineman Michael Brockers), but Staley has large shoes to fill in replacing Phillips, much less doing so as a rookie DC. The revamped Rams are aiming to rebound and though the L.A. spotlight might not shine brightest on the defense, the Donald- and Ramsey-led squad will prove most pivotal in the team becoming a playoff participant once more or an NFC West also-ran a season further removed from a Super Bowl berth.