New Rams Defensive Coordinator Wade Phillips, formerly of the Broncos, has overseen 20 different top-10 defenses since beginning his NFL career in 1976. As far as his tenure in Denver is concerned, they were the league’s best defense for the past 2 seasons. Considering that the Rams operated within the structure of the 4-3 set last year, Phillips sees a more versatile and nuanced attack coming from a 4-3 scheme: “When you have a 4-3, you have four linemen, those are the four guys that are rushing,” Phillips said. “When you have a 3-4, you have three linemen and somebody else is coming from somewhere because it’s going to be a four-man rush most of the time. It gives an advantage of them not knowing, protection-wise. I think it helps you, pass defense-wise. If you look at our pass defenses over the years, you look at our sacks over the years, they’ve all been top of the league. And I think that’s the key to beating people is stopping the passing game in this league. That’s why I’ve stuck with the 3-4.”
In addition to Phillips, another new addition to the Rams defensive coaching staff this year is Bill Johnson, who was with the Atlanta Falcons when Phillips converted their defense from a 4-3 to a 3-4 set, in 2002. He remembers there being some reluctance regarding the transition, but Atlanta proceeded to go from near the bottom of the league to 12th in defensive DVOA that year.
“Really and truly, to me, it’s techniques,” Johnson said. “They [the four down linemen from the 4-3 scheme] are going to be playing the very same techniques. And I sort of had the same thing in Atlanta — this is a four-man front, how are we going to fit these players?”
Considering the track record of Phillips, with his proven ability to lead a defense to the top of the NFL, and to transition from one scheme to another in response to a need to stop the opposition from gaining yards through the air, imperative in what has become a passing league, the Rams should have one of the league’s best defenses in 2017.