Sean McVay’s team has already won as many games as a season ago and this time, it’s the defense that has been the prevailing factor.
It’s happened twice since the 1970 NFL-AFL merger. A team leads the league in fewest total yards allowed, fewest rushing yards and fewest passing yards given up. The Minnesota Vikings turned the trick way back in 1975 when they were NFC Central champions with a 12-2 record. But in the divisional playoffs, Roger Staubach and Drew Pearson had their Hail Mary answered and the Dallas Cowboys upended the Purple Gang, 17-14.
A mere 16 years later, the Philadelphia Eagles would finish 10-6 but due to an unimaginable quarterback situation via injuries and poor play, the team failed to qualify for the playoffs. But the team’s defense featured Hall of Famer Reggie White, the great Jerome Brown, and other standouts such as heady linebacker Seth Joyner, sack artist Clyde Simmons and ball-hawking cornerback Eric Allen. That team also led the NFL in all three major defensive categories that season.
So what about this season’s Los Angeles Rams? Sean McVay’s club and coordinator Brandon Staley’s unit has allowed the fewest total yards and passing yards in the NFL after 14 weeks of play. And only the Tampa Bay Buccaneers were giving up fewer rushing yards per contest entering the final three weeks of action. It’s a talented unit led by perennial standout defensive tackle Aaron Donald, who has totaled 12.5 sacks. But this is also a group that despite a lot of big names added through the years was proficient at harassing quarterbacks and forcing turnovers but not really consistently stopping anyone.
It’s been a different story this year. Only the Steelers and Dolphins had allowed fewer points than the Rams entering Week 15. In some ways, it’s a bit of a departure from the club that reached the Super Bowl in 2018. McVay’s squad scored a whopping 527 points but allowed 384 points – an even 24 per game. This year’s team has been efficient offensively, save for too many turnovers by quarterback Jared Goff. But 42 sacks and 21 takeaways are part of the reason the Los Angeles’ defense has allowed only 24 offensive touchdowns.
Could the Rams complete the statistical hat trick on defense? Will the team wind up in the Super Bowl for the second time in three years? This is suddenly a very intriguing club.