By John Turney
From 1983-90 the Rams also Ran a 3-4 base defense under Fritz Shurmur, switching to a 4-3 in 1991 under Jeff Fisher and the club stayed with that scheme through 2016.
So, we are considering the Rams 3-4 era as being 1983-90 and 2017-19 and are not including the times they may have used it in spot situations. We've seen in in the late 1950s and in some form of passing defenses in the 1960s and 1970s, but they were not the base defense.
In the Shurmur 3-4 the defensive line two-gapped most of the time whereas in the Phillips brand of the 3-4 they did not, it was a one-gap 3-4. Also, in the Phillips scheme the front seven flops sides (strong and weak), and in the Shurmur scheme they stayed put, playing left-right.
Reggie Doss was a solid player who shaded inside the left tackle (4i) in the Shurmur scheme. In 1984 he had 66 tackles, 8 tackles for loss and 8.5 sacks, and 5 passes defenses. His 1983 season was almost identical, though he had 5 sacks and 7 passes deflected. Doss was good in the 3-4 base, but lacked the speed to be great in pass-rush situations and eventually would be replaced in those spots.
The backup nose tackle is Greg Meisner's 1984 season. Though he split time with Charles DeJurnett he had 36 tackles, seven for loss, and 3.5 sacks. Meisner was an active street fighter-type. He got by on smarts and hustle but he also could run a little bit. He was a solid player especially in late-1983 in the Dallas playoff game and in 1984 and a good rotational player for other years but we went with 1984 as his best.
The strong-side inside linebackers (MIKEs) are Alec Ogletree (2017) and Carl Ekern (1985). Ogletree has 95 tackles, 10 passes defensed a pick-six, 2 sacks and a forced fumble. Ekern had 118 tackles and 2 picks, 2 forced fumbles and one of the picks went for a touchdown. We chose 1985 over 1986 when eh was Second-team All-NFC because he was on the field more in '85 and made more plays.
The "MO" backer or weakside inside linebacker is Jim Collins and his 1984 season, though his 1985 season was equally good. He was All-Pro according to Pro Football Weekly in '84 and by Sporting News in '85. A neck injury in the 1985 Pro Bowl derailed his ascending career.
Backing him up is Cory Littleton's 2019 season. In 2018 Littleton was the "MIKE" and had a fine year, in 2019 he was moved to the "Mo" and played just as well, earning him a big paycheck with the Las Vegas Raiders. He excelled in zone coverage, could blitz, and recovered four fumbles. Being on the weakside freed him some from taking on too many guards and allowed him to run to the ball. Were it nor for Collins' great seasons (as good as any ILBers you can find) Littleton would be First-team.
His backup is Mel Owens who was a far better coverage backer than Greene but not near the pass rusher. From 1983-87 Owens butted heads with the good tight ends and fared well, and could get some rush. In 1985 he had nine sacks and from 1983-86 he averaged five sacks a season.
Dante Fowler's 11.5 sacks and 58 tackles get him the backup spot behind Wilcher. He was more of a defensive end, rather than a complete linebacker. However, his "career-year" got him big money form the Atlanta Falcons for the 2020 season and beyond.
The backup corners on our mythical squad are Jerry Gray's 1989 (though any year from 1986-89 would be fine) and Marcus Peters' 2018. Peters scored two pick-6s for the Rams in 22 games for the franchise and Gray was a First-team All-Pro in 1989 and a Second-team pick from 1986-88 and a Pro bowler all four years and ALl-NFC all four years as well. Gray would play safety in sub defenses in the late-1980s, he narrowly loses out to the First-team corners.
That's the base defense.
Now, for the nickel.
Youngblood and Greene are the edges and Aaron Donald and Jeter are the inside rushers. Jeter was listed as an end but did his best work in the nickel/dime Eagle as a defensive tackle. Youngblood, in addition to his 10.5 sacks in 1983 had 45 QB hits and knockdowns of quarterbacks and 46 hurries (and almost as many in 1984 despite missing time due to a back injury) and Donald had 70, 91, 92 or 106 total pressure depending on the source you trust.
There is a dropoff to the second unit. Longacre was fine, but no star. Fowler was solid with 11.5 sacks in 2019.
We've touched on Wilcher's MIKE role and in this case, we put him ahead of Ogletree because he was the better rusher when called upon.
In 1985 Paul Zimmerman of Sports Illustrated named Vince Newsome his All-Pro nickelback and how he usually played was as a linebacker with Wilcher on the second level and Jerry Gray (late in the season, anyway) would play outside corner and Gary Green would play slot corner. Newsome would be a star today with his versatility, he is the forerunner in many was to the multi-position or "no-position" defenders you see today.
Like the mid-1980s defense, the late-2010s defense has had a lot of versatile defensive backs who can play safety, linebacker, slot, and outside and had coordinators (Shurmur and Phillips) that employed them in may ways. We've only touched on where you might see some of these defensive backs line up but tried to give a flavor of the variety of ways players like Cromwell, Johnson, Joyner, Christian et al were used.
Newman was a fine athlete with top speed who would play the second slot position in dime, but also could play safety, allowing our 'team' to put Johnson at a corner but that could be reversed as well putting Newman at corner with Johnson at safety. The same is true for Cromwell. All three were over 6 feet, could run, cover and tackle.
So there is the 3-4 team, composed of mid-1980s players and late 2010s players.
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