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Wade Phillips altering Rams' defense to 3-4 scheme

The Rams new defensive coordinator has plans to alter defensive alignment heading into next season.

The Los Angeles Rams on Friday afternoon introduced their entire coaching staff under new head coach Sean McVay for next season.  

One of the biggest sticking points in the press conference came from defensive coordinator Wade Phillips stating that he plans on changing the Rams' defensive alignment to a 3-4 scheme.

"It’s better. I’ve been in a little bit of a 4-3, I played 4-3 in college. 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 of beating people is stopping the passing game in this league. That’s why I’ve stuck with the 3-4."

The 69-year-old has had much success running that form throughout his coaching career, in particular, with the Denver Broncos, who finished the last two seasons in the top five ranking first in 2015 and fourth in 2016. A large amount of the success came about from possessing arguably the most talented defensive unit in the league that is filled with several All-Pro defenders.

Denver has a formidable pass rush led by their hybrid defensive/outside linebackers in DeMarcus Ware and Von Miller that was backed up by their secondary led by their Pro Bowl cornerbacks in Aqib Talib and Chris Harris Jr., who both graded out as the top players at their position last season by Pro Football Focus. 

With that in mind, Phillips now takes over a talented defensive unit that finished inside the top 10 overall in 2016. The anchor of their defensive front is two-time All-Pro defensive tackle Aaron Donald. Despite the expected changes, Donald will remain at the center of the defensive line meanwhile there could be some major changes for former Pro Bowl defensive end Robert Quinn that may involve taking up a similar hybrid role that Ware and Miller have played over the last couple of seasons.

This will likely bring an increased importance to re-signing soon-to-be free agent cornerback Trumaine Johnson to a new deal while adding more depth to the secondary. Los Angeles didn't possess any reliable stability beyond Johnson and Lamarcus Joyner with both Troy Hill and E.J. Gaines struggling to present themselves as effective options at the position. 

The Rams also have safety T.J. McDonald entering the free-agent market for the first time in his career, which could make inking him to a new contract one of their top priorities. Ultimately, McVay is confident that implementing a 3-4 defensive scheme under Phillips is the right plan of action that will help best utilize their talent on that side of the football. 

"When you really talk about what makes a great coach, I think, ultimately, everybody has different levels of ability, and it’s our job to help them reach that highest potential," McVay said. "And that’s why Coach Phillips is a great coach, he’s got that perspective. Tailoring your schemes to the players’ strengths, helping them reach that highest potential, that’s the number one priority.

"Then, figuring out those schemes is more game plan specific – how do we attack certain coverages on offense, how does the defense defend certain looks and personnel groupings that an offense might present. Those are things, but the first priority is let’s help develop our players with the fundamentals, the techniques that we’ll emphasize throughout the course of the offseason and continuing throughout the regular season."

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