Once these final three games are in the books, the Rams will face difficult offseason decisions.
Given the offense’s ineptitude, that side of the ball has received the most attention. But with Janoris Jenkins, Trumaine Johnson, Rodney McLeod, William Hayes, Mark Barron and Nick Fairley set to become free agents, an offseason of transition might be on its way for the defense.
Fortunately, the play of some of the Rams’ defenders gives the team flexibility.
Namely Johnson, who has emerged as a reliable starter in his fourth season.
Despite battling a thigh injury that caused him to miss losses against the Bengals and Cardinals, Johnson faced the task of shadowing Calvin Johnson Sunday versus the Lions. He thrived.
“Megatron” finished with just one catch for 16 yards, although that one grab came when Johnson wasn’t even covering him. The corner Johnson shut down the receiver Johnson, which included a 58-yard pick-six late in the second half when Matthew Stafford tried to force the ball to his favorite target.
If you enjoy the Xs and Os of the game, how Johnson got into position to make the interception should excite Rams fans as much as watching the result of the play.
From ESPN.com Rams Reporter Nick Wagoner:
That interception put the Rams on the board after a nearly scoreless first half. After meticulously studying Calvin Johnson all week, Trumaine Johnson said he instantly recognized the play as a “Bang 8 Route,” which was just supposed to be Calvin Johnson running a skinny post across his face. But the defensive Johnson recognized the play quickly and didn’t let Calvin Johnson get inside his leverage. He squatted on the route and jumped it as soon as Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford threw it.
“I saw it all week,” Trumaine Johnson said. “He was running it on teams and getting open. Just sitting inside the whole time. I was able to make a play.”
The “Bang 8 Route” is the brainchild of former St. Louis Cardinals and San Diego Chargers head coach Don Coryell. The “8” is the number for a post route in the Coryell route tree, while the “Bang” signifies that the route is thrown in rhythm by the quarterback, who needs to release the ball on his fifth step as the receiver is crossing the defender’s face. It’s the same play Troy Aikman and Michael Irvin ran to perfection while winning multiple Super Bowls in Dallas.
The recognition of the play shows the hard work that Johnson put in during the week when it came to his film preparation. But his instincts on that particular play were most impressive.
Calvin Johnson’s job on “Bang 8” is to recognize the leverage that the cornerback is taking and ensure that he’s between Stafford and the defender when he executes the skinny post. But Trumaine Johnson recognized the play quickly and jumped the route before “Megatron” even got his head around to catch the football.
It’s one thing to see a play on film or in practice during the week. It’s another for a player to recognize what’s unfolding in front of him in real time and make a play. Ask Malcolm Butler, who was burned multiple times in practice on a specific pass leading up to last season’s Super Bowl, only to recognize the play at the goal line and intercept Russell Wilson for a game-saving pick. Now Butler is the Patriots’ No. 1 corner.
Perhaps next season Johnson will be the Rams’ top cornerback.
That description currently fits Jenkins, who like Johnson is a free agent after the season. But Jenkins, who is having a fantastic season himself (Johnson wouldn’t have five interceptions this season without quarterbacks throwing his way plenty because Jenkins has been on the other side), is likely to cash in on the open market unless the Rams use their franchise tag on him to make sure he doesn’t leave.
With E.J. Gaines set to return in 2016 after suffering a season-ending injury in training camp this year, it makes sense that the Rams may decide to only sign one of their two free agent corners.
As previously mentioned, they have a laundry list of free agents they have to make decisions on and they still have plenty of holes to address on offense.
Whether it’s Jenkins or Johnson that returns, one thing is clear: Both corners’ play gives the team flexibility next offseason. If Jenkins’ price becomes exorbitant, Johnson has proven to the Rams this year that he’s not only a playmaker, but he’s also willing to put in the work to be great.