THOUSAND OAKS – The Rams hired Wade Phillips, the NFL’s preeminent fireman.
But at first glance, nothing’s burning.
“Usually you get hired as a defensive coordinator because it’s a bad defense,” Phillips said Monday. “But that really hasn’t been the case in my last couple of jobs, and it’s not the case here.”
But you could always use a new inspector, a fresh set of eyes and ears. Phillips, 69, is here to sniff out what’s wrong behind the walls. Maybe it’s one of those invisible alcohol fires that you once saw at the Indianapolis 500, when crew members would start jumping around unaccountably.
The defense wasn’t the problem in the 4-12 nightmare of 2016. But the Rams needed it to be the solution. It was ninth in yards allowed and yards per play, and also ninth in third-down conversion.
It was 24th in sacks, 23rd in interceptions, 19th in fumbles recovered and 22nd in fumbles forced.
So it might not be a four-alarm situation, but it needs extinguishing.
“You’ve got to pick up things quick in this league,” Phillips said. “We’re going to attack. We’re coming after you. We’ve been doing this a long time, and we’ve got a system of teaching that’s been successful.”
Denver won the Super Bowl, 53 weeks ago, as Phillips’ defense laid waste to Carolina’s Cam Newton (18 for 41 passing, six sacks and an interception). In 2016 the defense remained sound, despite injuries, but the offense sputtered and the Broncos missed the playoffs.
When Coach Gary Kubiak resigned, Phillips left for the Rams, amid talk that he had fomented offense-vs.-defense discord in the locker room. Guard Max Garcia dismissed the report as “alternative facts.”
One L.A. bonus is the opportunity for Wade to be near daughter Tracy, who is a choreographer and actress, appearing in “Charlie Wilson’s War” and “Water for Elephants.”
This is Phillips’ eighth stop as a coordinator. In each case, the club gave up fewer points than it had the year before. In five cases, it gave up more than 100 fewer points than the year before.
Houston went from 427 to 278 between 2010 and 2011. San Diego went from 441 points to 313 between 2003 and 2004, and therefore went from 4-12 to 12-4.
“He puts you in a position where you can be successful,” said Chris Draft, who went from Valencia High in Placentia to Stanford and then played 12 seasons as an NFL linebacker, crossing paths with Phillips in Atlanta.
“But the best thing about him is how he connects with his players. When I moved on to other teams and I’d play his team, I’d always see him outside the locker room afterward, and he’d come over and see how I was doing. That’s what you remember about people in this business.”
Phillips said he fits his defense to the players, but only to a point. He says if Aaron Donald doesn’t suit your system, then the system isn’t working. However, the Rams will shift from a 4-3 to a 3-4. Theoretically that means William Hayes and/or Robert Quinn could play off the edge in a stand-up position, or Michael Brockers could do more time on the nose.
“This has happened a few times, where I’ll take over a 4-3 and go to a 3-4,” Phillips said. “But the 3-4 is better. You’re normally bringing four pass rushers. In a 4-3, that means all the linemen. In a 3-4, that’s three linemen plus a linebacker, but you don’t know which linebacker is coming. That causes some confusion and gives the defensive backs a better chance. Nowadays it’s all about stopping the passing game.
“We’ve led the league playing all zone, or all man. I prefer man because it’s harder to throw against it for a good percentage. But we also play a lot of matchup zone, which looks like something it’s not.”
Phillips’ dad, Bum, wore a cowboy hat and boots on the sideline, and was one of the NFL’s top characters and coaches. He took the Houston Oilers to within a whisker of two AFC championships against the powerful Pittsburgh Steelers. He admired Don Shula because “he can take his’n and beat your’n, and then he can take your’n and beat his’n.”
Wade joined his father’s staff in New Orleans when he was 27. Now his boss is Sean McVay, 31.
Last week he analyzed his generation gap with McVay, via Twitter: “I’m on Medicare and he’s on daycare.”
He smiled and said, “I’ll take credit for that one.”
“But I did ask him before I sent it out.”
Ounce of prevention, you know.
Contact the writer: firstname.lastname@example.org
Our editors found this article on this site using Google and regenerated it for our readers.