For the first handful of games this season, the Los Angeles Rams’ secondary looked almost unchanged from week to week. Jordan Fuller and Russ Yeast would play just about every snap at safety, Derion Kendrick and Ahkello Witherspoon would do the same at corner, and Cobie Durant would play between 65-80% as the nickel defender.
However, in the last two weeks – particularly last Sunday against the Steelers – the Rams have been tinkering with some changes to their defensive backfield. Kendrick played a season-low 89% of the defensive snaps in Week 6, with Durant playing a season-high 87%, and then in Week 7, Kendrick played 37% and Durant played all 59 snaps.
It was partly because Kendrick’s practice participation was limited due to his arrest last Monday, but the Rams began tinkering the week prior. This experimentation also involved more opportunities for Quentin Lake, who played 27 snaps in Week 6 and 28 snaps on Sunday after his previous season-high was 15 back in Week 3.
Raheem Morris addressed these changes and said he likes what he’s seen from both Durant on the inside and Lake in the slot, which could lead to bigger roles for both players moving forward.
“Cobie had to go outside a little bit and that was where he played, had a nice knockdown pass, was really close on another one that we felt like he could have played a little bit better,” Morris said Thursday. “Really proud of him just being able to bounce out there and be able to pick up for his brother that had some issues last week we had to deal with. Cobie just showed some of his versatility that he can do and so did Quentin Lake being able to slide inside and do some of those things for us in those structures.”
The Rams wouldn’t be exploring these changes if Lake and Durant weren’t playing well, which Morris says has earned them more opportunities. Lake allowed three catches against the Steelers but they only went for 17 yards. Durant had a nice pass breakup but he also allowed three catches for 53 yards on five targets.
“You really explore more of those things when people play well and Quentin Lake’s been playing really well so you explore more of him playing some inside stuff for us,” Morris said. “Cobie’s been playing really well, just about most of the spots we put him at and playing at a high level so getting those guys in the grass as much as possible and finding that right combination to give you your best results to endure a whole game or play the way you need to play is part of it too.”
The Rams aren’t going to take Fuller, Yeast or Witherspoon off the field because they’ve all been playing well, but Kendrick’s role is certainly in danger of shrinking. He started the season well, allowing just six catches for 43 total yards in the first four games, but in the last three, he’s given up 154 yards on eight receptions with no pass breakups and three costly penalties.
Morris was still proud of the way Kendrick played in a limited role last week, but he knows the corner’s absence during the week affected his play against Pittsburgh. In the loss, Kendrick allowed 67 yards on three catches (three targets) despite only playing 15 coverage snaps.
“Always has an effect. You can’t ever discredit absence so certainly it did, right?” Morris said. “He was able to come back and play a role for us. He wasn’t playing his normal role, but he was able to come back and help us play in the role he was able to play in. To say how it affected him, probably a better question for him, right? He played decent. We gave a play at the end that we should have some help on and different other things but I’m not sure if that was the reason of the absence. It’s just more so really the mental stamina of doing things right, better, faster in order to make a few plays towards the end, right?”
Dallas only runs 11 personnel 56.4% of the time, according to Sumer Sports, so they won’t have three receivers on the field as much as some other teams do. It’ll be worth seeing whether the Rams deploy Kendrick or Durant at outside corner in their base packages this weekend, and how much Lake mixes in to counter the Cowboys’ tight ends.