Morris replaced Brandon Staley, architect of a unit that gave up the fewest points and yards in the NFL last season.
But Morris did not flinch last week when the excitement that permeated SoFi Stadium for the Rams season opener against the Chicago Bears quickly deflated as Bears running back David Montgomery broke free for a long run.
On the second play.
“I wasn't thinking about my legacy as defensive coordinator in the second play,” Morris said.
After the bad start, the defense ended a threat with the first of two turnovers. Those plays helped the Rams secure a victory — and provided momentum going into Sunday’s game against the Indianapolis Colts at Lucas Oil Stadium.
“We actually got better throughout the game,” Morris said, “which was awesome.”
A Rams team that is regarded as a contender to play in Super Bowl LVI at SoFi Stadium looked the part — especially on offense — during the 34-14 victory over the Bears.
New quarterback Matthew Stafford led a quick-strike passing attack that harked to McVay’s high-powered 2017 and 2018 offenses.
A defense led by three-time NFL defensive player of the year Aaron Donald and versatile All-Pro cornerback Jalen Ramsey made several fourth-down stops and gave up only two touchdowns.
Yet the Rams struggled to stop the run. Montgomery’s 41-yard gain was only the start. He finished with 108 yards and a touchdown in 16 carries.
“We take pride in what we do — and we didn’t hold our end of the bargain,” defensive lineman A’Shawn Robinson said. “We didn’t do our job stopping the run.”
McVay opined that he might have been at fault for sticking with a training camp and preseason philosophy that includes no tackling. Donald said the Rams simply missed makeable tackles.
“First game of the season — it's going to happen,” he said, “but we played those things up and we’re going to be better.”
The Colts will almost certainly make the Rams prove it.
Under coach Frank Reich, quarterback Carson Wentz leads an offense that features one of the NFL’s most highly regarded lines.
Guard Quenton Nelson’s matchup against Donald ranks as a marquee event.
Second-year running back Jonathan Taylor rushed for 1,169 yards and 11 touchdowns in 2020. Nyheim Hines is a capable backup. The two combined for 90 yards in 26 carries last Sunday in a 28-16 loss to the Seattle Seahawks.
That could mean another test for a Rams defensive front that weathered several personnel changes during the offseason.
Michael Brockers, who played alongside Donald in each of Donald’s seven NFL seasons, was traded to the Detroit Lions. Valuable rotational player Morgan Fox signed with the Carolina Panthers.
Nose tackle Sebastian Joseph-Day is a returning starter. Robinson, sidelined most of last season because of what he described at the time as a “respiratory situation,” had knee surgery a few weeks ago but played 23 snaps against the Bears.
Third-year pro Greg Gaines played 25 snaps in the opener. Linemen Michael Hoecht and Jonah Williams also rotated in. Rookie Bobby Brown III, a fourth-round pick from Texas A&M, was inactive for the opener.
The Rams made up for their inability to consistently stop the run by intercepting a pass and forcing a fumble, with inside linebacker Kenny Young playing a role in both turnovers.
Young tipped a pass that was intercepted by cornerback David Long, and recovered a fumble that was forced by outside linebacker Justin Hollins on a sack.
Young also ran down Montgomery to end what might have been a long touchdown run.
“The ability to vent every blade of grass was absolutely unbelievable,” Morris said, adding, “To be able to go see him do those things was phenomenal.”
Before the season, there had been some question about who would play opposite edge rusher Leonard Floyd. Hollins ended speculation with a two-sack performance.
“You got your answer,” said Morris, who will gather more information on Sunday.
The Rams aim to avoid a repeat of their run-defense issue.
“Your job as a coach is to identify problems,” Morris said, adding, “We identified it — now it’s the player's job to fix it.”
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.