Unheralded Morgan Fox and Darious Williams contributing mightily to Rams defense
The Rams are getting expected production from high-priced defensive stars Jalen Ramsey and Aaron Donald, first-round draft picks who have nine Pro Bowl appearances between them and contracts worth a combined $240 million.
The defense also has received major contributions from cornerback Darious Williams and defensive lineman Morgan Fox, both of whom began their NFL careers as undrafted free agents and were released by the Baltimore Ravens and the Rams, respectively, before establishing themselves.
Williams and Fox will be integral parts of the game plan when the Rams play Washington on Sunday at FedEx Field.
Williams has two interceptions and Fox has two sacks for a Rams team that is 3-1. Washington is 1-3, and has made a switch at quarterback. Coach Ron Rivera benched second-year pro Dwayne Haskins and will start Kyle Allen. Veteran Alex Smith has been elevated to a backup role.
Williams said he would be ready regardless. And he is not surprised by his success.
Rams claim defenses dictate whether on offense can connect on bomb passes, and expect those opportunities will arise. Maybe against Washington.
“I always knew I was going to be a baller in the league,” Williams said during a videoconference with reporters. “It just depended on who needed me and when they needed me. … I was just waiting on my opportunity.”
Williams, 27, played in college at Alabama Birmingham and signed with the Ravens in 2018. He played in three games before he was waived and claimed by the Rams. Last season, Williams worked his way into the cornerback rotation, started three games and intercepted two passes.
This season, his end zone interception against the Philadelphia Eagles helped the Rams stave off a rally en route to a 37-19 victory.
The next week, in a last-second defeat against the Buffalo Bills, Williams was penalized for pass interference on a fourth-down play that gave the Bills a chance to win on the next play. He said he thought the Bills recognized that he was playing physical throughout the game.
“I think that was really all drawn up in the play call,” Williams said, “Just for him to just get the ball and sling it while I was jamming him.”
Last Sunday against the New York Giants, the 5-foot-9, 187-pound Williams intercepted a pass in the final minute to clinch a 17-9 victory.
“He’s got outstanding cover skills,” Rams defensive coordinator Brandon Staley said. “He’s got movement, he’s got deep speed, meaning he can run with these guys that can really get it on the outside.
“He’s a really great leaper. He’s not a tall guy, but he’s got an outstanding vertical jump. He feels bigger than his height and he’s a confident guy. He’s calm.”
Williams, who is earning $750,000 this season, benefits from playing with Ramsey, who signed a five-year, $105-million extension before the season. Because quarterbacks are not eager to challenge Ramsey,Williams and other Rams cornerbacks get more opportunities to make plays.
Rams safety John Johnson is looking forward to playing in Washington this week. Unfortunately, no family or friends will be allowed to attend the game.
“That’s just more fun for me,” Williams said. “Like, I’m out there ready to get passes thrown to me, ready to make plays, and that’s all credited to him.”
Said Ramsey: “He makes big plays when the opportunities come his way. He’s stepped up, been able to show the world what he’s capable of, what we all knew he was capable of.”
Fox, 26, played at Colorado State Pueblo and signed with the Rams as an undrafted free agent in 2016. He sat out the 2018 season after undergoing knee surgery and had two sacks last season playing as a rotational player under coordinator Wade Phillips.
The Rams re-signed him to a one-year, $825,000 contract, and he has played in rotation on a line that features Donald, a two-time NFL defensive player of the year who has a team-best 3½ sacks. Fox has a sack in each of the last two games.
Fox, 6-3 and 275 pounds, said he has learned from playing with Donald.
“He’s the kind of guy that just playing around him sets the standard so high that you have to play, you know, maybe not at his level but pretty close to be successful and to make sure you’re doing your job well enough that he can do his job,” Fox said.
Donald is happy to see Fox excel.
“I always knew that Fox had the ability to do what he’s been doing,” Donald said. “He’s a great pass rusher, he stopping the run, he’s confident, he’s always asking questions, trying to get himself better. ... I’m just more happy that he gets to show the world what he’s about.”
Rams cornerback Jalen Ramsey is fined $15,625 by the NFL for his role in a postgame altercation with New York Giants receiver Golden Tate last week.
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