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LA Rams' top-ranked defense still rolling as playoffs loom

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Los Angeles Rams strong safety Jordan Fuller, left, breaks up a pass intended for Arizona Cardinals wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins during the second half of an NFL football game in Inglewood, Calif., Sunday, Jan. 3, 2021. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

LOS ANGELES – Brandon Staley doesn't have a lot of time to reflect on his stunning success in his first season as the Los Angeles Rams' defensive coordinator, and he doesn't particularly want it.

He might find a moment after the Rams (10-6) finish their playoff run, which begins Saturday at Seattle. Maybe the 37-year-old assistant will discuss everything that went so well while he interviews for multiple head coaching positions this month.

But Rams fans already appreciate a defense that topped the NFL in several important categories and excelled at nearly everything during a remarkable season.

Los Angeles ranked No. 1 in total yards allowed, yards passing allowed, passing TDs allowed, first downs allowed and points allowed while becoming the Rams' first top-ranked NFL defense in decades. Its next task is to slow down Russell Wilson and the Seahawks in the rivals' third meeting in nine weeks.

“We're proud of the way we've competed,” Staley said Tuesday as the Rams began preparations for their trip to Seattle. “Your goal, no matter what level of ball you're in, is just to become the best version of yourself, and wherever that takes you, I think that you can live with.”

This version of the Rams' defense took them to the sixth seed in the NFC postseason and second place in the NFC West, two games behind Seattle. The Rams earned their third postseason berth in four years with an offense that didn't excel in any particular area, and which finished tied for 22nd in the 32-team league in points scored.

Aaron Donald, Jalen Ramsey and their teammates have emerged atop the NFL, but that's exactly what coach Sean McVay says he had in mind when he replaced Wade Phillips with Staley last winter.

“I definitely would say I wasn't shocked,” McVay said. “I think we had high expectations with what we were capable of. I had a lot of belief in Brandon and our defensive coaches, and I've been very pleased with that group. A lot of the things that Brandon and I talked about in his interview ended up really — as Brandon would say — expressing themselves in a big way on the field.”