Farewell to Atogwe the Difference Maker?

Barring a surprise deal, in less than two hours Oshimogho Atogwe will become a free agent and start fielding offers from teams rumored to include the Dolphins, Bears, and 49ers. The heart of the problem is whether or not Atogwe deserves to be paid with the top safeties in the game. Ron Clements wrote a compelling comparison between Atogwe and Antrel Rolle, recent signer of the NFL’s richest contract for a safety. The marquee numbers — passes defended and turnovers created — suggest that Atogwe belongs in that upper echelon.

One big factor was the rotating pairings of safeties brought on by two major injuries, to James Butler in Week 3 and to Atogwe against the Bears in Week 13. The Rams were fortunate to have Craig Dahl in a backup capacity, and he saw the field a lot in nickel situations as well, as the Rams ran out of corners they could trust.

RamsGab @RamsHerd rams defense uses interchangable safeties – which is probably why they put a low $$ value on OJ. He is pure free.

But was there a significant dropoff between Butler-Atogwe and Butler-Dahl as starters? A cursory glance at last season’s game outcomes would say yes.

Rams Game Outcomes & Safety Pairings, 2009

Everything seemed to click for the Rams in those middle four games of the season that followed our lone win, including a bit of improved secondary play that came with a healthy Butler and Atogwe finally paired and building chemistry. A deeper look into the numbers might show the impact felt by the Rams if/when he departs.

Regrouping the games so that we can see the three major pairings of safeties, some trends start to become more visible, including a clear suffering in the passing game when Butler and Dahl are left on the island.

Passer Rating graph

But the converse effect takes place, and much more dramatically, when we look at the Rams’ run defense.

Run Defense Graph

This may be the most damning reason why the Rams would be willing to let Atogwe walk, despite his ability to make the marquee play. His run defense tends toward an attempt to strip the ball, rather than wrap up and tackle, and despite the occasional forced fumble his overall impact on the run defense may not be a positive one.