LOS ANGELES — Wade Phillips has done it again.
Hailed as a quick turnaround artist for the past three decades, Phillips has maintained his reputation during his first season as Rams defensive coordinator. Even if things go poorly for the Rams on Sunday in their backup-heavy season finale against San Francisco, the Rams’ defense will have improved in 2017.
The Rams have allowed 295 points this season, 99 fewer than in 2016, and the Rams have forced 25 turnovers compared to 18 last season. Most importantly, the Rams are headed to the playoffs.
Starting with the 1989 season, Phillips has been hired for eight jobs, and all eight of those teams made the playoffs in his first season. Six of them missed the playoffs the previous season. In Phillips’ first year, his teams have an average record of 11-5, compared to 7-9 in the season before his arrival.
“Obviously it’s not me,” Phillips said this week. “Obviously here it’s (Coach) Sean McVay. Normally, I’ve come in and the offense was good and they changed defensive coordinators because the defense wasn’t very good. And I’ve had some luck and success getting in the playoffs the first year with that.”
It’s clear that McVay’s worst-to-first offensive turnaround is a major reason why the Rams are 11-5 this season after their dreadful 4-12 season a year ago, but Phillips also has made a difference.
The Rams ranked 23rd last season in points per game against, at 24.6. Now they’re tied for eighth, at 19.7. As long as the 49ers don’t total more than 420 yards on Sunday, the Rams also will improve on last season’s average of 331.4 yards against per game.
Phillips’ teams have made statistical improvements in his first year upon his hiring as defensive coordinator in Denver (1989, and again in 2015), Buffalo (1995), Atlanta (2002), San Diego (2004), Houston (2011) and with the Rams this year, and as head coach with Dallas in 2007.
Including this season, Phillips’ defenses have improved by…