The makings for a dominant NFL defense?

The St. Louis Rams made tremendous statistical gains on defense last season. Kerry Byrne breaks down some of the differences from 2009 to 2010 in his recent piece for SI.com.

Are coach Steve Spagnuolo and the Rams headed for even better things on defense in 2011 after using their first-round pick for defensive end Robert Quinn?

"The Quinn pick told the football world that Spagnuolo intends to win in St. Louis much the way he won in New York -- with a dominating group of Defensive Hogs," Byrne writes. "The unit he'll put on the field in 2011 has the potential to be the very best in the league."

2009-2010 Rams Defense

Michael from St. Louis pointed out Byrne's piece to me via Facebook and questioned whether the Rams' defense would actually join the NFL's elite this season. I think Byrne is on the right track. Spagnuolo does have the Rams' defense headed in the right direction.

I do see question marks, however. James Hall and Fred Robbins enjoyed unusually strong seasons for their ages. Can the Rams bank on more of the same? The defense also lost safety Oshiomogho Atogwe to the Washington Redskins in free agency.

Opposing personnel matters, too. Some of the statistical gains St. Louis made from 2009 to 2010 reflected which quarterbacks the team faced.

The chart ranks the Rams' opposing quarterbacks by their passer ratings against St. Louis in the 2009 and 2010 seasons. The team's 2010 performances against Drew Brees, Philip Rivers, Josh Freeman and Matt Cassel stand out as notable, although the Rams were 1-3 against those quarterbacks.

The Rams benefited in 2010 by removing Kurt Warner (twice), Peyton Manning, Matt Schaub, Brett Favre (2009 version) and even Vince Young (2009 version) from their schedule. They face Rodgers, Brees, Ben Roethlisberger, Michael Vick, Eli Manning, Tony Romo and Joe Flacco this coming season.

2009-2010 Rams Defense: Opposing Quarterbacks by Rating