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Opinion: Los Angeles Rams’ pricey defense has to vanquish New Orleans Saints to reinforce its worth

This was the purpose of all the wheeling, dealing and splash headlines: Super Bowl or bust.

Now the Los Angeles Rams are 60 minutes away from that stage.

“What grade will you get? Well, it won’t be an ‘F,’ " Rams general manager Les Snead told USA TODAY  Sports, assessing the moves of the past year while ramping up for the rematch against the Saints in the NFC title game in New Orleans. “Whether it turns out to be an ‘A+’ is to be determined.”

And how. After getting eliminated on their own turf in the wild-card round last season, the Rams won the offseason in convincing fashion. They signed centerpiece defensive tackle Aaron Donald and star running back Todd Gurley to mega-money extensions. Traded for cornerbacks Aqib Talib and Marcus Peters. Lured the signature presence of Ndamukong Suh. Dealt for big-play receiver Brandin Cooks. Franchise-tagged versatile safety Lamarcus Joyner.

Let the money talk. With the NFL’s biggest offseason spending spree, the Rams committed more than $200 million in guaranteed money from the deep pockets of team owner Stan Kroenke.

It’s time to cash in, folks.

Snead knows. As much as the Rams' foundation is built for long-term success with Donald, Gurley, franchise quarterback Jared Goff and whiz-kid coach Sean McVay, winning big on the NFL landscape means doing so in a year-to-year window.

It’s no wonder that, asked about the pressure to win now, Snead said, “The farther you get, the magnitude of the pain from a loss is much stronger.”

The difference – and pressure – seemingly rests with what was to be the best defense that money could buy. Sure, McVay’s prolific offense needs to produce. Yet after a stunning offseason makeover, the defense is about to face its stiffest test yet: Trying to contain Drew Brees and Co. in the raucous Superdome with a conference title on the stake.

It almost looks like the moves to shore up the defense were made specifically to match up against the versatile Saints. Not quite. They were driven largely to transition to the 3-4 scheme employed by defensive coordinator Wade Phillips after years in a 4-3 defense under former coach Jeff Fisher.

Whether the Rams needed to handle the Saints or the Falcons (who beat L.A. in the NFC wild-card round last season) or anyone else, the idea was to build a Phillips-styled unit – which includes using cornerbacks extensively in man-to-man coverage to allow for flexibility with blitzes. The transition explains why the Rams were willing trade two of their former first-round talents from last year’s defense, defensive end Robert Quinn (to the Dolphins) and inside linebacker Alec Ogletree (Giants), who were deemed better fits in a 4-3.

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