Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

After Strong Start, Rams Defense Appears to Be Wearing Down

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

After Strong Start, Rams Defense Appears to Be Wearing Down

Article excerpt

After a hard-fought overtime loss in Minnesota, the Rams nonetheless reached their apex defensively.

Despite that bitter 21-18 defeat, the Rams moved up to fifth in the NFL in total defense, looking every bit the snarling, physical unit envisioned when this season of great expectations began three months ago.

But then came Chicago, Baltimore, and Cincinnati. Three veteran, skilled quarterbacks in Jay Cutler, Joe Flacco, and Andy Dalton.

Minus Matt Forte and with a gimpy Alshon Jeffery, the Bears put 37 points and 397 yards on the Rams, including two touchdowns of 80 yards-plus.

Minus Steve Smith and with Justin Forsett out early with a broken arm, Baltimore put up 388 yards and wiped out a 10-point fourth- quarter deficit, winning 16-13 on a walk-off field goal.

Then came Cincy with 376 yards in a 31-7 shellacking of the Rams. Granted, seven of those points came on an interception return for touchdown, but the Bengals were in control offensively.

"For whatever reason, we haven't held up our end of the bargain against Chicago and last week (vs. Cincinnati)," defensive captain James Laurinaitis said. "And like I said after the Baltimore game, we had a lead going into the fourth quarter we gotta win that."

And now, with the NFL's top-ranked offense Arizona coming to town for Sunday's noon kickoff at Edward Jones Dome, the Rams have fallen to the middle of the pack at No. 13 in total defense.

They have tumbled all the way to 21st in rushing defense, and given up seven touchdown passes in the past three weeks. By way of comparison, the Rams have scored only eight TD passes all season.

"We've been just self-reflecting in that defensive room," Laurinaitis said. "How can we play better? Everyone individually has to do it."

Yes, it's come to this. The one thing the Rams could count on all season a stout defense seems to be wilting over the second half of the 2015 season. The players and coaches might never admit it, but the defensive unit has been carrying the burden of a struggling offense nearly all season.

The defense has been on the field for an average of 4 minutes more per game. And nearly 80 plays more over the course of the first 11 games. Cumulatively, it's as if they've played an extra game compared to the offense. As the injuries pile up, the strain may have finally caught up with defensive coordinator Gregg Williams' unit.

"We don't ever, ever think that," Williams said. "We really don't. It doesn't make a difference if we've gotta play 150 snaps; if we've gotta play 35 snaps. That doesn't make any difference.

"When we're mentally strong, we understand that our job is playing no matter what the situation is, no matter how many snaps we have to play. We have to keep on doing that. So we'll never use that as an excuse at all. No, we've gotta play."

The Rams were able to withstand the loss of linebacker and leading tackler Alec Ogletree two months ago when the team first played Arizona, thanks to the impressive conversion of Mark Barron from safety to weakside linebacker. …

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