Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Cornerbacks at a Premium for Rams

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Cornerbacks at a Premium for Rams

Article excerpt

Imagine playing a four-man front with only three defensive linemen. Or trying to protect a quarterback or open holes in the running game with just four offensive linemen.

Well, the Rams played pass defense for about 40 percent of Sunday's 27-3 loss to Arizona with just two cornerbacks. OK, maybe that's not quite as drastic as having fewer than five O-linemen on the field. Or having to slide a linebacker onto the defensive line.

But whenever the Cardinals went to three-wide receiver sets at the Edward Jones Dome, it meant the Rams had to use a safety to cover a wideout. And there's not a wide receiver in the NFL who wouldn't like that matchup.

The Rams have been playing with fire all season by keeping only four cornerbacks on their 53-man roster, and it caught up with them Sunday. One of those four, starter Trumaine Johnson, hasn't played since suffering a thigh injury on an interception return midway through the third quarter of the Rams' Nov. 22 game at Baltimore.

That left the Rams with only three healthy cornerbacks on the roster: Janoris Jenkins, Lamarcus Joyner and Marcus Roberson. The Rams finished out the Baltimore game with that trio, and got through the Cincinnati game with those three as well.

But against Arizona, with Johnson on the pregame inactive list for the second consecutive game, they lost Jenkins twice to collisions with teammates. On the fifth play from scrimmage against the Big Red, Jenkins and safety T.J. McDonald collided playing pass defense on a 20-yard completion from Carson Palmer to Michael Floyd.

Jenkins left the game to be checked for concussion symptoms, meaning for the next five plays of what turned out to be an 80-yard touchdown drive, the Rams had only two cornerbacks at their disposal.

Jenkins was cleared and returned to the game on Arizona's next offensive series, but he left for good following another collision this time with safety-linebacker Mark Barron on a 10-yard TD pass from Palmer to David Johnson with 5 minutes, 53 seconds left in the third quarter.

Arizona ran 29 more offensive plays, a total that doesn't count three kneel-downs at the end of the game, against a Rams defense that had only Roberson and Joyner at cornerback.

"Well, there was a significant change in the lineup because we moved Lamarcus out to corner," coach Jeff Fisher said. "Then, Rodney (McLeod) came down to play the nickel spot."

When McLeod was playing nickel back, either Maurice Alexander or Cody Davis joined McDonald at safety depending on which defensive package coordinator Gregg Williams was using at the time.

"We had players playing positions that they hadn't played before against an outstanding quarterback," Fisher said.

All told, 34 of Arizona's 84 offensive plays came against a Rams defense that had only two corners. On about a dozen of those 34 plays, the Big Red used three or more wide receivers, with McLeod given the unenviable task of trying to cover Arizona star Larry Fitzgerald. …

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