Ram Soft

Believed to be a strength heading into the season, the defense in St. Louis has been downright dreadful in 2013, as seen in Thursday's loss to San Francisco. Can the Rams overcome this disastrous start?

By
Robert Klemko
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Robert Quinn and the Rams defense allowed 31 or more points just once in 2012. They've given that up three times in four games this season, including Thursday night's 35-11 loss to the 49ers. (Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)
Robert Quinn and the Rams defense allowed 31 or more points just once in 2012. They’ve given that up three times in four games this season, including Thursday night’s 35-11 loss to the 49ers. (Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)

ST. LOUIS — Rams defensive end Chris Long was the last to take off his shoulder pads late Thursday night, still seated in full gear as the home locker room emptied. The San Francisco 49ers had come and gone, filled the city with their fans and run all over the opposing defense as if they’d been doing so all season.

They hadn’t.

It was a breakout, slump-busting performance for San Francisco against a team that was supposed to challenge them and the Seattle Seahawks in the NFC West this season. Instead, what was hailed as the backbone of the league’s youngest team—its defense—was just as bad if not worse than its long-idling offense. To Long’s chagrin, the Rams gave up 35 points, 19 first downs, and worst of all, 219 rushing yards.

“It’s disgusting. It really is,” Long said. “That’s not who we are, but if we keep playing like that, that will be who we are. When you give up that many yards in the ground game it’s a lot of things going wrong. We have a lot of things to correct.”

St. Louis (1-3) has given up at least 31 points in three consecutive weeks after doing so just once last season and finishing 7-8-1. As players dressed and undressed and were asked to give instant analysis of this latest loss, a theme emerged. Late in the second quarter, mere seconds after the familiar 4th-and-short refrain of Al Pacino’s Any Given Sunday speech flashed across the video board—“The inches we need are all around us.”—the Rams whiffed on Niners running back Frank Gore, who sprinted 34 yards off tackle (1,224 inches), easily clearing a stacked and off-balance defensive front to go up 14-3.

It’s disgusting. It really is,” Chris Long said. “That’s not who we are.

Explained defensive tackle Michael Brockers: “They did a good job game-planning us. They just knew where the hole was. They had extra people in a gap we couldn’t cover. They matched the play with the defense.”

Is the defense being put in the right position to stop the run?
Says Long: “I cant comment on anything that’s out of our control, but what we can control we need to control, and that’s guys being in their gaps. It’s not difficult.”
Later, it seemed every time the Rams would scrape together a modicum of defensive momentum, San Francisco caught them off guard with a screen pass or a draw, taking advantage of aggression and gap insecurity up front, and lax coverage and poor tackling in the backfield. That’s been a theme all year, says defensive tackle Kendall Langford.

“Teams are definitely throwing more screens, draws and things like that than they did against us last season,” he said at his locker. “All of those things have an effect on us getting to the quarterback and it’s frustrating.”

Perhaps some of that frustration should rest on the shoulders of Tim Walton, the rookie defensive coordinator and former Detroit Lions assistant, hired to bring continuity to a unit which led the league in sacks with 51 last year. This season they’re on pace for half that, though the makeup of the defensive line has remained the same. In fact, they’re playing better. In the final three games of last season, opposing quarterbacks enjoyed an average 3.1 seconds before getting rid of the ball or getting sacked, according to Pro Football Focus. In the first three games of this season—against Arizona, Atlanta and Dallas—quarterbacks have had an average 2.3 seconds to throw.

Defensive coordinator Tim Dalton's unit is allowing 30.2 points per game, ranked fifth worst in the NFL. (Bill Boyce/AP)
Defensive coordinator Tim Dalton’s unit is allowing 30.2 points per game, ranked fifth worst in the NFL. (Bill Boyce/AP)

The deficiency, it appears, lies in the backfield. A second-quarter San Francisco scoring drive featured two big catches by Anquan Boldin—one for 42 yards and another for a 20-yard touchdown. Both times, Rams cornerback Cortland Finnegan was trailing behind in man coverage, and both times safety Rodney McLeod was late to help over the top. Finnegan would leave the game with a leg injury.

The plays marked rare forays into man schemes for Walton, who has been criticized for his soft zones meant to prevent the big play—typically trusting only Finnegan counterpart Janoris Jenkins to play press-man. McLeod offered a simple analysis and shared a sense of shock felt around the locker room with the complete dismantling of the defense by a team they’d played to a 24-24 tie last season and a 16-13 overtime win.

“I’ve got to make plays,” he says. “The way we’re playing right now, yeah, it’s surprising.”

Of course, we’re only a month into the season, and the Rams are working with a few new pieces after all. Starting linebacker Alec Ogletree and safety T.J. McDonald are rookies, and McLeod didn’t play much last season as an undrafted free agent. He was thrust into the role when the team allowed the contracts of Craig Dahl and Quinten Mikell to expire and missed out on free agent safety Louis Delmas. There’s plenty of time to correct what ails a defense with abundant youth and some obvious talent. Plus they’ll have 10 days of prep before facing Jacksonville and its infamous passing game. But with a defense that was supposed to be the vanguard of a playoff push, this start can only be seen as a disaster for a defensive coordinator on the cusp of embattlement. At least one of his most important pupils has his back.

“Walt’s tried to make the right adjustments, but it comes down to players making plays and being assignment sound,” Long says. “Coach Walt has not panicked. He’s made adjustments, and he’s taken responsibility for the things he can get better at, just like we need to take the responsibility for the things we can get better at. As bad as things feel right now, there’s a lot of season left.”

Sam Bradford completed less than 50 percent of his passes (19 of 41) and threw an interception en route to a passer rating of 59.2 against San Francisco. (Tom Gannon/AP)
It wasn’t just the Rams’ defense that failed to deliver. Sam Bradford completed less than 50 percent of his passes (19 of 41), was sacked five times and threw a pick en route to a passer rating of 59.2. (Tom Gannon/AP)
11 comments
snatcher
snatcher

Nobody wants to call out Fisher but the team is poorly coached in every facet.  Lots of mistakes on special teams, bad hire for the D-coordinator as the D is constantly out of position and making mistakes. and very poor play calling, execution, and creativity from schottenheimer on offense. They are unable to get the ball in the hands of guys like Givens and Austin enough. Not to mention they went into the season using Richardson as a 3 down back which is just not realistic.

DonaldHall
DonaldHall

No QB can operate with less than 2 seconds to throw. Also as Long said they knew what the offense was going to do, the O coordinator is an idiot! Was in NY with Sanchez, is here with Bradford.

friendly--neighborhood--scrawler
friendly--neighborhood--scrawler

Three words ....

Samuel Jacob Bradford

ok, Thirty more words...

Wake the bleep up,you are not going anywhere with Bradford, use your picks this year, "ALL" IF YOU HAVE TO  and get the number one pick in the draft !!!!!

TrojanMan
TrojanMan

Bradford is horrible!!!!!! Missed a wide open WR for a TD, driving he throws a terrible int, had 2 other ints dropped, ZERO mobility, no leadership skills and btw a terrible o coord 

HeyVancouver
HeyVancouver

Never has $50 million bought so little ... Sam Bradford is a BUST ... and the Rams reportedly want to re-up with him ... OMG ... when will Peter King admit that his consistently rose-colored view of Rams management is totally misplaced ??

yummypeaches
yummypeaches

Well the Ram offense is even worse . Seems like most of the 49er scores came after turnovers not to mention all the punts . Can you imagine that game if the 49er D had Aldon Smith & Patrick WIllis ? Sam Bradford has got to find a game .

Phroggo
Phroggo

Steven Jackson was a big thorn in the side of the Niners last season. The Rams obviously miss a guy like that who can help move the chains and give the defense a rest.

westcoastbias
westcoastbias

The Niners came in with many significant injuries, including all returning WRs totaling only 14 catches last year, lowest in the league.  They were beatable, but the Rams played as flat as a ballroom floor.  Watch replays and see blocked LBs and lineman give up and not even turn to chase plays.  The new def coord may be part of the problem, but Fisher has to be responsible for effort, and it's a severe contrast to when Greg Williams coached his defenses, or even Rams' effort last year vs. Niners.  I thought Fisher was better at firing up his team.

And Bradford - ugh!  Is he that inaccurate, or panicked,  or are all his WRs so stupid they can't run the correct routes?  Loss of Amendola was palpable.  Any good QB would have been picking SF apart - coverage was not that good. The Rams Just Gave Up.

randomdeletion
randomdeletion

I am sure Niner fans are going to think their offense played great.  Really it was more of the mistakes the Rams were making rather than any kind of great offensive play by the Niners.  Bradford looked like the worst qb in the nfl.  Could he throw anything on target?  He was terrible. 

BeastQuake
BeastQuake

Probably should note T.J. McDonald reportedly fractured his leg, guessing he'll be IR'd. But yeah, the Rams defensive struggles have been a surprise to me. They were pretty good in division last year and are young, so you'd assume a leap forward in effectiveness

kyyled55
kyyled55

@Phroggo Paging Danny Amendola....oh he's gone too. Niner killers both, and long gone! Thank God!

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