'Re-energized' Rams Relying on Youth, Defense

The St. Louis Rams, who haven't had a winning record since 2003, enter Sunday's home game against Green Bay with a 3-3 record. It's a new-look franchise, from the coach (Jeff Fisher) to the roster (31 of the 53 players are new to the team). A defense full of top picks is leading the way.

Jeff Fisher walked into a mess in St. Louis.

Fisher, who ranks fourth among active coaches with 150 wins, took over a team that finished a dreadful 2-14 last season. The Rams were outscored by a more than 2-to-1 ratio (407 to 193). Their 193 points on offense not only was the worst in the league, but at 12.1 points per game, it would have taken the Rams to halftime of their 47th game to equal the 560 points scored by the Green Bay Packers.

By that standard, Fisher ought to be mentioned as an early favorite for coach of the year. With 31 of the 53 players joining the team this year, Rams are 3-3 and have been outscored by merely one point (111-110) and have a shot at posting the franchise's first winning record since 2003. The offense isn't great at 18.3 points per game, which is tied for 26th in the league. The defense, which lost new coordinator Gregg Williams to a Bounty-gate suspension, ranks fifth with 18.5 points allowed per game.

"There was a lot of work needed to be done and there's still a lot of work that's in progress and in the future," Fisher told Packers beat reporters in a conference call on Wednesday. "I was very fortunate to have the opportunity. Of course, you go and look at the roster and look at what happened, specifically last year. I didn't spend any time going back the last four or five years but there was a lot of injuries and some change that needed to be made. We don't call it rebuilding but we liked to use the word re-energize. We did it with youth so far and we're having fun. It's a work in progress."

The Rams, indeed, are young. The 53-man roster includes 14 rookies and one first-year player. There are 23 players with two years or less of experience. At 25 players, almost half of the team is 24 years old or younger.

This year's draft netted two starters – first-round defensive tackle Michael Brockers and second-round cornerback Janoris Jenkins. Sixth-round kicker Greg Zeuerlein has made field goals from 56, 58 and 60 yards. Fourth-round receiver Chris Givens has added an explosive element to the passing game with three consecutive games with a 50-plus-yard reception. Seventh-round pick Daryl Richardson beat out second-round pick Isaiah Pead to be a productive change-of-pace runner to powerful veteran Steven Jackson. The first of the team's three second-round picks, receiver Brian Quick, along with third-round cornerback Trumaine Johnson have been role players.

The defense has been outstanding, especially at home, with 44 points allowed in three games. Since allowing 27 points in a last-play loss at Detroit and 28 points in a win against Washington, the Rams have allowed 56 points in the last four games (23-6 loss at Chicago, 19-13 home win vs. Seattle, 17-3 home win vs. previously undefeated Arizona and 17-14 loss last week at Miami).

St. Louis ranks seventh in total defense (311.5 yards per game), sixth against the pass (210.7) and 13th against the run (100.8). Against the Dolphins, the Rams somehow lost despite winning the yardage battle 462-192 and holding them to 19 rushing yards on 18 attempts. For the season, St. Louis has allowed four touchdown passes, eight interceptions and collected 17 sacks.

Fisher, however, downplayed the Rams' pass defense heading into Sunday's game against Aaron Rodgers and the Packers.

"I think you have to be realistic. We've only played six games and three of those six games we faced rookie quarterbacks – they're all going to be very good in this league, by the way," Fisher said of Washington's Robert Griffin III, Seattle's Russell Wilson and Miami's Ryan Tannehill. "But still, there's a difference between facing a rookie quarterback and facing Aaron. We've got our hands on some balls and we've done a decent job getting pressure on the passer. We've been able thus far to be effective against the run and create passing situations and then let your guys roll off."

James Laurinaitis, a second-round pick in 2009, has a team-high 55 tackles. Robert Quinn, the 14th pick in 2011, ranks fourth in the NFL with six sacks and Chris Long, the second pick in 2008, has added four.

"There's a number of players that have done that (stepped up as leaders on defense)," Fisher said. "James, Chris, we've had some guys that we've brought in that have fit in really well in Cortland (Finnegan) and Kendall (Langford). It's a good group. They've become a close group already but Laurinaitis, he'll carry the torch on defense primarily along with Long. Guys love playing in the defense and, thus far, they've been effective."

Finnegan, who intercepted 13 passes when playing for Fisher at Tennessee from 2006 through 2010, is tied for third in the league with three interceptions. His veteran presence and attitude has been a big deal at a cornerback group featuring the rookie Jenkins as one starter, fourth-year Bradley Fletcher as the nickel and the rookie Johnson as the dime.

"We drafted Cort and I knew him very well, had great respect for him and his play," Fisher said. "When they elected to let him hit free agency, he was one of our top targets and it's worked out very well for us."

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