First Look: The St. Louis Rams

Improving the run defense was one of the biggest goals for the Rams this season. Big plays against the defense occurred too often the last two years, and there was hope things would be better with Jim Haslett as defensive coordinator and some new talent.

Still, since the beginning of the season, Haslett knew his defense would be vulnerable to teams that just grind it out in the running game. Early in the season, some of those deficiencies were masked by a defense that had 15 takeaways in the first five games, and played several teams not considered top running attacks.

The weaknesses were accentuated the last two games, as San Diego and Kansas City combined for 402 rushing yards on 67 attempts for an average per attempt of 6.0. Those numbers ballooned because of big plays.

The Chargers' LaDainian Tomlinson had runs of 38 and 51 yards and 115 of his 183 rushing yards came on four attempts. Sunday, Larry Johnson of the Chiefs totaled 172 yards, with 86 coming on four runs, including a 45-yard scamper when the Chiefs faced a 3rd-and-9 situation from the Rams' 2-yard line.

Said Rams defensive tackle Jimmy Kennedy of Johnson, "He's a good player and a smart back. Sometimes he made some big plays off our mistakes. We just need to stop shooting ourselves in the foot."
Added safety Corey Chavous, "We're doing a good job 90 percent of the time stopping the run. But we're giving up big chunks of yardage on two or three plays a game. You can't allow 50- and 60-yard runs, and that's what our defense has been doing the last couple of weeks."

"For an average fan looking at the game, they'll say we're a soft defense," defensive end Leonard Little said. "But it's not like that. It's not even close to that. We've got to be more disciplined in the things we do. We've got to know what we're doing on every play.

"If you see the top run defenses in the league, they're a disciplined defense. It's not like those guys were blowing us off the ball or anything like that. It's like people have to be in the right place where they're supposed to be."

Losses also magnify problems. In the season opener, the Rams allowed 161 yards rushing to the Broncos on just 25 attempts for a 6.4-yard average. Two plays accounted for 75 of those yards. However, the Rams had five takeaways in that game, won 18-10, and there was scant talk about problems stopping the run.

Now, it is accentuated because the Rams have lost three straight games, and after having 15 takeaways in their 4-1 start, have only one in the last three losses combined. They have had none the last two games, and three early turnovers against the Chiefs led to a 17-0 deficit with 10:22 left in the second quarter.

Said quarterback Marc Bulger, "We had a ton of yards, but when you turn the ball over, that's the key in this league. Against Denver, we didn't do nearly as well on offense, but we still won the game because of the turnover battle. In the NFL, it's pretty simple: If you look at the takeaway ratio and you lose it, nine times out of 10 you're going to lose the game. Two weeks in a row it's hurt us and we have to make a conscious effort to get better."

NOTES, QUOTES

--DE Leonard Little addressed the team after the loss to the Chiefs, a defeat that dropped them to 4-4 with road games the next two weeks at Seattle and Carolina. RB Steven Jackson said Little "told us not to get down on ourselves. We are a good team, we have a ton of talent on both sides of the ball, and we just have to play together. I don't think anyone's panicking and no one's pointing fingers. That's the good thing about this team. It has a real family feel around here. We're going to catch some breaks and we're going to lose some breaks, but hopefully we can get on a winning streak again."

Jackson had 32 touches in the game with 19 runs and 13 receptions and combined for 219 yards (133 receiving, 86 rushing). At the midway point, Jackson has 691 yards rushing and 421 receiving for a total of 1,103.

Said Jackson of his dual role, "With Mr. (Marshall) Faulk proving in this generation that you have to be an all-around back, I do put a lot of pressure on myself because I want to be among the top running backs. I do work on my all-around game and hopefully it shows up on Sunday."

QB Marc Bulger had to check down to Jackson frequently because of the Cover-2 and Cover-4 defense the Chiefs were playing, making it difficult to get the ball to WRs Torry Holt and Isaac Bruce. Bruce (3-61) and Holt (3-50) combined for just six receptions and 111 yards. Said OG Adam Timmerman, "When teams know they've got to cover (Jackson) coming out of there and we're going to check down a lot, it brings the coverage up to us. Hopefully it's going to soften it up on the deep routes."

Bulger has been checking down more because coach Scott Linehan emphasizes that as opposed to former coach Mike Martz, who wanted Bulger to take shots.
"Sometimes I'd force the ball a little bit and not take the check-downs," Bulger said. "But now (Jackson) wants the ball out of the backfield. When you're getting the ball as a back, you get to the places you need to be."

--Until the last play of the game, WR Kevin Curtis had caught six passes for only 36 yards. He got 23 on the final play of the game, but paid a price for it. Catching the pass near the Kansas City sideline, Curtis was leveled with a shot to the chest by Chiefs S Sammy Knight. Curtis was down for about seven minutes, and was surrounded by Rams players, coaches and medical personnel, while other players shook hands on the field and the Governor's Cup was presented, oblivious to what could possibly have been a serious injury.

He finally got up and walked off the field under his own power. "It wasn't my head at all," Curtis said. "He just got me pretty good in the ribs. The biggest thing was I just couldn't catch my breath for a good little while."

With Kansas City leading by two touchdowns, was Knight's hit necessary? "I don't know how he went about that play," Curtis said. "I didn't see him at all, obviously. I don't really have much comment on that. It is football, and I guess he's got a job to do, too."

PLAYER NOTES

--RB Tony Fisher is likely lost for the season as the result of a knee injury suffered Sunday against Kansas City. However, it is not official yet because results of an MRI were not yet available Monday afternoon.

--LB Pisa Tinoisamoa is getting closer to being able to play as his broken hand heals. Tinoisamoa has missed two games because of the injury. If he wasn't playing with a brace to protect a dislocated elbow on the same arm, Tinoisamoa would have been able to play with the hand injury.

--LB Dexter Coakley, who has started because of Pisa Tinoisamoa's hand injury, could be limited in practice this week because of bursitis in his knee.

--LB Isaiah Kacyvenski, a special teams standout, suffered a hip injury against Kansas City, but is expected to be available this week against Seattle.

--S Jerome Carter suffered a sprained elbow against Kansas City and will need treatment this week, but is expected to be available Sunday against the Seahawks.

--CB Tye Hill suffered a mild ankle sprain against Kansas City, but is not expected to miss time in practice.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

With RB Tony Fisher expected to miss the remainder of the season because of a knee injury, the Rams will look at potential running backs that can also return kicks. The promotion of RB Fred Russell from the practice squad is a possibility.

REPORT CARD VS. CHIEFS

PASSING OFFENSE: B-plus --
QB Marc Bulger was careful with the ball in the teeth of the Chiefs' zone and took what the defense gave him. Until he had stretch of five consecutive incompletions late in the game, Bulger had completed 30 of 36 passes. He finished 31 of 42 for 354 yards and a touchdown, and went another game without an interception. His passer rating was 106.6. Thirteen of the 31 completions went to RB Steven Jackson and RB Stephen Davis added another two. The team's tope three receivers -- Torry Holt, Isaac Bruce and Kevin Curtis -- had just 13 receptions for a combined total of 170 yards.

RUSHING OFFENSE: B -- Jackson ran hard and had 86 yards on 19 attempts, but big plays are a rarity. Jackson did score on a 2-yard touchdown run. His long was 22 yards. Stephen Davis added 18 yards on six attempts with a long of 10.

PASS DEFENSE: C-minus --
Chiefs QB Damon Huard didn't have to throw much, but when he did, he was successful. Huard had a passer rating of 138.3, completing 10 of 15 passes for 148 yards. Most important, he had three touchdown passes, two of which went to a wide-open TE Tony Gonzalez, and he had no interceptions.

RUSH DEFENSE: D -- It's the same old song for the Rams' rush defense, allowing big plays and a lot of yards. This was the third game this season that an opponent rushed for at least 160 yards, as the Chiefs totaled 186, with Larry Johnson leading the way with 172 on 27 carries. Johnson's 27 rushes accounted for 55 percent of Kansas City's 49 plays from scrimmage.

SPECIAL TEAMS: C-minus -- The Rams got nothing from their return game, did a good job of containing Chiefs kick returner Dante Hall, and P Matt Turk had a good day. But the grade is down because of a muffed punt by Dane Looker in the first quarter that gave the Chiefs the ball on the 14-yard line and led to their first touchdown. That mistake started a run of turnovers for the Rams that produced three giveaways within 8 minutes, 45 seconds.

COACHING: B -- The defense still has no answer for big plays in the running game, but personnel is part of the issue. Playing without LB Pisa Tinoisamoa has also hurt in the last two games. But, coach Scott Linehan has kept his team calm and even-keeled, and despite falling behind 24-7, had them in position to tie the game in the fourth quarter until a questionable pass interference penalty on WR Isaac Bruce swung the momentum back Kansas City's way.


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