- Nick Wagoner, ESPN Staff Writer
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EARTH CITY, Mo. -- A look at the current state of the Chicago Bears' defense -- be it the names on the depth chart or its ranking in key categories -- would lead one to believe that a once-proud unit has fallen off in a way nobody could have expected in the team's first season after Lovie Smith.
Long the driving force behind any of Chicago's success, the defense was expected to take a hit when offensive-minded Marc Trestman took over the head-coaching job. Still, nobody expected the Bears to be 10 games into the season and ranked 24th in yards allowed per game and 31st against the run, giving up 133.9 yards a game on the ground.
But ask around the St. Louis Rams locker room and you'll have no shortage of players or coaches ready to tell you that this is one of those cases where the numbers do lie.
“I think that their defense, its ranking right now, it’s not realistic," coach Jeff Fisher said. "They’re playing much better than what they’re ranked. I think they’re the third-most-rushed-against defense in the National Football League, so when you go and total up total rushing yards, it doesn’t make sense. They’re missing [linebacker] Lance [Briggs], but it’s a good defense. They’re solid, they can rush. No one strips the football more than they do.”
Fisher is close. Opponents have rushed 299 times against Chicago this season, the fourth-most in the league. They've also averaged 4.48 yards per carry against the Bears.
While a coaching change and some changes in personnel have contributed to the downturn in defensive performance, injuries are at the center of the Bears' defensive struggles. Key players such as Briggs, cornerback Charles Tillman and defensive tackle Henry Melton have been lost to injuries.
Rams offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer also isn't buying into the Bears' rankings, and instead points to one area where they're as good as ever.
"They’re nicked up an little bit, but the guys that they’re still playing with are good players," Schottenheimer said. "Obviously, the thing they do the best, they’re probably the best, have been the best for the last 10 to 15 years, is taking the ball away.”
Indeed, the Bears have 22 takeaways, tied for fourth-most in the league. What's more, the Bears have converted five of those takeaways into defensive touchdowns, tied for the most in the league.
So while the Rams might be able to join other teams in moving the ball, they also have to be particularly cautious when it comes to ball security.
A roundup of Thursday's Rams stories appearing on ESPN.com. … After the Ram-blings, we dived right into Double Coverage with Bears reporter Michael C. Wright and I discussing Sunday's matchup. … From there, it was a look at the three former Rams up for induction into the Hall of Fame and where their chances stand this time around. … Next, it was time for the daily injury wire, with the Rams' injury report remaining the same on Thursday as it was Wednesday. … Finally, it was a look at the Long brothers and how their personalities are a breath of fresh air in today's NFL.
Wright noted the Rams' efforts to help the Bears do something positive for the tornado-ravaged areas of central Illinois. Kudos to all parties on that. Wright also provided a glimpse at Rams guard Chris Williams as he prepares to face the team that drafted him.
Matt Bowen, a former Ram, provided a look at how the Rams struggle against inside-breaking pass routes in a feature on the Chicago Tribune's website.
At stltoday.com, Jim Thomas looked at the upcoming retirement from the broadcast booth of St. Louis football legend Dan Dierdorf.
Joe Lyons writes that tight end Lance Kendricks might not be fully healthy but he's likely to be ready to go Sunday against the Bears.
Turf Show Times takes a look at the Rams post-Sam Bradford.
Also, a very interesting read from SB Nation that applies to the Rams, this one on public funding for NFL stadiums.