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High praise for Rams safety Atogwe

12/1/2010

Nine-time Pro Bowl choice John Lynch knows something about elite safety play.

The retired Tampa Bay Bucs legend also knows something about the St. Louis Rams, having called five of their games for Fox this season. His comments regarding Rams safety Oshiomogho Atogwe caught my attention during the Rams' game at Denver in Week 12.

"Atogwe is having an All-Pro year, a Pro Bowl year," Lynch said during the Rams-Broncos broadcast Sunday after Atogwe beat a block to hit Broncos quarterback Kyle Orton. "He has been all over the field. I think he is the MVP of this defense thus far for the St. Louis Rams."

Chris Long, James Hall and James Laurinaitis have earned much of the attention. Fred Robbins' contributions at defensive tackle have sometimes stood out.

Atogwe can be tougher to appreciate when he isn't forcing turnovers. The pace he set from 2006 to 2008 -- 16 interceptions and 11 forced fumbles -- came when the Rams were struggling. The Rams took more chances then, in my view. They tended to play a less disciplined style.

I'm not sure whether that facilitated more turnovers for Atogwe. His numbers have stabilized. Atogwe has four interceptions and five forced fumbles in 22 games since Steve Spagnuolo became head coach. His 42 combined interceptions and forced fumbles since 2006 remain the most for any player in the league during that time.

The fumble Atogwe forced against Denver on Broncos running back Knowshon Moreno set up a Rams touchdown during their 36-33 victory. Atogwe also batted down a third-and-9 pass intended for NFL receiving yardage leader Brandon Lloyd early in the second quarter, forcing the Broncos to settle for a field goal.

Lloyd, asked about the Rams' defense overall during a conference call with reporters last week, singled out No. 21.

"Atogwe, I think he’s phenomenal," Lloyd said.