Titans QB Matt Hasselbeck came away from Saturday's preseason game in St. Louis impressed with the Rams' defense.
"These guys are really underrated," Hasselbeck said, speaking clearly despite the unsightly tongue injury he suffered during the game. "They have a very good defense, they are well coached and they give you a lot of different things to talk about."
The veteran quarterback and longtime Rams nemesis is beginning his first season with the Titans after 10 with the Seattle Seahawks. He won eight consecutive starts against the Rams from 2005 to 2009, then lost his only start against them last season as the Rams' improving defense shined during a 20-3 victory.
"They play so many different coverages, they use so many different blitzes and (James) Laurinaitis checks them in and out of stuff, and they are sound," Hasselbeck said.
Hasselbeck has long admired defenses he considered fundamentally sound. As much as he struggled early in his career against the exotic schemes Arizona employed before Ken Whisenhunt's arrival as head coach, Hasselbeck always felt there were ample opportunities to exploit it. And he did just that after figuring out where it was vulnerable.
"A lot of defenses are unsound in how they do things," Hasselbeck said. "These guys (the Rams) are really sound. They might not lead the league in sacks up front, but they do a nice job getting pressure. They play together as a defense. They don't give up big plays. Even when you get them, it's for 20 yards instead of for a touchdown."
The Rams allowed five pass plays of 40 or more yards last season. Three teams allowed fewer. San Francisco (11) and Seattle (11) were among seven teams that allowed more than 10. Arizona allowed seven. St. Louis did allow 15 rushing plays of at least 20 yards last season, more than all but seven teams. The Rams spent the offseason loading up on veteran defenders known for their strength against the run. They did not see the desired results Saturday night.
"I thought the run plays that hurt us the most were the cutback runs," Rams coach Steve Spagnuolo said. "We have to get that ironed out."
Hasselbeck said he could have returned to the game, but he had already played about as long as coaches projected. He was dodging a defender at his feet when he took a hit to the helmet, causing him to bite down on his tongue. The left side of his tongue was discolored and angry looking, but Hasselbeck was in jovial form after the game.
"Not all at once, not all at once," he told a small media contingent featuring two cameras and three or four reporters.
He then pointed to an uninhabited corner of the room, the way the president might during a White House briefing.
"You in the back," he said.
Hasselbeck's family has relocated with him to Tennessee. Hasselbeck wanted to re-sign with Seattle and said he didn't feel as though it was necessarily time for him to move on. But he has embraced his new team, particularly an offensive line superior to the frequently changing one he played behind in Seattle over the past couple seasons.
The Titans signed Hasselbeck to help get them through the short term while mentoring first-round pick Jake Locker for the long term. Veteran quarterbacks don't always do all they can to help the men who directly threaten their livelihoods. It was clear from watching Hasselbeck and Locker interact between their postgame media sessions that they've developed a comfortable rapport, at least. Locker cracked wise as Hasselbeck stepped to the podium, and both laughed (I cannot recall exactly what Locker said, but it wasn't the sort of thing an understudy would say in the absence of a rapport).
"I'm encouraged about this team," Hasselbeck said. "I feel really good about the talent level."