ST. LOUIS -- Perhaps lost in the shuffle of the fallout of the St. Louis Rams' Thursday night loss to the San Francisco 49ers was a pair of hamstring injuries to veteran cornerback Cortland Finnegan and linebacker Will Witherspoon.
Finnegan and Witherspoon departed the game early with apparent leg issues and coach Jeff Fisher said Friday that both players would be day to day with those ailments. There are a few extra days for both starters to get healthy and return in time for next week's game against Jacksonville, but with safety T.J. McDonald out at least eight weeks because of a broken leg, the Rams already have some shuffling to do on defense.
When Finnegan departed the Niners game, the Rams' top two corners became Janoris Jenkins and Trumaine Johnson. Johnson filled in well for the most part and has enough experience to step in for the struggling Finnegan if need be. The trickle-down effect is perhaps more concerning. Starting safety Rodney McLeod is the team's backup nickel corner and he stepped into that role after Finnegan departed with Matt Giordano stepping into his safety spot.
The secondary was even more jumbled when McDonald left, leaving McLeod and Giordano in the base defense but backups Giordano and Darian Stewart as the safeties in nickel packages with McLeod moving to corner.
If Finnegan can't make it back this week, the Rams will again have to employ a look that starts Johnson and Jenkins at corner and McLeod and Giordano at safety. In the nickel, it would likely again be McLeod moving to corner with Stewart replacing him at safety. The odd man out in this scenario is rookie corner Brandon McGee, who has been limited to strictly a special-teams role.
At linebacker, the loss of Witherspoon against the Niners left rookie Ray-Ray Armstrong to fill in on the occasions when the Rams had three linebackers on the field. It was a small (17 snaps) sample size but Armstrong acquitted himself pretty well in his first defensive action. Still, if Witherspoon is unable to rebound in time to play against the Jaguars, St. Louis would have a pair of rookies on the outside against a team that probably won't hesitate to run the ball repeatedly after watching the Cowboys and Niners do it at will in the past two games.
That leads us to the most interesting question heading into next week: Do the Rams have the inclination (or cap space) to bring back linebacker Jo-Lonn Dunbar? Fisher left that door open after the team released Dunbar and he has now served his four-game suspension, making him eligible to return. Dunbar was pretty solid against the run in 2012 and could bring some much-needed intensity and stability to a defense that could use both.