Rams-Colts study session: Defense

EARTH CITY, Mo. -- A look back at the St. Louis Rams’ 38-8 win against the Indianapolis Colts after reviewing the coaches' film.

Big play: Rams defensive end Robert Quinn sacked Colts quarterback Andrew Luck and forced a fumble. Chris Long recovered and took it 45 yards for a touchdown and a 7-0 lead St. Louis would not relinquish.

On third-and-13 at the Rams’ 42, the Colts came out with two receivers bunched near left and two bunched near right with a tight end standing just offset the line behind the left tackle. Luck was in the shotgun with no running back.

The Rams had their third-down pass rush package on the field with a nickel look in the secondary, the defensive backs playing off coverage and all four defensive ends on the field with Eugene Sims and William Hayes on the inside and Long standing up.

There wasn’t much fancy about this play as the Rams rushed four and dropped seven into coverage. Before the snap, it appeared Quinn was awfully close to being lined up offsides but he took off as though shot out of a cannon (what else is new?) and tight end Coby Fleener made a half-hearted effort to slow him down to no avail.

Behind Fleener, left tackle Anthony Castonzo had time to set for Quinn but even with the additional split second Fleener afforded him, Quinn was too quick and also ran right around Castonzo.

Castonzo attempted to grab Quinn from behind but it was too late. Luck never saw Quinn coming as Quinn perfectly timed the swipe at Luck’s arm, jarring the ball loose.

In a rare sight for the Rams, the ball took no funny hops and landed squarely in Long’s arms as he showed pretty good speed in racing to the end zone untouched for his first career touchdown.

Hidden play: Rams cornerback Trumaine Johnson broke up a pass intended for Colts receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey but nearly jumped it for a pick-6 and a 21-0 lead.

On first and 10 at Indianapolis’ 7 in the second quarter, the Colts lined up with one receiver split to each side, a tight end attached to the line on each side and a running back.

The Rams were in their base defense with cornerbacks Johnson and Janoris Jenkins playing off coverage, safety Darian Stewart creeped near the line of scrimmage and safety Rodney McLeod remained high.

At the snap, linebacker Alec Ogletree joined the four defensive linemen for a blitz while Stewart jammed Fleener near the line of scrimmage. Luck read the blitz and looked to get the ball out quick.

Given the size of the cushion being played by the Rams corners it appeared Luck would have an easy completion to Heyward-Bey but Johnson read the play perfectly and broke on the pass immediately. Johnson extended himself as far as possible without a dive to break up the pass.

The Rams would get a stop on the drive to setup Tavon Austin’s punt return for a touchdown but one could wonder if a smaller cushion wouldn’t have resulted in an interception return for a touchdown for Johnson.

In the grand scheme it didn’t matter much but it certainly could have helped Johnson get the proper credit for what was a strong performance in this game as it was.

Other observations:

  • Johnson does deserve kudos for his performance in this one. He was sticky in coverage and came up with a number of big plays, including an athletic interception in the end zone to snuff a drive. Johnson is improving weekly but isn’t getting much credit for it. His emergence is much needed for a team that has struggled on the back end this season.

  • Not sure what else can be said about Quinn at this point. He’s pretty much unblockable and he was in Luck’s face all day even when he wasn’t getting sacks.

  • Make no mistake, Long continues to create his share of pressure as well but also had some nice plays against the run, including one where he stayed home and made a tackle when it appeared everyone else went the wrong direction.

  • One thing going a bit under the radar from this one was the performance of the interior guys on the line. Kendall Langford and Michael Brockers not only did a nice job against the run but there were multiple occasions where Luck attempted to step up in the pocket to deliver the ball and wasn’t able to follow through or get anything on the ball because a Langford or a Brockers or someone else was in his face.

  • William Hayes continues to be one of the most underrated players in the league. He picked up his first career interception but was again active against the run and creating his share of pressure. His value to the defense can’t be overstated.

  • With all of those plaudits out of the way, one thing that has to change is the line’s propensity for jumping offsides. They’ve had some rough calls go against them this year but they racked them up against the Colts. I know it’s rare for them to have a lead and a chance to get after the quarterback like they did Sunday but that doesn’t excuse the repeated penalties. They had five, all on the defensive line, against Indianapolis.

  • Tough day for Jenkins and Cortland Finnegan. Jenkins continued to get caught staring in the backfield and the Colts took advantage more than once. T.Y. Hilton got Jenkins on a slant and go for a huge play that might have gone for a touchdown had Hilton not slipped. Jenkins is talented but he’s got work to do to figure out when he can take chances and when he can’t.

  • Perhaps the special teams deserves it’s own breakdown but I’d be remiss to not give credit where it’s due.

  • The Rams were simply excellent in all phases on special teams in this one. Aside from a silly penalty on Isaiah Pead, who did bounce back with a nice job on Austin’s punt return for a touchdown, the group was almost flawless.

  • Safety Cody Davis and receiver Stedman Bailey, in particular, jumped out with their efforts in coverage and Chase Reynolds did some nice work blocking.

  • Punter Johnny Hekker continues to make a strong case to be an All Pro this year.