Friday, October 4, 2013
Rams' run defense gets back to basics
By Nick Wagoner
EARTH CITY, Mo. -- Until the St. Louis Rams defense proves it can stop a team from running the ball nearly at will, they expect upcoming opponents to follow the path set forth by San Francisco and Dallas the past two weeks.
"Oh yeah," Rams defensive tackle Michael Brockers said. "It's a copycat league. I think a lot of people will do the same thing and try to be as productive as Dallas was and stuff like that, so we have to focus on what we did wrong in that game and just go forward. Teams are going to try to come in here and try to do the same thing and gash us."
Maurice Jones-Drew's size may make him elusive, but the Rams are trying to take a more fundamental approach to their run defense.
The Niners and Cowboys did just that to the tune of 206 yards per game and an average of 5.56 yards per carry. It was an alarming addition to the Rams' ever-growing list of issues after opposing run games were virtually nonexistent in the first two weeks.
How did a defense that allowed 122 yards and an average of 2.9 yards per carry against Arizona and Atlanta suddenly spring so many leaks?
To a man, the response in the Rams locker room is one that would make San Antonio Spurs center Tim Duncan proud.
"We've got to go back to just fundamental football," defensive coordinator Tim Walton said. "Like I said, we've got to be able to be in our gap and do your job. Then, we have to tackle, leverage the ball, get off blocks and once you do that, that starts with us regardless of who we're playing. That starts with us of getting that stuff -- just being fundamentally sound across the board."
To the eyes of Walton and nearly every Rams defender who discussed the topic this week, that was a familiar refrain. Run defense is a simple concept that requires far more finite execution. One player out of position can ruin it for 10 that are in the right spot.
Of course, being in the proper position doesn't mean much if you don't follow through on making the tackle. Tallying missed tackles is an inexact science because of mitigating factors so take numbers for what they're worth, but Pro Football Focus has the Rams down for 33 missed tackles on the season with 19 of those coming in the past two weeks.
Missed tackles and missed run fits have pushed the Rams to 30th in the league in run defense, allowing 133.5 yards per game.
Walton doesn't allow his players to shoulder all of the blame, either, pointing out that he can help them be where they need to be.
"It starts with us doing our job, doing our stuff," Walton said. "My job is I've got to put them in a better position, and then we've just got to go out and execute, like I said, fundamental football. If you get off blocks, if you leverage the football, if you're in your right gap, if you tackle, all those things, you've got to understand their formations and their tendencies and what they're trying to do and we'll be fine. We'll get back on track with that stuff."
Jacksonville doesn't come to St. Louis this week with the same power rushing attack that the Rams saw against the Niners or even one like the Cowboys. Jacksonville is posting 49 yards per game on the ground, better only than the Rams.
Maurice Jones-Drew remains the Jaguars' primary back but has had trouble getting on track this week. When looking at Jones-Drew, Brockers mentions that size can be an issue in locating him, not unlike it is with the Niners' Frank Gore.
"For a big guy like me that doesn't really see things down that low and they hide behind the offensive linemen getting in small gaps and breaking big runs," Brockers said. "For the most part, we have just got to get them in closed spaces and everybody has to get to the ball."
In a sense, it's good that the Rams seem to have easily identified the problems with the run defense. But on the other hand, when the problems are something so basic that speaks to a larger issue. If a team struggles with the basics, how can it reach a point where it's more complicated and able to dictate to offenses what it wants to do rather than vice-versa?
Regardless of Jacksonville's struggles in the run game, the Rams have to find a way to get back to basics or they could be on the wrong end of a self-correction for the Jags much like the Rams hope to with their own run game this week.
Like defending the run itself, it's easier said than done.
"Now we have to do it," Walton said. "We have to apply it and we have to do it on Sundays. And we'll get that going. We're working on it. That's the main thing because that's what they're going to do. They have a good back. They're going to feature the back, so we have to get that problem solved."