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Friday, December 13, 2013
Morning Ram-blings: Safety valve solutions

By Nick Wagoner

EARTH CITY, Mo. -- The St. Louis Rams have plenty of things to worry about when it comes to defending the high-octane New Orleans Saints offense.

Tight end Jimmy Graham, quarterback Drew Brees and receiver Marques Colston draw many of the headlines, and while they create plenty of matchup problems, the area where the Saints may have the biggest advantage is with their running backs. And we don't mean the inconsistent Rams run defense.

New Orleans running backs have combined for 138 catches for 1,032 yards and six touchdowns with the great majority of those yards coming after the catch. Saints backs are averaging 7.54 yards per catch after reception.

The Rams, meanwhile, have struggled to defend screen passes and running backs in the aerial attack. It's a genuine concern for the Rams defense entering this game.

“It creates problems from the standpoint, they put the ball down the field and they stretch you, and so off a play-action pass and when you're affecting coverage down field, there's what we call the check downs," Rams coach Jeff Fisher said. "And the running backs catch the check downs and the play-action pass if you're doing your job down the field. So, you have to appropriately match that up. Then, obviously they're a very good screen team and then they try to get the ball out on the free release to the little back and he's really good at it. It creates problems, it creates match-up problems, but we're counting on our linebackers to get the job done for us.”

While Darren Sproles gets most of the attention for his pass-catching ability -- and with good reason -- it's Pierre Thomas that leads the team in receptions. Thomas has 64 catches for 441 yards and three touchdowns. Sproles has done his share of damage, too, posting 58 grabs for 518 yards and two touchdowns. Among running backs, Thomas ranks third in the league in receptions and Sproles is fifth.

To slow down the backs doing damage out of the backfield requires great discipline, an area that has been a weakness of the Rams defense for much of the season.

“Everybody has to be disciplined this week because he spreads the ball around," defensive coordinator Tim Walton said. "The receivers get it, the tight end. Two of the backs are the second and third leading receivers on the team. They like to create the mismatches by getting guys in space, so we're going to have to be really good with our technique and fundamentals and just go compete.”

I.C.Y.M.I. 

A roundup of Thursday's Rams stories on ESPN.com. … In yesterday's Ram-blings we previewed the visit of old friend Joe Vitt, the assistant head coach of the Saints and former Rams interim head coach. … Next, we mused on some possibilities should the Rams end up with a draft pick in the top five or even top two with the pick from Washington. … After that, it was a look at the year of Barrett Jones, the only drafted Rams rookie not to contribute in a game this season. … Speaking of rookies, we acknowledged the general improvements of linebacker Alec Ogletree, who seems to be getting better every week. … Finally, in Thursday's injury report, we noted the absence of receiver/returner Tavon Austin, who didn't practice and watched it in a walking boot.

Elsewhere: 

The NFL Countdown crew makes its pick for Sunday's matchup. No surprises here.

Insider Mike Sando also offers his thoughts on the Rams-Saints.

At stltoday.com, Jim Thomas discussed the Rob Ryan/Rams marriage that never made it.

Joe Lyons points out that defensive tackle Matt Conrath is playing more the past two weeks.

Columnist Bernie Miklasz discusses the regression of the Rams' receivers.

At 101sports.com, home of 101 ESPN radio in St. Louis, Randy Karraker writes about the dangerous big picture associated with the Rams' continued losing.