St. Louis Rams: Alec Ogletree

Rams-Seahawks: Matchup breakdown

December, 27, 2014
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EARTH CITY, Mo. -- A look at three individual matchups to keep an eye on when the St. Louis Rams and Seattle Seahawks meet at 4:25 p.m. ET Sunday.

Ogletree
Wilson
Rams linebacker Alec Ogletree vs. Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson

The Rams' defense played just well enough to beat Seattle in the first meeting with plenty of help from the special teams but the Seahawks nearly pulled off a second-half comeback largely because of Wilson's performance. Wilson finished with 313 yards and two touchdowns in the air with no interceptions, but it was the damage he did with his legs that really gave the Rams problems.

And nobody struggled more in that situation than Ogletree, who was drafted in large part because the Rams wanted a linebacker who could keep up with athletic quarterbacks like Wilson. In that first meeting, Wilson exploited Ogletree's propensity for over pursuing and falling for misdirection to the tune of 106 yards on seven carries with a 19-yard touchdown and a 52-yard run both coming in Ogletree's direction.

Since that time, Ogletree has been more disciplined and played much better over the final half of the season. But he'll need to be at his best for the Rams to have a chance on Sunday.

Rams right tackle Joe Barksdale vs. Seahawks defensive end Michael Bennett

For the many things the Seahawks' defense does well, posting sacks isn't necessarily at the top of the list. But Bennett is the best on the roster with seven sacks and is generally able to create pressure on a consistent basis. Barksdale did well against Bennett in the first meeting this year as Bennett had three tackles but no sacks.

With unrestricted free agency awaiting in the offseason, this is Barksdale's last chance to state his case for big money when he hits the open market. Faring well against Bennett won't guarantee anything but it certainly couldn't hurt. It would also go a long way toward helping the Rams move closer to an upset.

Rams safety T.J. McDonald vs. Seahawks tight end Luke Willson

The Rams have been outstanding defending tight ends this season, regularly taking away the middle of the field and forcing the action to the outside. Opposing tight ends have managed just 64 catches for 661 yards, eighth best in the NFL, against the Rams this season. Of course, opponents have had much more success but with Willson emerging as one of Wilson's top targets, the Rams will have to find a way to slow the tight end down.

Willson had three catches for 139 yards and two touchdowns against the Cardinals last week but hasn't been a consistent threat for most of the season. Still, it's easy to imagine that Willson is playing with more confidence than he has at any point in his career. McDonald spends plenty of his time in the run box and isn't always back in coverage but he has proved better in coverage than initially suspected when he entered the league. According to Pro Football Focus, McDonald has been targeted 58 times this year, allowing 42 receptions for 472 yards and six touchdowns. Most of that damage came early in the season but it's worth keeping an eye on McDonald in coverage after a rough outing last week against the Giants.
EARTH CITY, Mo. -- Although the St. Louis Rams have exhausted all of the additional draft choices they received from the Washington Redskins in the 2012 megatrade that landed Robert Griffin III in the nation's capital, they haven't yet received all of the dividends.

It hasn't yet been three years since the Rams and Redskins consummated the trade that sent the No. 2 overall pick in the 2012 draft to Washington in exchange for the Redskins first- and second-round picks that year and Washington's first-round choice in 2013 and 2014. More time is probably needed to determine a winner but from the Rams' perspective, it certainly appears to be shaping up as a major decision in their favor even if it doesn't reach knockout status.

[+] EnlargeRobert Griffin III
AP Photo/Ben LiebenbergEven if Robert Griffin III turns his career around, the Rams will be comfortable with their blockbuster trade with the Redskins.
“[We have] no regrets," coach Jeff Fisher said. "At the time it was a good deal for us and it was a good deal for Washington.”

At the time, it also appeared both teams were going to be set at quarterback as the Redskins got the chance to draft Griffin and the Rams backed Sam Bradford as their franchise signal-caller. What's interesting is that for all the players that ended up in St. Louis in the deal and even after Griffin's rookie-year success, quarterback is now a major question mark for both teams.

While quarterback has again become a need for both sides, the Rams are the team to come out of the deal with five current starters and eight players total after using those picks to make subsequent trades. Those starters include defensive tackle Michael Brockers, cornerback Janoris Jenkins, linebacker Alec Ogletree, receiver Stedman Bailey and left tackle Greg Robinson.

"It’s interesting," Fisher said. "We drafted eight players, seven of which are on our roster. But, I think you have to look past that. We’ve got defensive starters. More importantly than that because of those that we drafted through the trade with Washington, we were able to do some other things. For example, Zac Stacy was one of those players that we acquired through one of those picks. Without Zac here, it’s probably unlikely that we go and draft Tre Mason. We have depth there and we can afford to do that now. So, we’re able to shape our roster way beyond just the actual picks that we got from them.”

None of those players have yet developed into stars though Ogletree, Jenkins, Brockers and Robinson have showed varying signs of potential at different points in their young careers. Bailey has become a valuable piece of the offense in recent weeks and also looks to be a key contributor moving forward.

“How’s 'Tree' doing and [WR Stedman Bailey] 'Sted' doing and how's Zac doing? I think, Greg’s going to be our future left tackle for a long time," Fisher said. "I can’t say enough about it. Brock’s recent performance last week, we gave him a game ball. He had eight tackles and was a big factor in the ball game. Very pleased with how they’ve come along.”


Pead and Rokevious Watkins haven't contributed much and that combination remains the sore thumb of the group considering the Rams traded down in the second round to take Pead and recoup the pick they eventually used on Watkins. In doing so, they forfeited a chance to draft linebacker Bobby Wagner, who is now a star for division rival Seattle. Pead is on injured reserve but hasn't performed to his draft position when he's played. Watkins is no longer with the team.

Griffin, meanwhile, has not been the star that many presumed he would be for the Redskins. He did lead Washington to the playoffs as a rookie but injuries have slowed him and he's been benched for Colt McCoy in recent weeks. For what it's worth, Fisher believes Griffin could still get his career back on track.

“Any quarterback that’s going to go through significant injuries like he did and two offensive philosophy changes, scheme changes, I think that’s hard," Fisher said. "I don’t believe you’ve seen the last of him. I think he’s got a chance to be a really good quarterback.”

But even if Griffin does reach that level, Fisher, general manager Les Snead and the Rams will never look back at the trade as one they shouldn't have made.




“If you recall, it was our first draft," Fisher said. "I personally looked at the roster prior to accepting this job and then immediately following after we hired Les we sat down and did an extensive review of the personnel and felt that we needed as many picks as we could possibly get to rebuild this roster.”

EARTH CITY, Mo. -- After St. Louis Rams linebacker Alec Ogletree's big performance against the Arizona Cardinals last week, I asked coach Jeff Fisher what had been the key to Ogletree's improved performance in the previous two games.

[+] EnlargeAlec Ogletree
Jeff Curry/USA TODAY SportsOutside linebacker Alec Ogletree had a standout performance in the Rams' 22-7 win against Denver.
That effort came on the heels of a couple of rough outings, including a brief benching at the end of the loss to the Kansas City Chiefs after he picked up a second personal foul penalty. Fisher explained the Rams' recent alterations that helped put Ogletree in better position to make plays.

"He's played good football," Fisher said last week. "We've made a concerted effort to get him behind the ball, [defensive coordinator Gregg] Williams has. That's where he's best, just running and slipping blocks and taking on blocks. He's been much more productive. Good pressure. Ball skills, hands-on. He's playing much better in the last two weeks."

Ogletree followed those two performances with an even better one against the Denver Broncos this past week. According to unofficial pressbox statistics, Ogletree had 13 tackles, an interception, a pass breakup and a batted pass against Denver.

So Fisher was asked again Monday what's been the key to Ogletree's recent surge. He offered a similar refrain.

"I think he's got much better feel for what we're doing," Fisher said. "We're using him a lot more behind the ball, as opposed to just lining up on the line of scrimmage like a tight end. He's rushing well and I think (LB) James [Laurinaitis] is doing some really good things in there right now as far as identifying protections and putting us in positions to get free runners. Alec is playing really good in space."

This time, however, Fisher added one more small detail.

"It took him a while to get in good shape," Fisher said.

Apparently, Ogletree didn't report to training camp in the best shape and it took him some time to get to his normal conditioning level and speed.

"I don't think he was in the best of shape when he came to camp," Fisher said. "So, I think he's playing himself into really good shape right now."

That Ogletree didn't come to camp prepared is a disappointment and likely contributed to his slow start this season. He's played as well as any Rams defender over the past three weeks and his ascent has coincided with the entire defense's recent dominance. Which leaves one to wonder what could have been had he come in ready to go in the first place.
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ST. LOUIS -- Bundling up before heading into a snowy evening, St. Louis Rams linebacker James Laurinaitis paused when a reporter mentioned to him that his team could have pitched a shutout against the Denver Broncos on Sunday.

"Should have pitched a shutout," Laurinaitis quickly corrected.

Indeed the Rams' defense, perhaps playing as well as any group in the league over the past three weeks, could have held Peyton Manning and the high-octane Broncos scoreless in the Rams' stunning 22-7 victory at the Edward Jones Dome. As it was, they held Denver to its lowest point total since Manning arrived in 2012. It was also the first time since Week 13 of 2001 that Manning had attempted 20 or more passes and his team scored seven or fewer points.

[+] EnlargeAaron Donald
Jeff Curry/USA TODAY SportsThe Rams consistently pressured Peyton Manning, including this fourth-quarter sack by Aaron Donald.
For coordinator Gregg Williams' defense, there have been signs of reaching Max Q the past two weeks but shutting down Manning & Co. served as the ultimate notice to the rest of the league that the Rams are not a team, especially not a defense, you want to see on the schedule over the season's final six games.

"The scheme is built so that, if everyone is on the same page, you can play really fast," Laurinaitis said. "I think the last few weeks we have been able to just come in and play extremely fast and trust each other and know we don’t have to be perfect but let’s be aggressive. The light bulb is kind of switching on but we have got to keep that thing on, I don’t want it to run out."

If the Rams can find a way to duplicate Sunday's combination of scheme and execution, the light bulb should be able to burn brightly for the rest of the season.

Although the Broncos had 397 total yards, the Rams held them to 28 yards on 10 carries. Over the past two weeks, they've allowed just 56 rushing yards on 32 carries, which is the best two-game stretch against the run in franchise history. In making that group so one-dimensional, the Rams were able to throw a variety of tricks at Manning.

Instead of the usual two or three checks that Laurinaitis can make out of certain offensive looks, the Rams had six or seven. On defensive tackle Aaron Donald's fourth-down sack in the fourth quarter, Laurinaitis got called out as the MIC linebacker by Broncos center Will Montgomery. Laurinaitis had shown blitz but offered a subtle change at the line of scrimmage, switching the side where he lined up in an effort to create enough confusion to throw the Broncos off.

At the snap, Montgomery took the bait and end Robert Quinn peeled around the inside to Manning. Quinn was unable to bring Manning down, but Donald cleaned it up for a sack.

And the tweaks weren't just based out of blitz looks, either. On cornerback Trumaine Johnson's fourth-quarter interception, the Rams showed a normal Cover 3 look before the snap, something Manning had probably seen plenty of times in his tape study. But Williams had installed a different coverage from the same look earlier in the week and Manning threw down the right sideline where Johnson made an acrobatic interception.

"As long as all 11 are on the same page, we’ll be all right," Laurinaitis said. "That’s a great job by the defensive coaching staff knowing it would come to that and the best part about Gregg Williams is he gives me the freedom to call stuff if I don’t want to check and the feeling of the play just isn’t right, we play the call. A couple of times it happened and a couple of times he checked. It was the combination of a great game plan and just executing."

Of more importance than the yardage, the Rams held Denver to 4-of-12 on third down and 0-for-3 on fourth. They also had two interceptions, two sacks, four quarterback hits and 12 pass breakups. Of those dozen breakups, five came from Quinn and linebacker Alec Ogletree near the line of scrimmage.

Even when Manning completed a pass, a member of the Rams' secondary was there to greet him with a crushing blow such as Rodney McLeod's big hit (and subsequent penalty) on Denver receiver Emmanuel Sanders.

"It energizes us but, also, they know," McDonald said. "The offense knows that you put that ball up, you’re going to feel it. I think that’s something we take pride in, being a physical defense and offenses knowing that it’s not sweet [out there]."

Rams' Alec Ogletree starting to emerge

November, 13, 2014
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EARTH CITY, Mo. -- Nearly halfway through the season, it would have been hard to categorize St. Louis Rams linebacker Alec Ogletree's sophomore campaign as anything short of disappointing.

In Week 7 against Seattle, Ogletree was on the wrong end of a pair of long runs by Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson, the type of glaring mistakes that were impossible not to notice. The following week in Kansas City, Ogletree picked up a pair of personal fouls, the second of which was enough for Rams coach Jeff Fisher to briefly bench him near the end of the game.

[+] EnlargeAlec Ogletree
Norm Hall/Getty ImagesRams coaches have credited Alec Ogletree with 22 tackles in the team's past two games.
In the two games since, one could make an argument that Ogletree has been one of the team's best players, emerging from his funk and returning closer to the form that had the Rams salivating over his potential at the end of the last season.

A couple of schematic tweaks have allowed Ogletree get back to doing what he does best.

“He’s played good football," Fisher said. "We’ve made a concerted effort to get him behind the ball, [defensive coordinator Gregg] Williams has. That’s where he’s best, just running and slipping blocks and taking on blocks. He’s been much more productive. Good pressure. Ball skills, hands-on. He’s playing much better in the last two weeks.”

Although the numbers are different from what's recorded by the league, Rams coaches review of the film has Ogletree down for 22 tackles, an interception, a forced fumble and three pass breakups over the past two weeks.

Since entering the league as a first-round pick in 2013, the converted safety has been known for his ability as a run-and-chase player. Expecting him to stack and shed blockers was probably asking too much but part of the process of having a new defensive coordinator has been Williams getting a better idea of how best to deploy his talent and the players developing a better understanding of what Williams wants.

In Ogletree's case, that's meant more blitzing. Pro Football Focus' stats say Ogletree has blitzed 64 times this season on 595 total snaps, good for 10.7 percent. By comparison, in 2013, Ogletree blitzed 9.2 percent of his defensive snaps.

Williams' scheme is generally considered far more complicated than most others around the league and though it includes a lot of things the Rams were already doing before his arrival, the blitz packages are far more exotic and ask a player like Ogletree to remember much more.

Nine games into the season, Ogletree said he has a better handle on what he's doing.

"For the most part I know what to do, know where to line up at and have my eyes right and just go from there," Ogletree said. "I see the right thing and just try to go to the ball."

There's never been any doubting Ogletree's athleticism, at least not until last weekend in Arizona. Ogletree intercepted Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer and took off down the sideline for what looked like a sure touchdown. But Palmer had an angle and caught Ogletree on the sideline, doing just enough to stop Ogletree from scoring.

Ogletree has taken some ribbing for not scoring.

"I have been taking a little heat from it," Ogletree said. "I shouldn’t have got caught by him but he made a great play and grabbed my arm and pulled me down. It was a great play."

Ogletree's ascent over the past two weeks has drawn plenty of recognition from his teammates. Middle linebacker James Laurinaitis said it's been noticeable that Ogletree has "cut it loose," implying that he's no longer thinking as much and starting to simply read his keys and react.

It's no coincidence that with Ogletree performing better, the defense has also been much improved. In the past two weeks, the Rams have allowed 299 yards per game (ninth in the NFL), 54 rushing yards per game (fifth in the NFL) and have 11 sacks (second in the league).

Fellow linebacker Jo-Lonn Dunbar can't pinpoint exactly what the difference has been in Ogletree but he knows he'd like to bottle it up for the rest of the defense if possible.

"The kid can play and we are happy about that and he’s made some plays so kudos to him," Dunbar said. "I don’t know what he’s doing or what he’s drinking but he needs to pass that thing around and let us all play with it."

Midseason report: St. Louis Rams

November, 5, 2014
11/05/14
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At the midway point of the 2014 season, the St. Louis Rams bear a striking resemblance to the two teams that preceded them under coach Jeff Fisher.

The 3-5 Rams have had eye-opening wins at San Francisco and at home over the reigning champion Seattle Seahawks. They've also laid eggs like the blowout losses to the Kansas City Chiefs and Minnesota Vikings. In between, there have been missed chances such as the losses to the Dallas Cowboys and Philadelphia Eagles when the Rams had the ball late with a chance to win.

The Rams had pointed to this year as the breakthrough season as they embarked on their third year under Fisher. But so far, this looks like a team that will again tantalize with quality victories coming too few and far between the disappointments.

Midseason MVP: QB Austin Davis -- The choices are few for this honor, but Davis gets it solely because, as hard as it is to believe, things could be much worse if not for what he's been able to do. He wasn't even supposed to make the roster, but he's done enough to keep the Rams in many games, led a game-winning drive against Tampa Bay and marched the Rams to a score to clinch their win against Seattle. He has his warts, but he's been a pleasant surprise in a season without many.

Biggest disappointment: The defense -- With new coordinator Gregg Williams taking over, this group was supposed to ascend to a top-seven caliber group. Aside from a strong statement against the Niners, that hasn't happened and there have been multiple games where the defense has been the group responsible for letting the team down. After only one sack in the first five weeks, many fingers have been pointed at the defensive line, but that has been corrected somewhat in recent weeks. The real issues lie in the back seven, where there has been little progress from key young players like linebacker Alec Ogletree and cornerback Janoris Jenkins.

Best moment: "The Mountaineer" -- That's the name of the rope-a-dope punt return the Rams executed to perfection in their stunning Week 7 win against the Seahawks. Punt returner Tavon Austin and most of the return team faked out the entire building by pretending a Jon Ryan punt was headed down the right sideline. Meanwhile, Stedman Bailey, who like Austin is a former West Virginia Mountaineer, made a terrific over-the-shoulder catch and returned it 90 yards down the left sideline for a touchdown. It's this team's signature play and one that will grace highlight reels for years to come.

Worst moment: 49ers WR Brandon Lloyd's 80-yard touchdown catch -- Unlike in the MVP category, there's actually plenty to pick from here, but no play better sums up this season to date than this play. The Rams had a 14-3 lead against San Francisco and looked good on national television for "Monday Night Football" as they headed toward halftime. Just before the half, Jenkins was supposed to drop into a basic three-deep zone to prevent any receivers from getting behind him. He played the wrong coverage, got caught staring into the backfield, and Lloyd hauled in an easy touchdown. The Niners went on to score 21 of the next 24 points in a 31-17 Rams loss.

Key to the second half: Finishing games -- By hook or by crook, the Rams have to find a way to win games in the fourth quarter. They did it with a little help from Colin Kaepernick against San Francisco on Sunday, but it doesn't matter how it happens so long as it does. The Rams have been outscored 104-40 in the second half of their five losses this season, including 55-10 in the third quarter. For a team that has scored four touchdowns on its first possession and made a habit of starting fast, the Rams must finish with equal aplomb to make a second-half run.
EARTH CITY, Mo. -- Lost in the mix of the many injuries the St. Louis Rams suffered in the 34-7 loss against the Kansas City Chiefs was the absence of one player late in the game who did not leave because of health concerns.

Speaking on his weekly radio show Monday night, Rams coach Jeff Fisher made mention of his decision to sit linebacker Alec Ogletree after Ogletree picked up his second unsportsmanlike conduct penalty of the game with about seven minutes to go.

Ogletree
Fisher was answering a question about the defense's game performance and pointed to the loss of safety Rodney McLeod to a knee injury, the subsequent move of Lamarcus Joyner to safety to replace McLeod and then taking Ogletree off the field as reasons things got away from the defense in the final minutes. (The answer is about 13 minutes into the show).

"It was that last five or six minutes where, you know, I'm not going to say we were tired and deflated, but we had some people off the field, we lost Rodney and then we moved Lamarcus and at a point in time I removed Tree because I'd had enough of the unsportsmanlike conduct stuff," Fisher told 101 ESPN.

It was the second such flag of the day for Ogletree, who has also had some problems playing assignment football in recent weeks. Fisher made it clear when the Rams released linebacker Ray-Ray Armstrong a couple of weeks ago that he would start taking action should his players continue to rack up silly fouls.

Ogletree, who is accustomed to playing pretty much every defensive snap, ended up missing just four snaps after coming out of the game. He played 62 of a possible 66 defensive snaps on the day. Daren Bates got some rare defensive snaps, playing five.

Despite whatever concerns Fisher might have had with Ogletree's final penalty, he also made it clear he did not agree with the first call that went against him. Ogletree picked up a questionable 15-yard flag for hitting tight end Demetrius Harris late. On the play, it appeared Harris was still not down by contact when Ogletree hit him, but the penalty was called anyway.

"It shouldn't have been called," Fisher said. "I didn't like it."

Almost halfway through his second season, Ogletree has played 424 snaps and posted 44 tackles and a pair of forced fumbles.

W2W4: St. Louis Rams

October, 25, 2014
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EARTH CITY, Mo. -- The St. Louis Rams and Kansas City Chiefs kick off Week 8 on Sunday afternoon at Arrowhead Stadium. Kickoff is set for 1 p.m. ET on regional Fox coverage.

Here are three things to watch from the Rams' perspective:

1. Defending the perimeter: The Chiefs boast one of the NFL's most unique and difficult to defend rushing attacks behind running backs Jamaal Charles and Knile Davis. It's a run game that can beat defenses any number of ways but is particularly tough to stop on the edge. Through six games, the Chiefs are fourth in the league running outside the tackles with an average of 5.96 yards per attempt. That doesn't bode well for a Rams defense, which ranks last in the league in defending runs on the edge by surrendering 8.15 yards per rush on 48 carries. The Rams have struggled with their anchor points with ends William Hayes and Robert Quinn offering inconsistent performances setting the edge and outside linebacker Alec Ogletree overpursuing and missing tackles to lead to big gains out there. The Chiefs will put that to the test early and often.

2. Protection priority: When the Rams' offense is at its best, there is plenty of time for quarterback Austin Davis to throw. Pretty obvious point, right? It is but it's also one that has to be made considering what the Rams have been able to do in games in which Davis has been pressured against ones where he hasn't. In last week's win against Seattle, the Rams allowed no sacks and the Seahawks barely managed any pressure at all as Davis took what the Seahawks' defense gave him. Davis will likely have more opportunities to take deep shots against Kansas City's banged up secondary but those chances won't materialize if Davis doesn't have time to throw. Kansas City is tied for 12th in the league with 17 sacks and though it won't do much exotic blitzing, it can rely on pass rushers Tamba Hali and Justin Houston to generate all the heat it needs.

3. Handling the heat: Arrowhead Stadium is traditionally one of the toughest places to play in the NFL and with the Chiefs back to prominence after last year's playoff appearance, it's as loud as ever when the home team is rolling. While Davis has a couple of tough road games under his belt, particularly the one in Philadelphia, he has never played at Arrowhead or at Qwest Field in Seattle, the two stadiums generally regarded as the league's toughest. The Rams were able to get by Seattle last week in no small part because of their ability to play a clean game with only two penalties (one of which they took by choice) and no turnovers. The Seahawks accommodated that by committing plenty of silly infractions as the Rams posted a plus-69 penalty yard margin, their highest since Jeff Fisher arrived in 2012. But the Chiefs will offer no such help. Kansas City is the least penalized team in the league with 29 infractions for 247 yards.

Rams-Chiefs: Matchup breakdown

October, 25, 2014
10/25/14
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EARTH CITY, Mo. -- A look at three individual matchups to keep an eye on when the St. Louis Rams and Kansas City Chiefs meet at 1 p.m. ET Sunday.

Hali
Long
Rams left tackle Jake Long vs. Chiefs linebacker Tamba Hali

At this point, Justin Houston has emerged as the better of the Chiefs' two primary pass-rushers but that doesn't mean Hali can be taken for granted, especially considering he has what should be a favorable matchup against Long. Long has had his share of ups and downs this year but the downs traditionally seem to come when he faces elite pass-rushers. Hali still qualifies.

Through six games, Hali has four sacks and 12 quarterback hurries and is still able to convert speed to power as well as just about any edge rusher in the game. Joe Barksdale will have his hands full with Houston on the other side but Long has to fare better here than he did against Philadelphia's Trent Cole earlier in the season. Long was solid against Seattle last week but in what figures to be a raucous Arrowhead Stadium, he's going to have to be on point to keep Hali at bay and give quarterback Austin Davis time to throw.

Smith
Ogletree
Rams linebacker Alec Ogletree vs. Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith

Technically, this is really more about Ogletree defending the entire run game of the Chiefs but that run game begins with Smith. The Chiefs work in plenty of read-option concepts and like to work those east and west with running back Jamaal Charles when possible. The idea being to get the defense moving laterally to create space for Charles to make one cut and go.

The Rams, meanwhile, have struggled to consistently set the edge and Ogletree has been disappointing in his role as the linebacker regularly assigned to handling quarterback keepers and misdirection to the outside. Seattle's Russell Wilson fooled Ogletree twice last week, once for a 52-yard run and again for a 19-yard touchdown later in the game. Ogletree has no choice but to stay at home and do his job or the Chiefs will not hesitate to take advantage by running right at him with Charles, fellow back Knile Davis and Smith.

Fulton
Kampman
Donald
Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald vs. Chiefs guard Zach Fulton

Chiefs center Rodney Hudson is one of the best in the league at his position but the Chiefs have some weaknesses to either side of him in the form of Fulton and left guard Mike McGlynn. This could be a game for Rams defensive tackle Michael Brockers to get going because it stands to reason that Hudson will spend much of the day helping Fulton try to slow down Donald.

Donald has been a rookie revelation for the Rams, causing havoc on a regular basis now that he's moved into the starting lineup for the past two weeks. Donald's speed off the ball, hand usage and ability to use his leverage has made him a tough chore for every lineman he's faced, let alone a sixth-round rookie trying to make his way in the league. Even if Fulton gets the help necessary to slow Donald, it should open opportunities for the Rams other defensive linemen. It's up to them to take advantage.

Rams look to improve perimeter run D

October, 24, 2014
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EARTH CITY, Mo. -- As they make their final preparations for the Kansas City Chiefs, perhaps the St. Louis Rams defense can get some pointers from Vanderbilt alum/running back Zac Stacy.

Vanderbilt's catch phrase -- "Anchor Down" -- makes plenty of sense for the Commodores, but it also is a common refrain in the Rams' hopes of improving a run defense that has been continually gashed on runs outside the tackles this season.

To get better in time for Chiefs running backs Jamaal Charles and Knile Davis and quarterback Alex Smith, setting a consistent edge on the outside is the first order of business.

[+] EnlargeRussell Wilson
AP Photo/L.G. PattersonRussell Wilson rushed for 106 yards on just seven carries against the Rams, who must shore up their run defense.
"We have just got to keep our anchor points," linebacker Jo-Lonn Dunbar said. "It’s something we have failed to do at times. We have got to establish where our anchor points are and those guys have to keep their anchor point so we can keep guys from running away from us."

Through the first six weeks, plenty of opponents have had ample opportunities to run away from the Rams' rush defense. The Rams are 28th in the NFL in rush defense, allowing 145 yards per game.

On closer inspection, the Rams have actually been quite good against the run, so long as it's coming between the tackles. Opponents have run 127 plays between the tackles for a total of 485 yards and two touchdowns. That comes out to 3.82 yards per carry, which is 10th in the NFL.

Where the Rams have gotten in trouble is when opponents attack the perimeter. On 48 rushes outside the tackles, opponents have gained 391 yards and three touchdowns. That average of 8.15 yards per carry is the worst total in the league. It includes big plays such as Minnesota receiver Cordarrelle Patterson's 67-yard touchdown run in Week 1 and Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson's 52-yard scamper last week.

Much of that damage has come from secondary ball carriers after top 'backs such as Adrian Peterson, Marshawn Lynch and Frank Gore have been thwarted up the middle.

Some of the issue comes when players overpursue and find themselves out of their gaps, which can lead to big runs. End Robert Quinn and the defensive line had a few moments like that against Seattle. After finally getting three sacks, the defense thought it could simply go after Wilson, but the lead wasn't big enough nor the game late enough for the Seahawks to abandon the run.

That led to some big openings for Wilson. At other times, the Rams have gotten caught making poor reads. Linebacker Alec Ogletree has been particularly guilty, including a pair of miscues last week that led to long runs for Wilson.

“There’s people taking turns making mistakes," coach Jeff Fisher said. "For example, we anticipated ‘boot’ yesterday. We put our defense in position to defend the ‘boot.' Ogletree’s responsibility was the quarterback, and he couldn’t get him down, and Russell just made a move and walked in. It’s not all 'Tree.' It’s at different times it’s somebody else’s responsibility on the edge.”

That edge will be put to its toughest test Sunday when the Rams take on Charles & Co. The Chiefs have 51 carries for 304 yards and touchdowns outside the tackles this year. That average of 5.96 yards per attempt is fourth-best in the NFL.

With Smith at the controls, the Chiefs still use some of the old zone stretch plays that were their hallmark in previous regimes, but they also mix in plenty of read option. Center Rodney Hudson is particularly adept at pulling into space and going low for blocks that might not wipe out linebackers but do enough to get them on their hands and knees. By the time those linebackers get back to their feet, Charles, Davis or De'Anthony Thomas is already gone.

"It’s just discipline," linebacker James Laurinaitis said. "Sometimes if you are holding the edge, sometimes those guys get greedy. And we are all taking part. It’s not just D-ends, a lot of times you think it’s outside ‘backers, D-ends, but there’s always a guy assigned to keeping the edge.

"I’m encouraged when you look at Gore’s numbers, you look at Lynch’s numbers ... but when you look at the big picture, it’s got to go way down. It’s something we have got to continue to work at."

Rams-Vikings: Matchup breakdown

September, 6, 2014
9/06/14
8:00
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EARTH CITY, Mo. -- A look at three matchups to keep an eye on when the St. Louis Rams and Minnesota Vikings meet at 1 p.m. ET Sunday.

Rams defensive end Robert Quinn vs. Vikings left tackle Matt Kalil

Kalil
Quinn
These two squared off in 2012 when Kalil was a rookie and Quinn was in his second season. On that day, Kalil mostly kept Quinn in check, limiting him to a single tackle as Quinn played just 35 snaps because his run defense was still a work in progress.

Since, Quinn has blossomed into one of the league's elite pass rushers while Kalil has struggled to maintain the Pro Bowl form of his rookie season.

Even by his own admission, Kalil has said he has "wrinkles to iron out." He better get them ironed out in a hurry because Quinn has looked nothing less than the dominant force he was in 2013 when he had 19 sacks and seven forced fumbles.

Speaking to Minnesota media earlier this week, Kalil cited the need to get his "technique and form back." Things like footwork, technique and form are all things that can be exploited by any good pass rusher but also the types of things Quinn can use to completely wreck a game plan.

It's probably safe to expect the Vikings to provide Kalil help against Quinn from down to down. If they don't, it could be a long day at the office for Kalil.

Rams linebacker Alec Ogletree vs. Vikings tight end Kyle Rudolph

One needs only to look at the history of Vikings offensive coordinator Norv Turner to realize how much he likes to use the tight end in his offense. There's no better example of that than Turner's work with Antonio Gates during their time together in San Diego. Turner's latest project is Rudolph, the 6-foot-6, 258-pounder who missed eight games last season with a broken foot.

Rudolph healed up, lost weight and signed a contract extension with the Vikings that indicates they view him as a key piece to the offense into the future.

The Rams, on the other hand, were notoriously tough on tight ends last season. No tight end had more than the San Francisco 49ers' Vernon Davis' 82 yards in any game against the Rams.

That required a team effort from the Rams secondary and linebackers. Then-rookie Ogletree entered the league with a reputation for his coverage ability as a converted safety but he struggled in that area in his first season. For what it's worth, Pro Football Focus had Ogletree with a negative-2.3 grade in coverage last season, allowing 72 receptions on 87 targets for 785 yards and a pair of touchdowns.

Ogletree won't be asked to match up with Rudolph exclusively but the Rams must be cognizant of where Rudolph is at all times to prevent him from starting the year with a bang.

Rams kicker Greg Zuerlein (and coverage unit) vs. Vikings kick returner/receiver Cordarrelle Patterson

As a rookie, Patterson burst on the scene with his unique ability to change games as a kick returner. He had success as a receiver and coming out of the backfield as a runner but kick returns were his greatest asset. He led all qualifying returners with an average return of 32.4 yards and returned a pair of kicks for touchdowns.

In a league in which the kick return is barely still a thing, Patterson made it his specialty. He was so good at it that Vikings coaches have given him the green light to return kicks even when he's deep in his own end zone with the belief that the upside of it outweighs the bad.

Zuerlein was third in the NFL in touchback percentage in 2013 and the kickoff unit led the league in expected points added on kickoff and kickoff returns at 17.82. In other words, Zuerlein is capable of taking Patterson out of the kick return game without asking his teammates to make a tackle.

Earlier this week, Patterson even told the Minnesota media the story of how he asked Rams coach Jeff Fisher to kick to him when the teams meet Sunday. But the Rams and Zuerlein would be wise to avoid any sort of macho game playing and simply eliminate Patterson's chances for a return by booming it out of the end zone.

Morning Ram-blings: Make or break?

August, 20, 2014
8/20/14
8:00
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EARTH CITY, Mo. -- Hold on, stop right there. I know what you're thinking. You saw the headline and thought that we were once again going to lead the Ram-blings with a story written by someone talking about how this is a make or break season for St. Louis Rams quarterback Sam Bradford.

Well, it's not what you think. Earlier this week at Grantland, Robert Mays put together his "All Make-or-Break Team" for the 2014 NFL season. But this version means something a little different than a quarterback trying to solidify his spot for the long term. Instead, Mays is looking at it as players who are vital to the success of their respective teams.

And yes, there's a Ram on the list. In fact, linebacker Alec Ogletree is the second player to appear on the team.

From Mays:

"Nickel defenses are base defenses at this point, and having two linebackers that can cover goes a long way. St. Louis needs Ogletree to be that type of player this year. If he can, he can be for the Rams what Thomas Davis was for Carolina years ago."

Ogletree is just one of the many young players the Rams are counting on to produce in 2014 but he's also one of the most important. His progression as a rookie was clear as he started off with some struggles but was able to improve noticeably as the season went on. By the end of the year, he was much more instinctive and far better against the run.

But to Mays' point, the Rams could use better coverage from Ogletree, something he's capable of providing. In many ways, Ogletree can be the secret weapon of this defense because he can be used in so many ways. I'm not sure his progression alone will determine the Rams' fate but it certainly will play a prominent part.

I.C.Y.M.I.

A roundup of Tuesday's Rams stories appearing on ESPN.com. ... In the Ram-blings, we opened the day with a look at Bill Barnwell's rankings of the fastest teams in the league. ... Next, we examined coach Jeff Fisher's attempts to eliminate penalties against his team in 2014. ... From there, we took an in-depth look at right tackle Joe Barksdale's evolution since his arrival in St. Louis. ... Then we pondered the possibilities of what the loss of running back Isaiah Pead could yield on the roster. ... We closed the day with a camp report from the team's 16th day of practice.

Elsewhere:

Slightly off topic but a good read from fellow St. Louis ESPNer Anna McDonald on the Cardinals' team chef, who also used to work for the Rams.

Big news from within the division as the Arizona Cardinals lost defensive lineman Darnell Dockett to an ACL injury for the season.

At stltoday.com, Jim Thomas wonders whether this is the year receiver Brian Quick takes the next step.

Joe Lyons discusses the versatility of offensive lineman Mike Person.

Thomas also participated in his weekly chat.

 

Rams Camp Report: Day 8

August, 2, 2014
8/02/14
5:00
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ST. LOUIS -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of St. Louis Rams training camp:
  • The Rams held their annual scrimmage Saturday, coming out in full pads for the first time. While none of the principals competed in any live drills, the first-team offense and defense did match up for some extended team drills. They spent those drills working at "thud" tempo with the defense making contact with the shoulder pads but with no live tackling. The first-team offense continued to show signs of life in the early live drills, with quarterback Sam Bradford and receiver Stedman Bailey hooking up for big gains twice in as many snaps. Bailey had a big day in general, catching about 10 passes during live drills and seven on seven. Bradford later connected with Kenny Britt for a long touchdown on a perfectly thrown deep ball. But when the drill moved closer to the goal line, the defense stood tall and kept the offense out of the end zone on consecutive handoffs from the 2.
  • At the end of the practice, the Rams did some live scrimmaging using primarily backups and rookies vying for roster spots. There were a few notable exceptions, though. Greg Robinson (left tackle), Aaron Donald (defensive tackle) and running back Tre Mason took some reps during the live portion.
  • One area worth watching in this camp is the development of the tight ends and running backs in blitz pickup. The running backs, in particular, don't have much experience in blitz pickup. When those groups took on the linebackers in the one-on-one drills, the decided advantage went to the linebackers again. Presumptive starter Zac Stacy is coming along in that regard, but there is still a lot of work to be done. The tight ends had a little more success, with Cook actually getting a couple of good reps in. And another player to keep an eye on is undrafted free agent Alex Bayer. Bayer seems to be technically sound as a blocker and could emerge as a strong candidate to win a potential fourth tight end spot on the roster. The flip side, of course, is the linebackers' success. Alec Ogletree was especially impressive in those drills. Gregg Williams should be able to have some fun with Ogletree behind this defensive line.
  • We haven't had any full-blown fights in this camp, but a mini-scuffle broke out during the aforementioned linebacker-running back drills. Running back Benny Cunningham and linebacker Ray-Ray Armstrong exchanged shoves and words before being separated.
  • The Rams took some precautions with their many banged-up players but at least so far it doesn't seem they have any serious issues. Defensive tackle Michael Brockers left practice a bit early Friday after tweaking an ankle and returned Saturday only to depart when shaken up again. The Rams might just have to be cautious with him moving forward to ensure he doesn't make it worse, but it doesn't sound serious. Linebacker James Laurinaitis came out with a walking boot on his left foot after getting stepped on earlier in the week. The injury isn't believed to be more than a mild ankle sprain, though. Offensive lineman Rodger Saffold also left Friday's practice with an apparent hand/wrist injury. He did not practice Saturday and watched from the sidelines with no cast or wrap on his hand. Like Brockers, Saffold's injury isn't believed serious. Other notables not practicing: Cornerbacks Lamarcus Joyner and Janoris Jenkins, offensive lineman Barrett Jones, defensive lineman William Hayes and receiver Brian Quick.
  • Funniest moment of the day: Backup quarterback Shaun Hill took a snap and as he dropped to hand it off, tripped over his own foot into a head first somersault, with jeers and laughs from his teammates.
  • The Rams are off Sunday and will return to practice Monday at 4:30 p.m. ET at Rams Park.
EARTH CITY, Mo. -- The St. Louis Rams are coming down the home stretch of their offseason program with just a pair of organized team activities after Tuesday's practice.

As always, it should be noted that much of what happens in these organized team activities should be taken with a grain of salt (especially for the linemen). The players are not in pads and contact must be extremely limited. It's best not to get too excited or too down on anything that happens.

Ogletree
Ogletree's day: Linebacker Alec Ogletree is coming off a strong finish to his rookie season in which he unseated James Laurinaitis as the team's leading tackler and showed a knack for making big, splashy plays. Much is expected from Ogletree in Year 2 after he seemed to get his feet under him in the second part of last season.

On Tuesday, Ogletree was all over the place in the practice on his way to a couple of interceptions and some other good work in seven-on-seven and team drills. On one play in seven-on-seven, Ogletree ran down the seam with tight end Lance Kendricks and jumped in front of a throw from quarterback Sam Bradford for an interception. He followed by reading a short pass to the flat correctly and jumping on a route, producing what would have been a short gain.

Quick's progress: Receiver Brian Quick had a good day, jumping out early with a good route down the seam for about a 20-yard touchdown from Bradford. He even got his share of work with the first team offense.

Quick is entering his third season, and offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer spoke glowingly of the young wideout after practice.

"Probably the most improved player I've seen is Brian Quick," Schottenheimer said. "He's doing a great job. Another guy that we're giving an opportunity to, he's competing for playing time and he's made the most of his opportunities. He started today, again just moving guys around in and out of the lineup trying to create competition, and he's stepped up and made a lot of big plays for us."

Sitting it out: The list of Rams not participating in practice grew larger Tuesday even as the practice rolled on. Receiver Jamaine Sherman, cornerback Trumaine Johnson, safeties Christian Bryant, Maurice Alexander and Matt Daniels, running back Chase Reynolds, linebacker Ray Ray Armstrong, end Sammy Brown, center Scott Wells, left tackle Jake Long, defensive tackle Michael Brockers, end William Hayes and defensive tackle Kendall Langford did not practice.

Armstrong, Wells and Langford are new additions to the list, though their reasons for not practicing are unknown. Armstrong did have a wrap on his right leg and Wells was not present.

Before the practice ended, two more joined the list. Receiver Kenny Britt walked gingerly to a golf cart with an athletic trainer, and cornerback Darren Woodard also walked off before the session was over.

Pead
Pead's place: Running back Isaiah Pead has been lost in the shuffle a bit since the Rams found their top two backs in Zac Stacy and Benny Cunningham, and then added Tre Mason in the third round of this year's draft. Midway through last season, Pead took a role on special teams and apparently excelled in the role to the point where the Rams view him as one of their most valuable contributors there.

In looking at his role for this season, special teams again figure to be a big part of the plan. Special teams coach John Fassel raved about Pead's work in that area after Tuesday's practice.

"Last year he really committed to special teams and not only was a contributor, he was a high impact guy for us," Fassel said. "I think a lot of people are going to see a lot of growth out of that guy, not only on [special] teams, and I can't speak for offense but I just imagine with his maturity, his work ethic, his ability, I would imagine he's going to have a fantastic preseason."

Pead did plenty of work on coverage units and proved to be a solid contributor as Fassel alluded to, but it's possible his role could expand. Fassel said the Rams would like to take some of the kick return duties off receiver Tavon Austin's plate and mentioned Pead as a possibility.

As for doing some work on offense, Pead has been getting some snaps there. He made a nice catch on a wheel route from Bradford during team drills in what would have gone for a long gain in a game.

What's next: The final OTA open to the media is set for Thursday afternoon and the Rams will conclude offseason business Friday before returning for training camp in July.
EARTH CITY, Mo. -- Perhaps no team in the NFL has invested more in its defensive front seven than the St. Louis Rams.

Even after seemingly solidifying that group by using a first-round pick on linebacker Alec Ogletree in 2013, the Rams couldn't resist the temptation of defensive tackle Aaron Donald with their second first-round choice this year.

In the rough and tumble NFC West division, if you can't win up front then you have little chance of doing much damage. Fortunately for the Rams, they now have the pieces in place to be not only the best front seven in the NFC West but the NFL as a whole, at least according to Mike Tanier, of Sports on Earth.

It's no secret that the Rams employ one of the best defensive lines in the league led by ends Robert Quinn and Chris Long. That group isn't only talented but deep and Donald's addition adds a pass rushing element the interior previously lacked.

Middle linebacker James Laurinaitis and Ogletree were extremely productive in 2013 and though they have their limitations, should only be better as the defensive line continues to improve. The final piece of the front seven is linebacker Jo-Lonn Dunbar, who looks to return to his 2012 form after a down year in 2013.

In looking around the league, there are other teams better at linebacker and perhaps some with starting lines close to what the Rams are providing but in looking at the entire picture, including the depth on the defensive line, it's hard to argue with Tanier's ranking.

I.C.Y.M.I.

A roundup of Monday's Rams stories appearing on ESPN.com. ... In the Ram-blings, we began the week with a look at how defensive coordinater Gregg Williams will impact the team in 2014. ... From there, we examined how far along left tackle Jake Long is in his rehab and how the Rams are dealing with his absence in the meantime. ... Finally, we examined coach Jeff Fisher's comments on the idea of an NFL developmental league.

Elsewhere:

Field Yates provided the news that center Scott Wells reworked his contract and will be playing on a more cap-friendly deal in 2014.

Columnist Jeffri Chadiha writes that if the NFL wants to send a message to Colts owner Jim Irsay, it'll take away draft picks.

Draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. takes an early look at next year's quarterback class.

At stltoday.com, Jim Thomas examines the early work of receiver Kenny Britt.

The Associated Press discusses Fisher's history of unconventional decisions.

 

 

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