By Jim Thomas
Of the Post-Dispatch
Thursday, Sep. 23 2004

In their first nine seasons in St. Louis, the Rams had only 20 games in which
their defense failed to come up with a turnover. Basically, that's an average
of two such games a year.

Unfortunately for the Rams, they've already hit their quota for 2004, after
failing to come up with a turnover against Arizona or Atlanta.

The no-takeaway game in the season opener against Arizona ended a streak of 20
straight contests - regular season and playoffs - with at least one takeaway by
the Rams defense.

That streak was just one game off the Rams' high total since the move to St.
Louis. From Game 15 of the 2000 season through the '01 season's NFC
championship game, the Rams went 21 consecutive games with at least one
takeaway.

So the current takeaway drought, even if just two games, is a totally
unexpected occurrence, particularly since the Rams led the league in takeaways
last year (46).

As defensive tackle Ryan Picketts puts it, "We're pitching a shutout right now.
When we get one (takeaway), we'll be happy. Maybe they'll start rolling then,
because we practice very hard at getting them every day."

Like most NFL teams, the Rams work on stripping the ball to create fumbles in
practice. But they could work harder at it, according to safety Adam Archuleta.

"I would say that we probably could put more of an emphasis on stripping the
ball, like really going in there hard," Archuleta said. "Actively going at it.
We could probably do a better job of that."

Last season, the Rams recovered 22 opposing fumbles - just two off the
franchise record. Two games into '04, the opposing team hasn't even fumbled
once - much less lost a fumble.

"I think when you're tackling really well, you're going to cause some fumbles,"
coach Mike Martz said. "We didn't tackle as well (against Atlanta) as we had
been. If you tackle well, the first guy there holds him up, and the other guy
gets the ball out."

Practicing last week in "shells" - or light padding - didn't help, either.
Normally, Martz doesn't have the Rams practice in shells so early in the
season. But he felt too many players were banged up to work in full pads last
week. In hindsight, the lack of contact work showed in the form of sloppy
tackling against the Falcons.

"And that's a coaching error on my part," Martz said. "I think when you do
(drills) in pads in practice, you can slam each other and pull that ball out.
And that's where you get your work."

The Rams were in full pads this Wednesday, the first practice day of the week.
Normally players aren't thrilled about working in full pads once the regular
season starts, but apparently there were no complaints this time.

"After playing Atlanta, we felt like we probably needed it," Pickett said. "So
we're not against the pads right now. We're trying to do anything to get
better."

Getting to the quarterback more often would help. The Rams have a modest three
sacks in two games; only seven teams in the NFL have fewer.

"For a defensive lineman, the majority of times when we get to cause a turnover
is when we hit the quarterback," defensive end Bryce Fisher said. "If we're not
hitting the quarterback, and getting the ball tipped up in the air, then it's
harder for us to get turnovers. Up front, we've got to do that."

Again, this point gets emphasized on the practice field. If the defensive line
doesn't force a turnover in practice, they have to do "up-downs" - a drill
where players run in place, drop to the ground, then pop up quickly and
continue running.

Of course, the other half of the turnover picture is interceptions, and here
the Rams have had their chances. Many chances. Against Arizona, DeJuan Groce
had an interception nullified by a penalty, while Aeneas Williams, Jerametrius
Butler and Archuleta couldn't hang onto potential interceptions.

Against Atlanta, Butler swooped in for what looked like a sure interception,
only to have the ball deflect off his fingertips and into the hands of Falcons
tight end Alge Crumpler for a 33-yard gain.

In practice, Rams players have to drop to the turf and do pushups when they
drop an interception. If that same policy were in place on game day, there'd be
enough pushups going on to make a fitness video.

"We've definitely had some drops," safety Rich Coady said. "If we catch the
ball, we'd probably have three or four easily. So it's just a matter of guys
concentrating a little bit more."

On four previous occasions in St. Louis, the Rams have gone back-to-back games
without a takeaway, most recently late in the 2002 season. But they've never
gone three straight games without a takeaway.

"We're due, right?" Coady said. "They're supposed to come in bunches. If we
keep doing what we're doing in practice, put even more emphasis on it . . . I
think they'll come. I don't see us doing anything different than what we did
last year. And last year, we led the league