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  1. #1
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    Cowboys pose big challenge for struggling Rams pass defense

    By Jim Thomas

    ARLINGTON, TEXAS • With an actual coordinator on the coaching staff, two high draft picks expended on rookie starters and a year of experience for everyone else, this is supposed to be the year the Rams’ defense takes the next step.

    Two games into 2013, things look good for the run defense. The Rams rank sixth in the NFL in rushing yards allowed per game (61.0) and seventh in rushing yards allowed per carry (2.9).

    As for the pass defense?

    So far, not so good. The Rams are near the bottom of the league rankings in almost every major statistical category.

    They rank 27th in passing yards allowed per game (330.5) and 24th in yards allowed per attempt (8.4).

    Opposing quarterbacks have a 107.5 passer rating against the Rams, meaning the Rams rank 28th in that category.

    Frequently, good pass defense gets you off the field on third down. Guess what? The Rams’ defense is tied for 31st in third-down efficiency; opponents are converting 51.9 percent of their third-down plays.

    As veteran cornerback Cortland Finnegan points out, it’s only two games, which makes for a small sample size.

    “We’re talking Week 3, and we’ve seen (two) really good quarterbacks,” Finnegan said. “So I think the challenge for us is beautiful, the fact that it’s so early in the season. So I wouldn’t press too much.”

    But the results have been anything but beautiful for the Rams, who face a third really good quarterback Sunday in Tony Romo after facing Atlanta’s Matt Ryan in Week 2 and Arizona’s Carson Palmer in Week 1.

    While we’re at it, make it three really good receivers in as many weeks, going from Arizona’s Larry Fitzgerald, to Atlanta’s Julio Jones, to the Cowboys’ Dez Bryant.

    When do the Rams’ start facing the lousy wide receivers?

    “Never,” Finnegan said, laughing. “That’s never going to be the case, you know that. It’s a pass-happy league. Great quarterbacks. Great receivers. So you’ve got to pick your poison.”

    When it comes to the Cowboys, Bryant can poison just about anyone’s secondary.

    “He’s very explosive,” Rams coach Jeff Fisher said. “He’s strong. He’s hard to get down. He elevates very well, and he’s got a big wing span. He can go up, and he makes all the catches. He runs well. He’s a really good receiver. We’ve got back-to-back-to-back really good receivers thus far.”

    The fourth-year pro from Oklahoma State enjoyed a breakout season in 2012, with 92 catches for 1,382 yards and 12 touchdowns.

    Bryant was a non-factor (four catches, 22 yards) in the Cowboys’ opener against the New York Giants, but came alive last week in Kansas City with nine grabs for 141 yards and a TD.

    He easily could have topped 200 yards if not for having a 22-yard catch negated by a dubious penalty for offensive pass interference and later dropping what might have been a 79-yard TD at midfield.

    “You’ve got to make sure you take care of him,” defensive coordinator Tim Walton said. “You’ve got to double him. It’s the same thing — he’s one of the best wide receivers in the league, and they’re going to get him the ball. We have to try to do a better job of taking away guys’ No. 1 threat, and he is their No. 1 guy.”

    No only does Bryant make all the catches, he can run all the routes. On his first catch against Kansas City, Bryant used his 6-foot-2, 222-pound frame to out-muscle Kansas City cornerback Brandon Flowers (5-9, 187) for the football on a quickly thrown short sideline pass. He then turned and raced down the field for a 53-yard gain.

    He later made a leaping catch on a back-shoulder throw by Romo. Later in the first quarter, he leaped high over the middle for a 2-yard TD. He caught a slant pattern, a wide receiver screen, was flagged for offensive P.I. catching a fade pattern, and had streaked past Flowers on a deep route when he dropped that potential TD pass.

    “You have to be physical with him,” Walton said. “You’ve got to try to not let him get separation because they are going to him, and he catches all routes. They’ll throw to him on the inside breaking routes, they’ll try the back shoulder fades and he can get up top, also.”

    There’s no doubt that Bryant is the headliner, but Romo has other options in the passing game. Miles Austin had back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons in 2009 and 2010 and looked like a star in the making.

    He was slowed by hamstring issues the past couple of years but is another big target at 6-2, 216 and can play both outside and in the slot.

    At tight end, Jason Witten has been Romo’s security blanket for years, in part because he is so good at improvisation when the play breaks down. His 817 career catches ranks second only to Tony Gonzalez among tight ends in NFL history. The Cowboys also are working in younger tight ends James Hanna and Gavin Escobar.

    “They have very athletic tight ends,” Walton said. “They’re trying to create mismatches, and spread you out in their ‘12’ personnel and create space. They do a good job because those guys have receiver skill sets.”

    (What’s called “12” personnel features one back, two tight ends, and two wide receivers.)

    Lastly, Rams fans may remember Cowboys running back DeMarco Murray for his record-setting 253 yards against them two years ago at what’s now known as AT&T Stadium. But he’s also an effective pass-catcher out of the backfield who’s tied for the team lead in catches (13) through two games this season.

    And don’t forget Romo, who’s as good as there is when he’s on his game.

    “Not only is he an elite quarterback, he extends plays.’’ Finnegan said. “You’ve got to ‘plaster’ coverage, and stay in your coverage a little bit longer. ... Every week poses a new challenge.”

    Slowing the Cowboys’ passing game will be a huge challenge for a Rams’ team that has struggled with just about every aspect of pass defense so far, whether it be defending the deep ball, providing safety help for the corners, or reacting quickly enough to underneath throws.

    “I think everybody in the league is trying to get better in pass defense, you know?” Fisher said. “That’s just a part of this game. Ball’s going down the field, you’ve got to make the play. We’re working technique. We’re working fundamentals. We’re working communication. We’re working scheme. We’re doing everything.”

    Sunday we’ll see if that work is starting to pay off.


  2. #2
    Curly Horns's Avatar
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    I think everybody in the league is trying to get better in pass defense, you know?” Fisher said. “That’s just a part of this game. Ball’s going down the field, you’ve got to make the play. We’re working technique. We’re working fundamentals. We’re working communication. We’re working scheme. We’re doing everything.”
    Hmmm....I'm feeling sick to my stomach!

  3. #3
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    Re: Cowboys pose big challenge for struggling Rams pass defense

    I'm sure Finnegan has spent some time with film and is eager to get back to form. But whats alarming to me besides the third down percentage is this team has zero INT's going into week three, and Jenkins has been getting burned just as well. If we're gonna start throwing players under the bus i think its only fair to look at the big picture. Players in this league rarely act alone except for the late hits and roughing thing but this could be a defense by design and players are at the mercy of what the D coordinator sends into the huddle. After all, we do have a different D coordinator and this could be a learning curve amongst players and coaches.

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    Re: Cowboys pose big challenge for struggling Rams pass defense

    I do believe Tru Johnson got a pic in the first game unless my aging memory is failing me again? A little help guys with the pic magnet stats please, thanks... Essentially I would agree though would be nice to have our starters making some plays on the ball as well! No argument with this at all Gr.

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    Re: Cowboys pose big challenge for struggling Rams pass defense

    Quote Originally Posted by Randart View Post
    I do believe Tru Johnson got a pic in the first game unless my aging memory is failing me again? A little help guys with the pic magnet stats please, thanks... Essentially I would agree though would be nice to have our starters making some plays on the ball as well! No argument with this at all Gr.
    Correct, Tru had a pick week 1.

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    Re: Cowboys pose big challenge for struggling Rams pass defense

    isn't brain quick about the same size as Dez Bryant?

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