Defense Hopes Stop Serves As Springboard
Saturday, December 2, 2006

By Nick Wagoner
Senior Writer

For the first time since joining the Rams as defensive coordinator in the offseason, people got a chance to see a glimpse of Jim Haslett’s notorious fiery side in his weekly Monday media briefing.

Haslett grew fed up with the constant questions about his unit’s run defense and asked for a renewed focus on all of the things the defense has done better in recent weeks.

Pointing to the team’s 10-ranked pass defense and continued ability to create turnovers, Haslett made his point clear.

Based on the past two games, he had a point. While the defense isn’t exactly shutting opponents down and the pass defense’s ranking is as much a product of the fact that teams are choosing to run the ball for the most part, the defense has been excellent at bending and bending but not necessarily breaking.

“I think guys are in the right place at the right time and making plays when we need to make plays,” defensive end Leonard Little said. “That’s the big thing about this defense right now. Guys are really in tune to what we are doing and everyone is trying to get to the right spot and everybody is where they need to be on every play.”

That has long been a problem for the defense according to just about everyone involved. Players out of position plagued the Rams and led to big plays against the likes of Kansas City and Seattle.

But in the past two weeks, those big plays have been limited. Even as San Francisco’s Frank Gore was running for over 100 yards last week, he did it without the aid of huge runs, instead bleeding the Rams with 5 or 6 yards at a time.

“It isn’t how we would like to be doing it, but as long as we can find a way to keep teams from getting in the end zone, then we are giving our team a chance to win,” linebacker Pisa Tinoisamoa said.

In the past two weeks against Carolina and San Francisco, the Rams have yielded just 32 points, an average of 16 per game. Most NFL teams shoot for around 17 to give their teams a chance to win and the league average is around 20 per game.

More important, though, has been the defense’s renewed ability to create turnovers. After an avalanche of takeaways to start the season, the numbers began to dwindle in recent weeks as teams have been taking fewer risks by running the ball repeatedly.

St. Louis has six takeaways in the past two games and that has helped keep them in games.

“It’s not all bad,” defensive tackle La’Roi Glover said. “We are doing some positive things. Obviously, we are creating turnovers which is huge for us. We are getting better in the red zone and keeping opponents from scoring touchdowns and making them settle for field goals. We just have to build on all of those kinds of things. Hopefully it will pay off for us down the stretch.”

The hallmark of the defense this season has been turnovers. The Rams have 24 takeaways with 13 giveaways, for a plus-11 turnover ratio. That ranks the Rams second in the league and has been a direct correlation to victory for most of the season.

“It’s just like anything else,” Glover said. “They come in bunches. Fortunately for us, we are getting them and getting our hands on them and we are actually holding on to the ball when we do pop it out. It’s a huge plus and a huge advantage for us.”

Occasionally, a struggling defense or offense for that matter will have a defining moment in a season that spurs it to bigger and better things. The Rams hope that last week’s huge third-and-1 stop late in the game will be just the kind of building block they need.

Gathered around their respective position meetings and watching the film of the play, the defense let out some primal screams in reaction to seeing the big stop.

“I think it’s something you can build on, build your confidence,” Glover said. “It was a huge moment in the game. Something like that gives you confidence, it shows if you do things right this is what can happen.”

INJURY REPORT: The Rams injury report is lengthier this week than at any point during the season. With linebacker Isaiah Kacyvenski (concussion) and defensive end Victor Adeyanju (broken arm) out, the Rams have other issues, including a recurring one on the offensive line.

Right guard Adam Timmerman continues to struggle with a rib injury and is questionable. After practicing Wednesday, Timmerman sat out Thursday’s practice before returning for parts of the light workout Friday. He did miss some of the workout though and is still listed as questionable.

“He did a little bit (Wednesday),” coach Scott Linehan said. “It never improved and it got very painful where he couldn’t do much. You don’t have enough kind of treatment you can do for a game. It’s really hard for him to be able to practice. We decided until that thing gets any better, we just decided that one practice a week we will have to give him off. He has been struggling as the week goes on. But I don’t anticipate it being a problem for him being ready to go on Sunday.”

Fullback Paul Smith is also questionable because of a hamstring injury, but he has participated in every practice this week and looks ready to return Sunday.

“Paul’s doing good,” Linehan said. “He didn’t have a setback, he hasn’t had a problem. He felt very confident and good about it.”

Quarterback Marc Bulger (ribs), cornerback Tye Hill (thigh), center Richie Incognito (foot) and defensive tackle Claude Wroten (hamstring) remain probable and are expected to play without any problems against Arizona.