Defense makes progress

BY BILL COATS
ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
09/21/2009

LANDOVER, Md. — Nearly two years had passed since the Rams held an opponent without a touchdown. Just a week had gone by since Seattle torched them for four TDs.

While the Rams' defense didn't morph into the Monsters of the Midway in seven days' time, it did show at least modest improvement in Sunday's 9-7 loss to the Washington Redskins at FedEx Field.

"You can definitely take some positives away," cornerback Ron Bartell said. "But we play to win, and we just couldn't get it done. A few mistakes here and there, and they ended up costing us."

Despite drives of 83, 74 and 64 yards, the Redskins could muster just three field goals. They finished with 362 total yards, 84 fewer than the Seahawks racked up in their 28-0 win.

The last time an opponent failed to reach the end zone against the Rams was Nov. 18, 2007, in a 13-9 victory at San Francisco.

"Red-zone defense is important, because offenses are talented and they're going to move the ball," Rams coach Steve Spagnuolo said. "But when it does get down there, you have to be able to stop them and hold them to field goals, and that's what we did."

Particularly encouraging was the resistance vs. the run. Last week, Seattle rolled up 167 yards on the ground and averaged 4.9 yards per attempt. The 'Skins rushed for 125 yards, averaging 3.8 yards.

Washington's longest run produced 14 yards, compared with a 62-yard dash to the end zone by the Seahawks' Julius Jones last week.

If the Rams had been stingier on third downs, their numbers would've improved even more. The Redskins converted on seven of 15 opportunities, sustaining their long marches while also ratcheting up quarterback Jason Campbell's stats. He completed 23 of 35 passes for 242 yards, without an interception.

"There certainly are no moral victories," safety James Butler said. "But iron out some details on third down and we'll be a whole lot better."

Said Bartell: "It's a new defense for us. We're learning, and we're getting better every week. But we're going to have to overcome those small (errors), because they're killing us."

The Rams nearly had a safety, end Chris Long sacking Campbell inches from the end zone. And they came up with a big stop on a late fourth-and-1, giving the offense one final shot.

Trouble was, Marc Bulger & Co. had 96 yards of green in front of them, with just 1 minute, 55 seconds remaining and no timeouts available. Four incompletions later, the 'Skins took over and ran out the clock.

Earlier, Redskins coach Jim Zorn decided to go for the first down on fourth-and-1 at the Rams' 20 with 3:47 to go, and running back Clinton Portis churned out 9 yards.

"In a situation like that, we've got to a better job of getting our offense back (on the field) earlier, with more room," Bartell said. "We did our job stopping them, but we put (the offense) in a tough spot."