Defense mauled the Broncos in Haslett's debut
BY JEFF GORDON
STLTODAY.COM SPORTS COLUMNIST
Judging from what we’re reading in the Rams Talk forum on STLtoday.com, St. Louis seems ready to stage a parade for new defensive coordinator Jim Haslett.
And why not?
His defensive unit mauled the Broncos on Sunday, allowing the Rams to beat Denver 18-10 despite an uncharacteristically poor offensive effort. The defense held firm and allowed Jeff Wilkins to decide the game with six field goals.
Haslett had a big say in the team’s free-agent acquisitions. Cornerback Fakhir Brown, safety Corey Chavous, linebacker Will Witherspoon and defensive tackle La’Roi Glover looked like stellar additions during the season opener.
So did cornerback Tye Hill, the first-round selection in the last NFL Draft.
“It was pretty impressive,” Rams coach Scott Linehan said. “I would credit the entire defensive staff and the players as well. Jim did a great job of preparing and we have a defensive staff that has worked well together for years.
“Our defensive players embraced everything we’re doing. Half the battle is believing, and it paid dividends today.”
Collectively, the Rams defense forced five turnovers. Five! In one game!
Each was memorable:
* Defensive end Leonard Little forced a Jake Plummer fumble with a crushing hit. Pisa Tinoisamoa finally recovered the bouncing ball and fell on it on the Denver 3.
* Hill picked off a Plummer pass and ran it back to the Broncos 17. Plummer unloaded the ball toward Rod Smith under duress -– the Rams blitzed on the play -– and Hill read the play perfectly.
“I was looking at the quarterback and I was thinking, ‘He isn’t about to throw the ball, is he?’” Hill said. “Before I knew it, he was throwing it. I was just trying to beat Rod back to the ball and I did. If I would have stayed back a little, I would have had a touchdown.”
* Second-year safety O.J. Atogwe recovered a first-half Tatum Bell fumble forced by Witherspoon’s jarring hit.
* Playing center field expertly, Chavous came a good distance to pluck a tardy home-run ball from Plummer to Todd Devoe.
“Basically, they were in a slot formation and I was reading (Plummer) and trying to make him think I was going to be somewhere else. He kind of bit for it and it was an opportunity to help out my corners.”
* Finally, Witherspoon flew through the air to deflect a Plummer pass toward Smith, which allowed Brown to pick it off on the carom.
The defensive unit also forced the Broncos to punt the ball away four times. Denver rushed for 161 yards, but Mike Shanahan’s team mustered just one touchdown drive all afternoon.
Quarterback Jake Plummer offered the succinct praise for the Rams defense. “They played really fast,” he said.
Didn’t opponents used to say that about the Rams offense on this field?
The breakthrough allows us to set aside the offensive struggle -– for a week, anyway -– and marvel at the defensive transformation under Haslett.
“I’ve never been associated with a bad win,” Linehan said, waving off concerns about the offensively ugliness. “There has been a lot of change here the last eight months. It’s not easy.
“Today is about this new team, players and staff alike, and support people that work for the team . . . are off to a great start.”
The exuberant Hill expects it to continue.
“It says a lot about us,” he said. “It says a lot about our personality, the way we are going to play. We have great chemistry here with the personnel brought in. I think we are going to come out and play hard every Sunday.”