Defense Searching for Answers
Thursday, October 13, 2005
By Nick Wagoner
It was a promising start for a Rams defense that underwent a major offseason overhaul.
Three games into the season it seemed that St. Louis was going to be, at worst a middle-of-the-road defense, the kind that will bend and bend, but probably not break.
Those hopes have deteriorated quickly in the past two weeks for a defense that has given up 81 points to the Giants and Seahawks. Maybe the Rams hadn’t quite reached the peak of the defensive mountain in the first three weeks, but they were at least part of the way up the hill.
But now, the past two weeks have essentially been rock bottom.
“We can’t do nothing but get better now,” defensive end Leonard Little said. “We have played the worst that we can play, it’s time to concentrate and know what we are doing every play as far as coverages as far as gaps and stuff like that. If we do that we’ll have a good game, if we don’t we have a long game ahead of us.”
After three weeks, the Rams had made noticeable strides defensively. They had seven more takeaways than they did at the same time in 2004. The run defense was markedly better, ranking fourth in the league compared to 30th a year ago at that point.
St. Louis was No. 13 in the league in defense after those games, not a great performance, but good enough to give the offense a fighting chance to win games.
Now, two weeks later, the Rams have stumbled to 26th in the league in total defense, allowing 364 yards per game and 29.6 points per outing.
There are many contributing factors to the defensive relapse, but the solutions might not be as plentiful. Defensive lineman Tyoka Jackson has at least one simple solution for the problems.
“Play better,” Jackson said. “Don’t try to overanalyze it and don’t panic, but play better. When you have a tackle, make it, when you have to beat a block, beat it, when you get penetration, get it and when you are in your gap, be where you are supposed to be and be accountable so that the defense works.”
In a perfect world, it would be as easy to correct as identifying that and doing what Jackson says. Unfortunately, it isn’t quite that simple. The problems of the defense stem mostly from the mental side of playing defense as opposed to the physical aspects of the game.
There are no official statistics for missed assignments or mental errors, but if there were, St. Louis might be among the league leaders. Maybe the Rams don’t have more blown assignments than any other teams, theirs are just more glaring.
It seems that whenever the Rams do blow an assignment, the other team always finds a way to take advantage of it. Take the touchdown scored by tight end Jerramy Stevens of Seattle last week for example.
Stevens was covered by cornerback Travis Fisher across the field before it appeared he was to hand the coverage over to free safety Michael Hawthorne in that part of the zone. But Hawthorne never made a move to cover Stevens and it turned into a 29-yard touchdown pass.
That’s just one example of the missed assignments that are constantly killing the defense.
“When you know the game of football that is basically what always happens on big plays,” linebacker Dexter Coakley said. “Guys are not taking care of their assignments. You are doing something that you don’t have any business doing. Usually it is a breakdown somewhere that causes big plays. That’s what is going on.”
There isn’t much more that can be done about those problems. They are easily identifiable on film, but no matter how many times a player is told what to do, he still must execute it at the end of the day.
Hawthorne was one player who consistently struggled to stay with his assignments and make plays and he was released Thursday. Mike Furrey replaced Hawthorne after he left the Seattle game with an ankle injury. Furrey is a cerebral player who will probably at least be more reliable in the secondary.
That is just one adjustment the defense can make in playing assignment football.
“It comes down to everyone has to do their job and know their assignment,” Coakley said. “You don’t want to point fingers, but they are making more plays than we are right now. Defensively we have to find a way to get off the field and get these point scores down and find a way to make a play. It basically comes down to each player has to win their individual battle and apparently right now we are not doing that.”
Even with the blown assignments, there are a couple of other disturbing trends that have cropped up in the past two weeks. After the Rams drastically improved their takeaway rate in the first three weeks of the season, there has been a drought in each of the past two games.
There have been no Adam Archuleta interceptions for touchdowns, no fumble recoveries, nothing. Adding to the takeaway total could go a long way in making up for other misgivings.
The play of the defensive line has also tailed off some in the past couple weeks, partially because of injury. Defensive tackle Ryan Pickett has continued to play solid in the middle, but Jimmy Kennedy has not been as good as he was in the first three games.
Little is battling a back injury that limited him against the Seahawks and has received plenty of attention from opposing offensive lines.
Little plans on playing through the pain this week and recognizes the defense’s need for improvement.
“It’s time for the defense to come back and play well because we played poorly the last couple weeks,” Little said. “We let something like 81 points. It’s time for us to come back and have a good game and get our offense back on the field.”
One way to help the secondary, which ranks 28th in the league in pass defense by allowing 263.8 yards per game is to get more pressure on the quarterback. With the line struggling to do that, the idea of adding more blitzes has been prevalent. Unofficially, the Rams have blitzed more in the past two weeks than during the first three weeks.
The scheme of defensive coordinator Larry Marmie has been difficult to get a read on, too. The defense spent most of the first week in man coverage against the *****, but has reverted to mostly Cover 2 in the past few weeks.
Still, Jackson says there is nothing wrong with the scheme.
“We’ve seen it work,” Jackson said. “It’s not the scheme. Schemes don’t win football games, players do. It’s not the call. You can’t wait for the perfect call or the perfect scheme, X’s and O’s and chalkboards have never won a football game in the NFL. Players inside the uniform in the game thinking in their helmets and beating people with their bodies; that wins football games.”
That process starts in practice this week and interim coach Joe Vitt said it started Thursday afternoon.
“Work is going to win and wishing won’t,” Vitt said.
Re: Defense Searching for Answers
Well, he's no grammatical genius, but I like the blue collar work ethic attitude.
“Work is going to win and wishing won’t,” Vitt said
doesn't it sound like what the Rams need? A little discipline and getting back to the basics?
Not sure if "blessing in disguise" would be appropriate for Martz scenario, but perhaps a nice little kick in the ass for this team in terms of discipline is just what they need to improve their special teams and defensive assignments.
Re: Defense Searching for Answers
personally, i think the defense's woos have all stemmed in part from the lack of pressure on the opposing qb...
little has been quiet the past several weeks, no thanks to his lower back problems, and although hargrove has managed to get a sack in each of his last two games the rest of the linemen has rarely contributed consistent pressure...which is what is needed to cover up for the missed assignments in the secondaries of good teams...interceptions will be more plentiful when the opposing qb makes a hasty or ill advised pass due to pressures...
kennedy and pickett started off well the first three games but looking at the tapes of the last two games, i've noticed their glaring absence in pass pressures or run stuffs behind LOS...
there's no getting around the fact that our secondary is pedestrian and fringe at best. it would've helped if butler was healthy but the injuries to groce and non-contributions from the rookie safeties have compromised the scheming of marmie, i'm guessing...blitzes have been relatively ineffective too, based on the efforts of the last two games. if the front four don't improve their play soon, it's going to be a rough season for the d...