Defense turns up intensity
By Bill Coats
Of the Post-Dispatch
Sunday, Dec. 05 2004

San Francisco running back Kevan Barlow had slipped through a small opening on
the left side when Rams linebacker Robert Thomas roared in from his right. A
split- second later, Barlow lay flat on the Edward Jones Dome turf, the victim
of a ferocious blast that not only sent Thomas' teammates into an
adrenaline-fueled frenzy but also epitomized the Rams' newfound intensity on
defense.

"I enjoyed that," defensive end Tyoka Jackson said, adding that Thomas was
"coming off an (ankle) injury, and he's had a tough time of it. It was great to
see that guy get an opportunity to do something that fired the whole defense
up. We need more of that."

Although first-year defensive coordinator Larry Marmie has preached
aggressiveness since training camp, the Rams have been slow to adapt. Often
appearing tentative and confused, they were ranked 28th in the 32-team NFL in
total defense - 31st vs. the run.
Yet on Sunday, this beleaguered group limited the ***** to a pair of field
goals in a crucial 16-6 victory that kept the Rams' playoff hopes percolating.
San Francisco (1-11) hardly qualifies as an offensive juggernaut. Still, the
Rams (6-6) displayed assertiveness, coordination and enthusiasm that has been
missing all season.

"It just shows that we definitely have it in us," Thomas said.

Coach Mike Martz noted that at long last, the players' adjustment to Marmie's
system is beginning to smooth out. "They were where they were supposed to be,
and they were confident," Martz said. "I'm very happy with their effort and the
fact that there were few, if any, mental errors. The progress was significant,
and the intensity level was pretty obvious."

Outside linebacker Tommy Polley, who lost his starting job in the preseason and
has struggled throughout the year, suddenly was everywhere: Press-box
statistics credited Polley with a team-high eight tackles, and he also was
effective shadowing Eric Johnson, the *****' prolific tight end. Johnson had 10
catches earlier this season against the Rams; on Sunday, he mustered only two.

The Rams yielded 160 total yards, their lowest total in more than three years
and less than half their average (364.0) for 2004. Barlow and his running mates
had 63 rushing yards on 27 carries, a meager 2.3 yards per attempt. Quarterback
Tim Rattay produced just 97 passing yards, and he was sacked four times.

"Finally ... that's what we're looking for," strong safety Adam Archuleta said.
"This game is about confidence, and when you have confidence in what you're
doing and you're aggressive, it just reinforces everything."

The ***** advanced inside the Rams 20-yard line just once, and a sprawling
interception by cornerback Jerametrius Butler halted that fourth-quarter drive.
Butler, a fourth-year pro from Kansas State, tied his career high with his
fourth interception.

"I recognized the formation, and I kind of figured they were going to run the
slant," said Butler, who darted inside wide receiver Brandon Lloyd for the
pick. "I just went underneath and jumped the route."