Have Rams improved at LB? We'll find out Sunday
BY JEFF GORDON
STLTODAY.COM SPORTS COLUMNIST
Halfway into this season, it is tough to assess the revamped Rams linebacker corps.
Did the Rams really upgrade the unit by replacing young veterans Tommy Polley and Robert Thomas with free agents Chris Claiborne and Dexter Coakley?
Even Claiborne finds it difficult to grade his performance at middle linebacker. During the first six weeks of the season, particularly, the Rams relied heavily on “nickel” and “dime” defensive packages featuring extra defensive backs and pass-coverage linebacker Brandon Chillar.
“I have wanted to be on the field more,” Claiborne said Wednesday. “I think we’ll be able to work that out as the season goes.
“I think I’ve played solid. I’ve tried to help this team, not just on the field, but with the guys, watching film, learning things. I think I’ve done all right.”
During the past two games, the Rams used more of the basic defensive package while beating the New Orleans Saints and Jacksonville Jaguars. When the Saints and Jaguars went to three-receiver sets, the Rams didn’t automatically switch to pass defense personnel.
(Why didn’t they? Because foes were shifting into three-receiver sets and then running the ball against lesser tacklers. Opponents were game-planning the Rams linebackers off to the sidelines, so the Rams had to adjust their substitution pattern.)
Claiborne estimates he played twice as many snaps the past two games. His physical play helped set a tougher tempo for the whole unit.
Although the Rams allowed Fred Taylor to bust a couple of big runs in their 24-21 victory, the defensive unit scored several key stops. Claiborne forced a fumble and made five solo tackles.
Now the retooled linebacker corps will be one of the focal points Sunday when the Rams travel to Seattle to face the Seahawks. Is the group finally trending upward as defensive coordinator Larry Marmie gives it more responsibility?
Seahawks running back Shaun Alexander will help answer that question. He is a ball-control back AND a big-play back, a tough, rangy runner with deceptive speed. He can move the chains and finish off drives by punching in touchdowns.
What makes him so special? Claiborne smiled. “They keep giving him the ball,” he said.
In his eight games this season, Alexander has rushed for 73, 144, 140, 98, 119 (against the Rams), 141, 61 and 173 yards.
“He is very, very good at making long runs,” Claiborne said. “That’s something we definitely have to stop, especially after the last game, where Fred Taylor got loose twice on us. Sometimes they may break us at the front seven, but we can’t allow the long run. It’s up to all of us to do better.”
There will nothing scientific about the Rams' plans for Sunday.
“Just play solid defense,” Claiborne said. “He’s broken some long runs. If we can stop him from doing that, we can give ourselves a better chance.”
The Seahawks are proficient in the West Coast passing scheme. Quarterback Matt Hasselbeck is playing with more confidence and making fewer mistakes.
“We sling the rock,” Alexander said during his Wednesday news conference. “We’re going to throw the ball.”
They can pass to set up the run and vice-versa. They can come out in a passing formation, then attack the defense with Alexander.
“The way we run the ball makes defenses have to worry about that, even though they know it’s not going to be the focal point of our games,” Alexander said. “We’re kind of in a Catch-22. Do we stop something that we know is not the focal point of our offense, or do we do we let Coach Holmgren’s master passing schemes try to attack us? You have to decide.”
That puts a lot of pressure on the linebackers -– and the coaches who must decide how to deploy the linebackers.
“In a lot of ways, it works out best for them,” Claiborne said. “They spread the field. A lot of people think when they spread the field, they are going to pass. They end up running the ball. That’s what works to their advantage.”
Claiborne believes he is good enough in coverage to stay on the field more than he did the first six games.
But, he said, “That’s up to them. I can’t get into that. It’s really not my job, it’s the coach’s job to put me on the field. He knows how I feel about it.”
Re: Have Rams improved at LB? We'll find out Sunday
Put some ex-lax in his coffee sunday morning and he doesnt show.
Tie his shoe strings together.
Take away his protective cup and put D Lew on him.
Have somebody with a sharpie and draw on his face shield in a pile up.
Tackle him at the line of scrimmage.