By Jim Thomas
ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
Wednesday, Nov. 01 2006

Defensive coordinator Jim Haslett knew the Rams faced a tough matchup in San
Diego. But he didn't see it coming.

Not the season-high 419 yards allowed.

Not 216 yards rushing by LaDainian Tomlinson & Friends, which tied for the
10th-worst showing by a Rams-run defense since the move to St. Louis.

Not 31 points allowed by the defense in a 38-24 loss to the Chargers. (The
other seven points came on a returned fumble recovery by the Chargers' defense.)

"It was disappointing," Haslett said. "It's disappointing because it kind of
blind sided me. I didn't think we'd play that bad. We actually had very good
practices all week. So it kind of catches you off guard."

Big plays killed the Rams. Five of San Diego's runs produced 132 yards,
including scoring runs of 38 yards by Tomlinson and 14 yards by Michael Turner.

Rams safety Oshiomogho Atogwe saved what would have been another touchdown by
catching Tomlinson from behind on the day's longest run, a 51-yarder. That play
still set up a San Diego field goal.

In the air, four completions of 20-plus yards by Philip Rivers produced 100
yards passing.

"You can't sugar-coat it," Rams coach Scott Linehan said. "You know what you
were deficient at. They ran the ball right at us and were very successful, and
got some matchups in the passing game that were favorable."

It was a day where no matter what the Rams tried, be it blitzing or not
blitzing, the Chargers seemed to have an answer. Two examples came on the
game's opening drive:

No blitz. On third and 12 from the San Diego 28, the Rams rushed only three
defenders. Rivers completed a 16-yard pass to wide receiver Eric Parker.

Blitz. Five plays later, the Rams got burned on a blitz when Rivers threw a
27-yard completion to tight end Antonio Gates to the St. Louis 2. Tomlinson
scored on the next play.

"They just put together a good game plan on us," linebacker Will Witherspoon
said. "They did a great job of throwing some things at us we hadn't seen. They
called things in the right situations. They caught us several times with one of
those calls that just hits perfectly."

It was a frustrating day for Witherspoon. On the one hand, he was all over the
field, tying a career high with 13 tackles. But he missed a chance to stop one
of the long runs; he was in the hole, but didn't make the play. And he was
beaten twice by Tomlinson on pass plays, the second of which went for a 25-yard
touchdown.

"They did some different things we haven't seen, and we just didn't adjust to
it very well," Haslett said. "So I'll take the blame on that. ... They do a
great job at creating mismatches with the running back and tight end.

"They got us in a couple man-to-man (passing situations), with Will Witherspoon
matched up on LaDainian. That's something you live with because you have a
great player covering a great player."

What Haslett can't stand are missed tackles and missed gap assignments. And
plenty of that occurred Sunday, sometimes on the same play. On Tomlinson's
38-yard touchdown run, for example, Haslett said, "there were like four or five
people that kind of screwed up."

Then, he added sarcastically, "So when we messed up, we messed up as a whole.
It was a good team effort from that standpoint."

After the game, Chargers coach Marty Schottenheimer said his club tried to
exploit the Rams' defensive team speed and pursuit ability in the running game.

"They're a very fast team, and they tend to run to the ball really quick,"
Schottenheimer said. "So we thought that the cutback would be there, and it
was."

Haslett disagreed somewhat with that assessment. "They gave us some
misdirection runs, some counters, and we overran some things," he said. "But I
don't think that's what really hurt us. Their basic play is a power game.
They're a power football team: double-team, kick out (blocks), get angles on
people, and run at you. That's what (Schottenheimer) has done his whole time.
We knew that going in."

The swift but undersized St. Louis defense is not ideally suited to handle
power running teams such as San Diego. If you give truth serum to Haslett and
Linehan, they would concede as much. In that sense, San Diego was a bad matchup
for the Rams.

Trouble is, Kansas City comes to town with a similar offensive philosophy.
Sure, the Chiefs can throw the football, but their bread and butter under new
head coach Herm Edwards is a power running game with Larry Johnson behind a big
offensive line.

"I flipped on the (Kansas City) tape, and the first three plays are the same
plays we just saw (in San Diego)," Haslett said. "The Chiefs do a good job.
They're really hot right now on offense. ... So we've got our work cut out for
us."

Ponder pays a visit

Kickoff returner Willie Ponder paid a free-agent visit to St. Louis on Tuesday,
but left without signing a contract. Ponder, who played in college at Southeast
Missouri State, spent his first three NFL seasons with the New York Giants. He
was cut by Seattle earlier this season.