BY BILL COATS
Of the Post-Dispatch
Sunday, Jan. 02 2005

Once the Rams started getting defensive, tackle Jimmy Kennedy said, their
defense started getting better.

"Our pride was on the line," Kennedy said. "We didn't want to be a terrible
defense. We just wanted to show that we can play."

After 11 games, the Rams were, indeed, a pretty terrible defense. They ranked
28th in the 32-team NFL in total defense, 31st vs. the run and 21st vs the
pass. They were surrendering 27.2 points per game.

In the past four games, those numbers have improved drastically. The Rams
knocked more than 100 yards per game off their total-yardage average, to 256.3
from 364.0, and dropped their points yield to 16.0.

Now, the Rams (7-8) rank 20th in total defense, 27th vs. the run and 13th vs.
the pass. Coach Mike Martz indicated that the players have grasped the
intricacies that first-year coordinator Larry Marmie brought to defense.

"This has been a long process," Martz said. "They've had to learn the defense.
A lot of it was entirely different than what they've experienced in the past.
Offensively, we challenge these guys quite a bit mentally, and defensively we
were probably a lot simpler in some respects. Now we've become much more
multiple, and that's a whole different mind-set to get into.

"You've got to kind of show them that it is worthwhile and it will pay off.
Once they get into the mode and experience the success of doing those things,
then they get excited about it. And I think that's where they are."

Defensive end Bryce Fisher agreed with Martz - to a degree. "Guys are starting
to understand what Coach Marmie wants a little bit more, but I think it really
comes down to guys playing better," Fisher said. "The secondary is playing
better, the linebacking corps is playing better, the defensive line is playing
a lot better.

"This is a team game, but individuals have to perform. And when we perform, we
feel like this defense is pretty good."

It should be noted that the Rams' upturn was achieved in games against three
teams with losing records - San Francisco (2-13), Carolina (7-8) and Arizona
(5-10) - and the scaled-back Philadelphia Eagles. On Sunday, the New York Jets
(10-5) bring the league's No. 12 offense to the Edward Jones Dome, with both
teams vying for one of the four remaining playoff slots - the Rams in the NFC
and the Jets in the AFC.

Curtis Martin has rushed for 1,544 yards, the NFL's third-highest total. And
Chad Pennington is one of the most efficient quarterbacks in the league,
completing 66.2 percent of his throws and compiling a 92.1 passer rating.

"It's not good enough to be getting better; at this point, we have to be
better," Fisher said. "We have to be as good as we possibly can be this
weekend to give ourselves a chance."

Holt nears milestone

Receiver Torry Holt is 44 receiving yards short of making NFL history: He would
become the first player to reach 1,300 yards for five consecutive seasons.

"Just one deep ball," said Holt, laughing. The six-year veteran from North
Carolina State said he was unaware of the approaching milestone until informed
by reporters.

"That's a tremendous feeling; I can't even begin to express how I feel about
it," he said. "It's just mind-boggling to me. Coming from a small town
(Gibsonville, N.C.) and to be here now and have an opportunity to get in the
history books in the NFL, it's crazy. I can't believe it."

Holt, who led the league in catches and yards last year, has a team-high 87
receptions for 1,256 yards this season. His career total of 8,040 yards is the
second-highest over six seasons in league annals, behind Minnesota's Randy Moss
(8,375).