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Rams have hands full, even with Alexander still out
ST. LOUIS - If Shaun Alexander was healthy, the St. Louis Rams' beleaguered defense would be bracing for another premier running back. After getting gouged in consecutive weeks by Larry Johnson and LaDainian Tomlinson, they could use a break.
Alexander, the NFL's MVP last year, will miss his sixth straight game with a broken foot on Sunday when the Rams travel to Seattle. Still, at this point they know better than to exhale.
Maurice Morris, Alexander's backup, had a career-high 138 yards on Monday night against the Raiders.
"The bottom line is whether it's Alexander or Morris, it's another challenge," safety Corey Chavous said. "Regardless, we've got to step up."
The Rams (4-4) are 27th in total defense in the NFL, very similar to last year's showing at the midpoint of the season, despite a number of upgrades in the offseason. They added Chavous, tackle La'Roi Glover, middle linebacker Will Witherspoon and cornerback Fakhir Brown, plus used their first-round pick on cornerback Tye Hill.
It's unsettling to the top holdover that they're still talking about the same breakdowns that plagued the Rams in previous seasons. End Leonard Little noted that just like in the past, the Rams will be stout for eight or nine plays and then surrender up a big play on the 10th.
"It's like a broken record," Little said. "It's really frustrating because we have better players.
"For the same stuff to be happening again is really disappointing because I know we have a better defense than we had in the past."
The Rams have been unsettled on the line, with end Anthony Hargrove recently traded to Buffalo after skipping two days of practice and meetings and tackle Jimmy Kennedy adjusting to a new role as the nose tackle. Rookie Victor Adeyanju, a fourth-round pick, inherited Hargrove's spot and is learning on the job.
They've also missed outside linebacker Pisa Tinoisamoa, who dressed but did not play the last two weeks due to the combination of a broken left hand and dislocated left elbow. Tinoisamoa, one of the team's defensive leaders, expects to play this week.
"Only the game will prove this," coach Scott Linehan said. "But he's one of those quiet leaders."
Little said the problems have nothing to do with the Rams getting manhandled, though. He said it's always been a case of gaps in coverage, or run fits, getting exploited.
On Johnson's 45-yard carry from the Kansas City 3 in the first quarter, Witherspoon called for a line shift and everyone did not make the adjustment.
"I see all the time that we're a small front and that has nothing to do with it," Little said. "I can take you into the meeting room and show you the run plays that broke, and no one got knocked off the ball or anything like that."
Little addressed the team after last week's 31-17 loss to the Chiefs. Johnson had 172 yards on 27 carries, with four carries above 15 yards. He said it was time for everybody to pull together.
"Basically I said I've been on some bad teams before and this team's record doesn't indicate the type of players we have on this team," Little said. "What we're doing right now, we're basically shooting ourselves in the foot.
"That's the only thing I said, for us to come together as a team and try to get things squared away."
Chavous said it might appear the defense is in a worse fix because of who they've been unable to stop. Two weeks ago, Tomlinson piled up 183 yards rushing and scored three times, and Chavous noted that the Chargers' back followed that up with 172 yards against the Browns.
"We weren't playing the Sisters of the Poor," Chavous said. "The bottom line is I hope guys keep things in perspective.
"Certainly, this is a good time for everybody to jump on us. We know we need to get better."