Rams Inside Slant
The unit has been maligned throughout the early stages of the season. The rankings don't lie; the Rams' defense is at the bottom of the NFL in yardage allowed: 28th overall, 28th against the pass and 29th against the run.
But it was the defense that kept the Rams in the game against Seattle, allowing the offense to hit some big plays and win in overtime. It was the defense, after being gashed for 306 yards at halftime, that allowed only 85 yards in the second half and just 44 after running back Shaun Alexander ran for 41 yards on Seattle's first play of the third quarter. Of those 44 yards, 14 were on a scramble by quarterback Matt Hasselbeck.
"None of this is possible without the terrific effort by our defense in the second half," coach Mike Martz said. "We throw an interception on the sideline, give them great field position, and we hold them to a field goal. That wins the game for us ... that clearly wins the game for us."
Martz was referring to a Marc Bulger interception as the fourth quarter began. The Seahawks started on the Rams' 40-yard line but later were stopped at the 16, and a field goal gave them a 27-10 lead. From that point on, Seattle ran eight plays and gained 11 yards. The Rams never forced a takeaway, but they made plays when that had to.
"The three-and-outs (were important)," Martz said. "That third and one at the end of the game and they don't get it. The intensity really picked up in the second half. The fight that's in this group is incredible."
"This team never gave up," defensive end Leonard Little said. "Coach Martz has talked about resolve all year and we showed that today. We knew if we made plays on defense and get the offense the ball that we could score points and get back into the game. That's just what we did."
What has also been talked about is limiting big plays. It sounds insane to say the Rams defense actually didn't play that badly in the first half, but it's not far from the truth.
Of the Seahawks' 306 yards on 44 plays in the first half, 165 yards came on just six plays. Do the math, and you see that Seattle gained just 141 yards on 38 plays in the rest of the half, or 3.7 yards per play.
Taking it further, running back Shaun Alexander had 98 yards on 14 attempts at halftime, 65 coming on three attempts. Quarterback Matt Hasselbeck had passed for 188 yards on 15 completions, with 100 yards gained on three of those passes.
For the game, Alexander rushed for 150 yards on 23 carries, and 95 were on three rushes. He averaged less than three yards a pop on his other 20 runs.
But what happened in that game is nothing new. The Rams play a gap-control defense, and the problem of giving up big plays is nothing new for them. The only game where it hasn't been an issue was against San Francisco, where the ***** had just one run for 10 yards or more and one reception of 20 yards or more.
In the Rams' other four games, they have given up 23 such runs and 12 passes.
"It's just a matter of staying in our gaps and being disciplined," cornerback Jerametrius Butler said. "We get burned at times on misdirection running plays. If we just play the defense, we'll be OK."
Monday night is the next test for a defense that needs to play a 60-minute game. The turnover draught continues after the Rams failed to generate a takeaway against Seattle. Last season, the Rams led the NFL with 46 takeaways. This season, they have four games with no takeaways and managed only two against San Francisco.
SERIES HISTORY: 15th meeting. Rams lead 8-6, but the Buccaneers have won three straight in the series, all of those games having been played on Monday Night Football. The Bucs won 38-35 in Tampa in 2000, 24-17 in 2001 in St. Louis and 26-14 in Tampa in 2002. Before those games, the Rams advanced to Super Bowl XXXIV with an 11-6 victory over Tampa in the 1999 NFC Championship Game.
—The Rams' comeback win over Seattle was the second-largest in NFL history within the last six minutes of a game. The Rams trailed 27-10 and scored 17 points in the final 5:42. The biggest comeback was the 21-point deficit faced by Indianapolis against Tampa Bay last year on Oct. 6. The Colts also tied the game and won in overtime.
Asked where the game ranks in his career, coach Mike Martz said, "I think it is obviously at the top of the list. Right there next to the '99 Super Bowl, I would say. This was such a thrill to watch these guys. Just to be on the sideline and watch their attitude, and how they responded to everything, and how positive they stayed throughout the game, even the first half."
—An almost overlooked aspect of the Rams' win over Seattle was the strategy at the start of the second half. The Rams trailed 24-7, but they came out running and changed the tempo of the game. The Seahawks entered the game on an emotional high, coming off their bye, being undefeated and facing the Rams.
"They were fresh," guard Adam Timmerman said. "You could tell at the beginning of the game. The tempo was up."
But when the Rams came out pounding the run in the second half, they set the tempo, keeping the Seahawks defense on the field for 10 plays and nearly six minutes. The Rams failed to score, but from then on they owned the game.
"We tried to mix in more of the running game because they were up the field so bad on our tackles," coach Mike Martz said. "We didn't try to get it back in chunks, which is more my personality each and every snap. But it was the right thing to do. We just tried to manage it as well as we could."
"Mike said it was the way he had to do it," tackle Orlando Pace said. "So he came out, he ran the ball. We were surprised, but I think that loosened (Seattle) up. That opened up the pass down the stretch."
Added Timmerman, "It was just unbelievable discipline on his part. Because it would have been so easy to just start passing."
Concluded defensive lineman Tyoka Jackson, "It said to us that there was no panic. It said to us that coach Martz knew we could still win this game. And it said that it was time for us to start making plays."
Knowing how the critics are quick to question Martz's play-calling and game management when the Rams lose but rarely give credit after victories, running back Marshall Faulk said to no one in particular as he ran off the field after the game, "Did my coach manage a good game?" Tell everyone about the way he managed this game."
—With the Rams playing Monday night, after playing two straight games on the West Coast, coach Mike Martz gave the players Wednesday off in addition to the normal Tuesday off day. The team will practice Thursday, Friday and Saturday.
Asked if back-to-back games out West wears on a team, Martz said, "It does. And they're both division games, both big games, obviously. To win on Sunday night and then turn around and go back out there and play a team that has had two weeks to prepare for you ... that says a lot about these guys, it really does. I do know this, coming back from San Francisco, last week in practice our execution was terrific, but we were a tired football team."
—A St. Louis County judge denied an effort by the attorneys for defensive Leonard Little to have his drunk driving case moved because of the publicity associated with it. Judge Emmett M. O'Brien gave no explanation for his ruling, which came Tuesday (Oct. 12), except to say the motion was denied "under the law."
Earlier in the day, O'Brien had questioned about 20 people in the current jury pool to see if they were aware of the case or the player. Little was arrested in April for drunk driving and has been charged as a persistent offender because of a 1998 incident in which he was driving under the influence and killed a St. Louis woman.
The current trial is scheduled to begin March 28.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "We're not there. We had a great win. But we've got a lot of season left, and there's still a lot of bumps in this road to go. We haven't matured like we need to. And we're not where we need to be, or want to be, or will be. But we're making progress. And (the players) believe in what we're doing, and that's the most important thing." — Coach Mike Martz following the overtime victory over Seattle.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
The Rams have been finally achieved roster stability after signing safety Kwamie Lassiter on Sept. 21. Since then, the Rams have made no changes on their active roster or practice squad.
That's a switch from the six days following the cutdown to 53 players on Sept. 5. In that period alone, the Rams made six changes in their active roster.
PLAYER PERSONNEL NOTES
—DL Tyoka Jackson, the Rams' defensive captain, probably won't be available to play against his former team Monday night. Jackson suffered a strained hamstring against Seattle and is listed as doubtful on the injury report.
—LB Trev Faulk is bothered by a problem hamstring again, and it has made him questionable for Monday's game against the Buccaneers. Faulk missed two games because of the hamstring and since returning has been a standout on special teams, registering four tackles in each of the last two games.
—S Aeneas Williams, who suffered a pinched nerve in his neck against the Seahawks, is expected to play against the Buccaneers after being listed as probable on the injury report.
—OG Chris Dishman has been slow to recover from a knee injury suffered against New Orleans Sept. 26 and remains questionable for another week.
—FB Joey Goodspeed is expected to play against the Buccaneers despite injuring his heel against Seattle.
GAME PLAN: Despite their 1-4 record, the Bucs still have a formidable defense that is ranked fourth overall in yards allowed. However, they are ranked 24th against the run, making it intriguing to see how Rams coach Mike Martz will approach things. Will he try to run on the Bucs or come out flinging on Monday Night Football? Tampa Bay's pass defense has just six sacks but has also allowed opponents to complete 49.6 percent of their passes when the league average is 60.9.
Defensively, the Rams' plan is simple: Don't allow big plays against an offense that is averaging only 283.4 yards per game.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH: Rams DLE Leonard Little vs. Buccaneers RT Kenyatta Walker: Walker has yet to live up to expectations, and he will have his hands full with Little, who has one sack in each of the last three games.
RBs Marshall Faulk and Steven Jackson vs. Bucs run defense: Jackson has shown the ability to make big plays, and the Tampa Bay defense has allowed 4.2 yards per carry. Bucs opponents have also rushed for at least 145 yards in three games this season.
Rams WRs vs. Bucs pass defense: It usually comes down to this. The battles between Rams wideouts Isaac Bruce and Torry Holt going against Ronde Barber and Brian Kelly will be ongoing. But the outcome could hinge on the Rams' nickel receivers — Kevin Curtis, Shaun McDonald and Dane Looker — and how they produce going against Mario Edwards and Corey Ivy.
INJURY IMPACT: The physical nature of Sunday's game against Seattle added players to the injury list, although none of the injuries is serious. DEL Tyoka Jackson (hamstring), LB Trev Faulk (hamstring), FB Joey Goodspeed (heel), CB DeJuan Groce (shoulder) and S Aeneas Williams (neck) were all injured against the Seahawks. Jackson and Faulk are the ones whose status for Monday is in the most doubt.