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Rams are on record pace — a bad one
By Jim Thomas
ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
UGLY NUMBERS At current pace, Rams would exceed previous team record of 2,440 rushing yards allowed.
FOES GET RICH Seven running backs have finished in triple figures against the Rams this season.
TAKING A PASS The Rams' last four foes have thrown the ball only 87 times.
Don't look now, but the Rams are on a record pace for run defense. But it's not a record to be proud of. Far from it.
Ten games into the season, the Rams are yielding 153.2 rushing yards per game. At that pace, they would yield 2,451 yards rushing this season, topping the previous team record of 2,440 rushing yards allowed by the 1961 Los Angeles Rams.
"Teams are having success running the football, and that's becoming a broken record now," coach Scott Linehan said Monday. "It's not like we're not working on it. We're adding plays to our practices in our run periods, and we're still looking for the answer."
There were no answers Sunday at Bank of America Stadium, just rushing yards. Lots of them. Carolina ran for 242 yards against the Rams, despite losing starting running back DeShaun Foster with an elbow injury six minutes before halftime. The Panthers' rushing total matches the fourth-highest total allowed by the Rams in any regular-season or playoff game since the move to St. Louis in 1995.
Foster's backup, rookie DeAngelo Williams, finished with 114 yards on 20 carries, becoming the seventh running back to finish in triple figures against St. Louis this season.
In praising his offensive line after the game, Williams told the Charlotte Observer: "Any back in the country that would have been in the backfield today would have rushed for 100 yards."
In other words, the running lanes were that big as Williams saw it.
Seven Carolina carries went for 11 or more yards, and it didn't seem to matter who was carrying it. Williams had gains of 31 and 14 yards; Foster went for 11, 16 and 18 yards. Fullback Brad Hoover had a 17-yard gain. Third-string running back Nick Goings had a 28-yard gain.
"This is the one game, to be honest with you, that I thought we fit in the run (gaps) better than we had the last couple weeks," defensive coordinator Jim Haslett said. "They ran a dive for 17 yards because our defensive end fell down. They ran a draw for 31 yards because our defensive end didn't play it right.
"But I didn't feel like they were pounding us off the ball and beating us up, which would have been a concern. So it wasn't good, but it wasn't as bad as I thought it was when I looked at the film."
Which is a scary thought, considering the final yardage total. Sure, the Panthers had 43 rushing attempts, which is a ton. But six yards a carry is still six yards a carry. That's what the Panthers were averaging until three game-ending kneel-downs by quarterback Jake Delhomme brought the average down to 5.6 yards.
For weeks, Haslett has been pointing out that a few bad plays a game, which result in big plays, have been distorting the Rams' run defense totals. But this isn't a diving competition, or the way figure skating used to be scored. You don't get to throw out the high and low scores. They all count in football, and the rushing numbers are piling up at an alarming rate.
Teams are running the ball so well, they haven't had to pass much against the Rams lately. Over the last four games, in losses to Carolina, Seattle, Kansas City and San Diego, the opposing team has thrown only 87 times. Or less than 22 per game. In those four games, the Rams are yielding an average of 201 yards rushing, tumbling to 31st in the league in run defense.
"We're doing everything we can possibly do," Haslett said. "We're not going to line up in a pure eight-man front every single snap, or they're going to throw the ball down our throats."
So what's causing all the long runs?
"It's just one thing after another," Haslett said. "It's a breakdown here, a breakdown there. As a coach, we spend more time on the running game here than any place I've ever been. We walk through it. We practice it. We get a lot of reps on it. We did some things this (last) week kind of helping us, moving the line and making it easy for the linebackers. And we still let too many big runs get out of the gate."
Haslett added: "The other thing, they ran the ball 43 times on us. We've just somehow got to limit that. It's way too many runs."
On the one hand, the easiest way to prevent 43 runs is to force the Panthers to punt. Make a tackle. But in fairness to Haslett and the defense, it's much easier for opposing teams to run the ball when they have the lead. And Carolina, Kansas City and San Diego never trailed against the Rams.
Over the past four games, the Rams have been outscored 62-30 in the first half, and haven't scored an offensive touchdown in the first quarter. In fact, the Rams' offense has scored only three TDs in the first quarter all season.
"If you're playing a Dan Henning football team in Carolina, and they're up by two scores, you're getting a dose of the run," Haslett said. "If you're playing a Norv Turner team, and it's close or they've got the lead, you're going to get a dose of the run. You've just go to know that."
Henning is Carolina's offensive coordinator; Turner is the offensive coordinator for San Francisco, the Rams' opponent this Sunday at the Edward Jones Dome.
"So, it's kind of the situation we're in, and we have to deal with it," Haslett said.