Rams' Run Defense Faces Tough Task
Saturday, October 9, 2004

By Nick Wagoner
Staff Writer

The Rams’ run defense has faced quite a bit of scrutiny in recent weeks, but with its biggest challenge on the way, the group is playing its best football of the season.

St. Louis takes on Seattle at Qwest Field on Sunday in what is probably the most important game of the young season for both teams.

That challenge for the Rams comes in the form of running back Shaun Alexander. In his four seasons, Alexander has racked up 4,241 yards and 46 touchdowns. There is little doubt that Alexander is one of the league’s top running backs. The Rams might be up for the challenge, though.

Safety Rich Coady said the run defense must be mistake-free if it wants to slow Alexander.

“When defenses start making mistakes, he’s going to take advantage of it,” Coady said. “I think he’s done that, and I think that’s why they’ve been so successful.”

After a thoroughly dominating performance in shutting the *****’ Kevan Barlow down, the defense’s confidence is at its highest point this season. Barlow rushed for just 42 yards on 15 carries, and San Francisco finished with 58 yards on the ground. That effort came after the Rams surrendered big days to Aaron Stecker, Michael Vick and Emmitt Smith.

So, why the change? Simply put, the defense did a better job of staying home and fulfilling assignments.

Defensive tackle Ryan Pickett had his best performance of the season, causing havoc in the *****’ backfield and plugging the middle. Pickett took some criticism earlier this year for his performance, but Rams’ coach Mike Martz said it is difficult to evaluate a defensive tackle based solely on statistics.

“I have always felt this way, that inside tackles in the National Football League, it’s very unusual for a guy to be consistently good,” Martz said. “There is so much to learn inside there and it’s just so different. I think both of those guys (Pickett and Damione Lewis) are developing very well this year.”

CAN’T BYE WINS: Much is made of a team getting an extra week of practice because of the bye. It is even more noticeable when a team gets that bye the week before playing one of its best divisional opponents.

Seattle had its bye last week after winning three games. That gave the Seahawks extra time to review film and evaluate the Rams. Does that give them an advantage?

“I don’t know,” Martz said. “It’s an interesting question, and everybody has different feelings about that. I like the bye week in the middle of the season because it gives everyone a chance to catch their breath, and if you have some injuries you would like to give some guys the ability to mend. If you’re on a roll, sometimes people feel like it interrupts that, I don’t believe that. I’m kind of ambivalent about it. I don’t know what to tell you about it, I never really think much about it.

“Our bye is in the middle of the season, so I think when we get to it, everybody physically, will appreciate a little bit of a break. There’s so many factors involved, it’s not an easy question to answer. There’s so many things, everywhere from where the team is from an emotional standpoint, your preparation and how much you change what you’re going to do. You can take that time and over work it. My philosophy has always been, give them the week off. Get them away mentally as well as physically, and bring them back and be ready to go. A bye in the middle or late in the year gives your staff a chance to kind of recharge their batteries a little bit too.”

INJURY REPORT: Linebacker Pisa Tinoisamoa missed Thursday’s practice with an infected elbow, but returned fine Friday. Tinoisamoa said he is fine and expects to play Sunday. Martz said there didn’t appear to be any aftereffects from the infection. “He’s fine,” Martz said. “He came in this morning and was much, much better.”

Cornerback Travis Fisher (broken forearm) and defensive tackle Jimmy Kennedy (broken foot) are listed as out. Left guard Chris Dishman (sprained knee) and linebacker Tony Newson (ankle) are questionable.

Probable for the Rams are running back Marshall Faulk (shoulder), Groce (sprained knee), running back Arlen Harris (hamstring strain), left guard Scott Tercero (broken bone in hand), linebacker Robert Thomas (sprained ankle), and P Sean Landeta (groin). Thomas went easy on his ankle for the second week in a row, but should be ready to play against the Seahawks, according to Martz. “If you don’t give those ankles a chance, it’s always going to be something that is going to nag them throughout the season,” Martz said.