BY JEFF GORDON
Post-Dispatch Online Sports Columnist
09/30/2004

Online Columnist Jeff Gordon

Cardinals running back Emmitt Smith ran the ball on the Rams defense. So did Falcons running back Warrick Dunn and quarterback Michael Vick.

Saints running back Aaron Stecker ran wild on this unit during Week 3. Aaron Stecker!

The Rams rank 30th in the NFL in yards allowed per game, yards allowed per play, rushing yards per game and rushing yards per attempt. Now the Rams travel to San Francisco to face the Giants and 1,000-yard rusher Kevan Barlow.

Let's hope the fellas have been shoring up the rush defense this week at Rams Park, because we all know what the ***** will try to do Sunday night.

"Kevan Barlow, as we all know, can be a very explosive and physical runner and is a threat to go the distance at any time," Rams coach Mike Martz said during his mid-week news conference. "We've seen him do it."

Are the Rams capable of stopping the run? They insist they can.

We listened to defensive linemen Tyoka Jackson, Bryce Fisher and Leonard Little discuss the topic and their assessment was unanimous.

In this defense, players must remain disciplined. If they are supposed to fill a gap, then they must fill that gap – especially if a blitz call has exposed their back side.

"We need to stay in our gaps," Little said. "That's the biggest thing with this defense, staying in our gaps and being disciplined. If we're not disciplined, then there will be holes that develop and they will run all day."

Jackson, Fisher and Little insisted the defense isn't getting pushed around. Rather, the defense is just screwing up.

"I would say a lot of it is mental mistakes," Jackson said. "When you have an on-gap defense, everybody has to be in their gap and we are all accountable. When one guy, myself or anybody else, gets out of their gap, it makes the defense look bad, because there is no one else there to help you. We have to make sure that every look that we see, we practice in terms of getting into our right fit, and go out and execute it."

It's easy to pick up the message the Rams coaching staff has been selling this week in the meeting rooms and on the practice field.

"As a whole, what's happened defensively, we've played real well and then we give up a big play," Martz said. "And that is the discipline of playing the defense and staying in it. There are a lot of things involved with it.

"It's not just getting mashed or not having good-enough people. It's just a question of playing the defense properly."

Out in the Bay Area, Barlow feels better than he has in weeks. He seems primed for a big game on ESPN's Sunday night telecast.

So this will be a big game for defensive tackles Damione Lewis and Ryan Pickett, not to mention the young (and banged-up) linebacker corps. Robert Thomas, Pisa Tinoisamoa, Tommy Polley and Brandon Chillar will all bear watching.

Will the Rams defense get manhandled or will it hold up? Will the Rams play within their defensive system or will they become over-eager and start running around?

"We'll get back to doing what we do best, run, tackle, get in your gap and play one-gap defense," Jackson said. "Then the defense will start to play like the talent level says it should."

Well, it better – or this season will get very ugly very quickly.