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Spagnuolo feels pain of shoddy run defense
Spagnuolo feels pain of shoddy run defense
BY JIM THOMAS
ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
For the previous 10 seasons, Steve Spagnuolo plied his trade in the rough-and-tumble NFC East, where to a large degree you if you couldn't play run defense, you couldn't survive.
And for the previous two seasons, as defensive coordinator of the New York Giants, he presided over units that ranked among the top 10 in the NFL in run defense.
All of which makes the past two Sundays particularly distressing for Spagnuolo in his rookie season as head coach of the St. Louis Rams. In close losses to New Orleans and Arizona, the Rams have given up nearly 400 yards total on the ground.
"It kills me," Spagnuolo said with a pained look. "It kills me."
The Rams allowed a season-high 203 yards rushing against New Orleans, with the Saints averaging a fat 7.0 yards a carry. The Rams followed that up against Arizona by allowing 183 yards rushing and 6.1 yards a carry.
"All winning teams have to run the ball, because you have to run the ball come December and January," defensive tackle Clifton Ryan said. "You've got to run to win. You've got to get into those cold-weather climates in playoff time and stuff like that."
And conversely, Ryan added, "Most winning teams have defenses that stop the run."
So why isn't it happening here with the Rams?
"I don't really have any answers," Ryan said. "Everybody's got to look in the mirror and get the job done. You've got to take pride in your job. There's guys losing their gap here and there. Missing tackles.
"We've got to be more consistent for 60 minutes. We can't do it for two or three plays here, and then take a play off. Do it for another four, five plays, then take a play off there. That's not good defense."
From the outset after being hired by the Rams, Spagnuolo wanted a team that could run the ball effectively on offense and stop the run on defense. That was the starting point, the foundation of what he was trying to build in St. Louis.
The run offense, due to the work of Steven Jackson and the offensive line, is significantly better this season. Given Spagnuolo's defensive pedigree, and the time and effort put into the process, you would think the kinks would be ironed out on run defense by now.
"It should be solved because we've been here since March working on this defense and learning this defense," defensive end Leonard Little said. "We've seen every blocking scheme under the sun. So it's time for us as a team, as a defensive group, to start making plays in the running game and force people to pass on us a little bit more."
The Rams are on pace to give up 2,342 yards rushing, which would be the fourth-worst total in franchise history. Last season, the Rams allowed a franchise-record 2,475 yards rushing. So no one was expecting miracles in 2009, just improvement.
And for much of the first half of this season, the numbers weren't great, but there was improvement.
"There were flashes of it," Spagnuolo said.
The Rams held Washington's Clinton Portis to 79 yards in Game 2 and limited Green Bay's Ryan Grant to 3.8 yards a carry a week later. In October, Minnesota's Adrian Peterson had a modest 63 yards rushing, and Joseph Addai of Indianapolis managed only 3.2 yards a carry.
Then came New Orleans and Arizona and major leaks on run defense. What's gone wrong?
"A lot of different things," Spagnuolo said. "I wish it was one thing all the time. But it's not. And we did talk as a defense (Monday) that when we do play the so-called eight-man front, like what everybody does against us, you can't be giving up runs of 10, 18, 18, 10 (yards) — I mean, they're in my head, so I know."
Little said: "Any time you get in an eight-man front, they shouldn't be able to run the football. So we've got to get that down. If we don't, then it's going to be a long rest of the season."
The Rams have allowed 15 runs of more than 15 yards this season. Seven of those runs came in the last two games.
"It's my responsibility to get it taken care of," Spagnuolo said. "We work extremely hard on (run defense) every week. I'll give a little bit of credit to the people we're playing against and those running backs."
But he added, "It has to get better."
General manager Billy Devaney said Tuesday that the Rams have decided to go with just two healthy quarterbacks this week in Kyle Boller and Keith Null. But if the team decides to add another QB in future weeks, it probably will be Brock Berlin. ... More than 8,000 tickets remain for Sunday's home game with Seattle. Rams executive vice president of football operations Kevin Demoff said, "I'm not very optimistic at all," that the game will be televised locally.
Re: Spagnuolo feels pain of shoddy run defense
Weak up the middle and once you get past that, weak on the perimeters at LB. That's a recipe for being run on.
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