Pass defense leads the way for Rams

17 hours ago BY JIM THOMAS

Four games into this season, interceptions are falling into the Rams' hands like coins from a slot machine. Entering Thursday night's game with Arizona, the Rams are second in the NFL with eight interceptions, a pace that if carried out over a full season would lead to 32 interceptions.

To put that in perspective, entire seasons have gone by in which the Rams' defense has had only eight interceptions (2009). The 2004 squad had only six. And the Rams haven't had more than 18 "picks" in any one season since Lovie Smith's last season here as defensive coordinator in 2003.

With wide receivers Larry Fitzgerald and the emerging Andre Roberts coming to town with the Big Red, the passing game is the strength of the Arizona offense. It's strength against strength then, because pass defense has been the best part of the Rams' defensive unit the best part of the entire team, really, with the exception of the kicking game.

"Interceptions oftentimes, they're team interceptions," coach Jeff Fisher said. "You've got Jenks (Janoris Jenkins), for example, making contact with the quarterback and the ball fluttering and Rocky (McIntosh) making the catch. So interceptions oftentimes are the result of pass-rushing pressure. And then there's just great plays. But we hope they keep coming."

The McIntosh interception against Seattle came on an unusual pass rush. On the play, cornerback Jenkins rushed the passer from right edge and safety Quintin Mikell came in from the left side. Even so, it wasn't a blitz as the Rams still sent only four pass-rushers at Russell because they dropped two linemen into coverage.

Despite the good pass defense, the Rams have done surprisingly little blitzing so far this season. Against the Seahawks, the Rams sent more than four pass-rushers at Wilson only seven times in 31 dropbacks encompassing 25 throws, two sacks and four scrambles for positive yards.

"We're doing what we think we need to do at specific situations in the ballgame," Fisher said. "If you have a 10-9 ballgame at midfield, it doesn't make sense to empty the defense out (by blitzing) ... and give up big plays. You just can't give up big plays when you're playing good defensive teams."

Because more likely than not, you'll be involved in a low-scoring game.

And the Rams are playing all sorts of good defensive teams so far this season: Detroit ranks 10th in total defense; Chicago 11th; and Seattle second. Arizona fell from 10th to 17th in total defense after yielding a surprising 480 yards Sunday to Miami. But the Cardinals still rank third in scoring defense.

The lack of blitzing by the Rams is the most telling indicator that Gregg Williams is NOT coordinating this defense. It's the same scheme, just a different approach because the suspended Williams usually starts blitzing once he steps off the team bus.

Other than the game situations cited by Fisher, the low blitzing total also is a reflection of confidence in the front four to get pressure on its own, and faith in the secondary to cover people. So far it's working. Coupled with the eight interceptions is that fact that he Rams have allowed only two touchdown passes, tied for the league low with Baltimore.

"We've come on," Fisher said.

So much so that the Rams haven't had to use veteran Cortland Finnegan to shadow any of the opposing team's top receivers. They trust Jenkins and Bradley Fletcher to get the job done, and Trumaine Johnson may have worked his way into the picture as a fourth cornerback after his big play against Seattle.

Johnson, the rookie third-round pick from Montana, had gotten next to no playing time other than special teams until the Seattle game, when he was used in some coverage packages. Johnson made the most of the opportunity with an eye-opening second-quarter interception in which he blasted the ball loose from Seahawks wide receiver Doug Baldwin and grabbed the ball in mid-air.

"They call my number, I'm going to be ready for it," Johnson said.

RAM-BLINGS

After receiving a 24-hour extension to meet league sellout requirements, the Rams announced Tuesday night that the Arizona game would be televised locally.

After being held out of Monday's practice, RB Steven Jackson (groin), WR Brandon Gibson (knee), and LT Wayne Hunter (knee) all practiced Tuesday.