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  • St. Louis Continues Search for Takeaways

    Wednesday, September 29, 2004

    By Nick Wagoner
    Staff Writer

    Turnovers. The one defining characteristic of the Rams’ defense in their dominant five-year run has been turnovers.

    Interceptions and fumble recoveries, no matter the method, takeaways can cure a lot of what ails a defense. Give up 450 yards of offense? No big deal, get the ball. Without them, an opportunistic defense becomes a mediocre one.

    A defense that forces turnovers can alter a game in a matter of moments. Last year, St. Louis had such a defense, as they had a league-leading 46 takeaways. That number more than made up for the 315.8 yards per game it allowed. The totals did more than keep the opponent from scoring; it instantly gave the ball back to one of the league’s most prolific offenses.

    With three games in the books this season, the Rams find themselves still searching for their elusive first takeaway. At the same stage of the season last year, St. Louis had three fumble recoveries and an interception.

    During the offseason, there were a few changes on the defensive coaching staff. Defensive coordinator Lovie Smith left to take the head job with Chicago. Former Arizona defensive coordinator Larry Marmie replaced him. The philosophy didn’t change much, but there is still an adjustment to a new coach and that might have contributed to the lack of takeaways.

    Rams’ coach Mike Martz said any time a new coach is added there is an adjustment period.

    “I think anytime you inherit a system and he’s very aware of the system, he has to put his own stamp on it and be able to adjust with the personnel,” Martz said. “We’re in the process of going through some of that. I said at the beginning of the year we’ll have some growing pains early, but eventually we’ll be a pretty good team.”

    The opportunities for turnovers have been there. Instead of converting, though, those close plays have resulted in near misses instead of big plays, none more than the painstaking almost got it miss by cornerback Aeneas Williams in the Rams’ 28-25 loss to New Orleans on Sunday.

    Saints’ quarterback Aaron Brooks fired a pass over the middle into the endzone with his team trailing 17-16 and more than eight minutes to play in the game. Williams broke on the ball, as he has so many times in his career, and appeared to have a game-saving interception. Instead, the ball squirted through the future Hall of Famer’s hands and fell into Saints’ receiver Joe Horn’s for a touchdown.

    After the game, Williams shouldered the blame for the loss, pointing directly to that play.

    "When I have an opportunity in the end zone to make a play on a ball and don't, that's a serious letdown to my teammates," Williams said. "We wouldn't even be in the situation that we were in at the end of the game. I have to make that play."

    That was just one of a series of close calls for a defense that has just missed on turnovers in a variety of ways this season. DeJuan Groce made a big interception late in the opener against Arizona only to have it nullified by a defensive penalty. Those kinds of mistakes have kept the Rams’ big-play defense from complementing their big-play offense.

    Defensive end Leonard Little, one of the game’s biggest playmakers from the edge, has struggled some, also, but he has faced multitudes of double teams and chip blocks. That has made it difficult for Little to make the big plays he is accustomed to. Little played well against New Orleans, but said afterward that he is disappointed in his performance thus far.

    “We just haven’t been making plays,” Little said. “That’s something that I take upon myself because I am the playmaker on this team and I have got to carry this team at times.”

    Little can’t do it alone, but it’s probably a safe bet there will be even more added emphasis to creating turnovers this week in practice. The Rams constantly work on ball drills in practice. Everything from strip drills to interception exercises to chasing down loose balls on incompletion dot the weekly workouts.

    Safety Adam Archuleta said the defense’s disappointment is building.

    “It’s frustrating because that is part of our identity,” Archuleta said. “That is something we took a lot of pride in last year. I don’t exactly know why or why not it’s happening, but we need to figure it out.”

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  • RamDez
    Martz sensitive about Rams' struggling defensive unit
    by RamDez
    Martz sensitive about Rams' struggling defensive unit
    By Jim Thomas
    Of the Post-Dispatch
    Saturday, Oct. 02 2004

    The many penalties have been puzzling. Special teams have been anything but
    special, with the exception of Jeff Wilkins. As for timeouts, replay
    challenges, and use - or is it neglect? - of the running game, well, "Mad" Mike
    Martz has been particularly maddening this season.

    But when all is said and done, the most disappointing element in the Rams' 1-2
    start has been the play of the defense. The Rams rank 30th in total defense and
    30th in rushing defense. That's third from the bottom.

    For the first time since the move to St. Louis in 1995, the Rams have gone
    three straight games without a takeaway.

    Arizona's Emmitt Smith ran like he was 25 instead of 35 against them in the
    season opener. In Week 2, Atlanta's Michael Vick played like Superman; he's
    looked like Clark Kent against everybody else. And last week, New Orleans'
    Aaron Stecker gashed them for 106 rushing yards. Not only was this a career
    high for Stecker - it was practically a career. He had never run for more than
    175 yards in a season in his four previous NFL campaigns.

    "We've just got to play better," Martz says. "I don't think it has anything to
    do with Larry (Marmie)."

    This obviously is a sensitive subject for Martz. He replaced one good friend
    (Lovie Smith) with another good friend (Marmie) as defensive coordinator after
    Smith became head coach in Chicago. In fact, it's such a sensitive subject that
    Martz refused to make Marmie available to be interviewed for this article.

    Marmie's hiring in St. Louis drew some criticism because of the
    less-than-stellar performance by the Arizona Cardinals' defense during his four
    seasons there as defensive coordinator.

    "Whatever problems we have right now on defense, we certainly ended up last
    season with," Martz said. "It's not like we were playing such great defense at
    the end of the season last year. When you look at the rushes and the yards per
    rush, that's a big concern, whoever the coordinator is.

    "We've just got to do a better job of tackling at the point. We've had some
    missed tackles that have ended up in big plays. You can't have that. And that
    has nothing to do with who's coaching the defense. Or the system. Or anything
    else. We've just got to make a play, and make a tackle."


    Not stepping up

    The Rams haven't been swarming to the ball, one of their trademarks under
    Smith. So when somebody misses a tackle, there's no one there to bail him out.
    Or no one there to jar the ball loose for a fumble after the initial tackler
    ...
    -10-03-2004, 12:43 AM
  • RamWraith
    Role Reversal Wins for Rams
    by RamWraith
    Wednesday, October 20, 2004

    By Nick Wagoner
    Staff Writer

    Tampa Bay’s defense has been one of the league’s best for quite awhile. It has been able to stop the run, defend the pass and create turnovers seemingly at will.

    On Monday night, when the Buccaneers played the Rams, it was little surprise to see a defense doing all of those things. It was surprising, though, to see which team was doing the stopping and stealing the takeaways.

    Sure, Tampa Bay did its part defensively, holding St. Louis to 324 yards of offense and forcing a pair of turnovers. But it was the Rams defense that looked like the vintage Buccaneers.

    St. Louis entered the game with just two takeaways on the season and ranked toward the bottom of the league in total defense, but had the momentum of a thoroughly dominant performance in the second half a week ago against Seattle. In that half, the Rams held the Seahawks to just 85 yards.

    The mojo gained from that effort appeared to carry over to Monday night’s game, especially in redzone situations.

    “I can’t say enough about our defense,” Rams’ head coach Mike Martz said. “They had their backs to the wall throughout that game, and responded. They had three turnovers created in the redzone. Then, coming out, they create a turnover at the 5-yard line to set up a score. It just doesn’t get any better than that; (just) a terrific job defensively.”

    St. Louis finished Monday night’s game with four takeaways, double the output of what it had on the season going in. That low output of turnovers was cause for concern, especially coming a year after the Rams led the league in takeaways with 46.

    Martz said it wasn’t like St. Louis was trying to avoid getting takeaways; it was just one of those things that will take its own course.

    “We are not doing anything differently than we normally do,” Martz said. “It’s going to happen. You just keep working at it and you can’t get discouraged by it.”

    The Rams certainly weren’t discouraged by anything defensively Monday night. After falling behind 14-7 in the second quarter, St. Louis pinned the Buccaneers at their 4 with a perfect punt from Sean Landeta. Two plays and two penalties later, quarterback Brian Griese and center John Wade couldn’t make the exchange and defensive end Leonard Little recovered. So began an avalanche of takeaways that essentially won the game for St. Louis.

    That recovery at Tampa Bay’s 5 set up running back Marshall Faulk’s 1-yard touchdown plunge and tied it at 14. That takeaway was simply the precursor for the biggest play of the night.

    After quarterback Marc Bulger threw an interception to linebacker Ian Gold that was returned to the St. Louis 15, safety Adam Archuleta decided to make the defense go on the offensive.

    On first-and-10, Griese handed to running back...
    -10-21-2004, 05:03 AM
  • RamWraith
    Rams Getting Defensive
    by RamWraith
    Monday, September 19, 2005

    By Nick Wagoner
    Senior Writer

    It has been quite awhile since the Rams last put a game in the hands of their defense, but that’s exactly what they did Sunday afternoon in Arizona.

    And to the credit of that revamped St. Louis defense, it did the job when it needed to. The Rams held the Cardinals to four field goals and were able to keep Arizona from scoring on a last-minute drive to preserve a 17-12 victory at Sun Devil Stadium.

    “It would have been nice to hold them to three or four and out in their territory and let our offense take a knee,” strong safety Adam Archuleta said. “But this was a good test for our defense. I think we kind of needed that to get some confidence. I’m glad it ended up this way.”

    There have been few Rams’ teams in recent years that anyone would rather see the defense on the field than the offense with the game on the line. Of course, anytime a team has a lead it would prefer to have its offense on the field to run the clock out, but it’s a change of pace to hear one of the Rams’ defensive leaders saying that they wanted to be on the field.

    That is the type of change that could pay huge dividends down the road for a team that has spent the better part of the past year searching for a defensive identity. That’s not to say that the Rams boast the best defense in the league, but after a couple of weeks, it certainly stacks up among the top half of the league.

    With a pair of Monday night games still to be played, the Rams sit at No. 15 in total defense, allowing 298 yards per game. But a further glimpse at where those yards have come from would seem to indicate that St. Louis has been even better in those two games against San Francisco and Arizona.

    The ***** boosted their yardage total with the help of a number of trick plays, including a pass by receiver Arnaz Battle that netted 24 yards. The Cardinals had modest numbers in Sunday’s game until they were able to post almost 80 yards on their frantic, last-minute drive.

    But the biggest difference so far for the Rams defense resides in the front seven, where the defensive line is getting push on passing downs and eating up blockers on run plays and the improved linebacker crew is hitting its fills and punishing the running backs.

    Before Monday night’s games, the Rams ranked fourth in the league against the run, allowing just 58 yards per game on the ground. Some might scream that is because St. Louis has yet to play a premier back the likes of Shaun Alexander or Priest Holmes, but the fact is that the Rams still have to do their job against the run, something that was difficult a season ago.

    “Who knows?” coach Mike Martz said. “You still have to play, and if you are good, you still have to make those plays. They are competing very well, and they are getting better every week. So,...
    -09-20-2005, 06:14 AM
  • RamWraith
    All give, no take
    by RamWraith
    By Jim Thomas
    Of the Post-Dispatch
    Thursday, Sep. 23 2004

    In their first nine seasons in St. Louis, the Rams had only 20 games in which
    their defense failed to come up with a turnover. Basically, that's an average
    of two such games a year.

    Unfortunately for the Rams, they've already hit their quota for 2004, after
    failing to come up with a turnover against Arizona or Atlanta.

    The no-takeaway game in the season opener against Arizona ended a streak of 20
    straight contests - regular season and playoffs - with at least one takeaway by
    the Rams defense.

    That streak was just one game off the Rams' high total since the move to St.
    Louis. From Game 15 of the 2000 season through the '01 season's NFC
    championship game, the Rams went 21 consecutive games with at least one
    takeaway.

    So the current takeaway drought, even if just two games, is a totally
    unexpected occurrence, particularly since the Rams led the league in takeaways
    last year (46).

    As defensive tackle Ryan Picketts puts it, "We're pitching a shutout right now.
    When we get one (takeaway), we'll be happy. Maybe they'll start rolling then,
    because we practice very hard at getting them every day."

    Like most NFL teams, the Rams work on stripping the ball to create fumbles in
    practice. But they could work harder at it, according to safety Adam Archuleta.

    "I would say that we probably could put more of an emphasis on stripping the
    ball, like really going in there hard," Archuleta said. "Actively going at it.
    We could probably do a better job of that."

    Last season, the Rams recovered 22 opposing fumbles - just two off the
    franchise record. Two games into '04, the opposing team hasn't even fumbled
    once - much less lost a fumble.

    "I think when you're tackling really well, you're going to cause some fumbles,"
    coach Mike Martz said. "We didn't tackle as well (against Atlanta) as we had
    been. If you tackle well, the first guy there holds him up, and the other guy
    gets the ball out."

    Practicing last week in "shells" - or light padding - didn't help, either.
    Normally, Martz doesn't have the Rams practice in shells so early in the
    season. But he felt too many players were banged up to work in full pads last
    week. In hindsight, the lack of contact work showed in the form of sloppy
    tackling against the Falcons.

    "And that's a coaching error on my part," Martz said. "I think when you do
    (drills) in pads in practice, you can slam each other and pull that ball out.
    And that's where you get your work."

    The Rams were...
    -09-24-2004, 06:03 AM
  • RamWraith
    Defense Searching for Answers
    by RamWraith
    Thursday, October 13, 2005

    By Nick Wagoner
    Senior Writer

    It was a promising start for a Rams defense that underwent a major offseason overhaul.

    Three games into the season it seemed that St. Louis was going to be, at worst a middle-of-the-road defense, the kind that will bend and bend, but probably not break.

    Those hopes have deteriorated quickly in the past two weeks for a defense that has given up 81 points to the Giants and Seahawks. Maybe the Rams hadn’t quite reached the peak of the defensive mountain in the first three weeks, but they were at least part of the way up the hill.

    But now, the past two weeks have essentially been rock bottom.

    “We can’t do nothing but get better now,” defensive end Leonard Little said. “We have played the worst that we can play, it’s time to concentrate and know what we are doing every play as far as coverages as far as gaps and stuff like that. If we do that we’ll have a good game, if we don’t we have a long game ahead of us.”

    After three weeks, the Rams had made noticeable strides defensively. They had seven more takeaways than they did at the same time in 2004. The run defense was markedly better, ranking fourth in the league compared to 30th a year ago at that point.

    St. Louis was No. 13 in the league in defense after those games, not a great performance, but good enough to give the offense a fighting chance to win games.

    Now, two weeks later, the Rams have stumbled to 26th in the league in total defense, allowing 364 yards per game and 29.6 points per outing.

    There are many contributing factors to the defensive relapse, but the solutions might not be as plentiful. Defensive lineman Tyoka Jackson has at least one simple solution for the problems.

    “Play better,” Jackson said. “Don’t try to overanalyze it and don’t panic, but play better. When you have a tackle, make it, when you have to beat a block, beat it, when you get penetration, get it and when you are in your gap, be where you are supposed to be and be accountable so that the defense works.”

    In a perfect world, it would be as easy to correct as identifying that and doing what Jackson says. Unfortunately, it isn’t quite that simple. The problems of the defense stem mostly from the mental side of playing defense as opposed to the physical aspects of the game.

    There are no official statistics for missed assignments or mental errors, but if there were, St. Louis might be among the league leaders. Maybe the Rams don’t have more blown assignments than any other teams, theirs are just more glaring.

    It seems that whenever the Rams do blow an assignment, the other team always finds a way to take advantage of it. Take the touchdown scored by tight end Jerramy Stevens of Seattle last week for example.

    Stevens was covered by cornerback...
    -10-14-2005, 05:26 AM
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