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Run Defense Focuses on Discipline

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  • Run Defense Focuses on Discipline

    Thursday, September 30, 2004

    By Nick Wagoner
    Staff Writer

    The Rams’ defense isn’t exactly getting a break when it lines up opposite San Francisco running back Kevan Barlow. It will, however, get some relief with Tim Rattay or Ken Dorsey at quarterback.

    The appearance of one or both of those quarterbacks in the *****’ backfield is a welcome change to the mobile quarterbacks St. Louis has faced in each of the past two weeks.

    Atlanta’s Michael Vick rolled up 109 rushing yards and New Orleans’ Aaron Brooks, Vick’s second cousin put up 27 yards on five carries, including a 12-yard run in overtime to set up the game-winning field goal. Those quarterbacks hurt the Rams with their arms, also, combining for 495 yards through the air.

    The Vick family tree does not extend its branches to San Francisco and for that, defensive tackle Ryan Pickett is thankful.

    “That’s like a gift,” Pickett said. “We are happy about that. We’re not worried about the running as much. Now we have a chance to get after a quarterback who is not as mobile as Brooks and Vick.”

    The run defense’s struggles haven’t been limited to attempting to stop the quarterbacks, though. Through three games, the Rams are allowing 164.7 rushing yards per game.

    The Saints’ Aaron Stecker had his first career 100-yard game last Sunday, rushing for 106 yards on 18 carries and a touchdown. His touchdown run spanned 42 yards. Take away that run and he is averaging about 3.7 yards per carry. That reveals what many already know to be true. The Rams’ run defense isn’t that bad, but has a tendency to allow big plays.

    Defensive lineman Tyoka Jackson confirmed.

    “I would say a lot of it is mental mistakes,” Jackson said. “When you have a one-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.

    “You have to go out and execute what you are supposed to do. When you make mistakes, you get exposed by good teams and we have played three good teams. We beat one of them and made a ton of mistakes in the other two games and we lost because of that. If we cut the mistakes down, we will be fine.”

    The Rams’ defense is predicated on discipline and without it, a big play can happen at any moment. Likewise, if everybody on the unit stays disciplined, it will likely lead to a big play for the defense.

    St. Louis will spend a lot of practice time this week focusing on that obedience to stay home and fill the proper space on every play.

    Echoing the sentiments of his teammates, defensive end Leonard Little said this defense is all about focus.

    “We need to stay in our gaps,” Little said. “That’s the biggest thing with this defense, staying in our gaps and being discipline. If we’re not discipline, then there will be holes there and they will run all day.”

    Barlow presents an interesting challenge to a defense that has yet to face a premiere running back (technically Vick isn’t a running back). Barlow is in his first season as the *****’ full-time starter at running back. This season, he has run for 212 yards on 49 carries, but exploded against New Orleans in week two, rushing for 114 yards and a pair of touchdowns on 20 carries.

    Barlow could be salivating at the opportunity to run against St. Louis, but defensive end Bryce Fisher said the defense couldn’t worry about anyone but itself.

    “I don’t know whether they look forward to playing against us or not, that’s up to them,” Fisher said. “The only thing we know, is, this weekend we have to look forward to playing against Kevan Barlow, and shutting down his run.”

    INJURY UPDATE: Defensive tackle Jimmy Kennedy was back in St. Louis one day after he had his foot evaluated by doctors in North Carolina. Kennedy got a positive report and head coach Mike Martz said he could resume workouts soon.

    “He’s been completely cleared to resume football activities,” Martz said. “He’s two weeks away from having some contact. That’s real good news for us.”

    Kennedy said he is a little bit ahead of schedule and is excited about working out and getting back into football shape.

    “The doctor said my bone is healed and now it’s just about getting used to running and putting weight on there so I can get back on the field,” Kennedy said. “It was a little disturbing when I broke my foot and I had to deal with that. I am trying to get back as quick as possible.”

    He said he could begin running as early as Friday.

    Another important part of the Rams’ defense is closer to a return. Cornerback Travis Fisher continues to take part in various bits and pieces of practice as he recovers from a broken forearm. He appears headed for a return sooner than later also, according to Martz.

    “They did a scan on him and they are very pleased,” Martz said. “He is probably about two weeks away or so (from contact). They are just concerned about the strength in the forearm. He is pretty much on schedule.”

    Middle linebacker Robert Thomas continues to nurse a lower ankle sprain and watched practice again on Thursday. He is listed as probable on Thursday’s injury report.

    Linebacker Trev Faulk (hamstring), cornerback DeJuan Groce (knee) and guard Tom Nutten (toe) are also probable. Strong safety Adam Archuleta was added to the injury list Thursday with hamstring tightness. He did not participate in practice.

    Guard Chris Dishman (ankle), running back Arlen Harris (hamstring) and linebacker Tony Newson (ankle) were questionable. Kennedy and Fisher are out for Sunday’s game.

  • #2
    Re: Run Defense Focuses on Discipline

    "everybody has to be in their gap"
    ITS ABOUT FRICKEN TIME. Can you say Carolina?


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      Defense Makes Statement
      by RamWraith
      Monday, October 4, 2004

      By Nick Wagoner
      Staff Writer

      SAN FRANCISCO- With complaints in St. Louis ranging from play-calling to the offensive line, the Rams’ defense has, perhaps, been the most maligned.

      Entering Sunday night’s game against the *****, the group had been pushed around by the likes of New Orleans’ running back Aaron Stecker. The questions swirled around the unit like a tornado. Why couldn’t they stop the run, some cried. How come they can’t get a turnover, others inquired.

      Consider those questions answered. Every member of the defense emphasized every day that nobody wanted to create big plays more than they did. Defensive end Leonard Little even went as far as taking the blame for the loss to the Saints, claiming that he needs to carry the defense at times.

      It was no coincidence then that Little came up with the ball when the Rams finally got that long-awaited takeaway. With 1:45 to go in the first quarter, linebacker Tommy Polley broke through the offensive line and pried the ball loose from San Francisco quarterback Tim Rattay as he brought his arm backward. The ball bounced forward where Little caught sight of it and made his move. With a golden opportunity to get that first turnover, Little said he wasn’t about to let it get away.

      “We work on scooping and scoring every day in practice, so I just wanted to pick the ball up first,” Little said. “I just picked it up, but the first objective was to get that possession and that first turnover.”

      The Rams’ sackmaster spent most of his evening moving all over the field, lining up on both sides of the line and generally wreaking havoc in the *****’ backfield.

      He said he doesn’t worry about where he plays as long as he is making things happen.

      “I don’t care, they can line me up at safety, I do not care,” Little said. “As long as the team wins and we keep getting on this roll.”

      Getting turnovers wasn’t the only goal for the Rams entering Sunday night’s game. The defense had been prone to allowing big running plays and was set on improving in that area. Defensive tackle Ryan Pickett insisted that his teammates were much better than they had shown in the first three games, but were waiting to break out.
      That problem appeared to be corrected, also. The Rams held San Francisco to 58 rushing yards and only 3.1 yards per carry. Running back Kevan Barlow gained just 42 yards on 15 carries.

      Little said that kind of effort was exactly what the defense was looking for.

      “Our main objective was trying to stop the run,” Little said. “We were able to do that pretty much tonight. We did a good job.”

      LONG-TIME LISTENERS: Cornerback Kevin Garrett and offensive lineman Scott Tercero made their first career regular season starts against San Francisco.

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    • RamWraith
      Thursday Notebook
      by RamWraith
      Thursday, September 23, 2004

      By Nick Wagoner
      Staff Writer

      Ryan Pickett and the Rams’ defense are positive that it isn’t as bad against the run as it might have appeared last week.

      After all, the group had, perhaps, the most difficult challenge in the league. Quick and shifty running back Warrick Dunn and bruiser T.J. Duckett provide enough of a challenge, but it was No. 7 in red that gave the Rams fits. Quarterback Michael Vick doesn’t discriminate, though, giving every team and every defender an equal opportunity to look foolish.

      Pickett said playing against Vick helps against any running quarterback, but he doesn’t know of any like Vick.
      “Nobody is faster than Vick,” Pickett said. “I haven’t really seen a human being that is faster than Vick. Anything fits our style except Vick.”

      The challenge won’t be as daunting Sunday when New Orleans comes to town. The Saints will likely be without running back Deuce McAllister, who has an ankle injury. His replacement is a combination of RB Aaron Stecker and former top choice Ki-Jana Carter. That pair doesn’t exactly strike fear in the hearts of defenders, but another mobile quarterback backs those two.

      Aaron Brooks is that mobile quarterback and his success against the Rams in years past make him dangerous through the air or on the ground. He has run for nearly 1,000 yards in his four-year career. On the other side, St. Louis is allowing an average of 172.5 yards, 29th in the league.

      Pickett said that kind of number could give other teams the idea that the run defense isn’t where it needs to be yet.

      “I would think that would give them that impression,” Pickett said. “Why wouldn’t you with the kind of success they have had running against us? We definitely feel like we are much better than what we were last week.”

      NÜTTEN RETURNS: Offensive guard Tom Nütten returned to practice Wednesday and is getting closer to contributing. Nütten has missed every practice and game since he injured his toe against Washington in the third preseason game. Nütten said the injury was a “severe” case of turf toe, in which he actually dislocated it.

      He said the injury might have been a blessing in disguise, though. When Nütten reported to the Rams on August 20, he was well under his playing weight. His excitement about being back in the NFL was ruined by the injury.

      “It wasn’t the Cinderella story that I had in mind,” Nütten said. “I try to find the positive in it. If I’m here, I’m going to give it 100 percent and if I can’t go in the field, then I can do it in the weight room, the meeting room and get up to snuff on that. I was able to do that in the last three weeks.”

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    • RamWraith
      Run-down Rams have some gaps to fill
      by RamWraith
      Post-Dispatch Online Sports Columnist

      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.

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

      By Nick Wagoner
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      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...
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    • RamWraith
      Rams Getting Defensive
      by RamWraith
      Monday, September 19, 2005

      By Nick Wagoner
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      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.

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      -09-20-2005, 05:14 AM