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Spagnuolo feels pain of shoddy run defense

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  • Spagnuolo feels pain of shoddy run defense

    Spagnuolo feels pain of shoddy run defense


    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.

  • #2
    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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    • MauiRam
      Rams try self-analysis to stem their troubles ..
      by MauiRam
      By Jim Thomas Tuesday, October 4, 2011

      As the Rams' bye week begins, coach Steve Spagnuolo and his staff are in the midst of self-scouting. During a normal game week the focus almost entirely is on that week's opponent. But this week, the staff will look at its team from within.

      "I can tell you the things I know we're going to look at," Spagnuolo said Monday. "Certainly protections. Certainly third down on both sides. Certainly the run fronts on offense. These are the things that just stick out. You guys (in the media) can probably list another five or six of them."

      Sure can. Red zone offense, red zone defense, dropped passes, run defense, first-down offense, kickoff returns, false starts, slow starts all come to mind. If the Rams really wanted to self-scout all of their problems, they might need three bye weeks to work through everything.

      "I've learned this over the years," Spagnuolo said. "You can't go searching for things that are not there. And you can't knee-jerk react to things that you find. Because in a lot of instances, it just comes back to fundamentals. I know that's not the glorious answer that you want, but a lot of times that's what it comes down to."

      If true, the Rams must be about as fundamentally flawed as you can get, because they are at or near the bottom of the league in many categories. They are tied for second to last in points scored (46) and in points allowed (113). They're last in rushing defense, last in average yards gained on first down, and in the bottom quartile (or last eight teams) in red-zone offense, kickoff returns, total offense and total defense.

      So the Rams' 0-4 record isn't a fluke. But those expecting Spagnuolo and staff to reinvent the pigskin between now and the Green Bay game Oct. 16 will be disappointed. They aren't going to come out in a 3-4 defense, or switch to a run-and-shoot offense against the Packers. You simply can't make major scheme changes in a week or two.

      "I'll reiterate this," Spagnuolo said. "Both schemes — all three (counting special teams) — have been proven in this league at various places. So we believe in that. I know the players believe. What I do think we need to do is do it better. That's as simple as I can state it. And I believe in that.

      "Will we find a couple of wrinkles? Yeah. But you do that all the time. If we were 4-0, we'd find a couple of scheme wrinkles. But at the core, we're not going to abandon what we do. We're just going to do it better."

      Nonetheless, the staff already has talked about tweaking things. Spagnuolo, for example, said they have discussed rolling out quarterback Sam Bradford more to help the pass protection.

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      -10-04-2011, 12:42 AM
    • r8rh8rmike
      Rams Are Regressing On Defense
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      Rams are regressing on defense

      Wednesday, September 28, 2011

      With a core of veterans entering their third season in the system, with seven veteran free agents signed to bolster that side of the ball, and with a first-round draft pick invested in an elite pass rusher, this was supposed to be a breakout season for the Rams' defense.

      Three games in, it's more like a breakdown season.

      • The Rams rank 31st in total defense; 32nd (or last) in rushing defense; and 19th in passing defense.

      • They have come up with only two takeaways; only Pittsburgh, with one, is worse.

      • Third-down defense? No. 26.

      • Points allowed? Only Kansas City has yielded more than the Rams' 96, although in fairness, 21 of those points allowed have come on touchdowns scored by the opposing defense after Rams fumbles.

      So in an 0-3 start in which not much has gone right anywhere, no deficiency is more glaring or surprising than what's transpired on defense. Sure, Philadelphia and the New York Giants had top five offenses last season. But Steve Spagnuolo expected better, the players expected better, everyone expected better.

      Spagnuolo, after all, was hired as head coach in 2009 largely because of his reputation as one of the game's brighter defensive minds. So wondering if Spagnuolo is taking the defensive woes personally is like asking if a Ram has curly horns.

      "I always take that personally," Spagnuolo said. "Always."

      He's secure enough in his skin to concede that, no, he didn't expect the normally stodgy Baltimore offense to come out winging it in Sunday's 37-7 blowout loss.

      "I can tell you, as I stood in front of the team on Saturday night, the main gist from a defensive standpoint was to stop 27," Spagnuolo said.

      Meaning Ravens running back Ray Rice, who wears jersey No. 27.

      "I don't know that we would change that," Spagnuolo said. "I think that guy is special. I think he makes that whole team go. Now go back to before the game and be 'us' for a little bit. They had their No. 2 and No. 3 receiver hurt. So you're playing with 4 and 5 (as well as No. 1 wideout Anquan Boldin).

      "And the best player on the team is a running back. So the idea was to go in and stop their best player in hopes that we could survive the other things. Now, it was a lot more challenging than we thought for a couple reasons. Torrey Smith obviously is a good football player. We knew he was fast. And the other thing, (Joe) Flacco put all those balls right where they had to be. So I credit him for that. He made it a little bit tough."

      Actually, he made it a lot tough, throwing for a career-high 389 yards and three first-quarter TDs to Smith. With the Rams cramming the box with an extra...
      -09-28-2011, 03:00 PM
    • Rambos
      Rams Searching for Answers
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      By Nick Wagoner/Senior Writer

      As Rams coach Steve Spagnuolo used the wee hours of Monday morning to watch the tape of Sunday’s loss at the hands of the Cowboys, he couldn’t help but find himself every bit as shocked and disappointed with his team’s inability to tackle as he figured he would be right after the game.

      “I will just sum it up this way,” Spagnuolo said, shaking his head. “We have got to solve the defensive issues. I think most of it can be solved by tackling. I added it up this morning, on the 11 plays we missed tackles, after the missed tackle there was a total of 183 yards given up. So you can do the math and figure out if we don’t tackle better that part is not going to get better.”

      In a confounding season that has seen the Rams start 0-6, there have been myriad issues cropping up every week; some of them have continued to rear their ugly heads while others seem to come more sporadically.

      But at the heart of the issue is the stuff that should be easy. In its purest form, blocking and tackling are the most basic tenets of the game. They are the things you are taught from the moment you step foot on a field back in pee wee football.

      On Sunday, blocking wasn’t actually much of the issue against the Cowboys as the offensive line had one of its better pass protection games of the season. No, this one boiled down to a basic lack of tackling.

      “We have got to get back to basics,” safety Quintin Mikell said. “That’s what it all boils down to. When you have a game like this, you just get back to basics. You stop worrying about schemes, you don’t worry about this or that, you just get back to basics and get back to what you do every week in football. I feel like we have just got to get back to that.”

      For the better part of the season, tackling had been one of the fundamentals the Rams hadn’t really struggled with much save for a few spurts here and there. As Dallas continued to pound away in the running game with DeMarco Murray, the missed tackles piled up.

      In an unofficial count, the Rams had about 13 blatant missed tackles against the Cowboys with the clear majority of those blanks coming from the secondary on plays that allowed Murray to hit on some big runs.

      When all was said and done, Murray had rushed for 253 yards on 25 carries, including a 91-yard jaunt in which he was untouched by the first of the baker’s dozen of whiffs.

      For a coach who emphasizes to his defense that stopping the run should always come first, Spagnuolo couldn’t help but remain disappointed by what he saw on the film.
      “It’s a team game but I can’t get past the run defense and I’m talking about the whole team,” Spagnuolo said. “Because I think it’s that important. I just think that a team that is able to run like that on any opponent, it makes it hard to win the game on offense, defense and special teams, all three...
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    • ZiaRam
      Rams Go Backward Sunday
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      by Howard Balzer

      After the Rams' Week 6 loss to Green Bay, coach Steve Spagnuolo thought his team had shown improvement, especially on run defense. However, after a 34-7 loss to Dallas dropped the Rams to 0-6 with New Orleans next on the schedule, Spagnuolo doesn't know what to think, except to say, "We went backwards on defense."

      There wasn't much to say after Cowboys rookie running back DeMarco Murray rushed for a team-record 253 yards, also the most any runner had ever gained against the Rams. Heck, someone named Phillip Tanner rushed for 34 yards on six attempts during Dallas' 294-yard rushing day.

      Entering the game, the rams were last in run defense, allowing 163.0 yards per game and now the stunning average is 184.8, with the average per rush 5.5 yards.
      While the team's depleted secondary has forced them to adjust their defensive philosophy, leaving them at times susceptible to the run, an exasperated Spagnuolo bemoaned the team's poor tackling fundamentals, which he was quick to point out afterward.
      Said Spagnuolo, "You talk about low, target tackling and our guys are tackling high. They know that, they heard that from me, they understand it and until they decide they are to tackle the way it's coached and the way we ask them do it, it's probably not going to change."

      Noting a 91-yard touchdown run by Murray, the second consecutive game the Rams have allowed a touchdown of 90 or more yards, Spagnuolo said, "The two safeties were supposed to keep the ball carrier in between them and they'll both tell you that they didn't do that. If it's a 10-yard gain, it's a 10-yard gain; you line up and play defense again."

      When the Rams did try a little extra to stop the run, the Cowboys hit them with pass plays.
      "You have to do certain things a certain way right now. Due to all the injuries, that changes it. They definitely came in with a plan," Spagnuolo said. "If they saw us in a two-shell defense they were going to run the football. We've got to find a way to stop the run against a seven-man front until we're willing to change things on the back end. We mixed it up a little bit, but it's hard to do that with the threats they have on the outside. I give them a lot of credit. Tony Romo is one of the best in the league; he knew what to put them in and what not to put them in."

      This week they will face a New Orleans offense that scored 62 points Sunday night and got five touchdown passes from quarterback Drew Brees.
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      -10-24-2011, 02:37 PM
    • eldfan
      Spagnuolo is ready to 'beg, borrow, steal'
      by eldfan
      Spagnuolo is ready to 'beg, borrow, steal'
      By Jim Thomas

      Coach Steve Spagnuolo hadn't even reached his seat at Thursday's greet-and-meet with the media when he issued a cautionary note about the status of his first Rams playbook.

      "We're still working on the scheme," he said. " I know there's going to be thoughts: 'What are we going to do? What are we going to do on offense? What are we going to do on defense?'"

      For now, Spagnuolo has more pressing things on his plate, most notably the start of the free-agency period in less than two weeks, and the NFL Scouting Combine next week in Indianapolis.

      The Rams also must make some tough decisions on their own personnel.

      Who to keep? Who to cut? Who to restructure? That process started Friday with the release of veteran strong safety Corey Chavous.

      Even so, most Rams fans and media already have an idea of what Spagnuolo stands for defensively. As defensive coordinator for the New York Giants the past two seasons, Spagnuolo orchestrated aggressive, hard-nosed units. He wasn't afraid to take chances, and he certainly wasn't afraid to blitz.

      "You'll see that in the defense," Spagnuolo said. "But one of the good things about hiring a new staff is there's a lot of other ideas that come into play. So I certainly don't think that we had all the answers in New York."

      It just looked that way much of the time, particularly in last year's Super Bowl, in which the Giants stymied the potent New England offense for a stunning upset.

      Nonetheless, Spagnuolo added, "You beg, borrow and steal. Now we can just beg, borrow and steal, and do it officially (from the members of his newly assembled coaching staff). That's all you do in the league is you steal good ideas from other people. That's what we're doing."

      For example, new Rams defensive coordinator Ken Flajole was part of the highly successful Carolina defense before coming to St. Louis. Spagnuolo is an unabashed admirer of Carolina's defensive-oriented head coach, John Fox. So it wouldn't be surprising to see the Rams add a few wrinkles from the Panthers' defensive playbook.

      On the other side of the ball, new offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur comes from the "West Coast" scheme of the Philadelphia Eagles. When the casual fan thinks of the West Coast offense, it's easy to fall into the trap of thinking: pass first, then run.

      And that doesn't seem to mesh exactly with Spagnuolo's stated desire for an aggressive running game.

      "Philosophically, Coach Spagnuolo and myself, we're very similar," Shurmur said. "The Rams' offense is going to be a team that can run the football. We're going to make an effort to run the football, and protect the quarterback when...
      -02-16-2009, 11:46 AM