Without key players, Rams defense has faltered
Dec. 04, 2015
ST. LOUIS (AP) — Defense has been carrying the St. Louis Rams most of the season.
The past few games, not so much.
The Rams (4-7) were ranked in the top 10, a goal they'd long aspired to, before getting routed 37-13 by the Bears three weeks ago and 31-7 by the Bengals last week.
Without outside linebacker Alec Ogletree and end Robert Quinn, they've been looking for playmakers.
"We want to play perfect every single Sunday," middle linebacker James Laurinaitis said. "For whatever reason, we haven't held up our end of the bargain. Everyone has to do it."
Especially this week. They're playing the Cardinals (9-2), who lead the NFL in offense and are averaging 32.3 points.
"We're going to fix some things," tackle Aaron Donald said. "We'll be all right."
The Rams have scored fewer than 20 points in all of their losses, averaging just 11 points, and coach Jeff Fisher settled on Nick Foles as the starter at quarterback for the second straight week because Case Keenum hasn't been cleared from the NFL's concussion protocol.
Fisher said if Keenum is cleared Friday, he could be the backup. Otherwise, it would be rookie Sean Mannion, who made his debut in a mop-up role last week.
"All the tests with the neurologists are OK, it's just with him feeling good," Fisher said.
Ogletree is seventh on the team in tackles even though he'll be missing his eighth game Sunday against the NFC West-leading Cardinals with a broken leg that landed him on injured reserve/designated for return.
In the past four weeks, Quinn (back) has seen limited action in one game with hip and back injuries, and he didn't practice Wednesday or Thursday.
Without Quinn's pass rush attracting attention, Donald hasn't been quite as dominant. He leads the team with seven sacks, including 2½ the past three games, but the going has been a lot tougher and he's seen a "lot more double teams."
"All the attention was on Rob Quinn when he was out there," Donald said. "They've got to slow that guy down. But it's all right, it's part of the game."
The Rams are tied for fifth in the NFL with 30 sacks, but have just one per game the past four games.
"It's impossible to replace Robert," Laurinaitis said.
The other end, Chris Long, also has had an injury-filled season.
The Rams have four No. 1 picks on the line even without Quinn, with Nick Fairley coming off the bench. They've concentrated on upgrading the defense overall that despite the absences they figured they'd be OK.
End William Hayes, who could make his seventh straight start with Long still rounding into form, said the team could very well be 7-4 had the defense played better against Pittsburgh, Minnesota and Baltimore.
All three were low-scoring games, with the Steelers winning 12-6 in Week 3, and the Vikings winning 21-18 in overtime and the Ravens winning 16-13 during a four-game November slide.
"We were in position," Hayes said. "You win those three games, now you're talking about us being a wild-card team. I just think the biggest thing is we're not doing a good job finishing right now."
Cornerback Trumaine Johnson (thigh) and kicker Greg Zuerlein (right hip) also did not practice. Fisher said Zuerlein might test his leg Friday if he feels OK.
Notes: Fisher said WR Stedman Bailey, shot twice in the head on Thanksgiving week, was improving. But the coach had no specifics about the situation. ... The coach had a sharp retort to comments the Rams should be fined for not noticing Keenum's concussion on the field, particularly one from ESPN analyst Mark Schlereth. "Mark didn't have all the facts," Fisher said. "Unless you've got all the facts, you should probably keep your mouth shut."
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