Rams’ defense knows it’s time to step up
ST. LOUIS (AP) — Whether it’s Shaun Hill or Austin Davis barking signals next week at Philadelphia, the St. Louis Rams have bigger issues to address on their bye week.
Tops on the list is shoring up an underwhelming defense that’s been burned for big plays and made very few itself, with one sack, one fumble recovery and two interceptions.
Next comes the high penalty count, something of a trademark of coach Jeff Fisher’s teams.
Special teams have been good and the offense, while making its share of mistakes, has far exceeded expectations without Sam Bradford.
Fisher and new coordinator Gregg Williams were counting on the defense to keep scores down. Instead, the Rams have allowed the third-most points in the league, worsened by a pair of interceptions by Davis returned for touchdowns.
Players aren’t blaming Williams for too much complexity. Most were around in 2012 when Williams’ son Blake coached the defensive line, and the system was similar.
“Gregg is an extremely smart, cerebral play caller,” middle linebacker James Laurinaitis said. “Heck, a lot of times there’s been perfect play calls and we just don’t execute.
“On some plays, it’s bad technique. On some plays, it’s bad eyes.”
The Rams squandered a 21-point lead in a spirit-sapping 34-31 loss to the Cowboys last Sunday, matching the largest advantage blown at home in franchise history.
Williams has the personnel to pressure the opposition into mistakes. In the two losses, stretches of effectiveness have been negated by big gains.
On Dallas’ go-ahead drive in the fourth quarter, three plays accounted for 69 of the 84 yards. Alec Ogletree whiffed on Tony Romo’s 16-yard scramble on third-and-13; Romo had time to find Terrance Williams for 20 yards, and Janoris Jenkins interfered with Dez Bryant, resulting in a 33-yard gain.
“You’re right there, you need those plays,” defensive end Robert Quinn said. “They made them and we didn’t.”
Play-calling has seemed curious at times. Though they’re deepest on the defensive line, even with end Chris Long out with an ankle injury, the Rams often used three-man fronts against Dallas.
St. Louis ranks 28th in rush defense, allowing 155 yards per game. The Rams are last in the league in sacks and near the bottom in yards per play, rushing yards per play, passing net yards per play and scoring differential.
Quinn, who led the NFC with a franchise-record 19 sacks last season, has none the first three games.
Players insist it’s not because they’re thinking too much about Williams’ calls.
“It’s complex, but it’s easier than some of the other schemes I’ve been in where there might be four calls on one play,” Laurinaitis said. “As far as the grand scheme of things, he loves to allow you to see what you’re doing and go play fast.
“We don’t chase ghosts and go do other stuff.”
The Rams have racked up 305 yards in penalties, second-most in the NFL. Fisher argues that the referees are watching his team too closely and asserts that several calls were unwarranted against Dallas.
“Reduce the penalties? Well, we just get them to call penalties and not throw flags when there’s no infraction,” Fisher said. “That’ll significantly reduce it.”
Both Hill and Davis appear to be better replacements at quarterback than Kellen Clemens, who started the final nine games last season.
Fisher has been adamant that the 34-year-old Hill is his starter when healthy, and he’s been close enough to be the backup the last two games. Davis was fourth on the depth chart in the preseason but has persevered and looks more comfortable after his first three NFL games.
Don’t be surprised if the Rams wait until game day to announce their choice.
AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org and www.twitter.com/AP_NFL