Can St. Louis Rams Keep Forcing Turnovers?
It has been a struggle for the St. Louis Rams to contain offenses this season. They have faced some of the top wide receivers in the game, giving up big gains in the air. Cortland Finnegan started the year with a rough couple of weeks against Larry Fitzgerald, Roddy White, Julio Jones, Dez Bryant and Anquan Boldin. He was injured against the San Francisco 49ers, opening the door for Trumaine Johnson to step in.
It was clear early in the season that Finnegan was missing the closing speed necessary to slow down any of the top-flight receivers he would go up against. St. Louis had been unable to force takeovers and shut down teams like they did last year, taking a huge setback defensively.
The Rams’ pass defense looked much better on Sunday, though, limiting the big plays by Houston Texans receivers Andre Johnson and DeAndre Hopkins. Johnson was shut down in the red zone, where he poses the biggest matchup issue with the Rams’ smaller corners. He ended the day with seven catches for 88 yards. That is a pretty good day for most receivers, but he was not able to break out for a big play over the top of the defense, which is a positive for the Rams; Hopkins only had three catches for 47 yards on the day. He had made big plays earlier in the year, showing exceptional athletic ability to go up and get the ball. The Rams would have none of that with their corners playing off the line keeping Johnson and Hopkins in front of them, wrapping them up quickly.
Overall, the Rams gave up a total of 267 yards passing, but they had two key picks in the red zone against T.J. Yates after knocking Matt Schaub out of the game. Rookie linebacker Alec Ogletree made a perfect read to jump in front of the pass and ran it home for a 98-yard pick-six. Yates later basically threw the ball into Janoris Jenkins‘ hands after scrambling out of the pocket. It was a poor pass by a quarterback being pressured out of the pocket.
Speaking of pressuring the quarterback, St. Louis got into the Texans’ backfield regularly, forcing Schaub and Yates to try to find room to operate. The Rams racked up five sacks on Sunday. It’s been proven that Schaub, like most quarterbacks, is a different player when feeling pressure and getting hit. When he had to move, he was much less accurate and missed his receivers often.
Michael Brockers enjoyed his homecoming, racking up seven tackles, two sacks and three tackles for loss in the game. It was really a career day for the young defensive tackle. Jo-Lonn Dunbar added nine tackles and Ogletree added 10 to go with his pick-six. The problem with the high amount of tackles was that they stemmed from Arian Foster being able to bounce outside and pick up 141 yards on 20 carries. He constantly beat the Rams’ linebackers around the edge, forcing them to play catch up. In order to shut down a back like Foster, you have to force him back to the middle of the field where he doesn’t have the space he needs to break big runs. They did a better job in the fourth quarter when backup Ben Tate received most of the carries. He never had a real chance to bounce it outside for a big gain.
The bend-but-don’t-break defense is a dangerous way to live, due to teams being able to move the ball up field. It requires forcing turnovers in the red zone and limiting teams to field goals. The Rams have plenty of young talent on the defensive side of the ball, but they need to bottle up running backs much better than they have all season. Hopefully, they just found their defensive identity against the Texans in Week 6. St. Louis will need a solid game plan to keep Cam Newton and company in check next week.