Despite the fact that the highlights from this past weekend’s game were all defensive, including linebacker Alec Ogletree’s 98-yard interception return for a touchdown, this team has struggled mightily to put a halt to opponents’ rushing attacks. Even though the key terms of ‘gap integrity’ and ‘flowing to the ball’ have been used regularly, it seems the Rams have failed to put these into practice when the game arrives on Sundays.
Just look at their generous stats for opposing running games over three of the past four weeks against the Dallas Cowboys, San Francisco 49ers, and Houston Texans. St. Louis surrendered 193, 219 and 153 yards respectively to each team which is not going to cut it. Sure, the 96 yards they gave up to the Jacksonville Jaguars two weeks ago seemed like improvement, but when a top notch rushing attack was back on the schedule they were right back to parting the seas for opposing backs.
Veteran linebacker and defensive leader James Laurinaitis told ESPN that this type of defense just can’t continue if the squad wants to consistently win games as he said:
“You can preach about having turnovers and four every week and scores, but really those games don’t happen all the time. So the games that don’t happen like that, you’ve got to stop the run. You can’t let teams just dictate when and where they’re going to run it.”
And dictating is exactly what the next opponent up on the schedule wants to do on a regular basis. The Carolina Panthers with DeAngelo Williams, Mike Tolbert, and Cam Newton are sure to employ a run-heavy gameplan to take advantage of the weaknesses that the Rams have put on film over the past few weeks.
It’s fair to say the only reason the Panthers rank just 7th in the league in rushing is because they have been playing from behind a lot this season. The team has been forced into passing situations and had to abandon its top notch rushing attack in order to stage a comeback. If the game remains tight with the Rams, there’s no doubt the ball will stay on the ground the majority of the time.
Even Laurinaitis acknowledged as much saying:
“We watched it, talked about it and what we need to do. It’s another huge challenge with Carolina, it will be another week like that. They’re licking their chops, thinking, ‘If we can keep this game close, we can run the ball,’ so we’ve got a huge challenge.”
While forcing turnovers is definitely nice, the Rams can’t get accustomed to having those takeaways to lean on and continually mask their deficiencies in run defense. This team must start playing sound defensively and execute the fundamentals required to make stops in the running game. That has to start this weekend on the road at the Panthers or the Rams will end up on the wrong end of the scoreboard in Week 7.