NFL Wire News

Rams continue to play high-caliber defense

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EARTH CITY, Mo. — It’s becoming a consistent narrative, but there’s no away around the fact the St. Louis Rams defense is now playing at the level many expected when the season began with Gregg Williams in his first year as defensive coordinator.

The defense was the story again Sunday when the Rams pitched their second straight shutout in a 24-0 road victory over the Washington Redskins. They will try to continue the scoreless streak when the Arizona Cardinals visit St. Louis for a Thursday night game this week.

The last time a team scored on the Rams was a San Diego touchdown with 8:09 remaining in the fourth quarter of a 27-24 loss in Week 12.

The Rams recorded shutouts in consecutive games for the first time since 1945, when they played in Cleveland, and it is the first time since Dallas in 2009 that any NFL team registered back-to-back shutouts.

Prior to Sunday’s game, Williams said of the 52-0 shutout of Oakland, “They’re very hard to come by. All the years I’ve been coaching they’re hard to come by. It’s good defensively for the morale of the team. It’s also good for the morale of just the individual defense that you’re not letting guys into scoring territory. So, it’s always good that way and that’s our job.”

Since the start of the 2013 season, there have been just nine shutouts in the NFL, and only one other was accomplished by a road team: Seattle’s 23-0 win at the New York Giants last season. This season, there have been four shutouts other than the Rams’.

In addition, Sunday’s game was the third time in four games that the Rams’ opponents ran no plays from the red zone. In the last six games, the defense has allowed a total of 54 points, while accumulating 29 sacks and 15 takeaways. The Rams have also had an average of just 3.2 yards per rush against and allowed a third-down conversion percentage of 29.6 in those six games.

Most notably, in adjusted points against, which deducts return touchdowns from the total points allowed, the Rams are second in the NFL with only 222 offensive points allowed. Seattle with 221 is the only team better than the Rams.

While everyone always wants immediate results, the reality is that Williams is the team’s third defensive coordinator since Jeff Fisher took over as head coach in 2012. There is often a period of adjustment, especially with reduced offseason programs and contact in training camp.

Asked about the process of a coach understanding what his players can do as well as players knowing what a coach is trying to accomplish, Williams said, “Everywhere I’ve been I’ve tried to adapt to the players. I haven’t made players do things they can’t do, I’ve got to adapt to them. The longer we’re around each other the more adaptation is going on. It’s been very good to see their understanding of why I call something. All of the sudden, they understand the why behind it and they’re eliminating the clutter that’s in their mind. They’re playing faster because we reduce some clutter because sometimes maybe some coaches are trying to get them to take every single, solitary thing away and you can’t do that.

“Not in our league you can’t do that. You’ve got to be able to play within the situation, within the down and distance, within the formation. Try to make them do something they don’t want to do and then react after that. Our guys are doing a better job of that. That’s just familiarity on both parts: mine to them, them to me; all that kind of stuff. It’s been good.”

Fisher said simply that the success “has a lot to do with the health and familiarity of the guys. Guys are maturing and we are getting a lot of positive plays out of a lot of guys. The secondary is playing well and they are challenging people. When you are getting sacks and takeaways and you aren’t giving away the ball on offense, you have a chance to win a lot of games.”

Middle linebacker James Laurinaitis, who had 1.5 sacks against the Redskins, was able to second that notion, saying, “It’s just everyone getting comfortable and playing faster and not thinking so much. After last week, coach Fisher said ‘Let’s keep this thing going’ and we focused really well during the week. And I think he’s going to challenge us to focus really hard the next three days (for Arizona). We’ve got to just really lock it in, and keep this thing going. There’s definitely momentum right now, but now we just have to keep fighting and keep stacking wins. But I thought it was huge to get two in a row.”

REPORT CARD VS. REDSKINS

–PASSING OFFENSE: B-plus — The only blemish were the four times QB Shaun Hill was sacked, three times in the first half. Hill completed 16 of 22 passes for 213 yards with two touchdowns, no interceptions and a passer rating of 133.3. Wide receivers caught just six passes, but Kenny Britt had a 41-yard play and Stedman Bailey added a 36-yard reception. TE Jared Cook had four catches for 61 yards with two touchdowns, one for 35 yards. The long plays by Britt, Bailey and Cook accounted for 112 of Hill’s 213 yards.

–RUSHING OFFENSE: B — Tre Mason had a workmanlike 66 yards on 20 carries, while Benny Cunningham chipped in 20 yards on three attempts. The Rams have finally figured out the best way to use WR Tavon Austin in the running game. Rather than having him run up the middle, Austin has been effective on jet sweeps and quick tosses. Sunday, he had 46 yards on five runs with a long of 18.

–PASS DEFENSE: A — The pass rush was amped up again, getting to QBs Colt McCoy (six) and Robert Griffin III (one) seven times for 53 lost yards. There were no receptions of 20 yards or more, and the duo’s 23 completions totaled just 232 yards. WR Pierre Garcon caught nine passes, but for just 95 yards. Six players had at least one sack, led by DE Robert Quinn and LB James Laurinaitis, who each had 1.5. DEs William Hayes and Eugene Sims, S Mark Barron and DT Aaron Donald each had one.

–RUSH DEFENSE: A-plus — The Redskins rushed for 27 yards on 12 attempts, with 13 of the yards from McCoy (11) and P Tress Way, who gained 2 before being stopped on a fake punt. The Rams stoned RB Alfred Morris, limiting him to 6 yards on eight attempts. Morris actually had a long run of 12, so his other seven carries “totaled” minus-6 yards. Silas Reed had an 8-yard gain and fumbled at the end of it. The Rams had eight tackles for loss, led by Hayes with two.

–SPECIAL TEAMS: A-minus — The victory made it possible to somewhat overlook K Greg Zuerlein’s three missed kicks in the first half, including an extra point. Otherwise, the grade is an A-plus. The Rams brought in left-footed punter Michael Palardy at the end of the week to mimic Redskins P Tress Way, and Tavon Austin was appreciative. Austin had a 78-yard return for a touchdown and added returns of 28 and 37 yards. That moved Austin to fifth in the league with an 11.1-yard average. P Johnny Hekker, who signed a six-year contract extension Friday, dropped three of four punts inside the 20, including two at the 4- and 6-yard lines. The one at the 4 was on a 61-yard punt. Two of Hekker’s punts were returned for a total of 3 yards. Also, Hekker, who was holding on a second-half extra point, calmly passed to TE Cory Harkey for a two-point conversion. Finally, the Rams sniffed out a fake punt with the score 9-0 in the third quarter. LB Daren Bates stopped Way for a 2-yard gain on fourth-and-5 at the Rams 33-yard line. Four plays later, the Rams scored a touchdown after recovering from a first-and-20 situation. The two-point conversion gave them a 17-0 lead.

–COACHING: A — Head coach Jeff Fisher continued to emphasize winning two games in a row, and the Rams did for the first time this season. Mostly, the players executed, but the plan helped enable the game to be dominated from start to finish.


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