Remember the old dilemma that defensive coordinators had when the Rams were scoring 500 points per season? Do you focus your game plan on stopping the pass or on stopping the run? There was no right answer, usually just a wrong one. Well, a trend is developing in 2006. Two consecutive opponents have devoted their energy to stopping Steven Jackson. At Seattle, the Seahawks employed run blitzes designed to put guys in gaps to stop Jackson from gashing them. Last week, Carolina loaded 8 guys in the box, essentially employing the safety as an extra linebacker. Expect this kind of strategy to continue. Scott Linehan's mission will be to figure out how to get Steven the ball against eight man fronts. His initial approach Sunday was sound--one that Mike Martz used a lot. Throw the ball early against teams cheating to the line of scrimmage. Then, after they loosen up, dial up the running game. Trouble is, the Rams couldn't execute the plan. At halftime, it was still a 10-0 game and Jackson could still have become a factor. I believe the Rams poorest offensive performance in years is an aberration not a trend. But, I think the Rams are going to have to prove they can attack vertically in the passing game before teams rethink their approach. Right now, the Rams passing game doesn't frighten anyone. Before Sunday it had been efficient but not particularly dangerous.
My biggest concern with this team remains the run defense. Jim Haslett has said he spends more time working on that phase than he ever has. Yet, the Rams are still porous. How bad are they? At 153 yards per game, they are 31st in the NFL.(the Colts are giving up 155 yards) They are 17 yards per game worse than last year's defense. Here's the gruesome stat: they are allowing an astounding 201 yards per game rushing in their last four games. Statistically speaking, it's the worst four game stretch of run defense in the 12 year history of the St. Louis Rams. What's the answer? Unfortunately, I think it's a productive off-season. I think Haslett is just going to have to put the biggest band aid he can on the problem and try to minimize the damage. If the Rams can blow up drives with timely sacks and some turnovers(as they did Sunday at Carolina)they can stay in games. But, even if you minimize scoring,a poor run defense costs you valuable field position and allows the opponent to control the ball as the Panthers did.
The Rams went 1-5 versus their NFC West foes in 2005. Hard to believe given the mediocrity of the division. They were just 1-3 versus the 49ers and Cardinals. Well, the 49ers who come to town this week are better than those 49ers. So, if the Rams don't start playing better, we could be talking about another 1-5 division record. Yes, the Cardinals are a bad football team but they gave the Rams all they could handle in September. These next two games will determine whether the Rams can finish in the vicinity of 8-8 or if they'll be picking very high in April's draft.
By the way, the answer to the question I posed last week is zero. As in Julius Peppers recorded zero sacks of Marc Bulger. Alex Barron did a nice job against him and Linehan made sure he got some help at times. Barron will be a very good tackle for years to come. Don't let the false start issue fool you. He's only played about 20 games in the NFL. He's only going to get better. But, expect some line shuffling this week. One possibility is Todd Steussie shifting back to left tackle and Adam Goldberg moving inside to guard.