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RamView: Week 1 – Defense

* Defensive line/LB: Consistency may be the hobgoblin of little minds, but a lack of it on defense is where today’s game falls apart. Helped by relentless blitzing, the D put a beating on Cardinals QB Derek Anderson. He often missed total mismatches on one side of the field because the blitz didn’t give him time to look over there. The Rams whacked him around like a piñata. Chris Long got a ton of pressure. When they blitzed. When the Rams dropped into zone coverage and rushed four, Anderson got forever to throw, and that’s where they got beat. At the same time, though the Rams tried, you can’t actually blitz forever, especially the amount of wacky zone blitzing they did. That got burned enough times, too. Lack of consistent 4-man rush was one of today’s shortcomings. Another was consistent run defense. Oh, the Rams stuffed the run most of the day. Except for one drive, they only allowed 38 rushing yards. Unfortunately, that one second-quarter drive was as bad a gashing as this defense has ever taken, a 4-carry, 75-yard assault that set up a 1-yard Tim Hightower TD and a 10-3 Arizona lead. LBs and safeties were caught blitzing, and DEs got repeatedly pinned inside, leaving Cardinal RBs monster running lanes for huge outside gains. And though the blitzing definitely had Anderson’s head spinning, none of it resulted in a Big Play, i.e., a sack. The Rams only got two sacks, and one of those was because absolutely nobody blocked Fred Robbins on a play. The other was the 4-man rush’s lone success of the day, thanks to C.J. Ah You rushing out of LDE. He whipped Cardinal RT Brandon Keith and pounded the ball loose from Anderson for a fumble. Sounds like a Big Play. Cliff Ryan then snatches the bouncing ball and heads the short distance downfield to the end zone. Sounds like an Even Bigger Play. Until Steve Breaston brilliantly fires in from behind and strips Ryan of the ball just as he’s shifted into neutral about a foot from the goal line. Arizona recovers, and what should have been a game-winning TD for the Rams is instead just a touchback. Holy cats. Larry Grant forced two turnovers. One saved a FG in the 4th, if not more. The other, kind of a miracle, gave the Rams a second chance to win the game in the last 2:00. The Rams forced four turnovers today, and the defense had chances to score TDs off of two of them directly. They wound up scoring ZERO points off turnovers. If the Rams had displayed the killer instinct of good teams, this game’s not just a win, it’s an easy win. Instead, their 8th straight loss to Arizona, 14th straight home loss, 15th straight division loss, ad nauseam. Like the rest of the team, the front seven was good enough to win and bad enough to lose. They did enough yet not enough. Their big plays turned out not to be big. They’re the most bipolar part of the team’s bipolar performance. The team needs to find consistency, they need to find their killer instinct, and they especially, and quickly, need to find a 4-man rush.

* Secondary: Ron Bartell held a gimpy Larry Fitzgerald (3-43) in check today, which by itself should have been enough to win the game. O.J. Atogwe tomahawked the ball out of Tim Hightower’s grasp to give the Rams a big-play opportunity early in the game. And Atogwe’s turned into Billy Jenkins all of a sudden, delivering a couple of big hits downfield and clocking Anderson a couple of times on blitzes. Do NOT celebrate on the field when the receiver still catches the ball for a 24-yard gain, however. Craig Dahl recovered the late Hightower fumble that kept Rams hopes alive. DBs were nailing Anderson on blitzes all day, including Dahl and Justin King. The blitz often forced Anderson into just lobbing something Fitzgerald’s way and crossing his fingers, but Bartell had that taken care of. But like their mates up front, the secondary’s failure was their inability to finish off The Big Play. Bradley Fletcher scooped up Atogwe’s forced fumble in the first and took off downfield, but got caught from behind. I’m sorry, but that should never happen, not to a DB. And Lord forbid this team EVER intercept a pass EVER AGAIN, as Bartell had a PERFECT opportunity go right through his hands. The Rams held Fitzgerald but let Steve Breaston (7-132) beat them. As unforgivable as that is, by and large it wasn’t the secondary’s fault. Breaston killed them with long drags and crosses against soft zone coverage. Your front four HAS to get to the QB without letting those routes that take forever to run to develop. But the Rams’ four-man rush never got there. Injuries to King and Kevin Dockery didn’t help, and then Fitzgerald pulled out a clutch play, getting behind James Butler, who I think was only in the game because of the other injuries, for what turned out to be the game-winning TD. Bartell played shutdown-corner-quality, and the whole secondary revealed a new intimidation factor, but like the rest of the D, they have GOT to be able to finish off big plays. Finish just one of those missed opportunities off and the Rams win the game.

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