Rams Defense Steps Up Again

James Laurinaitis (Getty/G Newman Lowrance)

The numbers seemed daunting as the Rams defense prepared to play the high-powered San Diego offense. The Chargers entered Sunday's game averaging a league-best 461.8 yards per game.

Quarterback Philip Rivers was third in the NFL with a 105.4 passer rating, and led the league with 1,759 yards, 15.3 yards per completion and 9.61 yards per attempt. He had been sacked 11 times in five games. The Chargers were also explosive on first down, averaging 7.21 yards per play, almost a yard ahead of second-place Tennessee. Only six teams in the NFL averaged better than six yards per first-down play entering Week 6.

Coach Steve Spagnuolo said he addressed the team about San Diego's first-down explosiveness on Friday.

"We had first down as our focus," defensive end Chris Long said. "We knew they were very aggressive on first down, and we had to answer with our own aggressiveness."

They did, especially early in the game, as the Rams built a 17-point lead. On their first five possessions of the game, the Chargers totaled just seven yards on nine first-down plays. Three of the Rams' five first-half sacks came on first down.

For the game, San Diego averaged 5.70 yards on first down (30 plays for 171 yards). Of that total, 14 plays for 122 yards came on their three scoring drives. Their eight non-scoring possessions accounted for 49 yards on 16 plays, including five plays for 34 yards on a possession that ended with a blocked field goal and included a holding penalty on first down. On their other seven possessions, they had 15 yards on 11 first-down plays.

Overall, the Chargers had 287 yards, Rivers passed for 249, down more than 100 yards from his 351.8-yard average, and his average per completion was 11.3 and per attempt was 6.73.

Said coach Steve Spagnuolo, "I thought the coaches, coach (Ken) Flajole and the defensive guys did a nice job putting together a plan against an offense that is very scary. Now I know (tight end) Antonio Gates got hurt, so it changed things a little bit, but they still have enough weapons out there.

"Their running back's really good, the quarterback knows what to do. He got them in and out of some things where we were going to bring pressure, so it was a chess match for part of that game between him and (middle linebacker) James Laurinaitis. But again, I thought when it was all said and done, the d-line is always going to help us if they can do that."

Said Long, who had two sacks, "A lot of that is scheme. I think the coaches did a great job scheming it up so guys would be free. The players do have to be in the right place when we do have the opportunities. So it's a 50/50 thing, and I think the coaches did a great job of calling the right plays, and we did a great job of being in the right place when they called it."

Defensive end James Hall, who had another two sacks to give him six for the season, said, "Guys went out and executed the game plan, played tenacious, came out swinging from the first snap. It's big for us, especially having a young team, to bounce back the way we did after a disappointing loss last week.

"There was an energy about us in pregame. We didn't talk about it a lot but coach mentioned it before we went out. He felt something. He could feel an energy and we definitely came out swinging in that first half."

Howard Balzer is the Editor/writer for GridIronGateway Magazine. For subscription information visit GridIronGateway.com (reduced online rate of $39.95) or call 888-501-5752. You can also follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/HBalzer721

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