De­fense has made its points

Lead­ing the league in take­aways, Rams’ de­fense puts of­fense in great po­si­tion.

Los Angeles Times - - NFL - By Gary Klein gary.klein@la­times.com Twit­ter: @la­timesklein

With as­cend­ing quar­ter­back Jared Goff, star run­ning back Todd Gur­ley and re­ceivers Robert Woods and Sammy Watkins, the Rams’ of­fense is get­ting most of the at­ten­tion.

But the de­fense is equally re­spon­si­ble for the fourgame win­ning streak that has vaulted the Rams to a 7-2 record and sparked pro­jec­tions for a po­ten­tial deep play­off run.

“They’ve been the back­bone of this team,” Goff said af­ter last week’s 33-7 vic­tory over the Hous­ton Tex­ans.

Go­ing into Sun­day’s game against the Min­nesota Vik­ings at U.S. Bank Sta­dium, the Rams lead the NFL with 19 take­aways, in­clud­ing 12 in­ter­cep­tions and seven fum­ble re­cov­er­ies. They are giv­ing up only 18 points a game, fourth fewest in the NFL.

“They have to be the No. 1 de­fense the last five or six weeks,” Gur­ley said, “Those guys are play­ing lights out.”

The Rams, play­ing in co­or­di­na­tor Wade Phillips’ 3-4 scheme, caused one turnover in their vic­tory at Jack­sonville, two in their shutout of the Ari­zona Car­di­nals at Lon­don, three in a road rout over the New York Gi­ants and four against the Tex­ans.

“They’ve done a re­ally good job of keep­ing peo­ple out of the end zone and get­ting the ball back for our of­fense,” coach Sean McVay said of the de­fense, “and I think that’s a big rea­son why you see them lead­ing the league in take­aways, and then we’ve been for­tu­nate to cap­i­tal­ize and turn that into points.”

Line­man Aaron Don­ald has a team-best five sacks. On the first se­ries in each of the last two games, he recorded a sack that led to a fum­ble and, even­tu­ally, Rams points.

Don­ald is not the only player caus­ing prob­lems for op­pos­ing of­fenses. The col­lec­tive ef­fort has pro­duced a for­mula for suc­cess.

“You have guys that are all over the field that are mak­ing a lot of plays, you’ll win a lot of games in the NFL,” Don­ald said.

Line­backer Mark Bar­ron leads the Rams with 63 tack­les and three in­ter­cep­tions. Against the Tex­ans, Bar­ron’s sec­ond-quar­ter in­ter­cep­tion quashed a threat and set up a field goal.

Line­backer Alec Ogle­tree caused the Coli­seum crowd to roar in the third quar­ter when he re­turned an ap­par­ent in­ter­cep­tion for a touch­down. The play was nul­li­fied be­cause Ogle­tree was pe­nal­ized for hold­ing, but it still ap­peared to pro­vide a spark.

The Rams’ of­fense be­gan a 21-point erup­tion on the en­su­ing se­ries.

“It just grows every week,” Ogle­tree said of the de­fense’s con­fi­dence.

The de­fense has played well dat­ing to the sec­ond half of a Week 4 vic­tory at Dal­las. McVay said play­ers have be­come more com­fort­able with the “nu­ances” of Phillips’ scheme.

“What makes him such a good coach too is that as you get more fa­mil­iar with your per­son­nel, then you’re able to ad­just within the frame­work of your sys­tem,” McVay said. “I think you … have heard him say this be­fore: ‘You don’t ever make your play­ers fit to your sys­tem, you ad­just to them.’

“That’s what good coaches do. That’s what Wade’s done.”

The de­fense con­tin­ues to get key con­tri­bu­tions not only from starters but also from role play­ers, in­clud­ing rook­ies.

Rookie safety John John­son has started the last five games. Rookie de­fen­sive line­man Tanzel Smart has started four games. Against the Tex­ans, rookie line­backer Sam­son Ebukam sacked quar­ter­back Tom Sav­age and forced a fum­ble.

“He’s ex­plo­sive, he can play in space, you see how quickly he closes to Sav­age when he forces that fum­ble,” McVay said. “He made a hand­ful of plays on spe­cial teams as well.”

De­fen­sive back Blake Count­ess, a sec­ond-year pro, has played as a cor­ner­back, safety and on spe­cial teams. Count­ess in­ter­cepted a pass against the Tex­ans.

“It’s ex­cit­ing to see those guys be able to make some plays a lit­tle bit later on in the game, and it ended up be­ing very im­por­tant for us,” McVay said.

Etc.

The Rams’ Nov. 26 game against the New Or­leans Saints at the Coli­seum was “cross-flexed” by the NFL from Fox to CBS. Kick­off was moved from 1:05 to 1:25 p.m. The move en­ables roughly 80% of the coun­try to see the game rather than 20%. The Rams’ Dec. 10 game against the Philadel­phia Ea­gles is a po­ten­tial can­di­date to be moved to “Sun­day Night Foot­ball.” … Of­fen­sive line­man Rodger Saf­fold is the Rams’ nom­i­nee for the Art Rooney Sports­man­ship Award, pre­sented an­nu­ally to the NFL player who “best demon­strates the qual­i­ties of on­field sports­man­ship, in­clud­ing fair play, re­spect for the game and op­po­nents, and in­tegrity in competition.” The win­ner is de­ter­mined by a vote of NFL play­ers. … The Rams were off Tues­day. They re­sume prac­tice Wed­nes­day.

Jae C. Hong Associated Press

LINE­BACKER MARK BAR­RON looks for run­ning room on an in­ter­cep­tion against the Tex­ans on Sun­day.

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