ST. LOUIS -- It would be easy to discount the St. Louis Rams' marked defensive improvement from the first week of the preseason to the second week, given the substitute-filled San Diego Chargers lineup they held to a pair of field goals.
Regardless of who was on the other side of the line, players and coaches felt what was most important was they were in the right place to make plays in the 7-6 victory Saturday, unlike the 34-13 drumming they took in Nashville the previous week.
"They played their butts off," tight end Randy McMichael said. "We put them in some bad spots, especially our first team, and they were able to hold them.
"If the defense can keep doing that, once we get our offense together, we'll be fine."
A unit bolstered by first-round picks the last three years, including second-overall selection Chris Long this April, could be the strength of a team that was 3-13 last season and used to be known for its high-flying offense. The Chargers, who had only three offensive starters in the lineup, mustered only 203 net yards after the Titans rang up 495 -- a whopping 340 on the ground.
Linebacker Will Witherspoon said Monday that shutting down the Chargers was largely a point of pride for a unit embarrassed by those big numbers.
"It's really just that the defense wanted to prove a point and say, 'Hey, you know that wasn't us that first week,"' Witherspoon said. "We wanted to make a statement, holding them down."
The Rams were on defensively despite their own shortages, with safety Oshiomoge Atogwe (hamstring) and cornerback Fakhir Brown (shoulder) out for the second straight game.
Rams coach Scott Linehan said the tackling was better against the Chargers. Stopping the run was a big emphasis in the practice week, with players in pads the first day back after the preseason opener. San Diego, minus LaDainian Tomlinson, mustered 104 yards in 23 carries.
Linehan noted the coaching staff had a similar approach before the preseason opener, just minus the results, but that the second time it carried over from the practice week.
"I just think our guys' whole approach was better," Linehan said. "I think sometimes it's amazing that what you work on and emphasize and what you push is going to be what you're the best at."
Tackle Clifton Ryan said it was time the defense stepped up. Beyond the embarrassment factor, he said the defense covered its gaps much better.
"We're all being evaluated right now, from the 15-year vets down to the rookies," Ryan said. "We have to get better each practice and each preseason game so we can reach our goal of being an elite team."
* Quarterback Marc Bulger threw without apparent discomfort in practice Monday, two days after getting a scare when he was hit from behind in the shoulder near the end of the first half. Linehan had been uncertain Sunday whether Bulger would be ready for duty right away.
* Running back Steven Jackson remained a holdout entering the final year of his contract with no apparent movement. Backups Antonio Pittman, Travis Minor and Brian Leonard combined for 144 yards on 28 carries and a touchdown Saturday. "We know what he can do, we certainly want him here and I'm anxious to have him come in," Linehan said of Jackson. "But in the meantime, I know quite a bit more about our backfield."
* Offensive tackle Orlando Pace participated early in practice and then mostly watched later due to general soreness. Pace is coming back from a second straight season-ending injury, and was sidelined by a shoulder injury in last year's opener. "For sure it was not an injury, just how you feel after a game," Linehan said.