Stopping the run tops Rams' lengthy 'to-do' list

Friday, September 24, 2004

ST. LOUIS -- After futilely chasing Michael Vick last week, the St. Louis Rams are anxious to tighten up their defense against the run.

They figure to improve this week against the Saints, considering Deuce McAllister is sidelined with a high right ankle sprain. His replacements are unsung Aaron Stecker, who has a more straight-ahead style, and often-injured Ki-Jana Carter.

"Anything fits our style," defensive tackle Ryan Pickett said. "Except Vick."

The elusive Vick, who ran for 109 yards on only 12 carries last week in the Falcons' 34-17 victory, is a special case because he's a quarterback. He was a huge factor in Atlanta's 242-yard total on the ground.

"Obviously, he did a great job and he does a good job against a lot of teams of creating plays with his legs," strong safety Adam Archuleta said. "But any good defense has to be able to stop the run, and we have to begin to start doing that."

That's been a problem area the last two seasons with the Rams, and the last three games in particular. Arizona's Emmitt Smith turned back the clock with 87 yards against St. Louis in the opener, and the Panthers gouged them for 216 yards on the ground in their double-overtime playoff victory last January.

The Rams surrendered an average of 124 yards per game last year, including 100-yard efforts by Tiki Barber, Jamal Lewis, Jamel White and Shaun Alexander. Six others ran for 80 or more yards.

So, run defense has been a point of emphasis since training camp, and it's still a big problem. Two potential reasons: the Rams have been short-handed a bit at linebacker with injuries to Tommy Polley and backup Trev Faulk. They're also waiting for the tackle tandem of Pickett and Damione Lewis, both former first-round picks, to start making their presence felt.

Others know they haven't hit their stride yet, either. Archuleta said his play has been "below average" thus far.

"You don't want to play bad regardless of whether it's early in the season or late in the season," Archuleta said. "Is there a cause to freak out or panic? No. But at the same time you have to look at it and address it."

Nobody is blaming new defensive coordinator Larry Marmie, who hasn't changed much of the pursuit style installed by Lovie Smith. Smith is now the Bears' head coach after three years with the Rams.

"We've just got to play better," defensive end Bryce Fisher said. "The thing about defensive football is it's simple in that if you know where you're supposed to be and go as hard as you can to get there, then good things happen.

"We need to start getting those good things."

This week, coach Mike Martz gave the team a brushup on the physical aspect of the game. Practices were in full pads after the team worked out in light shells last week to preserve their health.

"You need those collisions," Martz said. "We were down to just a few linebackers and we just couldn't afford to lose one in those drills, that was the whole rationale behind it. And it did hurt us."

Players didn't mind the extra contact.

"After we played Atlanta we felt like we probably needed it," Pickett said. "Everybody was for that. We're not against the pads right now, we're trying to do anything to get better."

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