St. Louis' maligned defense still can't find a solution

Wednesday, December 1, 2004

ST. LOUIS -- For a while, horrendous special teams kept the heat off the St. Louis Rams' woeful run defense. Not this week.

The Green Bay Packers' 231-yard output in Monday's 45-17 victory put the onus squarely back on a unit that's every bit as responsible for the team's slide, with four losses in five games. Najeh Davenport is the seventh player to run for more than 100 yards, and the Rams (5-6) have surrendered 703 yards rushing the last four games.

Coach Mike Martz contemplates no lineup changes for Sunday's game against the 49ers, and he again expressed faith in defensive coordinator Larry Marmie's system. He said players just need to be more disciplined, especially under duress.

"It's kind of a personal thing really with some of these guys," Martz said. "You can't lose your resolve when things go bad. In the past we've always been able to rebound, but as it snowballed (Monday) we had a hard time."

The Rams have concentrated on defense in recent drafts and have four first-round picks and two second-rounders in the lineup, plus another first-rounder, tackle Jimmy Kennedy, in reserve. Either the Rams' college scouting was errant or they're not getting enough out of their players, because they're last in average per carry of 5.1 yards. The Packers averaged 8.3 yards.

St. Louis has surrendered an average of 38 points in the four losses. As the problems have mounted, Martz said perhaps some of his veterans have been trying to do too much.

"It's easy to look at tape and 'Here's what you didn't do right,"' Martz said. "We've got to be tough enough and accountable enough as players to make those corrections and understand the discipline of the defense and being where you're supposed to be.

"It's that simple. Then we need to make the play."

Turnovers also were devastating against the Packers. Marc Bulger threw for 448 yards, a record against the Packers, and Isaac Bruce caught nine passes for 170 yards and a touchdown. But Bruce also fumbled twice and both were returned for touchdowns, and the 17-point total illustrates the Rams' problems finishing drives.

Martz said Bruce, who leads the NFL with 1,026 yards receiving, has been bothered much of the season by an elbow injury that makes it difficult for him to grip the ball. He's lost three fumbles the last three weeks.

"I know those are two big, big plays and he feels terrible," Martz said. "He's pretty wiped out emotionally about that."

Martz took the blame for one misfire, a botched fake field goal in the third quarter that was sniffed out by the Packers. The play, a pass from holder Dane Looker to kicker Jeff Wilkins that ended with a 5-yard loss, came on a 42-yard attempt that could have cut the deficit to 21-13.

Martz said he was indecisive and called the play "at the last second."

"I wavered on the thing and then called it," he said. "We should have burned a timeout. I wanted to go for it, put the offense out there and go for it and try to get it into the end zone and get back into the thing."

With a victory, the Rams could have retaken the lead in the NFC West. As it is, despite their problems the Rams would be the sixth seed if the playoffs began today.

Not that it's much consolation to Martz.

"Right now that's insignificant to even think about," he said. "We've got some veterans that aren't playing as well as they should or as well as they have in the past, and some young guys learning how to play.

"And that's not a good combination."

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