Defense Comes Up Big

Posted Dec 2, 2012

In going toe to toe with a San Francisco defense that has spent the better part of the past two years in the NFL penthouse when it comes to all pertinent defensive ranking, the Rams offense was well aware entering Sunday’s game that it was going to be tough sledding.

Adding to the fact that the 49ers already play great defense was the fact that the teams met just three weeks ago, leaving little room for much in the way of surprises for the Rams offense.

That put the onus on the Rams defense to find a way to match or better what the Niners defense was able to do. And in the team’s 16-13 overtime win, that’s exactly what happened.

“Can’t say enough about them,” quarterback Sam Bradford said. “They played great and it’s just one of those things. I saw them before the game in the locker room, just their attitude, the way they were acting. They had their music on and I just got a sense that they were going to go out and play great today and sure enough that’s exactly what they did. You can’t say enough about them today.”

Perhaps there aren’t enough superlatives to describe the Rams defensive performance Sunday at the Edward Jones Dome but there are certainly plenty of examples of big plays, important stops and even scores to illuminate just how well the Rams defense played.

In a game where points were hard to come by, it was the defense that found a way to contribute exactly half the team’s 16 points. None of those were bigger than the 2-yard fumble recovery for a touchdown by cornerback Janoris Jenkins that made it 10-8 late in the fourth quarter.

After weeks of talking about a ball finally bouncing their way, it finally did at the most opportune of times when San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s pitch to Ted Ginn Jr. flew wide.

Jenkins swooped in and grabbed it as he rolled into the end zone for the team’s lone touchdown.

“Thank you,” linebacker Jo-Lonn Dunbar said. “We were begging for one all day. They came out with a little trick option and the guy lost control of it and thank God Janoris was able to be there and make a play. We needed that. It was huge.”

The defense also forced a safety when linebacker James Laurinaitis came on a blitz and forced Kaepernick to throw the ball out of bounds from his own end zone. When that pass didn’t reach the line of scrimmage, the flag for grounding was dropped and the Rams had their first two points.

While the Niners finished with 339 yards, they didn’t generate much offense at all after their initial scoring drive.

The biggest reason for the drought was the complete shutdown of San Francisco running back Frank Gore. Following a 23-yard run early in the game, Gore was unable to get much of anything on the ground. In fact, he finished with 58 yards on 23 carries, an average of just 2.5 yards and that includes the long run early in the game.

“I think we have had that in us,” end Chris Long said. “The first game when you look at it they had a pretty good day with him but the 180 something yards they had on the ground were largely quarterback runs. And again today, the yardage was on quarterback runs. And with a guy like that, he’s going to break some, especially if we get caught in a blitz or something like that, he’s going to step up and make a play but the key is the yards per carry by the running back. That’s a hell of a running back and I think we held him in check pretty good.”

Speaking of quarterback runs, it was Kaepernick’s ability to make plays with his legs that had the Rams worried for most of the week. He had a huge 50-yard run to give the Niners the lead near the end of regulation. Otherwise, the Rams appeared far more prepared for Kaepernick’s dual threat ability and kept him in check for eight carries and 34 yards not including the long run.

Even after the long run, the Rams defense bowed up and held the Niners to a field goal.

“We were prepared for him,” Laurinaitis said. “The first time, we weren’t. We let him get outside and break through. This time, we were prepared for him and knew he was going to do that. The one time he got us, we pressured. We were in zone pressure, and it was one of those things where they had the perfect protection for the wrong call for us and he took off and made a play. We were just glad to be able to get them down and kick a field goal.”

All told, it was one of the best performances by the Rams defense this season on a day when it was needed most

“As a team, that’s maybe the best that we’ve played,” Long said. “Just in that we were able to score points. On days when the offense isn’t clicking the way they want to exactly…hey, the offense made some plays when they had to. Hats off to our guys, and they kept fighting. But you know, on days like that, we have to pick up the slack and try to make a play or two. We have to take the ball away and we did that and we were able to get the win.”

GIVENS FILLS THE VOID: With receiver Danny Amendola out because of a foot injury, Bradford needed someone to step in and make plays in the passing game. The answer came in the form of someone you might not expect.

Known for his ability to make plays with the deep ball, rookie wideout Chris Givens worked underneath routes for most of the day and finished with a career high 11 catches for 92 yards.

While that performance will severely hamper Givens’ eye popping yards per catch numbers entering the game, he certainly wasn’t complaining.

“I just went out there and took advantage of all the mismatches and go out there and run the plays Coach calls,” Givens said. “I’m the type of athlete who’s going to go out there and give it all he’s got each Sunday, and that’s what I did.”

Never was that more evident than a huge play Givens made on the team’s final possession in overtime. On third-and-3 from the Rams 48, Bradford fired to Givens but it was on his back hip and Givens extended to make a huge catch for 6 yards and a first down to keep the drive alive.

“He’s come a long way and I’ve said it every week, I think he’s gotten better each week. I think he showed it today,” Bradford said. “I don’t know what his numbers were but that catch essentially won us the game. If he doesn’t make that then we probably don’t convert. It was third down so we probably had a shot on fourth, but just to keep the drive alive with that catch, it was outstanding.”

JACKSON’S DAY: Running back Steven Jackson didn’t approach the 100-yard mark this time around in the running game but he still found a way to be effective.

Jackson finished with 48 yards on 21 carries on the ground but was a terror in the pass game with five catches for 69 yards. And in the run game, he made big plays late to help put the Rams in position for the winning field goal.

“Just a typical day at the office,” Jackson said. “Tough day. Continue to just grind and when my number’s called, be who I am. It’s not about stats at this point in my career. At this point in my career, I want to win and that’s what’s most important.”

AMENDOLA SITS, QUINN PLAYS: Entering the game, the status of Amendola (foot) and end Robert Quinn (concussion) was up in the air.

Amendola didn’t practice all week and was listed as doubtful but that was the same scenario last week when he ended up playing on a limited basis in Arizona.

This time around, the Rams didn’t even push it as Amendola sat out Sunday’s game.

“(He was) just not quite ready,” coach Jeff Fisher said. “We’ll just see how he is during the week. We didn’t do anything (pre-game). We were resting him.”

Quinn, on the other hand, did some individual work on Friday after sitting out Wednesday and Thursday. He said he passed all of the tests between Friday and Saturday. He played on a limited basis Sunday as he bounced back.

“Friday, Saturday. I passed the test,” Quinn said. “We took it slowly to make sure I was all right. Of course my health was the most important thing and I guess I did enough to get cleared today for my little bit of plays to contribute out there.”