Rams Find Familiar Formula for Much-Needed Win

Posted Nov 25, 2012

GLENDALE, Ariz. – After a frustrating seven weeks that saw the Rams go without a victory, coach Jeff Fisher’s message to his team this week was about as simple as it gets.

“Coach Fisher said Monday or Wednesday we just needed to get a win, all it takes is one,” quarterback Sam Bradford said.

That one win has been somewhat elusive in the Rams’ past five games as they had gone 0-4-1 since beating the same Cardinals team they played Sunday way back on Oct. 4. Along the way, they’d had a heartbreaking loss in Miami and a wrenching tie in San Francisco.

So in some sense, things finally came full circle against Arizona, who likewise hadn’t won a game in even longer than the Rams.

Something had to give and on Sunday, that something gave in the Rams’ favor as they used a formula that falls in line with exactly what type of team they want to be on their way to an impressive 31-17 win on the strength of a dominant second half performance.

“It seems like for week we have been talking about turnovers and we kept saying that these type of things come in bunches and they did today,” Fisher said. “Obviously that and our run game was the difference in the ball game.”

Behind an opportunistic defense that created four takeaways and returned two for touchdowns and a running game that imposed its will on a stout Arizona defense, the Rams improved to 4-6-1 on the season and continued their impressive run within the division as they moved to 3-0-1 against the NFC West with their first road victory of 2012.

The season sweep represents the first time the Rams have swept a division opponent since stringing together three straight against Seattle in 2004. It also wrapped up the team’s first winning record in the division since that same season.

“Obviously we have still got a lot of work to do but we are heading in the right direction,” Bradford said. “Anytime you are undefeated in the division at this point in the season, it’s a good thing.”

To keep that streak going, the Rams got a total team effort, particularly in the second half but also relied heavily on a pair of special performances, one from each side of the ball.

On the heels of a five-game streak in which they went without a takeaway, the Rams finally ended the drought with four interceptions of Arizona rookie quarterback Ryan Lindley. It was the first four-interception regular season game for the Rams since they had six against Atlanta on Dec. 15, 1996.

Two of those interceptions fell into the eager arms of rookie cornerback Janoris Jenkins, who returned one 36 yards and another 39 yards for a pair of touchdowns. In the process, he became the first player in Rams history to return two interceptions for scores and just the third rookie in league history to do it.

“He played lights out today,” linebacker Jo-Lonn Dunbar said. “We actually did a lot of things in terms of playing zone and playing man and he was able to come up with some huge plays and turn them into six. Anytime you get turnovers and turn them into points, that’s always a big thing for your offense and your defense.”

While the first of Jenkins’ interceptions came in the first half, the Rams defense as a whole found itself struggling against Lindley and an offense based entirely on timing that allowed Lindley to get the ball out quick and keep a Rams defense that had nine sacks in the teams’ first meeting at bay.

The result was a group that allowed 234 yards in the first half, less than 40 yards from what the Rams defense allowed in four quarters in the first game against the Cardinals.

As they entered the locker room trailing 17-14, the Rams were not pleased with their production on either side of the ball. As Fisher and Co. made some adjustments, the Rams came to life.

“Our coaches made awesome adjustments in the second half,” end Chris Long said. “I don’t know what they did behind us but they were awesome in the second half and we stopped the run, which was huge. The first half we weren’t stopping the run efficiently enough. It was a total game change.”

The defense ratcheted up the pressure on Lindley with a few more blitzes and also a few different looks up front, including a three-man rush with eight dropping in coverage.

Likewise, Arizona’s run game became essentially non-existent and the turnover reign continued as safety Craig Dahl and linebacker James Laurinaitis hauled in interceptions of their own.

In the closing 30 minutes, the Rams allowed just 141 yards, came up with three interceptions and most important, pitched a shutout.

The other side of that was to have an offense doing its part.

“We knew coming into halftime going out there that we have to dominate as an offense, especially in the running game,” running back Steven Jackson said. “We knew the defense would continue to create turnovers so we wanted to give them rest. We came out of the locker room saying that we were going to be physical and that’s what we tried to do.”

Nobody exemplified that physical approach better than Jackson. Running behind the offensive line the Rams envisioned entering the season for the first time since the season opener in Detroit, Jackson and the run game found a rhythm in the second quarter, carried it into the second half and never looked back.

“That’s Steven,” Fisher said. “We built this game plan around him today and he took it over. Winning on the road is hard but when you can put a seven-minute drive together in the fourth quarter with a lead, you have got a chance to win games like that.”

After taking some time to adjust to center Scott Wells’ return and his quickness to the second level, Jackson informed his teammates in the second half that he intended to take over. Jackson offered up a trademark emotion-heavy run in which he converted a third-and-1 into a 10-yard run to keep a late, clock-chewing drive alive.

When all was said and done, Jackson rushed 24 times for 139 yards and the Rams finished with 34 carries for 173 yards, an average of 5.1 yards per attempt.

It was vintage Jackson.

“Oh, God, he took over today,” Bradford said. “He was just in one of those modes today. I have seen it before. He gets that look in his eye and he is not going to be stopped. He did a great job running today. I thought those guys upfront opened up some holes for him but you can’t say enough about Steven. He played tremendous today.”

While Jackson was running wild, Bradford wasn’t asked to do much but he certainly delivered when he was. He threw just 17 times and completed only eight passes but he made the most of them with 205 yards and two touchdowns with a lone interception for a rating of 106.2.

All of that added up to a much-needed victory with another NFC West opponent coming to town next week and another golden opportunity to make headway in the division.

“It means a lot,” Bradford said. “Now we know we can do it. We won on the road, too, which is big. Hopefully we can build on this and just continue to get better.”