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Rams Focused on Improving Run Defense

Posted Sep 19, 2017

After surrendering nearly 230 yards rushing last week to Washington, L.A. has been focused on improving its run defense for a challenging San Francisco offense.

It’s been a constant question since the final whistle on Sunday: Why did the Rams surrender so many rushing yards to Washington?

The visitors had 229 yards rushing, averaging 5.9 yards per carry. Three different Washington running backs tallied at least 67 yards on the ground. And because the ground game was so effective, Washington led time of possession 36:19 to 23:41.

In other words, the question isn’t a secret. And that’s probably why defensive coordinator Wade Phillips began his Tuesday press conference by saying, unprompted, “What’s wrong with the run defense, right?”

“We didn’t play the run very well and we’re upset about that, but we’re going to do something about it,” Phillips said. “I did think we fought back in the second half and played a lot better run defense than we did — obviously, the first quarter kind of shocked us.

“And they have a good running game,” Phillips continued. “I don’t want to take away anything from them, but that certainly hurt us.”

According to Phillips, there were a number of contributing factors to the Rams’ struggles against the run. One of them was Washington effectively running plays that have worked against teams Phillips has coached in the past — plays that Washington may not have shown on film.

“We’ve seen them — I’ve seen them — but it’s a copycat league. They tried to copy all the plays that had any success against Denver, or Texans, or Philadelphia, or New Orleans. or Houston or…where else have I been?” Phillips said with a chuckle. “They were successful on those.”

But another part of it was that in some ways, the Rams are still getting adjusted to their new defensive scheme. For instance, outside linebacker Robert Quinn has played as a down lineman in the past, which requires a different type of technique for playing against the run. Conversely, outside linebacker Connor Barwin played in Phillips’ system in Houston and doesn’t quite have to make those adjustments.

“I think just the feel of where everybody is, especially for linebackers — how to set the edge for the outside backers,” Phillips said. “Connor’s done it before, but Robert Quinn has never played outside linebacker so I’m talking about him in the running game, he’s always rushed the passer and we had him rushing the passer quite a bit.

“And the two inside guys [Alec Ogletree and Mark Barron] have played linebacker, but they haven’t played a 3-4,” Phillips added. “And even the safeties, I think, you know where to fill, those kind of things. Just took some live-action time. Unfortunately, we didn’t do as well as we wanted to, but I think we’ll do better.”

On Ogletree and Barron in particular, Phillips said he felt they got better as the game went on. But once the second half hit, Washington already had racked up 167 yards rushing in the first two quarters.

“Both of them made like over 15 tackles, so they made a lot of plays, especially as the game went along,” Phillips said. “I think you look at it now, the second half they had like five runs that were minus yards. So, like I said, we started playing better in the second half, but too little too late — got us too far behind.”

So what’s the solution? Head coach Sean McVay said one factor is keeping gap integrity.

“Again, you look back at some of the different things, credit to Washington for making some of those plays,” McVay said. “But I think the thing that was encouraging, which Wade will tell you guys as well, is that as the game progressed, guys settled in. Now what we’ve got to do a good job of is not letting what happened in the early stages of the game happen, period.

“What we’ve got to do is just make sure the things that are correctable, that we can clean up, we address those,” McVay added. “And those are things that we’ve done already and the guys have responded the right way.”

Given how well San Francisco ran it last week against Seattle, correcting the run defense is a top priority for the short week. Niners back Carlos Hyde rushed for 124 yards on 15 carries last week, as San Francisco totaled 159 yards rushing in its 12-9 loss.

“The running back is one of the top running backs in the league,” Phillips said. “What did he go for 100 and something against Seattle? And, they have a pretty good defense there, so it’s going to be a challenge for us.

”They’ve got to be licking their chops,” Phillips added. “They had 159 yards last week against Seattle and now they’re playing us who gave up 200 and something.”

And while there are challenges that come with the truncated preparation time, Phillips also sees some benefits.

“We’ve got to play better to win on defense,” he said, “so the only good thing out if it is, I think we’ll put more emphasis on the running game. And we play quickly, so we’re back into San Francisco. Last week’s gone, so that’s the only good thing about it.”