Rams Linebacking Corps Quietly Among League’s Most Productive Units

Posted Dec 4, 2013

When the Rams selected LB Alec Ogletree in the first round of this year’s draft, they had visions of a long-term stalwart who could team well with standout MLB James Laurinaitis right away.

With three-quarters of the 2013 season complete, the vision has become a reality.

Following Sunday’s 23-13 loss at San Francisco, Ogletree and middle linebacker James Laurinaitis both eclipsed the 100-tackle plateau. Ogletree’s 12 stops pushed his season total to 109, putting him in range to challenge Laurinaitis’ rookie record of 144, set in 2009. In addition to corralling ball carriers, Ogletree has shown a nose for the football, having forced four fumbles on the year, third-most in the NFL and second among Rams to DE Robert Quinn.

Laurinaitis has done rather well for himself in his fifth NFL season, leading the Rams with 114 total tackles. Only four NFC linebackers have grabbed more interceptions than Laurinaitis’ two.

The Rams were also buoyed by the return of veteran Jo-Lonn Dunbar following a four-game suspension to begin the season. Since his return Ogletree, Laurinaitis and Dunbar have represented one of the NFC’s steadiest linebacking contingents within a 4-3 defensive set. The trio turned in one of their better performances of 2013 last week, when they accounted for nearly half of the team’s tackles in San Francisco on Sunday.

Laurinaitis has credited a simple defensive approach in the second half of the season as to the reason behind the group’s recent success.

“Defensively, I think our guys are just more attacking and aggressive, and not worried about being perfect all the time,” Laurinaitis said prior to Sunday’s game. “You just have to keep that energy and that fight up for 60 minutes.”

The group showed plenty of energy and fight while playing a leading role in the Rams’ recent improvements against the run, an area defensively that posed difficulties through the first quarter of the season. Despite facing two of the NFC’s top backs in Matt Forte and Frank Gore in the past two weeks, the Rams have strung together three consecutive weeks in which they’ve limited their opponents to 85 or fewer yards on the ground. Sunday’s showing against San Francisco was particularly notable, as they held the league’s seventh-ranked rushing attack to 83 yards and 2.8 yards per carry.

“It has (been consistent) and we felt like it would be a big test again for us considering what happened in the first game against them,” Head Coach Jeff Fisher said at his Monday press conference. “We made adjustments. There were some good things in this ball game, that’s one of them was our run defense and tackles for losses and pressure that we put on the quarterback.”

With the likes of Laurinaitis and Ogletree playing at their current pace, the Rams’ linebackers figure to see many of those good things continue for the foreseeable future.