Even at 5-0, LA Rams still determined to improve run defense
By GREG BEACHAM, AP Sports Writer
THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. (AP) — Although the Los Angeles Rams have few areas of major concern after their impressive 5-0 start, Aaron Donald thinks their rushing defense is something that needs fixing on this smoothly running machine.
The All-Pro defensive tackle intends to make sure they repair it.
The Rams are a modest 18th in the league in yards rushing allowed, giving up 106.8 per game — and a whopping 5.0 yards per carry, fourth-worst in the NFL. Last weekend, the Seahawks racked up 190 yards on the ground during the Rams’ 33-31 comeback victory in Seattle.
The Rams are headed to snowy Denver on Sunday for a date with the Broncos’ No. 3-ranked rushing offense, which has piled up 137 yards per game. To Donald, the job is clear.
“We need to stop the run,” Donald said Wednesday. “Don’t even worry about getting after the quarterback. Our main job this week is to stop the run. They’ve got a strong running game. If we do that, then we’ll get after the quarterback.”
The Seahawks gouged the Rams’ defensive front for 5.9 yards per carry, boosted by a handful of big plays that were aided by defensive mistakes. The Los Angeles Chargers also had major success on the ground against the Rams last month, rushing for 7.1 yards per carry.
The Rams have been comfortably ahead on the scoreboard for much of the season, limiting their opponents’ ability to use the run game. But Donald realizes the Rams can’t count on their high-octane offense to get them out of work in the defensive trenches.
It nearly cost the Rams in Seattle, but Los Angeles’ offense scored the game’s final nine points, and the defense shut out the Seahawks in the fourth quarter.
“I feel like it was more disappointing we gave up that many rushing yards and we gave up that many points,” Donald said. “As long as we found a way to win, you can have a game like that. We’ve just got to play better.”
Seattle right guard D.J. Fluker had sharp words for the Rams’ defense afterward, saying Los Angeles hadn’t “seen a team that’s played physical. They want to be pass-rushers. They haven’t seen a team go out there and actually take it to them every single play.”
Donald chuckled at the apparent criticism of him and Ndamukong Suh, two of the NFL’s most decorated defensive linemen.
“He said something smart? We’ll see him,” Donald said. “We’ll play them again.”
The Rams weren’t statistically great against the run last season, giving up 122.3 yards per game to rank 28th in the league. Defensive coordinator Wade Phillips’ unit was strong in other areas during the Rams’ 11-5 regular season, but run defense remains an area ripe for improvement.
Those improvements have been a significant topic of conversation already this season. Coach Sean McVay’s staff is reminding the defensive front seven to stick with their gap assignments, although McVay identified at least one big Seahawks run in which the coaches put the players in a poor defensive scheme for the situation.
“What we’re encouraged about as you watch it as a staff are they’re very fixable things,” McVay said. “I think our players will respond the right way.”
Donald understands why Fluker and others might think the Rams would become complacent during their outstanding start. He intends to keep the Rams focused on the play-to-play responsibilities that add up to improved run defense.
“That’s all it is. Little mistakes,” Donald said. “Things that are going to get fixed, that’s fixed now. We’re itching to get back on that field to show the adjustments we had, and the way we’re supposed to play.”
NOTES: Receivers Brandin Cooks and Cooper Kupp are both on a path to play Sunday after leaving last weekend’s game early to enter the concussion protocol. Cooks and Kupp both participated in the Rams’ walk-through portion of practice Wednesday. “No setbacks or anything like that,” McVay said. “They’re progressing in the right direction.” … All-Pro K Greg Zuerlein probably won’t return from his groin injury this week, which means Cairo Santos will kick in Denver. Santos made both of his field goal attempts in Seattle, including the game-winner with 6:05 to play, but also missed an extra point. … The Rams are aware of the snow in the forecast for Denver this weekend, but McVay isn’t worried about his warm-weather team’s ability to handle it. “Out here in Southern California, unless we want to go to an ice rink, I don’t think we can mimic and emulate that,” McVay said.
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