During the St. Louis Rams heyday in the late 1990s and early 2000s, their calling card was an offense that could move the ball and score points with ease. Nicknamed “The Greatest Show on Turf,” players like Kurt Warner, Isaac Bruce, Torry Holt and Marshall Faulk were the faces of those winning Rams teams.
Nobody will mistake this year’s Rams team for those high-powered scoring machines. Conversely, if this year’s team enjoys any noteworthy success it will be on the strength of a defense earning a reputation of being as stingy as its head coach.
Through five games, the Rams are in the top half of the league in many of the defensive categories. The 19.2 points per game allowed is 8th in the NFL and may go up after Sunday’s games are completed. Their eight interceptions through four games ranked 2nd to only the Chicago Bears. And after their nine-sack performance on Thursday night, their 15 are third-most in the league.
DE Chris Long, one of the six Rams defenders to get to Arizona QB Kevin Kolb Thursday, said this year’s defense is a far cry from some of the units of years past.
“It just feels so good to be on a defense that can help this team win,” Long said. “In the past, I’ve even been embarrassed at how we’ve played defense, and feeling helpless and all those things. Every day we step on the field now I feel like we have an opportunity to win the game on defense.”
Maybe the biggest thing that separates this team from the one that was 26th in scoring defense in 2011 is the play of the secondary. New cornerbacks Cortland Finnegan, Janoris Jenkins and Trumaine Johnson have combined for five of the team’s eight interceptions, and the defense as a whole has allowed just two passing touchdowns all season while facing two of the league’s premier wide receivers in Calvin Johnson and Larry Fitzgerald through the first five weeks.
It’s not a finished product, and the Rams have a long way to go before they earn the respect given to the Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens of the defensive world. With 11 more games to go, the defense will have plenty more opportunities to prove it is as for real as the early returns indicate. At the very least, the fast start has given Rams fans cause for optimism going forward.
“You’ve got to put the product on the field for the fans to meet us halfway,” Long said. “I don’t expect fans to come out and watch poor football. Right now we’re playing good football. We’re playing quality football, physical football, grind-it-out type football and I think it’s a lot of fun. We have an identity now, so hopefully the fans will continue to come in and support us.”
The Rams do have an identity now. It’s just not the one you remember.