The offense of the St. Louis Rams is nicknamed “The Greatest Show on Turf.”
The team’s defense doesn’t have a catchy name, but this season, the unit is making its case for equal billing as St. Louis prepares to host the Tennessee Titans.
Last year, the Rams ranked 29th in the NFL in rushing defense at 136 yards per game. They allowed 37 touchdowns, forced only 15 turnovers and had the worst turnover differential in the league at minus-24.
However, the emergence of defensive linemen Jimmy Kennedy, Ryan Pickett and Damione Lewis, all first-round draft picks by the team since 2001, has taken some pressure off of an offense in the midst of a transition from Marshall Faulk to Steven Jackson as the full-time running back.
“Oh goodness sakes, there’s no comparisons,” coach Mike Martz said. “Our defensive front is light years ahead of where they were a year ago. We’ve got a ways to go, but our front seven is terrific.”
The Rams limited their first two opponents to 116 yards rushing on 3.1 yards per attempt, a drastic improvement from last year’s 4.5 yards per attempt. The defense also came up with a late game-saving stop to preserve the first win of the season, 17-12 at Arizona last week.
“That’s something our defense can be proud of,” said Adam Archuleta, whose sack of Kurt Warner at the Rams’ 10-yard line in the waning seconds helped preserve the victory. “That’s something the defense can hang their hat on.”
Archuleta, also a first-round pick in 2001, helped keep an injury-ravaged secondary together while the Rams used ordinary schemes to hold off the Cardinals. The Rams already have forced four turnovers, and Leonard Little has three of the team’s seven sacks.
“We’re trying to establish our character and our identity,” Archuleta said. “This was a great game, especially for our defense.”
Jackson had 93 yards and a touchdown on 18 carries, but Martz was more happy the second-year running back expects to carry more of the offense.
“Steven was anxious to have the load on him and he was going so good,” Martz said. “We just had a couple of broken assignments inside where I think we would have had some real good runs to break out there.”
The Titans looked as good in their 25-10 victory over the Baltimore Ravens last week as they did bad in a season-opening 34-7 loss at Pittsburgh. Tennessee limited Baltimore to 14 rushing yards and 182 total, bouncing back in impressive fashion after giving up 424 yards in the loss to the Steelers.
“As much work as we put into calming down for the opener, I think they were still a little anxious and a little emotional,” Titans coach Jeff Fisher said. “We just didn’t settle. I thought we were very, very focused (Sunday). Focused and emotional, and the crowd was terrific. Just a good all-around effort by everybody.”
Tennessee did not give up a first down in the first half and forced 11 three-and-outs by Baltimore. But veteran linebacker Keith Bulluck knows St. Louis is better offensively than what the Titans saw last week.
“They have an explosive offense. Where this offense was a little more 1-2, they have a 1-2-3-4 punch,” Bulluck said of the Rams. “We’ll be all right, we just have to keep working to get better.”