Willpower (n.) - energetic determination
The Rams defeated the Seattle Seahawks today, 19-13. There were obvious pluses and minuses we'll be discussing in the short week ahead. This, though, is a short note on character.
It exists, both for the individual and the collective self. The 49ers have 26 defenders on their 53-man roster, but you can define those 26 men as a singular, a defense that as a whole can be described without attributing qualities to each member.
The Rams are approaching that status.
I'm certainly not saying the Rams' defense and Niners' defense are comparable or equally impressive. I'm suggesting that the capability to define the Niners' defense (much like recent Ravens and Steelers defenses, for example) with a single trait is one that you can just about apply to the Rams.
And it's willpower.
No, the Rams have yet to be tested in meaningful late season football. And no, there's really been only the 2010 season to include such football in recent memory. But the way these Rams manifest their will on the football field is something we haven't seen in a much longer time.
What's strange is that this was the blueprint under Steve Spagnuolo. Pressure the QB. Play physical coverage with your corners. Force mistakes. Take advantage of the field position with your offense. It's strange that what failed so miserably in 2009 and 2011 and worked, uh, adequately in 2010 looks indisputably better in 2012. And not just to the degree of platitudes and silver linings Rams fans have clung to in recent years.
They're better to degree that is crafting wins with somewhat abominable offensive output at times.
In the last 15 games against the Seattle Seahawks prior to today, the Rams had 14 of them. Only the early October shellacking in 2010 marred what would otherwise be one of the more historic spans of domination in the NFL. And yet today, with an offensive line patched with other teams' castoffs, with a running back worn down by more than 2,000 carries and nearly as many losses working with single properly functioning groin and with a wide receiving corps that many had/have called the worst in the NFL, the defense and special teams units for the Rams willed themselves to a win.
No, the special teams won't always be as special. A fake FG turned TD will stick with us a bit more than the kick return reverse that ensured a hamstrung Rams offense would be faced with the impossibility of moving the ball 97 yards for a touchdown. Greg Zuerlein can only break his own franchise records so many times (NOTE: This kid's amazing. 12 for 12 to start the season, 4 for 4 today including the 58-yard franchise record soon after eclipsed by the new 60- yard record. Unbelievable...)
But this defense? It's special. There's the combo of Robert Quinn and Chris Long who, as anyone who's watched the Rams this season can tell you, can pressure any opposing quarterback. There's the mix of Eugene Sims, Kellen Heard, Jermelle Cudjo and Kendall Langford who have, suprisingly, contributed when offensive lines put too much effort into denying Long and Quinn. Now, the Rams have added rookie Michael Brockers to the mix. If that group alone didn't make it difficult to pass the ball, there's a cornerback unit of Cortland Finnegan, standout rookie Janoris Jenkins, a more experienced Bradley Fletcher. The talent level has been so obviously elevated to so obvious a degree, Craig Dahl has gone from a serviceable run stopper to the worst defender on the field without question. On older Rams teams, he contributed. Now, the defense has passed him by.
And it's willpower. When Craig Dahl had the opportunity to make a big interception today, he didn't. It summed up the nature of this defense well, a defense that was built to stop the pass and has done so to the tune of eight interceptions.
Whether it's because of the talent or Jeff Fisher or home field or flukish luck, the Rams' intent to stop the pass is not just a game plan. It's becoming a weekly recap.
There was a time that the Rams raised questions with every game. Now they're answering questions that haven't even been asked. Going into this season, several pundits wondered how the Rams defense could function without an appointed defensive coordinator. Four games, the Rams have someone, or rather something, to unify, motivate and coordinate their defense.
It's their willpower.
And it's pretty damn good.