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The Rams Rushing Defense, and the Problem With Narrative

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The Rams rank 28th in rushing yards allowed per game. That's nowhere close to indicative of the job they've done against the top running backs. This is what happens when context meets narrative.

Dilip Vishwanat

Football is complex. I think most people understand that. There's also, though, a desire to distill the complexity of the sport into comprehensible bits. That desire obscures the context that is often more revealing than the distillation.

So it is with the Rams' rushing defense through six games.

Were you to be a member of the media who probably hasn't watched much of the Rams this year and were looking at the total yardage the Rams defense has given up on the ground (after yesterday, the Rams are ranked fifth-worst in rushing yards allowed per game), you might end up doing something like this:

Michael Irvin Marshawn Lynch prediction

I would guess you would do this because you would assume you would be able to maintain some professional dignity thereafter. And I would guess that would partly be true because you wouldn't be the only one who, as I mentioned above, hasn't watched much of the Rams this year.

Now for reality.

Lynch would finish with 53 yards on 18 carries, good for less than 3 yards per carry. And while the national punditry that is generally concerned with other things than the Rams (which I can understand) might be surprised at that, they'd only be exposing the fact that they're relying on the distillation of a complexity that they haven't watched for hundreds of minutes.

Here's the bottom line: the Rams are doing a very good job at containing running backs when the gameplan calls foor it. They're doing so at the exclusion of other parts of the defense.

Here's how the Rams have done against opposing running backs this year:

Week Name Team Att Yds Y/A TDs
1 Adrian Peterson MIN 21 75 3.57 0
2 Bobby Rainey TB 22 144 6.55 0
3 DeMarco Murray DAL 24 100 4.17 1
5 LeSean McCoy PHI 24 81 3.38 0
6 Frank Gore SF 16 38 2.38 0
7 Marshawn Lynch SEA 18 53 2.94 0
Averages 20.83 81.83 3.93 0.16

The Rams made limiting opposing running backs a key part of the gameplan in every week except week two facing a Tampa team with receiving threats like Vincent Jackson and rookie Mike Evans. They have, over the entirety of the season thus far, done a fine job in keeping opposing running backs held down. Even the DeMarco Murray game stands out as a success for the Rams' defense as it's the lowest single-game rushing yard total he's achieved in 2014.

So how are the Rams giving up so much total rushing yardage if they're doing well at stopping opposing running backs? Well, they've been carved up by non-RBs on the ground. In week one, it was Cordarelle Patterson with a 67-yard burner that helped him rack up 102 rushing yards on just three opportunities. Against Philadelphia after the bye, backup RB Darren Sproles added 51 yards on just 7 carries. While the 49ers only picked up 38 yards on Frank Gore's 16 carries, Colin Kaepernick tacked on 37 on just three rushes. And yesterday, Russell Wilson doubled Marshawn Lynch's rushing yardage in picking up 106 yards on his seven runs.

And in case you're compelled to try to simplify this, don't. For every part of the balloon you squeeze, another part swells. The Rams have opted to swarm the ball carrier on traditional running plays, and though sometimes some poor tackling contributes to excessive gains (as was the case for a few Murray runs in the Dallas game), the Rams have clamped down there. It's the non-standard rushing yardage that's contributing to an unimpressive total rushing yard allowed number.

Moving forward, the schedule is going to make things interesting if the defense is looking to soften up against the run in order to either support the passing defense or to cut down on the non-traditional rushing yards. The Rams get Jamaal Charles and the Chiefs next week, but with Arizona, Denver and San Diego coming up in consecutive weeks throughout November, the question of whether or not to add some depth to the pass defense is one the coaches will have to consider.

For now though, we're left with the reality that the Rams are shutting down opposing running backs while ceding far too much on the ground. And that's confusing many in the media.

But as always...Turf Show Times is here to help.

Michael Irvin Marshawn Lynch prediction (fixed)