Sunday, November 7, 2010

Rams defense is turning the corner behind Spagnuolo

I helped call the Rams/Panthers in Week 8, which wasn’t a sexy matchup. But I’m starting to take notice of the growth of the Rams under coach Steve Spagnuolo. His ability to keep the Rams following him, and believing in his plan, has been excellent.

The biggest change I’m seeing though is one defense, where the Rams have finally turned the corner.

What happens with many coaches when they become head coaches is that they start to lose that touch of coaching the game. It doesn’t happen necessarily with offensive coaches, who often continue to call plays. What Spagnuolo does is work very closely with defensive coordinator Ken Flajole to be involved in calling the game. Flajole handles first and second downs, while Spagnuolo becomes involved in third downs and long-yardage situations. The two have a great relationship in calling a game together, and it’s the avenue in which Spagnuolo keeps himself involved.

The results have been tangible, because the Rams are a defense that has made the leap. They’re allowing 17.6 points per game, which is ranked ninth overall, and that’s including the 44 points they surrendered to the Lions. Outside of that performance, the Rams haven’t allowed more than 18 points in any game this season.

The Rams are getting it done with largely the same cast from last season’s 1-15 team. They didn’t make the big-name offseason addition who lights up the stat sheet. Defensive tackle Fred Robbins has made a big impact after coming over from the Giants and is playing well. James Butler, in his second season since leaving the Giants, is playing well at safety. Craig Dahl, another former Giant who Spagnuolo was familiar with, is also playing well. Spagnuolo brought in guys who knew him, knew his system and are playing better than people thought possible.

We’re not looking at a bunch of stars on the Rams defense. O.J. Atogwe is a very good safety. And after blogging about James Laurinaitis last week, he went out and made some splash plays against the Panthers. I like to see that.

Spagnuolo’s defense has taken on his personality, and it’s fun to watch. The fact that the Rams are 4-4 doesn’t excite a lot of people, but that’s OK. Keep in mind it is the NFC West.

The Rams have four of the next five games on the road, and that’s the proving ground. That’s where we find out about teams who are trying to take the next step. Ordinarily, with a rookie quarterback and a growing team, that’s a recipe for losses. But the fact we’re looking at the Rams and not considering that a lock to happen, to me that’s a credit to the Rams and how they’re getting it done.

– Charles Davis

Follow me on Twitter @CFD22 and follow The NFL Network @nflnetwork.

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