ST. LOUIS — Janoris Jenkins swears he likes it, this gauntlet the second-year cornerback and his St. Louis Rams secondary have found themselves in to start the season.
First came Larry Fitzgerald, who caught eight passes for 80 yards and two touchdowns in a Cardinals loss. Then it was Julio Jones, who pulled in 11 of 14 targets for 182 yards and a touchdown in a Falcons win.
Now comes Dallas.
Now comes Dez Bryant.
“You’ve got to make sure you take care of him,” Rams defensive coordinator Tim Walton said this week. “You’ve got to double him. It’s the same thing, he’s one of the best receivers in the league — physical and they’re going to get him the ball. We have to try to do a better job of taking away guys’ No. 1 threat, and he is their No. 1 guy.”
Jenkins says he relishes the chance to lock down Bryant, an opponent four inches taller, on Sunday. But the truth of the matter is this: His team’s pass defense is a bit suspect. As Walton said, the Rams have not done a great job stopping the biggest playmakers so far. Shutting down Bryant could calm the increasing anxiety that St. Louis can be picked apart through the air.
The Rams currently sit in the basement of the NFL’s pass defense statistics. They surrender an average of 331 passing yards per game (28th-worst in the 32-team league), let quarterbacks complete 71.1 percent of their throws (29th) and have intercepted just one pass. And then there’s another alarming stat — the Rams defense as a whole allows opponents to convert 52 percent of their third-down plays.
“The main thing is technique, but getting off the field on third down,” Walton said when asked how he can shore things up. “That’s what I have to do. I have to clean up that part of it and put them in better situations to allow them to get off the field on third down. That’ll take care of most of it right there because if you get off the field more on third down, that eliminates the extra plays that you have to play during the course of the game.”
The Rams may catch a break with Bryant. The fourth-year receiver, who has 13 catches for 163 yards and one score this season, is bouncing back from a stiff back and could be limited Sunday. Still, Jenkins’ confidence aside, Bryant is a challenge in any capacity.
“He is very explosive,” Rams coach Jeff Fisher said. “He’s strong. He’s hard to get down. He elevates very well, and he’s got a big wingspan. He can go up and make all the catches. He runs well. He’s a really good receiver. We’ve got back-to-back-to-back really good receivers thus far.”
Thus far, the Rams have stopped none.
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