LATSCH"> LATSCH">

Rams defense provides bright spot in up-and-down season

If the Rams can play like they did against the Saints (10-4), why don't they do it more often?

Lance Kendricks celebrates catching a four-yard touchdown pass with teammate Stedman Bailey during Sunday's 27-16 win. 

Jeff Curry / USA TODAY Sports

ST. LOUIS -- James Laurinaitis doesn't have an answer.

The St. Louis Rams' middle linebacker has tried to figure out where things went wrong, why his team and his defense can look dominant in some games and struggle to stop anybody in others.

Laurinaitis knows that next month, when the Rams are watching the playoffs, they are going to be watching teams they beat this season -- Arizona, Indianapolis, Chicago and now, New Orleans -- and that's a frustrating thing for the linebacker to consider.

The Rams' 27-16 victory against the visiting Saints on Sunday at the Edward Jones Dome just adds to what has been a frustrating 6-8 season marked by extreme highs and lows.
  
Laurinaitis doesn't know why it has been like that.

"I don't know," he said. "I really don't. I can't put my finger on it. I wish I had an answer. I don't know what it is. Today we were able to come and make some plays early and get some bounces our way. Some of the other games it just seems like things landslide, you know, fast. So I don't know why it's been like that. Hopefully, we can reflect and find a way to figure that out."
  
The Rams' defense was downright dominant again Sunday in front of a rowdy home crowd of 58,442.
 
Defensive end Robert Quinn recorded two sacks, his 14th and 15th of the season, forced two fumbles and recovered one. He also pressured New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees on a throw that was intercepted by safety T.J. McDonald on the Saints' first play from scrimmage.
 
"Rob, in my opinion, is the best pass-rushing defensive end in the league," Rams defensive end Chris Long said. "They are always going to have to account for him. Today they just decided they were going to try to take us away and you couldn't take Rob away. That's hard to do. He's had just a tremendous season. I think he's got 15 (sacks). He needs to be up for defensive player of year in my opinion. He makes everybody better around him."
 
The Rams had two interceptions in the first quarter -- cornerback Trumaine Johnson had the other -- and three turnovers in the game.
 
The St. Louis offense, which got strong performances from quarterback Kellen Clemens (14 of 20 for 158 yards and two touchdowns) and running back Zac Stacy (133 yards rushing and a touchdown on 28 carries), turned the two interceptions into two touchdowns and an early 14-0 lead.

"This was a great team win," Clemens said. "It really was. Offensively, it starts with the offensive line, and they played great. Obviously, Zac Stacy went over 100 again. I think it was over 100 in the first half. I didn't get touched. They did a great job.

"And then on defense, you hold that offense to 16 points, only three in the first half. They were harassing Drew Brees all day, forced the turnovers, which were huge. They gave us good field position and kept points off the board for them obviously. On special teams we recovered an onside kick and blocked two field goals if I'm not mistaken. It was just a great team win across the board. I'm really, really happy for our guys."
 
But the questions kept coming, from each corner of the locker room.
 
If the Rams can play like this against the Saints (10-4) and Bears (8-6) and Colts (9-5) and Cardinals (9-5), why don't they do it more often?

"One thing we have to be is more consistent," Quinn said. "I don't want to use the excuse we are a young team, we have got to grow up eventually, it definitely shows the potential we have. It sucks we are not going to make the playoffs with the games we have where we beat great teams. I think we have just got to put it together and be more consistent and we'll definitely open up some eyes in the league."
 
Quinn also said that it seems like they rise to another level when they play great teams and sometimes play below the level they are capable of. He mentioned the 14-9 loss to the Seahawks, where the Rams had a fourth-down play at the 1-yard line and a chance to win at the end of the game, as another example.
 
The Rams have had plenty of opportunities this season to write a different story, to win a few more games and snap their streak of now 10 seasons without a winning record.
 
Instead they'll be watching the playoffs again for the ninth consecutive season. They've showed they can compete with and beat some of the best teams in the NFL, with their defense, backup quarterback and rookie running back leading the way.
 
But they've also showed they just are not there yet.
 
Sunday's victory showed defensive end William Hayes that they are still learning.

"We've got the talent," he said. "We just have to put it together and be able to do it week by week. We've got to be more consistent. We've done played a lot of good teams this year and we done beat them. It shows that we have the talent to do what we need to do." 
Now they just have to figure out how to do it every week.
 
You can follow Nate Latsch on Twitter (@natelatsch) or email him at natelatsch@gmail.com. 

We've got the talent. We just have to put it together and be able to do it week by week. We've got to be more consistent. We've done played a lot of good teams this year and we done beat them. It shows that we have the talent to do what we need to do.

-- William Hayes