ST. LOUIS, Mo. — Perhaps one shouldn’t complain about any defense that holds Aaron Rodgers to a pair of field goals.
But I’m going to, anyway. The Rams’ defense, after all, is not supposed to be just any defense. As defensive end Chris Long has said, “Our goal has gotta be a top-five defense. Top 10 is the minimum expectation.”
They won’t sniff their goal or come close to their minimum expectation if they tackle in the regular season like they did when the first-teamers were on the field Saturday night at the Edward Jones Dome. The Rams know it as well as anyone in the crowd of 53,375.
“One thing everybody’s talking about in this locker room is we didn’t tackle well enough early in the game,” Long said. “Hopefully, that will get better. It is the preseason but we need to work on it.
“We were in the right place a lot of times but when you don’t tackle and you give an offense like that extra opportunities, it can hurt you.”
And while they can take some satisfaction in holding Rodgers’ offense to 6 points, he played only three series. He can be content in saying that two of them resulted in points.
“We had one-on-one situations and you need to finish the play,” coach Jeff Fisher said. “Overall last year, we were a good tackling defense. We’ve got to do better than we did today.”
While the Rams readily admitted they had a problem with tackling, they really couldn’t explain why. Could it be because there is so little tackling practice in their practices? Even in full-pad workouts, there is little, if any, game-like tackling. That’s understandable because of the fear of injuries. But still, don’t you need to practice tackling?
“We are football players, so we should have that ingrained in our heads,” Long said. “We know how to tackle.”
“We have to go back to fundamentals,” tackle Michael Brockers said. “Taking people’s legs out, stuff like that. We have to keep them from getting any extra yards. That’s the biggest thing.”
The Rams didn’t take long to give the Packers some easy yards. On the first play from scrimmage, Rodgers completed a short pass to tight end Jermichael Finley and he promptly shook off Darian Stewart and picked up 11 yards.
Eddie Lacy, a rookie out of Alabama, busted off the right tackle for 7 yards on the second play and then Rodgers again hit Finley for a short pass that he turned into a 25-yard gain before T.J. McDonald brought him down.
Lacy then seemed to run through about half the Rams’ defense for a 15-yard gain to the Rams’ 17 that gave the Packers their third first down in four plays. “He’s a load,” Long said.
The drive stalled only when Finley was called for holding on third and one, negating a 7-yard gain by Lacy that would have put the Packers on the 6. Rodgers threw an incomplete pass on the next play, one of his two misses in eight attempts, and Green Bay settled for a 34-yard field goal.
Rodgers’ other incompletion came on the second drive when he overthrew an open Finley in Rams territory. A little better pass there and the Packers likely would have scored more than field goals.
The third and final drive for Rodgers started at their 2-yard line after Sam Bradford fumbled a snap on fourth-and-goal. Aided by a neutral zone infraction by Long on a third-and-seven (one of his two penalties), Rodgers marched the Packers 61 yards before the Rams finally got the kind of tackle they hope to see a lot this season. On third and five from the Rams’ 21, defensive end Robert Quinn broke through the Packers’ line and sacked Rodgers for a 9-yard loss. The Packers again came away with only a field goal.
“Keeping that offense out of the end zone is a big plus. That’s a little thing we can bring out of this game,” Brockers said. “But the fundamentals we have to improve on for next week.”
Well, they actually have two more preseason games to try and improve. Then the missed tackles will really start to hurt.
You can follow Stan McNeal on Twitter at @stanmcneal or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.