(Eds: With AP Photos.)By R.B. FALLSTROMAP Sports Writer
James Hall’s left forearm made the St. Louis Rams’ biggest stop last week.
The defensive end said he got a piece of the ball on the Cleveland Browns’ botched field goal that handed the Rams only their second victory of the season.
Article continues below ...
Though technically on special teams, it was the latest example of improvement on the front end of the defense, against the run and on the pass rush, that has given the Rams (2-7) a fighting chance in recent weeks. Now, they are slight favorites over the Seahawks (3-6) for Sunday’s home game.
The secondary has taken a hard hit with nine cornerbacks lost for the year, both starters gone after four games and stand-in starter Al Harris now on injured reserve with a knee injury sustained in the 13-12 victory at Cleveland.
The Rams had six sacks three weeks ago in an upset over the Saints, three by Long. They permitted a season-low 262 total yards with three sacks in a 19-13 overtime loss at Arizona, and had two more sacks at Cleveland while giving up four field goals.
The two weeks prior to this stretch, St. Louis was blown out by the Cowboys and Packers by a combined score of 58-10.
”The more leads we have, the better numbers we have,” defensive end Chris Long said. ”I think there’s a direct correlation. Our pass rush has been better than the numbers but it’s hard to stack up numbers when you’re down. When the team does well, we all do well.”
Interior linemen Justin Bannan, Fred Robbins and Gary Gibson have been getting good pushes, too, enabling the defense to harass quarterbacks without blitzing too much and leaving more bodies in the secondary.
”I think guys have taken it upon themselves during the course of the week to focus on the little things, as far as stopping the run, pursuit to the ball, and it’s paid off for us on Sunday,” Hall said. ”We always take responsibility to take a little pressure off those guys.”
Cornerback Josh Gordy, who began the season on the practice squad, is set to make his second straight start likely opposite Justin King, thrust into a starting role in Week 3. King was diagnosed with a mild concussion, along with offensive tackle Rodger Saffold, but both could return in a limited role to practice on Thursday.
The Rams added a body Wednesday, promoting cornerback Nate Ness from the practice squad to the active roster. Rod Hood, inactive four of the last six weeks, will also see the field.
The plan this week?
”Get the four best guys out there, and maybe five or six, whatever,” coach Spagnuolo said. ”It’s a little bit of patchwork right now and coaches will do the best they can to get a good unit out there.”
The Rams are banged up in general, with three players missing practice Wednesday – wide receiver Brandon Gibson (groin), offensive tackle Jason Smith (concussion) and running back Cadillac Williams (calf). Spagnuolo rattled off the names of nine others who were limited, concluding with a joking, ”And that’s the whole roster.”
Wide receiver Danario Alexander, out three games with a right hamstring injury, took limited reps and expects to play on Sunday. Gibson expects to play, also.
Linebacker Justin Cole, signed off the Chiefs’ practice squad on Tuesday, was plugged in on special teams.
At least for now, the Rams are a happier bunch with a win – thanks to Hall and his forearm.
”I thought I had enough penetration, and anytime you’re like 3-4 yards in the backfield you’ve got a good chance of getting a block,” Hall said Wednesday. ”I was falling down so I just threw my arm up and fortunately I hit it.”
Spagnuolo said a photo on special teams coach Tom McMahon’s desk appears to offer conclusive proof.