Spagnuolo's system taking an early hit
The St. Louis defense is off to a poor start, even subtracting the three touchdowns the Rams have surrendered on offense.
The Rams are next-to-last in total defense and dead last against the run, allowing 174 yards per game. The Baltimore Ravens set a franchise record with 553 yards against them on Sunday and they've allowed 96 points, second-most in the NFL.
Coach Steve Spagnuolo's reputation as a defensive whiz has taken quite a hit. His response: Work harder, and expect the same from the players.
Spagnuolo said Wednesday that there won't be any changes in approach or personnel this weekend when the Rams (0-3) host the Washington Redskins (2-1).
A few big plays from a team that has produced one defensive touchdown in Spagnuolo's two-plus years as coach certainly wouldn't hurt. They've got one interception and one fumble recovery, the two takeaways tied for second-fewest in the NFL.
''It's not in our nature to hit the panic button and junk what we've been doing,'' the coach said. ''We've had spells where we've played pretty good defense in the past here. The system we're running, in my opinion, is proven. We probably just need to do it better as a group.''
Cornerback Justin King, the player victimized most in last week's 37-7 loss to the Ravens, said players are definitely to blame. Him included, of course.
''Coaches have been making some good calls, and sometimes it's on us,'' King said. ''That's what it is, gut-check time.''
There's a lot of sting to go around. Players heard the boos from the hometown fans as they trudge off the field at halftime trailing the Ravens 27-0.
''If you view yourself as a good player, by golly, you're thinking that score is not who we are,'' linebacker Brady Poppinga said. ''It is an embarrassment.''
The Rams blitz a lot, a risk-reward tactic based on pressure. Last week it wasn't enough to throw off Joe Flacco, who passed for a career-best 389 yards and wasn't sacked until twice late in the game.
A larger problem appears to be the ubiquitous culprit - gap responsibility. Different players on different plays trying to do too much and roaming too far from home have opened lanes for LeSean McCoy of the Eagles and Ray Rice of the Ravens.
There's plenty of blame on the back end, too.
St. Louis began the year thin in the secondary and got even thinner with cornerback Ron Bartell was lost for the season with a neck injury in the opener. King, who replaced Bartell in the lineup, got victimized on all three of rookie Torrey Smith's long touchdown catches Sunday.
Spagnuolo has gone easy on King, suggesting all three passes were perfect throws by a quarterback not known for stretching the field. Safety Darian Stewart also was to blame on at least one of the touchdown catches.
''I make no excuses. He made the play, I didn't,'' King said. ''I was probably about an inch away from both balls.''
Spagnuolo took it another step, saying Hall of Fame cornerback Mike Haynes might not have caught some of Flacco's throws.
''We could take the two wideouts every play and then it wouldn't take too long for them to figure out,'' Spagnuolo said. ''We just need to shore up the run defense in my opinion, always. I get the stats on the passing.''
The Rams have added depth that may come into play after next week's bye, signing veteran cornerback Rod Hood on Wednesday. Hood is coming off of reconstructive knee surgery in June 2010.
Coaches and players alike say the problem has nothing to do with getting physically whipped.
''There's times that guys, they beat their guy too much, believe it or not,'' Poppinga said. ''We get ourselves out of position because we're destroying our guy so much. But understanding the big picture is the point, and where we fit in the big picture.''