THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. (AP) — The Rams were one snap away from a 3-0 start and another stellar defensive finish when a late-arriving flag in Buffalo changed the narrative.
Los Angeles’ defense won’t allow that loss to be the whole story, though.
Brandon Staley might be a rookie defensive coordinator, but he’s been in football long enough to know how to rebound from the type of disappointment that the Rams’ defense experienced last weekend, both early and late.
He won’t allow one debatable penalty to change his overall positive feelings about his new defense’s first few games, and it won’t distract the Rams (2-1) from the continuation of their work against the Giants (0-3) on Sunday.
“It’s certainly a heartbreaker,” Staley said of the pass interference call against Darious Williams on fourth down in the final minute of the Rams’ 35-32 loss to the Bills.
“Things like that happen in the NFL. I felt really strongly about our group going into that series,” Staley added. “We certainly played a really good third and fourth quarter. I felt like we had all the momentum. It was one of those two minutes that we’ll never forget, for sure, but there were just a lot of things that happened that are just kind of uncommon.”
The Bills’ winning touchdown on the next play after that pass interference call was just the second TD allowed in a second half this season by the Rams, who have pushed through a perilous start to the season against offenses led by Dak Prescott, Carson Wentz and Josh Allen.
The Rams have allowed only 20 points after halftime in those three games, shutting down all three offenses to varying degrees. Los Angeles got an interception, forced a three-and-out and recovered a fumble on three consecutive possessions in the second half at Buffalo, allowing its offense to get back in the game.
Staley doesn’t take personal credit for Los Angeles’ strong performances after the break, but he’s eager to prevent the problems that happened before halftime.
“In the first half, it was more our finishing,” Staley said. “We did not tackle well after that first drive (in Buffalo). We had plenty of opportunities to get into negative-play situations throughout that first half. … It wasn’t a lot of magic in the game plan, per se. It was just our execution improved, and then our results improved.”
Indeed, the Rams have tackling problems, although that’s perhaps no surprise for a defense breaking in an inexperienced group of inside linebackers and using a rookie as a starting safety. Los Angeles is among the NFL’s leaders in missed tackles, depending on which unofficial statistics are being cited.
LA’s pass defense is also under construction. While Williams and cornerback Jalen Ramsey have looked sharp, nickel back Troy Hill’s assignments have been responsible for a disproportionate amount of catches so far as the veteran cornerback attempts to adjust to his new role. Sixth-round pick Jordan Fuller won a starting spot, but missed a bunch of tackles before getting hurt and giving way to Taylor Rapp, who also could have played better.
Defensive tackle Aaron Donald said the Rams are practicing tackling this week in preparation for New York’s visit. They’re also hoping to generate more trouble for future quarterbacks by controlling their opponents’ early-down success, allowing the Rams to let loose with blitzes and pressure.
“We just have to be more consistent through four quarters,” said Donald, who has three sacks in three games. “We’ve got to do that from the start to the finish.”
The Rams are also getting used to Staley, who holds more group meetings than his predecessor, Wade Phillips. Head coach Sean McVay is keeping up a constant presence around the defense as well.
The unbeaten Bills’ offense rolled through the Rams for four consecutive TDs spanning halftime, but the Giants aren’t quite so threatening. New York’s offense is among the league’s worst through three games, and the Rams have every opportunity to get back on track defensively against Daniel Jones and an unimpressive offensive line.
“We really don’t want to keep talking about last week,” Donald said. “We did things good. We did things bad. We’ve got a game plan we’ve got to stick to. We’ve got to execute, and we’re playing against a good team. We’ve got to have that mindset to go out and dominate.”
NOTES: Rookie RB Cam Akers is likely to miss his second straight game with a rib injury. He didn’t participate in another practice Thursday, and he stayed home from Los Angeles’ trip to Buffalo last weekend. McVay said he “will be surprised” if Akers is healthy enough to play. … The rest of the Rams’ active roster should be healthy enough to play. … Rookie LB Terrell Lewis is back in practice after the Rams designated him to return from the reserve/non-football injury list. McVay says the Rams aren’t sure when they’ll activate him, but they have a 21-day window in which to do so.
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