Get within earshot of Rams defensive coordinator Gregg Williams during a training camp practice and you can hear him shout something to the effect of, “Make the ball go where we want it to go.”
In the Rams’ 27-6 win over the 49ers on Sunday, one could see Williams’ words come to life.
There have been many times over the past few years where Colin Kaepernick would walk into the Dome and either in defeat or victory, make big play after big play.
Kaepernick looks like a shell of his former self this season, but let’s not take anything away from a Rams defense that was relentless on Sunday.
Williams’ defense held Kaepernick to 162 yards on 20-of-41 passing with no touchdowns.
They also kept him in check on the ground, as he rushed for just 28 yards on six carries. Outside of a 3.53 yards per attempt average in a 47-7 loss to the Cardinals earlier this season, Kaepernick’s 3.95 YPA on Sunday was his second-lowest mark of the season. His 4.7 yards per carry was also the lowest average of any game this season in which he’s carried the ball at least five times.
Think about that for a second: Kaepernick has struggled mightily this season, but somehow the Rams made him look worse than what he was playing coming into the game on Sunday.
Granted, it’s not all Kaepernick’s fault. The interior of the Rams’ defensive line, led by Michael Brockers and Aaron Donald, dominated San Francisco’s offensive line. Kaepernick constantly had defenders in his face while trying to deliver the ball, even on screens and quick passes intended for Kaepernick to get the ball out of his hands. William Hayes, Eugene Sims and the rest of the Rams’ edge defenders also did a great job ensuring that Kaepernick couldn’t escape for big yardage when scrambling or running the read option.
The secondary also consistently flew to the football, as Rodney McLeod, T.J. McDonald, Janoris Jenkins and Trumaine Johnson had one of their better tackling days of the season. All three linebackers – James Laurinaitis, Mark Barron and Akeem Ayers – were constantly around the ball as well, gang-tackling ball carriers in the flats and outside the numbers.
To echo what Williams’ preached this summer, the Rams dictated where the 49ers went with the ball, then suffocated runners to ensure San Francisco couldn’t pick up yards in chunks.
The Niners aren’t very good, but credit the Rams for not playing down to an opponent that was clearly overmatched.
None of this is a mirage. No longer are the Rams a tease defensively. The unit is legit and has been since midseason last year. Williams has a complete understanding of what his personnel can do and the players have embraced his aggressive philosophy. No longer are they thinking through assignments: They’re playing at top speed. Everything has come together on that side of the ball.
Todd Gurley isn’t a mirage either.
Chris Givens had a fantastic six-week stretch his rookie year and Zac Stacy played well for months during his first season with the Rams. Fans had hope that both players could be building blocks for years to come.
But in hindsight, neither Givens nor Stacy was going to lift the Rams to new heights. Gurley is a transcendent player, one capable of carrying the offense like he’s done in back-to-back wins. Nothing against Givens or Stacy, but when you watch Gurley play, it’s a wonder why anyone believed that an offense could revolve around Givens or Stacy.
Granted, the Rams still have a long way to go offensively and if nobody steps up in the passing game outside of Tavon Austin, Gurley will have games in which better defenses limit his effectiveness.
But for the first time in the Jeff Fisher and Les Snead era, the Rams finally found a player around which to build the offense. Gurley gives his entire team solid footing in which to go up, as opposed to laterally (or backwards for that matter). Finally, the Rams have a foundation piece in place.
The Rams need significantly more production out of their passing game or else they run the risk of being one dimensional against better opponents. They were favored by nearly a touchdown against the Browns last week and were favored by eight points against the Niners. These were teams they were supposed to beat and did. Soundly, one might add.
But, led by Adrian Peterson, the Vikings are fifth in the league in rushing yards per game (131.0) and are second in the NFL in points allowed defensively (17.4). Both Gurley and the Rams’ defense will be tested Sunday in Minnesota. If they’ve truly turned the corner, they’ll pick up a road win against a Vikings team that has been on a roll since a poor showing in San Francisco Week 1.
In the past, this game against Minnesota has been the one that has dashed hopes for fans. You think the Rams have finally turned a corner, only to watch them lay an egg and remind everyone of how far they have yet to go.
But this week has a different feel. Perhaps this is the game where the Rams allow fans to trust what they’ve been seeing.
Perhaps, thanks to Gurley and the defense, the Rams finally have traction and are ready to move forward.