THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. (AP) — The Los Angeles Rams have seen cracks emerge in their star-studded defense the past two weeks.
The fourth quarter has not been one of those problems.
Despite allowing 31 points in wins over Minnesota and Seattle, just three of those 62 points were conceded in the fourth quarter, which gives defensive coordinator Wade Phillips confidence to address the Rams’ issues in stopping the run and pass.
“I’ve been on a lot of teams and I just think, like I’ve told you before, this team plays really well under pressure,” Phillips said Thursday. “We don’t want to be pressured to play that well all the time, but I feel good about where we’re going. We’re not there yet, but that’s where we are going.”
The decline in play through the first three quarters coincides with injuries to cornerbacks Aqib Talib and Marcus Peters, who each sustained injuries in the Rams’ 35-23 win over the Chargers in Week 3.
Talib will not be eligible to return until December after undergoing ankle surgery and being placed on injured reserve. Peters sustained a calf injury that forced him out against the Chargers, but has not missed a game since.
However, Peters’ effectiveness has dropped off noticeably since coming back on a short week to face the Vikings. According to Sportradar, Peters has allowed 12 receptions on 17 targets in the past two games. Prior to the injury, Peters had allowed four completions on 11 attempts as the primary defender in coverage.
Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson went after Peters on all three of his touchdown passes, but Phillips took the blame for not putting Peters in the right positions given the injury, he said. Phillips also noted that retraining the aggressive Peters to play in his system will take time, likening it to asking a mobile quarterback to be more cautious when a play breaks down.
“When you take the scrambling away from him, they’re not as good,” Phillips said. “Same thing with him if you take what he sees away from him. Now you got to limit it a little more, and that’s what we have him doing.
“But he’s getting there, and he’s a great competitor. He keeps fighting, and that’s what happens in the fourth quarter. If bad things happen to really good players, they keep playing.”
And it is the success in the fourth quarter, where the Rams have allowed a total of six points in five games, that Phillips is citing as evidence the Rams defense is anything but broken.
The Rams had four sacks in the fourth quarter against the Vikings, with Ndamukong Suh getting one in the red zone to force a field goal. John Franklin-Myers had a strip-sack of quarterback Kirk Cousins on Minnesota’s final possession to seal the 38-31 win.
The defense was just as effective late against the Seahawks, when the Rams scored the final nine points in a 33-31 win.
Despite allowing 190 yards rushing for the game, a total Suh called “terrible,” the Rams gave up 16 yards rushing on six carries in the final quarter, including five net yards on the final five attempts. Suh also sacked Wilson to end one drive and drew a holding penalty to help snuff out another.
“Going in the fourth quarter when it’s crunch time, when we need to get off the field and need to stop the run and need to stop the pass, we do all of it,” Suh said. “We just got to be consistent. When we get consistent and we’re all on the same page at all times, we’ll be a dangerous defense.”
While Suh struck a disappointed tone for letting the past two games come down to the wire, safety Lamarcus Joyner believes the poise the Rams showed in those critical moments bodes well for the future.
“We definitely want to try not to make it a habit, but it’s good to face that adversity early,” Joyner said. “Playing in the postseason or whatever it is, when you are going to have that competition and that adversity, we already experienced the feelings and the emotions and we know how to handle ourselves.”
NOTES: Wide receivers Brandin Cooks and Cooper Kupp (concussion protocol) each participated in individual drills during practice Thursday. Coach Sean McVay said Cooks and Kupp are on track to play against Denver barring any setbacks. … Defensive lineman Michael Brockers (ankle) did not practice.