THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. (AP)Growing pains were expected from the Los Angeles Rams’ significantly overhauled pass rush.
After the Rams totaled eight sacks through their first five games, which puts them 28th in the NFL, defensive lineman Aaron Donald said he hopes the group is close to turning potential into more production.
“I think guys play hard,” Donald said Thursday. “We play with a lot of effort, so we gotta continue to do that. But as a front, as a pass-rush unit, we gotta do a little bit better getting after the quarterback, winning our one-on-ones, a little bit more technique in pass-rush situations.”
Those sorts of issues rarely popped up when Donald was flanked by established players such as A’Shawn Robinson in the middle and Leonard Floyd on the edge. But a salary-cap crunch forced the Rams (2-3) to turn to unheralded former backups such as defensive lineman Bobby Brown III and rookies like outside linebacker Byron Young and defensive tackle Kobie Turner this season.
The hope was the presence of Donald, a three-time Defensive Player of the Year and seven-time All-Pro, would draw enough attention to allow others to produce sacks, hits and disruption.
Both newcomers said the opportunities created by double-, triple- or even quadruple-teams are there, with the full picture of Donald’s importance not sinking in until the season started.
“Last week, going back and watching the film, it was crazy,” Turner said. “They sent the center, the guard. They got the running back back there just following him wherever he goes. A couple times, like, maybe the tackle will be just looking out for him if he’s working high in the move. I mean, he definitely deserves that amount of attention because you see whenever he doesn’t get that amount of attention how he just wrecks the game, so it makes perfect sense.”
Young was struck by how often an offensive tackle will reach with his inside hand in an effort to help the guard whenever Donald lines up in the three technique, giving him chances to wheel around as the edge defender and beat his blocker with a speed rush.
“They have to respect his game and they have to play him like that. They have to,” Young said.
Young had two sacks in his first three games. He is second on the team behind Donald with 2 1/2. They are the only two Rams with multiple sacks.
Turner, who has one sack, is going to get his chance to create more next to Donald after Brown was placed on injured reserve Tuesday because of a knee injury sustained late in the fourth quarter against the Eagles.
“If they’re trying to take him out of the game, somebody else has to work,” Turner said. “Whatever my job is, it almost becomes that much more imperative that I get it done with maximum precision. So whether it’s helping him to get off the slide and helping him work or whether it’s my opportunity to go and get a win, I have to take advantage.”
Donald’s focus is on playing to the best of his ability and hoping the youngsters around him will benefit from the blocks he draws and havoc he creates.
“Guys around you just got to continue to just keep going, winning one-on-ones if they want to try to focus on one person,” Donald said. “They want to try to slow down one person, another guy just got to step up. All I can do is just keep playing, hopefully get more opportunities, take advantage of them and go from there.”
The limits of the group were evident in the Rams’ 23-14 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday. Los Angeles had one sack of Jalen Hurts and struggled on some key third-and-longs when he scrambled for first downs.
Facing another mobile quarterback in Joshua Dobbs of the Arizona Cardinals (1-4) this week, the Rams are looking to find the right balance between going all-out and being cautious when they get into favorable situations for generating pressure.
“You know you got to be a little bit more gap sound, but you still want to be aggressive, still want to pin your ears back and get after him,” Donald said. “Obviously, that was something that hurt us last week on some big third downs, so watching film and trying to fix those things so we can continue to play fast but contain the quarterback.”
NOTES: LB Ernest Jones (knee), who relays defensive signals, missed practice for the second straight day. Christian Rozeboom (thigh), the other starter at inside linebacker, returned on a limited basis.
AP NFL: https://apnews.com/hub/NFL