THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. — When the Los Angeles Rams desperately needed a big play in the final minute of their last two games, the defense delivered it.
That knack has the Rams (2-1) off to their best start in the decade despite a litany of concerns about everything from scoring to penalties.
“The sign of a good defense is making big plays,” Rams safety T.J. McDonald said. “Whenever you can come up with a big tackle or a turnover, you’ve got to do it. You keep pressing, and the good teams find a way to do it.”
Los Angeles could need a few more game-changing plays to prosper in its visit to Arizona (1-2) on Sunday for its third NFC West game already this season.
The Rams have the NFL’s least productive offense through three games after finishing last season at the bottom of the league. They’ve also hurt themselves repeatedly with penalties, ranking among the league’s most frequent offenders with 27 flags for 249 yards.
Sure, Los Angeles piled up points last weekend in its 37-32 win over the Buccaneers after managing just nine points in its first two games combined. But the defense was responsible for a big chunk of that outburst: Mark Barron’s first-half interception set up one short TD drive, and defensive lineman Ethan Westbrooks returned a fumble 77 yards for another score.
And when Jameis Winston drove the Bucs into scoring position in the final seconds, Robert Quinn ended the game by chasing down the star quarterback from behind at the Los Angeles 5.
A week earlier, middle linebacker Alec Ogletree made the biggest play by recovering a fumble by Seattle’s Christine Michael in the final minute, killing the Seahawks’ last drive and securing a win in Los Angeles’ homecoming game.
Rams coach Jeff Fisher would prefer to get some wins that don’t come down the final seconds.
“You take the wins however you can,” he said. “In a perfect world, you’d like to think you don’t need to make that play at the end. But that’s something you can hang your hat on, and you can always go back and say ‘Hey, you made plays at the end, so if it comes up again, just go do it. Do what you’ve done before.'”
Ogletree has been all over the field for the Rams in his first four games as the replacement for franchise tackling leader James Laurinaitis, who signed a free agent contract with New Orleans in March. While he approves of the defense’s knack for big plays, Ogletree shares Fisher’s desire to make things a bit simpler.
“We gave up almost 400 yards passing last week,” Ogletree said of the Bucs’ 389 yards through the air. “There’s a lot of work to do. It feels good to win, but we know we created a lot of mistakes out there and gave them a lot of opportunities.”
Ogletree is headed back to the stadium where his 2015 season ended with a broken leg in the Rams’ fourth game of the year. He has recovered to become a key component of defensive coordinator Gregg Williams’ scheme.
“I’m not going to go out there thinking, ‘Oh man, this is where I got hurt, and this is how my season ended last year,'” Ogletree said. “It ended because it ended. I got hurt, and that was the end of it. It’s a new year. I’m definitely looking forward to going back out there and completing the whole game.”