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Forced turnovers by Rams defense helped keep Texans in check

Forced turnovers by Rams defense helped keep Texans in check
Rams defensive lineman Aaron Donald knocks the ball from Texans quarterback Tom Savage for a fumble early in the first quarter. (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

Aaron Donald wasted no time making his presence felt Sunday.

The Rams’ star defensive lineman burst into the Houston Texans’ backfield on the fifth play, sacked quarterback Tom Savage and forced him to fumble.

The Rams recovered and converted the turnover into a quick three points.

Donald's teammates followed suit, forcing three more turnovers in a 33-7 victory at the Coliseum.

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“We want to be the ones to get things going,” said linebacker Mark Barron, who intercepted a pass.

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On a day when the Rams' offense struggled to find its rhythm in the first half, the defense repeatedly came through.

Cornerback Blake Countess also intercepted a pass and rookie linebacker Samson Ebukam forced a fumble.

The Rams converted three of four turnovers into points — two field goals and a touchdown.

"We knew they were going to get rolling," Donald said of the offense. "Our job was just to get them guys the ball back and they'll get things going."

A week after recording a sack and forcing a fumble during the first series against the New York Giants, Donald repeated the feat against the Texans. Donald is the first Ram to force a fumble during the first drive in back-to-back games.

He also had a quarterback hit, a pass deflection and a tackle for loss.

"He's doing a lot of other things that might not show up on the stat sheet that end up freeing up some other guys that are making plays," Rams coach Sean McVay said.

Barron continues to start despite playing with a broken thumb that requires a cast. In the second quarter, he leaped to intercept Savage's pass over the middle, and then returned it 15 yards. The turnover led to a field goal that gave the Rams a 9-7 lead.

"I was just basically keying on the quarterback," said Barron, who has a team-best three interceptions.

Ebukam, a fourth-round pick from Eastern Washington, sacked Savage and forced a fumble in the third quarter. The Rams scored a touchdown on the next play to take a 30-7 lead.

Ebukam said that he was surprised he did not face a blocker on the play. He did not initially realize that he knocked the ball out.

"I was just attacking the ball, 'cause that's what we do," he said, adding, "I didn't even know it was a sack fumble until I got turned around and I saw the ball on the ground and went, 'Oh my God, did he just fumble?'

"I'll take it."

The Rams have scored 84 points off turnovers this season.

Greg-the-leg

"Mr. Automatic" once again lived up to his nickname.

Greg Zuerlein scored the Rams’ only points of the first half, kicking field goals from 27, 33 and 50 yards.

He also kicked a 33-yard field goal in the fourth quarter.

"I can't say enough about what Greg Zuerlein has been to our team as far as just how automatic he's been," McVay said.

Zuerlein has made 28 of 29 field-goal attempts and converted all 30 extra points.

Zuerlein leads the NFL in scoring with 114 points and is averaging a league-best 12.7 points per game.

Hekker busy

Punter Johnny Hekker, a three-time Pro Bowl player, had kicked only twice in each of the Rams’ last two games, blowout wins over the Arizona Cardinals and Giants. On Sunday, with the offense struggling in the first half, Hekker averaged 51.3 yards on four kicks.

"We were trying to get Johnny back in the Pro Bowl," running back Todd Gurley joked.

Hekker also completed a pass to receiver Pharoh Cooper on a fake punt, but the six-yard gain was short of a first down.

Cooper returned three punts, including one for 27 yards in the third quarter that set up a touchdown.

Cooper averaged 24.5 yards on two kickoff returns.

Clowney time

The Rams' first-half struggles on offense had much to do with Texans defensive lineman Jadeveon Clowney. He had one of the Texans' three sacks and finished with three tackles for losses.

"They were doing a good job bringing different pressures and, obviously, Clow-ney is always a problem," said Rams quarterback Jared Goff, who completed 25 of 37 passes for 355 yards.

Clowney has six sacks, matching his total from last season.

Saving Saffold

Rams left guard Rodger Saffold suffered an ankle injury early in the fourth quarter and did not return.

McVay said Saffold "rolled his ankle a little bit, but could have come back in."

Austin Blythe replaced Saffold, proving again to be a versatile backup.

Follow Lindsey Thiry on Facebook and Twitter @LindseyThiry

gary.klein@latimes.com

Follow Gary Klein on Twitter @latimesklein

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