Every quarter, the St. Louis Rams create a turnover. No wonder they're 3-0.
The Rams' opportunistic defense has nine interceptions and three fumble recoveries in victories over Green Bay, New Orleans and Carolina. In Sunday's 31-10 victory over the Panthers, the Rams amassed seven turnovers.
And they have yet to give up the ball themselves. The Rams lead the NFL in giveaway-takeaway ratio after finishing next to last in 1994, and so far it's more than making up for a so-so offense and a wayward kicker.
"I thought we'd take the ball away, but I'd be a liar or an idiot if I told you I thought we'd be plus-12 after three weeks," Coach Rich Brooks said.
At this point last year, the Rams were at minus-1 en route to a 4-12 record, their fifth consecutive losing season. They forced only 20 turnovers the entire season.
Brooks has six new full-time starters--tackle D'Marco Farr, end Kevin Carter, linebacker Carlos Jenkins, and defensive backs Anthony Parker, Keith Lyle and Toby Wright. Plus he moved Sean Gilbert from tackle to end.
Brooks said that's not a knock on the talent he inherited.
"The ingredient is we're playing conceptually great team defense," he said. "The hardest thing to do is convince players that if they play within the unit, good things will happen individually."
Linebacker Roman Phifer, one of the holdovers, is one of the best examples. Already he has two interceptions and two sacks, equaling his interception total from last year and a half sack ahead of last year.
Phifer also led the Rams with 11 tackles against Carolina and leads the team with 21 solo stops and eight assists overall.
"Phifer has not had a lot of big-play type things, he hasn't had a lot of interceptions, a lot of fumbles, a lot of sacks," Brooks said. "What we're doing is taking advantage of the abilities we have individually by installing a scheme that is very, very aggressive."
Brooks' system clears the front four to charge most of the time and Gilbert, Farr, Carter and tackle Jimmie Jones have put a lot of pressure on the quarterback.
"I don't know if they're running scared, but they know about the Rams now," Farr said. "They get kind of claustrophobic when we get too close."
In the second wave, Phifer's not the only linebacker making big plays. Jenkins stripped Jack Trudeau of the ball in the second quarter of the Carolina game and has 1 1/2 sacks, and Shane Conlan forced a fumble and had an interception.
In the defensive backfield, Parker returned a fumble for a touchdown, Todd Lyght had an interception and nickel back Torin Dorn returned a fourth-quarter interception for a touchdown. Dorn missed a possible eighth turnover when he tried unsuccessfully to scoop up a fumble.
"I'm not sure if they know where to go against our defense yet," Brooks said. "It's hard to see where you're going to make a living off this defense."
The offense is doing its part a lot more quietly. Chris Miller has four touchdown passes, and has thrown 87 passes without an interception.
"At this point, Chris is not exactly throwing the ball with reckless abandon, which I think is smart on his part," Brooks said. "Chris is using very good judgment on when he throws and where he throws it."
But the third-down conversion rate is less than 30 percent and the Rams could have scored a lot more points considering the turnovers.
The kicker, third-round pick Steve McLaughlin, gets a lot of that blame. He missed 3 of 4 field-goal attempts, making him 3 of 7 for the year, and Brooks said he would consider trying other kickers.
"He's got a leg, there isn't any question," Brooks said. "But the bottom line is that potential and performance have to coincide with each other."