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Depleted defense couldn't save Rams this time

Depleted defense couldn't save Rams this time
Rams defensive tackle Cam Thomas, right, celebrates with defensive end Ethan Westbrooks after he blocked an extra-point attempt by the Buffalo Bills on Sunday. (Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

Even after the Rams botched a fake-punt attempt and turned over the ball on their 25-yard line with 2:37 remaining, the defense could have saved the day once again.

That is what it has been doing all season: Alec Ogletree’s game-sealing fumble recovery against the Seahawks in Week 2; Ethan Westbrooks’ 77-yard fumble return for a touchdown against the Buccaneers in Week 3; the five turnovers the Rams forced against the Cardinals last week. 

Except that play never came in the Rams’ 30-19 loss to the Bills at the Coliseum on Sunday. The defense just wasn’t equipped to make it. The defensive line was missing three starters — ends Robert Quinn (shoulder) and William Hayes (ankle), and tackle Michael Brockers (hip) — and the Bills ran for 193 yards, the most a team has gained on the Rams this season. 

LeSean McCoy accounted for 150 of them, including the back-breaking run after the Rams’ failed fake punt. On the first play of the Bills’ ensuing drive, McCoy ran 24 yards to the Rams’ one-yard line. Three plays later, Tyrod Taylor found Marquise Goodwin for a six-yard touchdown that iced the game. 

"I just think we didn't play our best as a defense. I feel like we were missing tackles," Donald said. "Up front I feel like we didn't dominate as we usually do."

Donald,  the only regular starter on the line, was joined by defensive tackle Cam Thomas and ends Ethan Westbrooks and Eugene Sims. Dominique Easley rotated in at tackle while Matt Longacre did so at end. Donald said he was doubled and slashed by the Bills’ offensive line, but not because of the thinned personnel.

He sees that every week, and he did not use the absence of Quinn, Hayes and Brockers to rationalize the Rams finishing with two sacks or McCoy running all over the field.

"I just have to find ways to beat it, you know? I can't use that as an excuse, I still have to get to the quarterback some way, somehow," Donald said. "... It's been like that every week, so you just have to find a way."

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McCoy did most of his damage in the first half, running for 111 yards on just nine attempts.

The Bills rode 148 rushing yard to 16 first-half points, and then didn't score another offensive touchdown until Taylor found Goodwin with 1:04 left in the game. By that time, the Rams' fate was already spelled out.

In two losses this season, the Bills have run for fewer than 100 yards. In their three wins, they have gone for 208, 134 and 193.

The key for the Rams was to stop the run. The absence of three key players made it very hard to do so.

"They're our horses, so it's a big part," Sims said of Quinn, Hayes and Brockers. "They bring a lot to this game, those three being out means a lot to us. We have the next-man-up rule, but losing those three was a big part."

jesse.dougherty@latimes.com

Follow Jesse on Twitter: @dougherty_jesse

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