Rams look to improve pass defense before facing 49ers

Buccaneers receiver Chris Godwin hauls in a pass against Rams cornerback Talib Aqib during a game two weeks ago.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers receiver Chris Godwin hauls in a pass against Rams cornerback Talib Aqib during a game two weeks ago.
(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times )

Through the first three games, pass defense ranked as one of the Rams’ strengths.

In victories over the Carolina Panthers, New Orleans Saints and Cleveland Browns, the Rams gave up only one touchdown pass.

In the last two games, they were torched for eight.

Last Sunday, Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston passed for four touchdowns, sending the Rams to a 55-40 defeat. Four days later, Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson also passed for four touchdowns as the Rams lost their NFC West opener 30-29.

Wilson made several masterful throws — including one to Tyler Lockett in the back corner of the end zone — but both losses also featured long scoring passes to wide-open receivers that contributed to 85 points scored against the defense in the last two games.


“Our confidence isn’t shaken at all after these last two weeks,” safety Eric Weddle said after the game.

Rams coach Sean McVay gave players Friday, Saturday and Sunday off to rest and regroup before reassembling Monday to begin preparations for next Sunday’s game against the San Francisco 49ers at the Coliseum.

The 49ers, who had an open date last week, are 3-0 going into Monday night’s game against the Cleveland Browns.

Los Angeles Rams coach Sean McVay finally got running back Todd Gurley into something resembling an early rhythm, against the Seattle Seahawks on Thursday night.

Oct. 4, 2019

Third-year 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan finally appears to have the pieces in place for an offense that is averaging 421 yards and 32 points a game.

“Kyle does an excellent job of finding ways to really apply pressure to defenses with the way that he can mix it up in the run-pass balance,” said McVay, who worked with Shanahan on the Washington Redskins staff.


Quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo is completing 69% of his passes, five for touchdowns, with four interceptions. Running back Matt Breida is averaging 5.5 yards per carry, Raheem Mostert 5.9. Tight end George Kittle has a team-best 17 catches.

The Rams will be without one of their most productive defensive players against the 49ers and several games to follow.

After suffering a broken jaw against the Seahawks, linebacker Clay Matthews could be sidelined for at least a month, McVay said Friday. Matthews has a team-leading six sacks.

Sign up for our free sports newsletter >>

Matthews’ absence could put more pressure on a secondary that has recently experienced breakdowns that resulted in long touchdowns.

Among Winston’s scoring passes was a 67-yard strike to receiver Mike Evans. Wilson launched a 40-yard touchdown pass to receiver DK Metcalf.

Both receivers got behind Rams cornerback Marcus Peters on the scoring plays.

Peters, who returned an interception for a touchdown against the Buccaneers, was evaluated for a concussion and was not made available to reporters after that game. The NFL this week fined Buccaneers lineman Donovan Smith $28,075 for unnecessary roughness for his hit on Peters as he crossed the goal line, a person with knowledge of the situation said.

Peters declined to be interviewed after the loss to the Seahawks.

Rams linebacker Clay Matthews suffered a broken jaw during the team’s 30-29 loss to the Seahawks. He will be out at least a month after surgery.

Oct. 4, 2019

Last week, defensive coordinator Wade Phillips placed the blame on himself for the coverage call on Winston’s touchdown pass to Evans. On Thursday, Weddle indicated that he, not Peters, was to blame for Metcalf’s touchdown, and McVay said Friday that Peters was not at fault.

“In a lot of instances, when you look at the defensive backfield — very similar sometimes to the offensive line play — once there’s really a clear-cut understanding of exactly what the intent of what we’re trying to get done or how a certain things play out and what’s supposed to occur, I think it can get a little bit misleading,” McVay said.

Opportunity awaits

The Rams used a third-round pick to select running back Darrell Henderson in last April’s draft, ostensibly to give McVay a different kind of weapon to complement Todd Gurley and Malcolm Brown.

In the opener against the Carolina Panthers, Henderson played two snaps on offense, carrying the ball once for no gain.

He has not played on offense since.

Henderson was in for nine special teams plays against the Buccaneers and one against the Seahawks.

“That’s one of those things that we’re going to look at and are evaluating,” McVay said when asked about Henderson’s lack of playing time on offense. “It’s our job and it’s my job to make sure we find a way to continue to develop him and give him an opportunity, because I think he is a guy who can help us whether it’s immediately or whether it’s later on in the season.

“He’s done a nice job, it’s really just kind of that ultimate deal of figuring out, ‘All right, how do you get him with the amount of guys involved that you feel like are deserving touches?’ That’s a positive problem for us, but that’s something that I think you could expect us to see trying to find creative ways to maybe get him going a little bit.”