The St. Louis Rams played one of the toughest games fans have seen in a while on Sunday afternoon. It was certainly hard to watch the Lions come away with a victory in the final seconds. However, the St. Louis defense put on a show that cannot be overlooked.
The defense was in midseason form against Detroit. This is a unit that I believe was the best thing about this team headed into the opener. Even without coordinator Gregg Williams on the sideline, I was confident about this group because of their combination of mental toughness and speed in the secondary.
Rookie cornerback Janoris Jenkins set the tone in the first quarter. In what was looking like a dominating first drive from Matthew Stafford and the Lions offense, Detroit had the ball inside the Rams' 5-yard line. Stafford dropped back to throw, and immediately let one loose towards tight end Tony Scheffler. Scheffler was a step too far behind the ball, and Jenkins had his first interception in the NFL.
That kind of defense so close to the goal line is what the Rams needed to gain momentum.
In the second quarter, Stafford was picked off once again deep inside Rams territory. Jo-Lonn Dunbar, the linebacker who signed with St. Louis in April, earned himself a starting job on the weak side. Stafford was back to throw, and looking towards Dunbar. The only problem was, he didn’t know it. Dunbar swooped in ahead of a short throw at the sideline and intercepted the Lions QB for the Rams' second pick of the day.
Interception No. 3 three was one for the ages.
No one thought Calvin Johnson would have any trouble on Sunday. Cortland Finnegan, who stands at 5'10". was slated to cover the All-Pro wide receiver. It was obvious to the Rams coaching staff that they would have to send double and sometimes triple coverage Johnson’s way.
With just over a minute-and-a-half to go before halftime, the Lions had the ball at their own 23. Detroit led 7-6 and needed a quick spark before the half. Stafford dropped back in shotgun, just as color commentator Tim Ryan began to say he had some problems with his accuracy.
Good timing, Tim.
The former No. 1 overall pick in 2009 hurled one to the right sideline, where Johnson was seemingly uncovered. Finnegan was about five yards away from Johnson when the pass was thrown, but was able to sprint to the sideline and reel in his first interception as a Ram. He took the pick back 31 yards for the touchdown, and St. Louis led 13-7.
It was the first pick-six on the road for the Rams since 1999.
Finnegan was the star of the defense in this game, notching nine tackles and an assist.
All in all this was a statement game for St. Louis, and they came to play. Defense was the name of the game throughout, especially in the third quarter. Only three points were scored, and the St. Louis secondary shut down Stafford on a few key third downs.
In the end, the defense was gassed by Stafford’s ability to force the ball down their throats on that final drive. If you ask me, the offense gave this team little chance to win.
However, the toughness and timeliness of the defense in certain spots kept this team in the game until the final seconds.
NFL, take note: There will be at least a top 10 overall defense in St. Louis in 2012.