- Associated Press - Friday, November 11, 2011

ST. LOUIS (AP) - The St. Louis Rams‘ defense had its best day of the season last weekend. After Patrick Peterson’s 99-yard punt return in overtime at Arizona, it was lost in the shuffle.

The Rams defense held the Cardinals to 262 total yards in the 19-13 loss. The Cardinals converted just two of their 10 third-down plays.

Two weeks ago in a 31-21 victory over New Orleans, the Rams gave up 283 yards. Only a touchdown with 6 seconds remaining made the final score seem closer than it was.

Such signs of progress are welcome for the Rams (1-7), who play at Cleveland (3-5) this weekend.

“We want to play well again Sunday,” Rams coach Steve Spagnuolo said Friday. “I think it’s just players deciding to do all the things you need to do to play good defensive football. Hopefully that will continue because I firmly believe you can’t win in this league unless you play good defense.”

What’s helped the defense, too, is the Rams holding leads the last two weeks. That had not happened in the previous six games where the Rams led for about six minutes total.

Playing with a lead has allowed the defensive front line to rush more effectively. Chris Long has four sacks in the last two games while fellow defensive end Robert Quinn, the Rams‘ top draft choice at No. 14 overall, has two.

Defensive coordinator Ken Flajole has noticed the rush defense performing well, too.

“It’s gotten better. We’re not ready to anoint anybody yet,” Flajole said. “It’s just maybe some things have taken hold. We’ve got to continue to work at it and it’s a work in progress. It’ll be something we’ll have to address every week.”

The Cardinals gained only 70 yards rushing. The Saints were held to just 56 yards rushing.

“We’ve improved. We’ve done some things well,” Long said. “It’s been a major focus. We’ve love to just continue that and make more plays. We’re missing some opportunities that could really help our team out — where we could try and score on defense or make a big play in the backfield. We need to stop teams in key situations and help our offense out.”

The defense did fall short in that area. Down 13-6, the Cardinals put together a nine-play drive that did not have any third downs. Arizona went 84 yards and tied the game with 4:54 left after a 13-yard TD pass to Larry Fitzgerald.

“One drive too many,” Long said. “Next time, we just need to recognize when we’re in that situation and try to really hunker down and get it done.”

Injuries have taken their toll with cornerbacks Ron Bartell, Tim Atchison, Bradley Fletcher and Brian Jackson all being placed on the injured reserve list.

Players have been coming and going all season but now it’s settled down.

“I know everybody’s name,” Flajole quipped. “Sometimes you’re introducing yourself out on the field. They’ve come along. Again everyday, every rep that they take, the longer they’re in our system the more they, I think, understand the nuances, the details of what we’re trying to do and that can only help us.”

The defense does not yet have an identity, Long said.

“We just need to do our jobs,” Long said. “That’s a good identity to have is just being dependable. We need to be dependable. We’ve been dependable the last two weeks and we’ll try to continue that.”

Notes: About 150 members of all the branches of service including some from Scott Air Force Base and Fort Leonard Wood along with some veterans attended practice. The Rams signed autographs afterward. Marine Sgt. Daniel Rogers presented Spagnuolo with a battalion coin. … TE Lance Kendricks (foot) and WR Danario Alexander (hamstring) will not play Sunday. … QB Sam Bradford (ankle) was limited again Friday in practice. “We want to get him to Sunday as healthy as possible,” Spagnuolo said.



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