ST. LOUIS — As important as it was for the St. Louis Rams to effectively run the football last week, it's even more crucial this week.
The Rams (2-3) will be going against the No. 1 pass defense in the NFL when they square off against Houston Texans (2-3) at noon today at Relient Stadium.
"We've got to run the football to score points, but we're also very much aware that we're playing the No. 1 rated defense in the National Football League against the passing game,'' Rams coach Jeff Fisher said. "I don't think they've allowed anybody to throw for 200 yards this year, so we've got to be smart and stay balanced and win the one-on-one matchups."
The Rams, using an almost committee approach at running back with Zac Stacy as the starter and Daryl Richardson as a change-of-pace back, topped the 100-yard rushing mark for the first time this season with 143 yards in a 34-20 win over the Jacksonville Jaguars last week.
Quarterback Sam Bradford said the Rams must avoid getting in a situation where they have to throw the ball against Houston.
"You watch the tape and they do a great job getting after the quarterback every week,'' Bradford said. "They play tight coverage on the outside too, so it's going to be a group effort this week. Guys on the outside are going to have to win and create separation.
"The guys up front are going to have to handle all the blitzes and all the problems that they're going to try to bring. I've got to be decisive and get the ball out of my hand quickly."
The Texans know how to pressure the quarterback. They lead NFL in sack rate, dropping the quarterback more than 10 percent of the time on passing plays. They have 14 sacks on the opponents' 135 passing plays, with J.J. Watt (3.5 sacks) and Whitney Mercilus (4.5 sacks) leading the way.
The Rams placed an emphasis on knowing where Watt, one of the top defenders in the NFL, is lined up at all times during practice this week.
"We've got a red jersey on every snap at practice because you've got to know where he lines up,'' Fisher said. "He's one of the better defensive players you'll face. He's very disruptive, quick, relentless. If he can't get there, he bats the ball down, but most of the time he gets there with consistent pressure. So, we've got our hands full with him."
Even though Houston's defense is allowing only 260.2 yards per game, the Texans still have only forced three turnovers this season.
"We can be the No. 1 defense all we want, but we need to force some turnovers. Plain and simple," Watt said. "It's big for momentum. It's big to give the offense the ball back.
"They're just big plays and we need to start making those plays and we know that."
Matt Schaub will be the Texans' starting quarterback this week, but how he plays against the Rams likely will determine if keeps that job.
Schaub has suffered through the worst stretch of his 10-year career. He has thrown six interceptions, three of them returned for touchdowns, during the Texans' three-game losing streak.
Fisher said that while Schaub has struggled lately, he has a track record of success that includes a 27-14 record and a passer rating of 93.2 in 41 games at Reliant Stadium.
"I'm seeing almost a 67-percent completion, 10 touchdowns, and we know what he's capable of doing. He's a very, very good quarterback. He can put the ball down the field," Fisher said. "There's nobody there better than (Texans coach) Gary (Kubiak) to get things straightened out with him.
"Matt is a good quarterback. He can drop back, play action, puts them in great position. Made a couple mistakes but the season's still early.''
The Rams expect the Texans to run the ball with Arian Foster and Ben Tate in an attempt to take some of the pressure off Schaub.
The Texans will be playing without tight end Owen Daniels, who will miss eight weeks with a broken leg. Garrett Graham will fill in for Daniels.
Kubiak is concerned about a Rams' press rush that has produced 11 sacks, including five by Robert Quinn, this season.
"They're really good,'' Kubiak said. "(Chris) Long on one side and (Quinn) on the other side is a great player. It seems like every game, he's knocked the ball out on the quarterback with either a strip-sack or something. He knocks balls down in the pass game.
"They're a very energetic young group, very fast, always a pressure football team. That's Jeff Fisher's deal, always has been.''
Contact reporter Steve Korte at firstname.lastname@example.org or 239-2522.