St. Louis Rams

Rams defense brings the heat to chase down win over Browns

While Todd Gurley got a lot done Sunday for the St. Louis Rams, the 24-6 victory over Cleveland included much assistance from the defense.

The Rams defense forced four turnovers and safety Rodney McLeod returned an early fumble 20 yards for a touchdown. Seventeen of the Rams’ 24 points were the direct result of plays or field position provided by the defense.

“It is a pretty simple formula to lose a football game,” Browns coach Mike Pettine said.

The Rams’ secondary got things rolling when safety Rodney McLeod and cornerback Janoris Jenkins immediately recognized a screen pass set on offense by the Browns.

“Rodney McLeod gave me an alert,” said Jenkins, whose hit on Browns receiver Taylor Gabriel led to the turnover. “I gave him a little hand, like I can’t hear him, but I heard him and I just played for the bite.”

McLeod and Jenkins turned their film room work into success on the field.

“It was a big play,” said McLeod, who said he hadn’t scored a touchdown since he was in high school. “Credit 21 (Jenkins). All the guys recognized the formation. He made a great play by going, getting his head on the ball and I was able to make a good play and take the opportunity to set the tone for the game.”

It most definitely did.

A big hit on Cleveland quarterback Josh McCown by Rams defensive end William Hayes led to a fumble recovery for linebacker Akeem Ayers. That led to a 39-yard field goal by Rams kicker Greg Zuerlein that put the home team on top 10-0.

“I think we’re just building,” McLeod said. “You see it every week, honestly. You see it every week in practice how guys are approaching practice, perfecting their craft on the field and in the film room.

“I think it’s a good group and the sky is the limit.”

Mark Barron, the converted Rams safety moved to linebacker after the injury to Alec Ogletree, piled up a whopping 16 tackles on the unofficial press box totals. Hayes had two sacks, Aaron Donald had one and Ethan Westbrooks collected the first one of his career.

Cornerback Trumaine Johnson and linebacker James Laurinaitis added eight tackles each while cornerback Lamarcus Joyner and safety T.J. McDonald each had seven.

“We have a really good secondary, I think they’re extremely underrated,” Laurinaitis said. “That’s because our front four really gets a ton of attention and rightfully so. Really, our secondary is extremely talented.

“Janoris and Tru are playing really well, Lamarcus is playing 1,000 times better and faster than he did last year. Rodney and T.J. and the ability to use Mark Barron in certain ways ... I’m glad that they’re starting to get the attention that they deserve.”

Rams coach Jeff Fisher wants his team built around a strong running game and stout defense. He may finally be getting a bit closer to that goal.

“Not only the hits, but I think this was one of our better open-field tackling days that we’ve had in a long time,” Fisher said.

The Rams defense hounded Browns quarterback Josh McCown all day. They finished with four sacks but could easily have had eight or more had McCown not been as elusive as he was getting rid of balls quickly or scrambling out of trouble.

McCown crashed into the Edward Jones Dome wall after being run out of bounds in the first half and later was knocked out of the game on a hard hit, replaced by backup Johnny Manziel.

BARRON FROM ‘BAMA

With Ogletree out, Barron has been a near-perfect fit at linebacker because of his all-out aggression and speed.

“He’s a guy that knows football,” Laurinaitis said. “He’s one of those ‘Bama guys, you have to be a smart football player to play at Alabama because of (Nick) Saban’s system. He knows a lot of football and he just really triggers, when he sees a play happen he goes for it.

“He’ll only get better and better as he starts to see the game from the weak linebacker position versus being kind of the big nickel (safety) in the past.”

Barron, the seventh overall pick by Tampa Bay in 2012, was obtained in a trade with the Bucs last October in exchange for fourth-round and sixth-round draft picks.

Barron isn’t worried about the complexities of learning another position.

“I’m just playing football,” he said. “That’s easy to me. I just line up and I know my responsibility. And as long as I know my responsibility, I can do that. I’ve been playing football for a long time so you can line me up in a lot of places and I can be a good football player for you.”

GURLEY UNLEASHED

Besides running for 128 yards and two touchdowns, Gurley twice hurdled would-be tacklers and showed no signs of any limitations despite coming off of ACL surgery on his knee last November.

He also did not wear a knee brace Sunday against the Browns.

“It’s definitely a lot better,” he said. “Usually I’ll be on the side just messing with the straps and stuff like that, so it definitely felt a lot better today.”

Can Gurley keep improving? He’s already got three straight 100-yard rushing days in the NFL as a rookie.

“I’ve just got to keep working hard,” he said. “It’s not all me, it’s the offensive line, the offensive coordinator Coach Cig (Frank Cignetti) giving the great plays. We’ve got to keep improving and keep executing.”

Norm Sanders: 618-239-2454, @NormSanders

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