St. Louis Rams

Rams remain aggressive on defense, Laurinaitis thinks criticism is unfair

Minnesota Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater (5) is brought down by St. Louis Rams cornerback Lamarcus Joyner (20) Sunday in Minneapolis. Bridgewater left the game with a concussion after this hit. (Jeff Haynes/AP Images for Panini)
Minnesota Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater (5) is brought down by St. Louis Rams cornerback Lamarcus Joyner (20) Sunday in Minneapolis. Bridgewater left the game with a concussion after this hit. (Jeff Haynes/AP Images for Panini) AP

In the wake of Lamarcus Joyner’s controversial hit Sunday on Minnesota Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, the St. Louis Rams are getting some heat thrown their way.

It began Sunday after the Vikings’ overtime win, when Minnesota coach Mike Zimmer called out Rams defensive coordinator Gregg Williams after Joyner’s fourth-quarter hit hit knocked Bridgewater unconscious and out of the game.

Did Zimmer feel Bridgewater was being targeted?

“I don’t know about that, but I do know there is a history there with their defensive coordinator. I’ll leave it at that,” Zimmer told reporters. “If we were out on the street, we probably would have had a fight.”

There was no fight, but the Rams are hearing accusations again about being a dirty team from former NFL players like Rodney Harrison and others in the media. That would be the same Harrison that knocked out former Rams quarterback Trent Green with a low hit during a 1999 preseason game.

The hit left Green with a torn ACL and preceded the unlikely ascension of quarterback Kurt Warner and the Rams to Super Bowl champions.

“You’re talking about a guy that had a great career,” Rams coach Jeff Fisher said of Harrison. “I mean, the guy played a long time. He was hard to defend. He was a really active defensive player.

“But, this is coming from a guy that had 18 unnecessary roughness penalties, seven personal fouls, four roughing the passer penalties, a total of 77 penalties in his career and was voted three times the dirtiest player in the National Football League and was suspended for a hit, a helmet-to-helmet hit on Jerry Rice in 2002. OK? This is where these comments are coming from.”

Zimmer of course was referencing Williams’ role in the “BountyGate” scandal when Williams was the defensive coordinator of the New Orleans Saints. Defensive players were reportedly paid bonuses for big hits on opponents.

Opinions vary on the hit. Vikings star running back Adrian Peterson, who certainly isn’t unbiased, apparently didn’t feel the hit was dirty.

“It looked dirty, but as I was over there kind of in the midst of those guys I wanted to watch the replay before I reacted and I do anything crazy but, you know, that is our guy,” Peterson said this week during an NBC Sports Radio interview. “It appeared dirty, but watching the replay I honestly feel, my opinion, that he didn’t target him.”

The Rams have heard these types of accusations before.

We were called dirty three years ago when Blake (Williams, Gregg Williams’ son) was here,” Rams linebacker James Laurinaitis said, referring to the Rams’ former defensive assistant. “I remember after the Redskins game we were called dirty. It doesn’t bother me.

“We know what we are, we know we play hard ... prepare right, we play right. If you watch the tape we have D-linemen who are running down the field and trying to get in on tackles playing to the whistle. We try to do things the right way.”

Rule changes to protect quarterbacks make it tough for defenders to make split-second decisions about when or where to make a hit.

Joyner said after the game that he grew up near Bridgewater in Florida and the pair were friends, adding that both families knew each other.

“I know Lamarcus’ character,” Laurinaitis said. “I know that’s never intentional. People can have their opinions of us, but we just play hard and that’s the way we want to play. We want to play aggressive.

“One of the hardest plays for a defender to make is ‘how do I know this guy’s gonna slide, how do I know he’s not going to lower his shoulder, how do I know he’s not going to try to turn the jets up on me.?”’

Laurinaitis ran into a similar situation previously against Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers.

“He’ll start to raise up like he’s going to slide and then take off on you,” Laurinaitis said. “The next thing you know you’re getting yelled at on the sidelines. The quarterbacks are so protected. You’re trained over and over to be making aggressive tackles on anybody in the open field.

“When they become a runner, you’re asking Lamarcus in a split-second to change his course. I don’t know. It sounds really easy for everybody on TV to critique him.”

Laurinaitis said Gregg Williams teaches his defense to play hard and through the whistle. Even though Williams was suspended for nearly a year by the NFL for his role in “BountyGate”, Laurinaitis said things have been different since Williams took over as Rams defensive coordinator last season.

However, with the Rams playing an aggressive style of defense that includes lots of sacks, blitzes, big hits and turnovers, criticism pops up from time to time.

“Gregg’s a big boy, he can take it,” Laurinaitis said. “But I think it’s unfair. He’s done a lot since whatever happened in that whole (“BountyGate”) thing. All I know is the Gregg that’s here. That’s never been a part of him at all.

“Gregg just encourages us to play as hard as we can through the whistle. He wants great effort from everybody on the team, he wants everything you have on very play. That’s it. He never once has gone down that path. I think it’s unfair to get back into that.”

Norm Sanders: 618-239-2454, @NormSanders