Rams D on Fast Track
Under Tender Lovie Care
Two mornings after the Rams had blanked the Lions on Monday Night Football for their first shutout since 1994, defensive coordinator Lovie Smith was not altogether pleased while watching the game tape with his players. Smith has an important stat category that he calls "loafs." A player gets a loaf on any play in which he's found to be not running full speed when he isn't being blocked. So even though the Rams had humbled the Lions 35-0 on Oct. 8, and though Smith recognized that the defense was making excellent progress, he couldn't stand the minimal effort on some plays. "We had more than 10 loafs in this game," he says, "and great defenses can't afford to do that."
The emphasis on hustle is paying off. With the Rams clinging to a 15-14 lead in the final minute of Sunday's win over the Giants, rookie safety Adam Archuleta popped wideout Joe Jurevicius at the end of an eight-yard completion, forcing a fumble that defensive end Grant Wistrom plucked out of the air. "We have 11 guys working as hard as the next guy, on the same page, flying to the same place," said cornerback Dexter McCleon.
In the first five games last year St. Louis, under the bend-but-don't-break scheme of coordinator Peter Giunta, allowed 36, 34, 24, 20 and 31 points yet won all five. Enter Smith, who spent the last five years as an assistant with the Bucs. This season the 5-0 Rams have surrendered 17, 26, 10, 0 and 14 points. "When we were in the market for free agents," says Smith, "one thing we asked was, 'How do you feel about running to the ball like a rookie?' "
An upgrade in talent has helped too. Wistrom, McCleon and middle linebacker London Fletcher are the lone holdover defensive starters. Five rookies are playing significant roles, including Archuleta and outside linebacker Tommy Polley, a second-round pick out of Florida State who is a playmaker. Cornerback Aeneas Williams was named a captain soon after arriving in a trade with Arizona. ("He practices every day like it's a game," says Smith.) Chidi Ahanotu, a salary-cap casualty in Tampa Bay, has been a better all-around end than the departed Kevin Carter.
They are all in lockstep with their leader—who happens to have an unusual first name. Although not quite a boy named Sue, the 43-year-old Smith was named after his great aunt LaVana, and he likes his first name just fine, thank you. "I don't think it's ever had an effect on me getting a job," he says. "If anything, it makes you remember me more than a guy named Jim or Peter."
Butch Davis's Challenge
Browns Come Back to Earth
Butch Davis's Browns had just suffered an embarrassing 24-14 loss to the Bengals, and they looked more like the expansion team of 1999 than the up-and-coming squad of 2001. However, when he addressed his players in the locker room underneath Paul Brown Stadium, the Cleveland coach didn't rip them or put a fist through the blackboard. "This is one week," Davis said calmly. "This is one sixteenth of the season, so we don't want to overreact. But we can't lie to ourselves, and we won't. When we lose, we have to figure out why. All losing does is magnify your deficiencies. It illuminates what we have to improve on."
To judge by the Browns' performance on Sunday, there's plenty of work to do. Cincinnati piled up 400 yards while limiting Cleveland to 211 yards, including only 34 on the ground. It was hardly the kind of performance that Davis expected from a team that had won three straight.
Still, Davis, in his first season with the Browns after six years at the University of Miami, will undoubtedly find something positive to draw from this game. He has been very big on attitude, employing a sports psychologist and bringing in motivational guru Zig Ziglar to speak to the team. Davis has told players that nothing great has ever been accomplished without passion. He has also quoted that great philosopher Jimmy Johnson. "Jimmy was big in Pygmalion theory," Davis says. "You know, if you treat people as you hope they'll be, then they'll become that," he says. "We're treating these players, on and off the field, like winners."