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Even at 5-0, LA Rams still determined to improve run defense

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THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. (AP) — Although the Los Angeles Rams have few areas of major concern after their impressive 5-0 start, Aaron Donald thinks their rushing defense is something that needs fixing on this smoothly running machine.

The All-Pro defensive tackle intends to make sure they repair it.

The Rams are a modest 18th in the league in yards rushing allowed, giving up 106.8 per game — and a whopping 5.0 yards per carry, fourth-worst in the NFL. Last weekend, the Seahawks racked up 190 yards on the ground during the Rams 33-31 comeback victory in Seattle.

The Rams are headed to snowy Denver on Sunday for a date with the Broncos No. 3-ranked rushing offense, which has piled up 137 yards per game. To Donald, the job is clear.

“We need to stop the run,” Donald said Wednesday. “Dont even worry about getting after the quarterback. Our main job this week is to stop the run. Theyve got a strong running game. If we do that, then well get after the quarterback.”

The Seahawks gouged the Rams defensive front for 5.9 yards per carry, boosted by a handful of big plays that were aided by defensive mistakes. The Los Angeles Chargers also had major success on the ground against the Rams last month, rushing for 7.1 yards per carry.

The Rams have been comfortably ahead on the scoreboard for much of the season, limiting their opponents ability to use the run game. But Donald realizes the Rams cant count on their high-octane offense to get them out of work in the defensive trenches.

It nearly cost the Rams in Seattle, but Los Angeles offense scored the games final nine points, and the defense shut out the Seahawks in the fourth quarter.

“I feel like it was more disappointing we gave up that many rushing yards and we gave up that many points,” Donald said. “As long as we found a way to win, you can have a game like that. Weve just got to play better.”

Seattle right guard D.J. Fluker had sharp words for the Rams defense afterward, saying Los Angeles hadnt “seen a team thats played physical. They want to be pass-rushers. They havent seen a team go out there and actually take it to them every single play.”

Donald chuckled at the apparent criticism of him and Ndamukong Suh, two of the NFLs most decorated defensive linemen.

“He said something smart? Well see him,” Donald said. “Well play them again.”

The Rams werent statistically great against the run last season, giving up 122.3 yards per game to rank 28th in the league. Defensive coordinator Wade Phillips unit was strong in other areas during the Rams 11-5 regular season, but run defense remains an area ripe for improvement.

Those improvements have been a significant topic of conversation already this season. Coach Sean McVays staff is reminding the defensive front seven to stick with their gap assignments, although McVay identified at least one big Seahawks run in which the coaches put the players in a poor defensive scheme for the situation.

“What were encouraged about as you watch it as a staff are theyre very fixable things,” McVay said. “I think our players will respond the right way.”

Donald understands why Fluker and others might think the Rams would become complacent during their outstanding start. He intends to keep the Rams focused on the play-to-play responsibilities that add up to improved run defense.

“Thats all it is. Little mistakes,” Donald said. “Things that are going to get fixed, thats fixed now. Were itching to get back on that field to show the adjustments we had, and the way were supposed to play.”

NOTES: Receivers Brandin Cooks and Cooper Kupp are both on a path to play Sunday after leaving last weekends game early to enter the concussion protocol. Cooks and Kupp both participated in the Rams walk-through portion of practice Wednesday. “No setbacks or anything like that,” McVay said. “Theyre progressing in the right direction.” … All-Pro K Greg Zuerlein probably wont return from his groin injury this week, which means Cairo Santos will kick in Denver. Santos made both of his field goal attempts in Seattle, including the game-winner with 6:05 to play, but also missed an extra point. … The Rams are aware of the snow in the forecast for Denver this weekend, but McVay isnt worried about his warm-weather teams ability to handle it. “Out here in Southern California, unless we want to go to an ice rink, I dont think we can mimic and emulate that,” McVay said.

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