EARTH CITY, Mo. -- Much was made of the St. Louis Rams' defense, particularly its pass rush in the weeks and months leading into the 2014 season.
After drafting defensive tackle Aaron Donald in the first round, some even went so far as to question whether the Rams could offer an updated version of the Fearsome Foursome. At minimum, the Rams' marketing and social media teams embraced the hashtag #SackCity.
The nickname SackCity has thus far been surprisingly appropriate. Sack as in one, as in the singular sack the defense has been able to muster in the first three games of the season. That was a sack credited on further review to Donald last week against Tampa Bay. There was another that the league took away upon further review in Week 1 against Minnesota.
That would have been an improvement over what the Rams got Sunday in a 34-31 loss to the Dallas Cowboys in which they blew an early 21-0 lead. Yes, the Rams managed 31 points (seven credited to the defense) and still found a way to lose the game.
"I just feel like you look at the board, you see 31 points and our defense, you think about a win," defensive tackle Michael Brockers said.
To be sure, it's not only the pass rush or the front four at fault for what took place at the Edward Jones Dome on Sunday. Every level of the defense is responsible for the onslaught of points that rained down on the Rams in the second half.
But we can begin with the pass rush, the area the Rams were relying on most entering the season.
For the first time all season, the Rams were playing with a big lead and doing well enough against the run to put Dallas in third-and-long situations. To a pass-rusher, third and long is the football equivalent of a green light. The Rams figured to finally have a chance to feast. They didn't.
Yes, the Rams miss cornerstone bookend Chris Long and were facing one of the better offensive lines in the league but they did not register a sack for the second time in three contests.
"We had opportunities to get Romo down today," end William Hayes said. "There were a couple of times where it looked like he was ready to go down and they would make a play at the last minute. On those plays, we have just got to capitalize on it."
Dallas was just one-of-four on third down in the first half but as it made its second-half comeback in which it outscored the Rams 24-10 over the final 30 minutes, the Cowboys began moving the chains even in the most dire situations.
Quarterback Tony Romo and the offense hit on four-of-six third downs in the second half, including consecutive conversions from 13 and 14 yards away. On third-and-13 early in the fourth quarter, Romo scrambled for 16 yards, shaking loose linebacker Alec Ogletree to keep the drive moving. Three plays later, on third-and-14, Romo hung in the pocket for what seemed an eternity before hitting receiver Terrance Williams for 20 yards and another first down.
The Cowboys finished the drive with a 12-yard touchdown pass from Romo to Williams on third-and-2 to take a 27-24 lead they would not relinquish.
Linebacker James Laurinaitis was among the many defenders left searching for answers.
"I wanted to rip my head off, to be honest with you," Laurinaitis said. "I wish I had an iPad playbook right here so I could watch them with you and tell you how I really feel. I don’t know what happened."
That's become a familiar refrain in the first three weeks from a group that boasts plenty of early-round draft picks and high-priced contracts. The Rams were built to lean on their defense to win games. On Sunday, it was the reason they lost.