Vanderbilt's catch phrase -- "Anchor Down" -- makes plenty of sense for the Commodores, but it also is a common refrain in the Rams' hopes of improving a run defense that has been continually gashed on runs outside the tackles this season.
"We have just got to keep our anchor points," linebacker Jo-Lonn Dunbar said. "It’s something we have failed to do at times. We have got to establish where our anchor points are and those guys have to keep their anchor point so we can keep guys from running away from us."
Through the first six weeks, plenty of opponents have had ample opportunities to run away from the Rams' rush defense. The Rams are 28th in the NFL in rush defense, allowing 145 yards per game.
On closer inspection, the Rams have actually been quite good against the run, so long as it's coming between the tackles. Opponents have run 127 plays between the tackles for a total of 485 yards and two touchdowns. That comes out to 3.82 yards per carry, which is 10th in the NFL.
Where the Rams have gotten in trouble is when opponents attack the perimeter. On 48 rushes outside the tackles, opponents have gained 391 yards and three touchdowns. That average of 8.15 yards per carry is the worst total in the league. It includes big plays such as Minnesota receiver Cordarrelle Patterson's 67-yard touchdown run in Week 1 and Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson's 52-yard scamper last week.
Some of the issue comes when players overpursue and find themselves out of their gaps, which can lead to big runs. End Robert Quinn and the defensive line had a few moments like that against Seattle. After finally getting three sacks, the defense thought it could simply go after Wilson, but the lead wasn't big enough nor the game late enough for the Seahawks to abandon the run.
That led to some big openings for Wilson. At other times, the Rams have gotten caught making poor reads. Linebacker Alec Ogletree has been particularly guilty, including a pair of miscues last week that led to long runs for Wilson.
“There’s people taking turns making mistakes," coach Jeff Fisher said. "For example, we anticipated ‘boot’ yesterday. We put our defense in position to defend the ‘boot.' Ogletree’s responsibility was the quarterback, and he couldn’t get him down, and Russell just made a move and walked in. It’s not all 'Tree.' It’s at different times it’s somebody else’s responsibility on the edge.”
That edge will be put to its toughest test Sunday when the Rams take on Charles & Co. The Chiefs have 51 carries for 304 yards and touchdowns outside the tackles this year. That average of 5.96 yards per attempt is fourth-best in the NFL.
With Smith at the controls, the Chiefs still use some of the old zone stretch plays that were their hallmark in previous regimes, but they also mix in plenty of read option. Center Rodney Hudson is particularly adept at pulling into space and going low for blocks that might not wipe out linebackers but do enough to get them on their hands and knees. By the time those linebackers get back to their feet, Charles, Davis or De'Anthony Thomas is already gone.
"It’s just discipline," linebacker James Laurinaitis said. "Sometimes if you are holding the edge, sometimes those guys get greedy. And we are all taking part. It’s not just D-ends, a lot of times you think it’s outside ‘backers, D-ends, but there’s always a guy assigned to keeping the edge.
"I’m encouraged when you look at Gore’s numbers, you look at Lynch’s numbers ... but when you look at the big picture, it’s got to go way down. It’s something we have got to continue to work at."