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Chris Long: 'Not shocked' by Rams' defensive domination

EARTH CITY, Mo. -- After his team pitched a shutout for the second consecutive week Sunday against the Washington Redskins, St. Louis Rams defensive end Chris Long sounded like a hard man to impress.

The Rams' 24-0 win against Washington was their second shutout victory in as many weeks, a feat only the 1945 Rams accomplished. For perspective, the Rams played in Cleveland then.

"I don’t think you’ll find anyone in here who is shocked by it," Long said. "We’re pleased by it, but we’re not shocked. There’s still things we could do better. That’s the crazy part. I don’t feel like we even played our best game on defense today."

OK, well, how about the fact that for the second time in as many weeks and the third time in the past four games, coordinator Gregg Williams' defense didn't allow an opponent to run a single play from inside their 20-yard line?

"Now, that right there is pretty cool," Long said. "It doesn’t surprise me that we can shut two people out in a row, [but] that red zone stat is pretty cool. Coach Williams is a doing a great job, [and] the defense is doing a great job playing team defense, buying in."

Call it buy-in or call it adapting to the scheme. Regardless of your chosen platitude, you won't find a defense in the NFL that is playing better than the Rams right now. Including Sunday's domination of the Redskins, the Rams have now gone 128 minutes, 20 seconds without allowing an opponent to score. According to ESPN Stats & Information, the Rams are the first team since the 2009 Dallas Cowboys and the fifth since 2000 to have consecutive shutouts.

The Rams limited Washington to 206 yards of total offense and came up with seven sacks and a pair of interceptions in the process. Redskins running back Alfred Morris finished with 6 yards on eight carries and was hit in the backfield on five of those eight rushing attempts.

That the Rams are playing good defense right now isn't really breaking news. Since they set the NFL record for futility in sacks over the first six weeks, the Rams have become the pass rushing tour de force many expected them to be entering the season. Since Week 7, the Rams have 34 sacks. That's the most in the league in that time.

The differences are many, including improved health at every level of the defense. But perhaps nothing is more instructive than the Rams' ability to adapt to the defense and spend more time identifying what the offense is doing rather than worrying about individual jobs from down to down. Never is that more evident than when the Rams blitz.

Williams is the most blitz-happy coordinator in the league, but now his group is starting to get home. He dialed up 22 blitzes against Washington quarterback Colt McCoy and brought the heat on exactly half of Washington's dropbacks. The Rams, led by middle linebacker James Laurinaitis, got five of their seven sacks on those blitzes. That matches the five they had when rushing the passer last week.

It's not just a function of bringing the blitz but also where it's coming from. The Rams have been making a habit of attacking the "A" gaps (the space between the center and guard) with greater frequency in the past seven weeks and creating pressure up the middle, which allows ends such as Robert Quinn, Long, Eugene Sims and William Hayes to run free to the quarterback.

"We knew with a guy like Colt McCoy, he’s a smaller guy so we said ‘Hey, you have to attack the A and B [gaps],’" Laurinaitis said. "When you do that, you flush him out to your ends. You attack the A gaps, the quarterback will escape out, and they escape out to Chris and Will and Eugene and Rob."

Laurinaitis, who makes all the defensive checks at the line of scrimmage, has even found a niche. He has three and a half sacks in the past six games after setting a career high of the same number in 2013.

"I love blitzing, I love it," Laurinaitis said. "The good thing about blitzing is you don’t have enough time to think -- you just go. A lot of times, you let your instincts kind of take over. We’re working really well right now as a unit of showing one thing [and] doing another. Showing blitz, playing coverage and just understanding the whole defense. I think that’s our youth growing up in the back end, and like I said, getting guys healthy. Now we’ve got to continue to do it."