EARTH CITY, Mo. -- With two games to play in the 2014 NFL season, the St. Louis Rams defense is playing as well as any unit in the league.
After something of a sluggish start, the Rams defense has raised its level of play in the past eight games. But because of that slow start, the ranking don't necessarily reflect how far that group has come.
Before the season is finished, that's something they're hoping to rectify.
"I think personally being in the top 10 or being in the top 5 for us would be great, especially with how young this defense is and the teams we’ve beat," defensive tackle Michael Brockers said. "It would be a great confidence booster for us going into next season."
In terms of overall defense, the Rams are tied for 11th in the league in yards allowed per game at 339.9. Reaching the top 10 is a reasonable goal considering that the No. 6-ranked Jets are giving up 329.8 yards per game and the others between the Rams and Jets are even closer to the Rams' number. Making the top 5 would take a more Herculean effort since No. 5 Buffalo is yielding just 313.4 yards per game. If the Rams can get there, it would be the the first time since 2001 they've finished in the top 10.
Of course, yards allowed per game isn't necessarily even the best measure of a defense. The Rams are also tied for 12th in the league in points allowed per game at 21.2. Were it not for the points allowed by offensive turnovers or special teams, they'd already rank near the top of the league. They still have a chance to break into the top 10 there, also, as No. 8 New England is just 1.2 points ahead of them.
Considering the fact that the Rams have not allowed a touchdown in 12 quarters, they would seem to have a realistic shot of reaching that top 10 also. Over the past eight games, the Rams have given up 15.1 points per game, second fewest in the league in that span.
"It would be a great thing to say that nobody scored a touchdown on us the rest of the season," safety T.J. McDonald said. "That would be great. The rest is just playing good ball, playing consistent ball, play physical like we know how and execute the plan for the week."
After posting the most combined sacks in the NFL over the past two seasons, the Rams would need record-setting performances to reach the top of the league this year after the slow start in which they had just one through the first five games. They now have 36 on the season, which is tied for 10th in the NFL. Detroit is fifth and has 39 so the Rams have a shot to shoot up that chart as well.
Even if they don't the Rams need to have two more sacks than Buffalo the rest of the way to have the most in the league in that category over the past three years combined.
While they'd much rather be making a move toward the postseason, the Rams defense at least has manufactured something to strive for in the final two weeks.
"That’s not a bad way to go," end Robert Quinn said. "The defense is playing great, even field goals are kind of unacceptable for us. That’s just how our defense wants to be, be stingy out there, give up no points and try to give our offense the most opportunities possible. We know throughout the year we shot ourselves in the foot and everybody had their turns but overall we stuck together as a team and trying to finish the year strong."