THOUSAND OAKS — The jaguar, native to parts of North America, is known for its combination of size and speed. So Jacksonville drafted appropriately in April when it made Leonard Fournette a Jaguar.
Fournette is listed at 6-foot and a bulky 228 pounds. During his 90-yard touchdown run last week, Fournette was clocked at a maximum of 22.05 miles per hour, the fastest speed by any NFL running back this season. Now it’s the Rams’ turn to chase him around when the teams meet Sunday in Jacksonville.
This isn’t complicated. The Rams’ run defense has struggled at times this season – although it improved last week against Seattle – and so confident are the Jaguars in Fournette that during the second half of last week’s victory over Pittsburgh, they attempted only one pass among their 21 offensive plays.
“That’s the way they play,” Rams defensive coordinator Wade Phillips said after Thursday’s practice at Cal Lutheran. “They’re a power team, very physical. Fournette has scored in every game. A tremendous rookie running back. Their offensive line does a great job, and their receivers do a great job of blocking in the run game.”
After some early-season tweaking, the Rams seem to have found a better mix on defense up front. Aaron Donald, who missed training camp and the Rams’ first game because of a contract holdout, has been dominant in his last two games, and Michael Brockers has thrived after a recent switch from nose tackle to defensive end. Tanzel Smart, a rookie, has been fairly stout at nose tackle.
The issue for the Rams’ run defense has been the second level. Middle linebackers Alec Ogletree and Mark Barron are aggressive and speedy, but weigh 235 and 225 pounds, respectively. Shedding blocks has been an issue at times, and tackling a big-bodied back like Fournette could be a problem.
The Rams, increasingly, have been removing outside linebacker Robert Quinn from packages when running plays seem likely, in favor of a linebacker who…