It's been a rough couple of weeks for St. Louis' defense, and the Rams know it, too.
St. Louis has dropped three straight games, yielding 30 points against Green Bay and 45 against New England in its last two losses before its bye week. The Rams' points allowed average jumped nearly five points to 20th in the league, from 18.5 and fifth-best before playing the Packers. The overall defense dropped from seventh-best to tied for 14th.
"What has happened the last two weeks, everyone that is associated with this defense, players and coaches knows it's totally unacceptable," said Dave McGinnis, the assistant head coach who tends to speak on behalf of the defense. "Now, the next thing you have to do is you have to accept, beginning with me, the responsibility to change it."
Coaches and players point to turnovers as one reason for the slide. St. Louis (3-5) had two more takeaways than its opponents through the first five games. The Rams haven't forced a single turnover during their losing streak but have coughed the ball up four times, including three interceptions for Sam Bradford.
Next up is a trip to NFC West-leading San Francisco.
The 49ers have a plus-three turnover differential and have scored 38 points off their opponents' miscues, while giving up just 16 points on nine giveaways. They also rank as the top scoring defense in the league.
"The challenge again, going into this week, is the 49ers don't make mistakes," head coach Jeff Fisher said Thursday. "We have to force the mistakes to compete with a team like this. You go in there and don't get the ball back either on third down or as a result of a turnover, it's hard to beat anybody."
Opponents have converted about 40 percent of third downs against the Rams, 15th-best in the league. The Patriots secured first downs on seven of 12 attempts and the Packers nine of 15. In contrast, the Rams are tied with Tampa Bay as the eighth-worst in the league at about 34 percent.
The defense was particularly shaky against the Packers and Patriots, who rank ninth and first in scoring, respectively. They combined for 875 yards against the Rams. In the four games prior, St. Louis gave up 192 yards more total yards — coincidently the exact amount Miami gained in its 17-14 victory that started the current three-game slide.
"Individually, we've all taken turns in our mistakes and we haven't forced turnovers," said cornerback Cortland Finnegan, who has three interceptions this year. "When you add those two things to the mix, it doesn't pose well to stop offenses. If we can start honing in on attention to detail and creating turnovers, we'll find ourselves with a better chance to win."
San Francisco quarterback Alex Smith's resume doesn't compare to the Packers' Aaron Rodgers or New England's Tom Brady, but he has the league's fourth-best quarterback rating this year. The 49ers also lead the league with 168.6 yards rushing per game.
McGinnis said the obvious measure of a good defensive game is the final score.
"If you're playing a team like this, you've got to find a way to match their physicalness in the run game and then be able to take care of the play-action pass when it shows up," McGinnis said. "When you're watching defense, it's if you keep the opponent from having fewer points than you score, than that's when you observe you're doing good."