PHILADELPHIA — One indication of how well the Ram defense played Sunday is contained in a revealing statistical tidbit that shows Randall Cunningham, Philadelphia's rookie quarterback, with as many or more tackles than the Eagles' two starting cornerbacks and starting right-inside linebacker.
For the casual Eagle fan, this is not good, unless, of course, Cunningham plans to unseat one of the aforementioned Philadelphia defenders.
He does not, but might have considered doing so after being assisted to the Veterans Stadium artificial turf five times by the Ram defense. The Rams also intercepted four errant Cunningham passes and recovered three Philadelphia fumbles en route to their 17-6 victory over the offenseless Eagles.
"I don't mean to be overly humble but I'm kind of pleased where we are," said Fritz Shurmur, the Rams' defensive coordinator.
Shurmur has reason to be pleased. So far, his defense has allowed an average of just 11 points a game.
This becomes important when assessing the Ram offense, such as it is.
"We're not exactly exciting out there, but we're efficient," offensive tackle Bill Bain said.
Perhaps, but if it were not for the defense, the Rams might be 1-1 rather than undefeated and atop the NFC West standings.
"The defense is playing great," Bain said. "They're getting better every week."
Aw shucks, said members of the defense, apparently schooled in social graces by Shurmur.
"Defensively, you have to look at it as one of those days," said safety Johnnie Johnson, who intercepted one of Cunningham's passes. "There's going to be days when the offense has to bail us out. Hopefully, when that happens, I'm going to remind them, 'Remember Philly?' "
"OK, it was a lackluster day for our offense," said cornerback Gary Green, who, too, had an interception. "But there's been some days, like the Tampa Bay game last year (the Rams won, 34-33) when the defense may have been a little off. When our offense gets it turned around, expect things to really start rolling."
Meanwhile, as the populace waits, the Ram defense rids itself of several 1984 descriptions:
The Rams have no pass rush.
In two games, the Rams have seven sacks, which won't make anyone forget Howie Long of the Raiders or the New York Jets' Mark Gastineau, but is a refreshing change from last season, when they totaled just 43.
"The defensive line is getting some respect now," defensive end Reggie Doss said. "People were saying we couldn't get to the quarterback. I think it's turned around."
The Rams' defensive secondary is not aggressive.
Ask Cunningham about the Ram secondary. Thirty-four times Cunningham dropped back to pass and only 14 times did he find open receivers. Nine other times Cunningham intended to pass, but was forced to scramble for yardage. The Rams, by the way, have six interceptions in two games.
"We're not quite as predictable as we were," Johnson said. "We're giving them (other teams) a few more looks."
Ten of the Rams' 17 points Sunday were gifts from the defense. First, Cunningham completed his first pass of the day . . . to Ram linebacker Jim Collins early in the first period. Seven plays later, the Rams had a field goal.
Later, in the fourth quarter, defensive end Doug Reed hit Cunningham and forced a fumble. Doss recovered the ball. Nine plays later, the Rams scored a touchdown and, in essence, put the game out of reach.
"I don't want to talk bad about the guy (Cunningham)," linebacker Mel Owens said. "But I'd rather play against him than (Ron) Jaworski." Jaworski was benched early last week in favor of Cunningham.
No matter, Shurmur said, adding: "I don't feel like we did anything extra. That's our job."