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Despite key stops, defense's efforts prove futile

See all the action from Sunday's game in St. Louis.

ST. LOUIS – The Broncos' defense allowed just one touchdown on Sunday. While those key stops were vital in keeping Denver in the game, it wasn't enough and St. Louis came out on top, 22-7.

Led by newly-appointed starting quarterback Shaun Hill and rookie running back Tre Mason, the Rams softened the cornerstone of the Broncos' thriving defense: the ability to stop the run.

After six consecutive games holding opponents to less than 70 rushing yards, the Broncos let up, as the Rams were able to accumulate 131 yards on the ground – the Broncos' second-most rushing yards allowed this season.

"We kind of mis-hit and mis-tackled," Malik Jackson said. "The coaches came in there and gave us a great game plan and we just didn't go in there and execute to the fullest, and that's just what happened. They just got some holes and gaps and were persistent, they just ran the rock on us. Not our standard."

Mason had 113 yards on 29 carries during the matchup, the most the Broncos have allowed a single running back. The Broncos have held players like Frank Gore and Marshawn Lynch to less than 100 yards, but the Rams were able to pick apart the Broncos' defense, which came into the game allowing teams a league-low 67 rushing yards per game.

Chris Harris Jr. said missed tackles and Mason continually breaking tackles resulted in those big rushing numbers. Mason was able to pick away at the defense as he had the most rushing attempts of any back facing the Broncos this season (29) and only had two rushes of over 10 yards.

While Mason ran like a veteran today, the Broncos were facing a 13-year veteran under center in Hill. While Hill's last start was Week 1 against the Vikings, he came in on Sunday and found a rhythm quickly – starting with the first drive of the game where he drove the Rams downfield and into the red zone, resulting in a field goal.

"I would say he [Hill] just made some plays, man," Harris said. "He extended some drives. He had some key third downs that he extended. He just played smart. He threw a couple of times in traffic, but he really didn't take too many chances. He took a chance early, but that's about it."

Hill didn't put up huge numbers against the Broncos (20-of-29 for 220 yards and one touchdown), but his veteran poise seemed to take over and he made plays when he needed to and extended drives in crucial situations. On that first drive, he converted on two third-and-3s, one being 33-yard completion to Kenny Britt. That opening-drive field goal gave the Rams a lead they never dropped.

The Rams were only able to find the end zone once as Hill sent a perfectly placed deep pass down the middle to Britt who ran it in for 63-yard touchdown. Britt led both teams with 128 receiving yards on four catches.

While that was the only touchdown of the day for the home team, Hill led the Rams on five field-goal drives, three of which were of 40 yards or more.

"The quarterback can only do so many things," Jackson said. "We knew they're not going to change the game plan, so when we watched film on him and we found out the quarterback who got injured in the first game was coming back, I think we kind of watched his tendencies but I think we also at the same time knew that they weren't going to change the offense. So I think they did what we knew they were going to do."

One of the bright spots on this Broncos' defense was its performance in the red zone, as the Rams were couldn't convert on any of their three trips inside the Broncos' 20. A Von Miller sack on the first drive of the game and Jackson's tipped pass in the third quarter on third-and-3 at the Denver 11 prevented the Rams from putting the game out of reach.

But keeping the Rams' scoring attempts limited to Greg Zuerlein's foot wasn't enough. Harris said the defense needs to create turnovers, especially since the Rams had two interceptions.

"We're losing the turnover battle every time and that's something we have to fix," Harris said of playing on the road. "We have to get more turnovers and get Peyton (Manning) the ball a little more. But, you have to tip your hat to them. They did a good job of running the ball a little bit and Shaun Hill took care of the ball."

Terrance Knighton echoed Harris' sentiments that producing turnovers is key in changing the course of a game. Last week against the Raiders, after a slow start and allowing the Raiders to take the lead, Bradley Roby picked off Derek Carr and the game was all Broncos from there out.

But the Broncos were unable to create that spark.

"We did hold them to five field goals on defense and one touchdown but in a game like this on the road you've got to find a way to spark the team," Knighton said. "We could've created turnovers to change the momentum of the game and we didn't. Our offense couldn't get a rhythm going so it didn't look like we played too well. We didn't play well enough to win on either side of the ball."

The Broncos have bounced back from losses before and the defense seems confident it will remain similarly resilient after this road loss. But, they will have to rally quickly as the 6-4 Dolphins are coming to town this weekend.

"We'll tighten the screws up [as a team], we'll watch the tape and we'll bounce back and focus on Miami," Knighton said.

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