Early road tests may well define season for Rams
Early road tests may well define season for Rams
Team will spend three of the season's opening four weeks away from home
BY STEVE KORTE
The first two games of the 2005 season could have a big bearing on how the NFC West is either won or lost for the St. Louis Rams.
The Rams open the season with two NFC West road games. They'll play the San Francisco ***** at 3:15 p.m. today at Monster Park.
The Arizona Cardinals are on deck next Sunday at Sun Devil Stadium.
"I don't remember the last time that a team has started off with two away games in their division, but that's what we've got," Rams tight end Roland Williams said. "Two away games is rare. We know what we are up against. We know we have some opponents that don't like us too much."
The last time the Rams opened the season with two road games was 2001, when they went 8-0 on the road. They've never opened a season with two NFC West road games.
The Rams will play three of their first four games on the road, a stretch that could make or break their entire season.
"When you go into someone else's stadium, you are going to hear rockets, you'll probably see (fighter jets) flying over the top of your head, and everyone in the stands is just rowdy from start to finish," Rams wide receiver Isaac Bruce said. "We have to be really focused and realize that going on the road in this division, especially against the *****, we have to be technically sound in everything we do.
"We can't turn the ball over and we have the mindset that no matter what happens we're going to keep playing hard."
The Rams went 2-6 on the road last season with their two road wins coming against San Francisco and Arizona.
Rams quarterback Marc Bulger said the key to winning on the road is staying calm in the first quarter, even if things don't go your way.
"The other team is always fired up when you're on the road," Bulger said. "That's their comfort level. You just have to weather that initial quarter.
"Even if we're down 17-0, that's what happened in Seattle last year, as long as we realize we're never out of it, we can come back."
The Rams-***** rivalry still burns strong despite roster and coaching changes. ***** running back Kevan Barlow fanned the flames of that rivalry a little this week.
"Me personally, I don't like the Rams. I can't stand them," Barlow told The Associated Press. "Last year, they embarrassed us. Our fans don't like them either. ... I believe the Rams are going to come in here, and they're going to sleep.
"That's what a lot of teams are going to do against us. We're going to prove them wrong."
First-year ***** coach Mike Nolan, whose father, Dick Nolan, went 2-13-1 against the Rams as the ***** head coach from 1968-75, has an appreciation for the rivalry.
"Rivalry is an issue of respect," Nolan said. "You don't have a rivalry when two teams don't respect one another."
Nolan, who takes over a team that posted an NFL-worst 2-14 record last year, said the Rams present a difficult challenge for his defense.
"It's a very high tempo, very explosive offense," Nolan said. "The Greatest Show on Turf, I guess, was the descript term for what everyone calls them.
"They have explosive players. (Steven) Jackson, the back, looks extremely explosive in his ability to run the ball and catch the ball out of the backfield. Certainly the receiving corps has always been a strength. They have good tight ends."
The Rams haven't been called the Greatest Show on Turf for a few years, but they do hope to have a new dimension on offense this season with the 6-foot-2, 235-pound Jackson as the No. 1 running back.
"We're known for our offense," Jackson said. "We're known for our firepower. Now I guess you can say there is a resurgence in the running game. We're looking forward to seeing what we can do against the San Francisco *****."
Nolan, the defensive coordinator for the Baltimore Ravens the past three seasons, has gone from a 4-3 to a 3-4 defense.
The 3-4 defense should showcase the strength of the *****' defense, their linebacking corps of Derek Smith, Jeff Ulbrich, Jamie Winborn and Julian Peterson.
Rams coach Mike Martz said playing against the Chargers, who also run a 3-4 defense, in the preseason should have helped prepare his team for the *****.
"I still say that that middle backer (Smith), he is pretty terrific," Martz said. "Somehow he just finds ways to make plays. He's a terrific player."
Peterson, who missed the final 11 games of the 2004 season because of an injured Achilles, will be going against the Rams' Rex Tucker. Tucker will be playing his first regular-season game at right tackle after playing exclusively at guard during his six NFL previous seasons.
"I think he has come back well from his injury," Nolan said of Peterson, who had seven sacks in 2003. "I don't believe he is 100 percent, but he's pretty close."
Re: Early road tests may well define season for Rams
3 and 5 on the road last year.
Unless maybe the wins over Seattle don't count because it is a given. :)