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Now that break is over, Rams' schedule gets serious
Three of next four games will be away from home
BY STEVE KORTE
ST. LOUIS - Break time is over for the St. Louis Rams, who returned Monday from their bye weekend and began preparing for what could be their most challenging stretch of the season.
The Rams (4-2) will play three of their next four games on the road, including a matchup against the San Diego Chargers (4-2) at 3:05 p.m. Sunday at Qualcomm Stadium.
They'll play Kansas City (3-3) on Nov. 5 at home before embarking on back-to-back road contests against Seattle (4-2) on Nov. 12 and Carolina (4-3) on Nov. 19.
"After the bye, it's really not a second season, but it's certainly a refocus time," Rams coach Scott Linehan said. "It's a key stretch, a tough stretch. We have a tough road game this week, which is obviously our focus now. It's a tough place to play against a team that has been playing as good as anybody, and is maybe one of the top two or three teams in the league."
The early line had the Rams as 9 1/2 -point underdogs against Chargers, who rank No. 1 in defense and No. 4 in offense in the NFL.
"They really have a lot of holes," Linehan joked. "That's a pretty good formula they have there with both sides of the ball playing so well."
While the Rams were resting, the Chargers were having a weekend they'd like to forget.
First, they lost 30-27 to the Kansas City Chiefs on Lawrence Tynes' 53-yard field goal with six seconds left. Then it was learned that linebacker Shawne Merriman, the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year last season, had been notified that he will be suspended for four games for violating the league's policy on steroids and related substances.
The Chargers also lost linebacker Shaun Phillips for four to six weeks due to a calf injury suffered against the Chiefs.
Merriman and Phillips have combined for 11 1/2 sacks this season.
"You can't get concerned too much with who is going to play," Linehan said. "You have to focus on the scheme they run, and they are one of the best at it with the three-four (defense) that they run. They're doing it about as well as anybody right now."
The Chargers still have running back LaDainian Tomlinson, who has rushed for 473 yards and seven touchdowns this season.
"With him, you have to get 11 people to the ball," Rams defensive end Leonard Little said. "He's going to make the first guy miss, regardless. If you have 11 people getting to ball and you're gang tackling him, then you can slow him down a little bit. If we're not running to the ball and we're letting Tomlinson loose, it's going to be a long night for us."
Linehan said the Rams emerge from their bye week in good health.
Cornerback Fahkir Brown, who has missed the last two games due to a sprained ankle, was able to practice Monday.
Linehan expects Brown to be in the starting lineup against the Chargers.
"As long as he is able to go full speed, I wouldn't see any reason why that wouldn't be the case," Linehan said. We're going to have to see how he feels after today. He did everything. He didn't miss one rep today."
Brown left no doubt that he was planning on playing against the Chargers.
"I practiced on it, and it felt real good, so I'll be ready for this game," Brown said.
Linehan said fullback Paul Smith has been cleared to practice on Wednesday after undergoing a CT scan Monday morning. Smith has missed two games due to a concussion and eye injury that he sustained on the opening kickoff of the second half against the Lions.
Linehan said he didn't see much of the Chargers-Chiefs game, but he did spend most of his Sunday off watching football.
"I sat down and watched the first drive," Linehan said. "I saw the Chargers' opening fumble, and then I got to go to my 10-year-old's football game. I listened to the finish of the game on the radio coming back. We'll watch that game on film a number of times this week. It was good to have our next two opponents play each other so recently."
Matt Linehan, 11, is a quarterback and safety, while Michael Linehan, 10, is a linebacker and offensive tackle who has to wear a stripe on his helmet because he's over the weight limit for carrying the ball.
Linehan said his two sons have missed a couple of Rams games because of their obligations to their youth teams in Chesterfield, Mo.
Asked whether he has ever offered suggestions to any of his kids' coaches, Linehan said, "He doesn't need suggestions anymore than I do."
Re: Now that break is over, Rams' schedule gets serious
The team is healthy, so no excuses. Let's get this thing going.
:r :l :r :l