By Howard Balzer
Tuesday, September 16, 2008
Twenty-four hours later, nothing much had changed when Rams coach Scott Linehan walked to the podium at the Russell Training Center.
The Rams were still 0-2, they had still been outscored 79-16 in two games and they were still 3-15 since the start of the 2007 season. But, after being totally shell-shocked after the 41-13 loss to the Giants, Linehan appeared defiant Monday.
He talked all off-season about handling adversity, and now he is knee-deep in it. He knows this team could be easily lost for the season. Offensive coordinator Al Saunders admitted the offense "is a fragile group." So, Linehan knows he has to figure out a way to keep his locker room together, while the cries from the outside are for jobs to be lost.
He really has nothing to lose now. No one outside the locker room expects much. Already, we are wondering what teams the Rams are capable of beating, whether Linehan will last the season, and who the first-round pick might be.
Amid that backdrop, Linehan was asked straight out Monday whether he is concerned about his job security.
He said, ďIíve been concerned about my job security since I started coaching. Iím scared to death to lose. Losing is a bad thing as a coach. If you lose youíre worried about everything. Youíre worried about what the teamís doing, you worry about everything. For the most part of my career in coaching that has been a positive thing. At this point, weíre not winning enough games. So when you donít win games, people are going to want the head coachís head; itís the way it works. Iíve told you that from the beginning, Iíve accepted that. Only as part of the job, but not as part of where weíre going."
"In my mind, weíre going to beat Seattle. Iím not making any guarantees, you can call it what it is, but in my mind weíre going to beat Seattle and weíre going to right this ship because we donít have a choice, I donít have a choice and neither does anybody else around here.Ē
After the emotional reactions from a 21-point, fourth-quarter meltdown are stripped away, the reality of what has happened during the first two weeks of the season is that an offense trying to develop rhythm and timing with a new system has faced two of the worst possible matchups out of the gate. Yes, the Cowboys out 37 on the board against Philadelphia, but Dallas is a team expected to be in the Super Bowl.
On the flip side, the Eagles scored more points Monday night against the Cowboys on the road than they did against the Rams. Those that underrated Philadelphia, and there were plenty, obviously didn't realize what that team is capable of. The Giants' defense did what they did against the Redskins and Rams this season, just like they did it against the Patriots in the Super Bowl.
Arizona is currently 2-0 in the NFC West, with wins over San Francisco and Miami. Something tells me they wouldn't be 2-0 if they had played the Eagles and Giants.
Having said all that, Linehan's future will likely be decided in the next six games, a stretch that ends with a home game against the Cardinals. Will the Rams will be 0-7 going into that game? Is this team capable of beating a team that is better? Will they at least be able avoid losing by four touchdowns and not be outgained by an average of almost 300 yards per game?
With so much of the focus on the defense's failure to stop the Giants after the Rams made it a one-score game in the fourth quarter, Linehan refused to single them out when asked about the 963 yards they have allowed in two games.
ďWeíre all in the same boat," Linehan said. "Weíre one unit: the offense, defense, special teams, coaching staff. Weíre all not performing at a level thatís conducive to winning. To single out the defense, to single out the offense, or special teams, or whoever it is, is probably not fair. I think it would be fair to lump us all into one boat and say we have to play much better. I think we have really good players on defense. I really do. People might laugh at our statistical numbers right now or question that, but I think itís really simple.
"Iíve seen these guys play here the past two years. Iíve seen some of them play on other teams until they got here at the level they played and Iíve seen young players that weíve drafted with high picks play at a high level on film at college and then come to this level and play pretty well at times. As a group, we have to play to our ability and I believe we will do that.Ē
Throughout the off-season, Linehan has talked about all the changes that have occurred as he attempted to "change the culture" of the team. Monday, he was pragmatic when discussing changes.
He said, "We could change more schedules. We could flip-flop practice to midnight and sleep during the day. We could eat bologna sandwiches on Wednesday, penalize the team for not playing very good, we could try all that stuff, but the bottom line is how we play on Sunday and what we do when we get in those moments in the game that are going to decide our fate. Thereís really nothing else you can do. We could double our red-zone practices, but until you get down there it doesnít really matter, we might as well just use our red-zone calls weíve had the last two games because we havenít used any. To me, itís playing at a level against a great opponent, whether you want to say Philadelphia and the Giants are this, you have to play at that level. And if you donít play at that level youíre going to be hoping more than youíre going to be doing and thatís it.Ē
"That's it." By the time November rolls around, we'll probably know whether that's it for Linehan as coach of the Rams.
AVERY NEEDS TIME
Both Linehan and Saunders said their goal is to get wide receiver Donnie Avery on the field more Sunday against Seattle. Avery has practiced at Torry Holt's position, so this week he will begin seeing time on the opposite side and in the slot.
It's likely wide receiver Keenan Burton will miss a few weeks because of what is believed to be a torn meniscus. An MRI was being done to confirm that, and it is expected he will need minor surgery. It's also expected that Eddie Kennison will be active for Sunday's game.
Saunders insisted the offense is playing hard and will come around. "The coaches are also learning this offense," Saunders said Monday. "I'm disappointed, but not discouraged. The players feel the same way. It's going to take a little time, but we cannot left yesterday affect tomorrow."