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Rams Building Recipe for Late Season Success
Rams Building Recipe for Late Season Success
By Nick Wagoner/Senior Writer
As one of the people in the Rams locker room with experience playing big games in December, Rams coach Steve Spagnuolo knows plenty about what it takes not only to play in those contests but also what it takes to win them.
And though the recipe for late season, playoff push success doesn’t require anyone to re-invent the wheel, it’s a recipe that not every team has.
While Spagnuolo’s 2010 Rams are still putting all of those ingredients together, Sunday’s 19-6 win against the Cardinals in Arizona gave his team an idea of what it’s going to take down the stretch to reach the postseason.
In a locker room that following wins has been alternately joyous, boisterous and downright giddy, the feeling after Sunday’s victory was much more businesslike and blue collar.
“That’s a good sign,” Spagnuolo said. “That’s how it should be. Because as soon as you wake up the next day it’s on to the next one. That’s what this business is all about. You get too wrapped up in yesterday you miss out on today’s opportunity so the players have been good like that to their credit. That’s a big time compliment for this team.”
Following Sunday’s win and all of the action that took place around the league on Sunday, the Rams remain in a tie for first place with Seattle at 6-6 and riding a two-game road winning streak heading into a difficult matchup this weekend at New Orleans.
There’s no doubting that taking on the Saints will be a tall order, especially at the Superdome, but Spagnuolo believes that if you look closer at how his team won against the Cardinals, you can see the signs of a team that understands what it takes to win those types of games against good teams.
Almost from the day he was named head coach, Spagnuolo has emphasized the fundamentals of the game and doing all of the little things necessary to get wins. That means limiting penalties, winning the turnover battle, converting on third down on offense and getting off the field on third down on defense.
In Sunday’s win, all of those details broke the Rams way. They were penalized just twice for 15 yards. They turned the ball over just once and came up with a pair of takeaways. They converted six-of-17 on third down and held the Cardinals to just one third-down conversion in 11 tries.
“We do always talk about winning the turnover ratio and protecting the football, especially at this time of year,” Spagnuolo said. “But I am probably most proud of the football team if the lack of penalties is a reflection of disciplined football that’s a good thing. Smart, tough football, when you play it together usually you have got a chance to win some football games.”
Those are some of the more tangible elements needed to win, especially late in the season but there are plenty of intangible factors that the Rams showed signs of developing in Sunday’s win as well.
Take, for example, the idea of toughness and resolve. Since training camp, Spagnuolo has said repeatedly how tough he believes this group is. That’s easy to say but harder to prove.
At the three-quarter pole of the season, most teams around the league are dealing with plenty of bumps and bruises. But it’s clear to see which teams have that little something extra in seeing how they play through those.
Against the Cardinals, the Rams lost starters such as tackle Jason Smith (ankle) and safety Craig Dahl (knee) and key reserves such as linebacker Chris Chamberlain (hand) at various points in the game.
Not only did each of those players gut it out through the pain but they all made key contributions from Smith’s powerful kick out block on running back Steven Jackson’s 27-yard touchdown jaunt to Dahl’s interception and sack to Chamberlain’s special teams stops.
“I have always thought it was a tough football team,” Spagnuolo said. ‘But it’s funny after the game you realize this guy was dinged and he went back in, that guy was hurt and he went back in. I think it does say a lot about the football team. I’m sure there were guys that didn’t miss plays that are banged up and just keep going.”
Of course, perhaps the most important intangible trait for any team is confidence. After finally getting a road win the previous week in Denver, the Rams picked up some of it but it was never more evident just how much until Spagnuolo saw what he saw in the locker room at halftime on Sunday.
Holding a slim 9-6 lead, Spagnuolo saw a team full of guys that frankly wasn’t satisfied with what it had done up to that point in the game. It was a group that believed it should be taking care of business more efficiently.
“You could see in the locker room at halftime that there was a confidence about our football team and even more important than that, I don’t think anybody in the locker room was satisfied that we were ahead by three points,” Spagnuolo said. “To me that speaks volumes. They were disappointed in that and said ‘OK, let’s go out and do something about it.’ I thought that they did. I think going forward and getting ready to go down to New Orleans which we all know is one of the premiere teams in the league…hopefully that will help us what we have done on the road the last two games.”
What the Rams did after the half was something they hadn’t done much of to this point in the season either, especially on the road. Second half issues have plagued them in road losses to the likes of San Francisco and Tampa Bay so they have made it a priority to try to develop the killer instinct necessary to win those hard-fought games.
All they did was outscore the Cardinals 10-0 and hold them to a measly 47 yards of offense in a dominant third and fourth quarter.
Perhaps even more important was that this time, it was the offense that was able to put the game on ice. Against Denver, the defense provided the late stop to preserve the win. This time, the offense milked out a five-minute, 17-second drive that ended with the ball in the hands of the offense.
“Getting the killer instinct happens over time, as you can continue to do so, as you get the chance to put yourself in the position to put teams away, that’s when you learn and understand how to do it,” Jackson said. “So it’s repetition and when we go into forming the offense guys are continuing to allow us to stay on the field and continue to put a team away.”
So maybe the Rams haven’t quite put all of those necessary components together just yet but worry not, Sunday’s win in the desert was their first shot at December success in the middle of a playoff push.
Maybe it wasn’t a rousing, dominant performance but it certainly was a gritty, gutty one that certainly drew the admiration of a head coach who knows a little something about what it takes when the weather turns cold.
“The best way I can say it is it’s a process,” Spagnuolo said. “I think these guys have embraced everything we kind of fed at them from the beginning. We knew it was going to be a little bit of a process. But I tell you what: it’s still coming back to the guys in the locker room. You have the right guys and they jell together and they support each other, usually all of that kind of stuff comes out. I think that’s what our team is doing. Most of all, I think these guys like playing with each other. I think they like playing football and being involved with each other. That helps you win football games.”
No matter the month.
Re: Rams Building Recipe for Late Season Success
Held the Cardinals to 47 yards of offense in the 2nd half! Shoot I had more yardage than that going back and forth to the refrigerator on Sunday.
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