Rams face early test vs. the West
Rams face early test vs. the West
By Jim Thomas
ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
Coach Steve Spagnuolo never looks back. He's always looking forward and wants his players to do the same. Maybe that's a good thing, considering the state of St. Louis Rams football in recent years. But the future arrives Sunday at 3:15 p.m. (St. Louis time) at Qwest Field in Seattle.
If the Rams are going to do anything to get back to respectability, they've got to do better against the NFC West. Much better, beginning with the 2009 season opener against the Seahawks.
Since the start of the 2005 season, Mike Martz's last go-around as Rams coach, the team is a woeful 4-20 against the NFC West, for a pitiful winning percentage of .167.
(They're 15-25 for a .375 percentage against the rest of the league over that time. Which isn't great, but it's still more than twice as good as .167.)
"We've got to do better in our own division," defensive end Leonard Little said. "That's the only way we're going to crawl out of this hole that we've been in the last two or three years."
Since the start of '05, the Rams are:
— 0-8 against Seattle. Five of those losses have been by six points or less, with three decided on last-second field goals. But the Rams haven't been very competitive in Seattle over that span. The average score of their last four trips to Seattle: Seahawks 31, Rams 14.
— 2-6 against Arizona. Many blowouts here. The Rams have lost their last five games to the Cardinals and yielded at least 34 points in all five "contests."
— 2-6 against San Francisco. These have almost all been close defensive struggles. Seven of the eight games were decided by seven points or less. The Rams have scored more than 20 points only once.
Seattle's current eight-game streak against the Rams is a Seahawks franchise record over any opponent. The last Rams victory came during the 2004 playoffs, a 27-20 triumph at Qwest, with the winning points coming on a 17-yard TD pass from Marc Bulger to ... Cam Cleeland.
"It's been a while," cornerback Ron Bartell said. "I haven't been able to experience one yet. So hopefully on Sunday I'll be able to get my first one against Seattle."
Bartell isn't alone. Amazingly, only four players on the current roster have experienced a victory over Seattle wearing a Rams uniform — Little, Bulger, running back Steven Jackson and long snapper Chris Massey.
The Rams are 8 1/2-point underdogs Sunday, and they figure to be underdogs in most games this season. No one outside the walls of Rams Park expects much from the team this year, but that could work to the Rams' advantage. There are early signs that the team is developing a motivational chip on its shoulder.
"To be honest, we don't care what your expectation is of us," Bartell told reporters Thursday. "We have expectations of ourselves. We just want to go out and play hard every game and try to win every game. We're not worried about outside influences. We don't get caught up in all that. Everybody's just focused on Seattle, Week 1, winning on Sunday. That's it."
They will try to win Sunday with a roster that is radically different from a year ago, both in terms of new and younger personnel. In the ever-changing NFL, it's not unusual for one-third of a roster to change from one year to the next. But the 2009 Rams have 27 new players this year compared to last season's opening-day roster, a turnover of 51 percent.
And you want young?
— Last season, the Rams had seven opening-day starters over age 30. They will have three on Sunday.
— Last season the Rams had 15 opening-day players over age 30. They have seven this season.
— Last season the Rams had 18 players with less than three years NFL experience on the roster. This year, they have 27.
Will youth be served?
"If we can get both sides of the ball and special teams playing at a high level, I feel like this team's talented," Jackson said. "Yes, we are young, but we're not going to use that as a crutch. We're not going to use that as an excuse. We're all paid here to win games and that's what I expect for us to do."
Re: Rams face early test vs. the West
I love the attitude. Who cares what anyone else says. Go out, root for the team, root for them to play hard and show some determination on the field.
If we can play solid defense and move the ball well, we have a good chance.