USA TODAY

It seems clear any hope the Rams have of winning the NFC West could be essentially decided in the next three weeks.
After Sunday's loss to Atlanta, the Rams dropped to 4-6 after being 4-4 at the season's halfway point. Coaches usually look at each season in quarters, and the Rams were also 2-2 after the "first quarter." They were able to get to 2-2 after losing their first two games, but the next two were at home.

To win the next two and even their record at 6-6 after the "third quarter" would mean doing something they haven't been able to do so far this season: win on the road.

The road losses have been excruciating. Save for a 44-6 thrashing by Detroit, the Rams have lost by two points in Oakland, one point in Tampa and three points in San Francisco in overtime.

In both the losses to the Buccaneers and *****, the Rams held leads in the fourth quarter but were beaten on last-minute drives. While the defense wasn't able to put the brakes on those long drives, the offense had opportunities to put those games away but wasn't able to.

For the season, the Rams have been outscored 64-35 in the fourth quarter. They have scored 111 first-half points, but only 66 in the second half.

The offense has been more efficient and productive than last season, but except for the 30 points scored against Washington in Week 3, the team hasn't scored more than 20 points in any game, and the Rams are one of only five teams in the NFL that hasn't scored a defensive or special teams touchdown.

While the loss to the Falcons showed where the Rams come up short against the league's best teams, it also showed they are not that far away.

Said wide receiver Brandon Gibson, "I feel like if that's the best NFC team, then we're not that far off. It's not like their defense is that incredible. They played a good game, credit them. Matt Ryan and Roddy White, Michael Turner, and Tony Gonzalez as well. They did a great job controlling the clock, keeping us off the field.

"They're explosive on offense and they made some plays, but we kind of shot ourselves in the foot. We kind of let ourselves down. But we feel like we're going to come back this next week and show everybody we belong at the top of the NFC West."

The next two opponents are Denver and Arizona, teams that are both 3-7. The Broncos followed a dismantling of Kansas City at home by losing big to San Diego on the road Monday night.

SERIES HISTORY: 12th regular-season meeting. Rams lead series, 6-5. After the Rams won two straight games in the series in 1974 and 1979, the teams have alternated wins. Since moving to St. Louis in 1995, the teams have split four games, with the Broncos winning in Denver in 1997 and 2002 and the Rams winning in St. Louis in 2000 and 2006.

NOTES, QUOTES

—In the last two games, the Rams have had issues with players cramping. It was especially troublesome last Sunday against Atlanta when three defensive backs — safety Oshiomogho Atogwe and cornerbacks Ron Bartell and Justin King — had to leave the game for periods of time in the second half when the Rams lost a 17-16 lead.

Asked about the issue, coach Steve Spagnuolo said, "You guys don't know this, but there's a number of our guys that are on the specific gravity test. I might not even have the name right, but they get tested for hydration every day. Those guys actually, I believe, that I know — O.J. (Atogwe) did — they were fine going into the game, levels of hydration where they were supposed to be. So we're always concerned about it.

"Reggie (trainer Reggie Scott) is going to continue to research it. We played a lot of defensive snaps. Some of those guys are running down on special teams plays as well."

Wednesday, when asked about the subject, Spagnuolo said, "Let me just say something about that. We've been doing everything possible since the beginning of training camp with hydration. I don't know that there's anything conceivably different we could do, other than changing ... doing blood transfusions or something. I think we're all over it. I think we're on top of it."

There is a sign outside the team's meeting room that says, "MAKE SURE WE HYDRATE ALL WEEK." The word WEEK is highlighted in yellow.

Bartell said, "We have to find a way so it doesn't happen again. That hurt us, having three guys out at the same time."

—In coach Steve Spagnuolo's post-mortem after Sunday's loss to Atlanta, he said, "Defensively, quite honestly and I know the defense feels the same way, did not play well enough to win the football game. It was a good offense we were playing, but we certainly have to play better in the red zone and got to play better on third down. You play good teams and good quarterbacks, you have to win on third down."

On third down, the Falcons converted nine of 17 opportunities. However, in the red zone, the Falcons made five trips and scored two touchdowns and three field goals. On the three possessions that resulted in field goals, the Rams stopped the Falcons on third-and-5 at the 11, third-and-4 from the 6 and third-and-7 from the 9.

Asked about those instances, Spagnuolo said, "It's the other ones I think of. I can't help it."

—Left tackle Rodger Saffold has been alternately dealing with shoulder and ankle problems, with a back issue thrown in. Most recently, Safford missed a practice because of a shoulder injury before the Nov. 14 game against San Francisco, then injured his ankle in the second quarter against the *****.

The shoulder was re-injured Sunday against Atlanta, and he had to leave the game. An MRI was negative.

Spagnuolo said, "They thought initially it was a rotator cuff. He felt something pop, and then it was sore, certainly lost a little bit of strength."

Said Saffold, "Pretty much the same thing, just re-tweaked it during the game. I got caught in a bad position when I was pass-blocking. It was really hurting after that. I knew I had to come out. It's just something that I'm going to deal with the rest of the season."

—When told he had passed 10,000 yards from scrimmage for his career during the game against the Falcons, RB Steven Jackson said, "I was unaware of that. It's a huge milestone, and hopefully we can keep it going. But more importantly, I want to win. That's the thing."

—Rams owner Stan Kroenke also owns the Colorado Rapids, who won the championship of Major League Soccer on Sunday over Dallas.

At coach Steve Spagnuolo's press conference Monday, he congratulated Kroenke.

Said Spagnuolo, "It was great to see Mr. Kroenke yesterday, and I'm real happy for that team winning that."

BY THE NUMBERS: 17 or 20 — Points the Rams have scored in each of their last five games. They beat San Diego 20-17 and Carolina 20-10, and lost to Tampa Bay 18-17, San Francisco 23-20 and Atlanta 34-17.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "No, I don't think so. Everybody wants to score 50 points a game. It doesn't happen in this league very often. We just want to score one more point than they do. I don't feel that way. There's a lot of football to be played here. Let's not forget we have a young football team here that's not so young anymore, because a lot of these guys have got 10 games under their belt. But there are still some things that are new to some of these guys." — Coach Steve Spagnuolo, on whether the Rams are incapable of scoring more than 20 points in a game.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

PLAYER NOTES

—LT Rodger Saffold was a full participant in practice Wednesday after coming out of Sunday's game because of a shoulder injury. Coach Steve Spagnuolo said, "He took a steady diet of plays today, so we think we're OK there. Hopefully he'll be full-go tomorrow."

—WR Danny Amendola left the locker room Sunday with ice packs on his right ankle and left knee, but he was no worse for wear in practice Wednesday. Said coach Steve Spagnuolo, "Everybody this time of year is kind of bumped and bruised up a little bit; I know he is, too. The guy doesn't want to miss a practice, he doesn't want to miss a rep, he wants to do everything. That's the kind of guy he is, and we love having him on our team."

—WR Danario Alexander said he was bouncing around in warm-ups last Sunday and was disappointed when he didn't play against the Falcons. However, he acknowledged that sitting out one more week after Oct. 29 surgery was probably for the best. QB Sam Bradford said Alexander "looked good today; he was flying around today." Alexander said he's ready and that his knee feels better than it did before his first game against San Diego.

—WR Laurent Robinson, who has been healthier recently than all season, injured his toe against Atlanta, but he was a full participant in practice Wednesday.

—S James Butler did not play Sunday against Atlanta because of a toe injury, but he is now healthy and wasn't listed on Wednesday's injury report.

GAME PLAN: The Rams have to find a way to go downfield more with the passing game and force the defense to stop loading the box against RB Steven Jackson. The answer could be WR Danario Alexander, who has the speed and size to get downfield and beat the man-to-man coverage the Broncos play.

Defensively, the goal will be to get pressure on QB Kyle Orton and limit the big plays.

MATCHUPS TO WATCH: Rams CBs Ron Bartell and Bradley Fletcher vs. Broncos WR Brandon Lloyd. Bartell, Fletcher and FS Oshiomogho Atogwe will have to find a way to take the big plays away from Lloyd, who is already over 1,000 yards for the season (1,046), averaging 19.4 yards per catch and scoring seven touchdowns.

Rams DLE Chris Long vs. Broncos RT Ryan Harris. Long was frequently double-teamed by Atlanta last week, and Falcons QB Matt Ryan got rid of the ball quickly with numerous short passes. Orton has been sacked 26 times, and Harris will be charged with keeping Long away from his quarterback.

INJURY IMPACT: The Rams are very healthy for this time of the season, and they expect to have WR Danario Alexander back on the field, which should benefit the passing game, depending on the how many snaps he plays.