Rams Team Report
Rams coach Steve Spagnuolo always has a single-minded purpose like most coaches as another game approaches. No matter what the record, he is intent on trying to figure out a way to win.
It's no different this week as the Rams enter the season finale at home against the ***** with a 1-14 record. Spagnuolo had another message this week for the fans he hopes show up.
The last two home games have had announced attendances under 50,000, the two lowest since the team moved to St. Louis in 1995.
"Sunday is a special day," Spagnuolo said. "Not only is it the last game, but it is fan appreciation day. We do appreciate the fans that are behind us and that have hung in there in a tough, tough year. It's tough for us, tough for the players, and tough for the fans. Just know that we'll continue to work to try to get this thing straightened out. We're going to do everything we can to win this football game."
Asked about fans that boo when the team doesn't play well, Spagnuolo said he understands.
"Absolutely," he said. "I love to have them there. When I was in Philadelphia, of course the Philadelphia fan is a passionate fan. I've always felt good, better, and indifferent. When the fans are there and they're passionate and care, I'm OK with that, I really am. That means they care. I'm OK with that."
While some fans hope the Rams lose so they will be assured of the first overall pick in the draft, the fans that were there for the Dec. 20 Houston game were cheering for a victory in what turned out to be a 16-13 loss. They weren't thinking about draft picks.
Worrying about draft picks is nowhere near Spagnuolo's thinking.
Asked this week if he had given any thought to the draft, Spagnuolo said chuckling, "No. You're way ahead of me there. Way, way ahead of me. No. Absolutely not."
When it was pointed out that the Rams currently have the first pick in the draft with one less win than Detroit and are "neck and neck" with the Lions, Spagnuolo said, "I'll worry about that in a couple of weeks. We're 'neck and neck' in trying to win a football game this Sunday. I'm knee-deep, or whatever you want to say, in trying to win a game. It's the last one, and we're going to play it to win it."
The Rams have played a large number of young players this season, and in recent weeks. Rookie guard Roger Allen III will start his first game of his career Sunday, on the left side, in place of the injured Mark Setterstrom. When asked about playing other young players that haven't seen action, he said, "We're going to make all the decisions based on winning the game. Should it head that way for guys like that, that's what we'll do. If not, we won't. It'll still be about winning the game."
SERIES HISTORY: 120th regular-season meeting. Rams lead, 60-57-2. The ***** won in San Francisco earlier this season, 35-0, but for the most part, recent games have been close. Seven of the last eight have been decided by seven points or less, with six by four points or less. Of the last four games in St. Louis, the ***** have won three with two by one point. San Francisco has outscored the Rams in the 119 previous games, 2,634 to 2,601.
—For the second time in his career, Rams running back Steven Jackson has been voted to play in the Pro Bowl. This year's game is set for Jan. 31 in Miami, one week before the Super Bowl. It appears unlikely that Jackson will play in the game because of the back injury that kept him out of Sunday's game against Arizona.
The NFL is the only league that combines the voting of fans, players and coaches. The other running backs on the NFC team are Minnesota's Adrian Peterson and Carolina's DeAngelo Williams.
Said Jackson, "I am humbled the fans, coaches, and my fellow players voted me to the Pro Bowl this year. The coaches, offensive line, tight ends, fullbacks, wide receivers and quarterbacks worked hard to have a productive running game this season and this nomination is a testament to that hard work."
On his Twitter account, Jackson wrote: "Thx u, it's been a rough year at times for the kid. But it's very humbling to know my peers, coaches & fans, made me a pro bowler. Thx u."
Jackson also posted a photo of Bell and Ross watches that he is giving to 15 players on the offense.
With one game remaining in the season, Jackson ranks second in the NFL in rushing yards with 1,353 and is fourth in combined yards from scrimmage with 1,675. He has rushed for at least 1,000 yards for a franchise-best five consecutive seasons.
Jackson's other Pro Bowl season was 2006 when he led the NFL with 2,334 combined yards from scrimmage. Since the start of that season, Jackson leads all NFL running backs with an average of 124.1 total yards per game.
—For the second straight season, there was a sense of disappointment when punter Donnie Jones was not voted to the Pro Bowl. San Francisco's Andy Lee was voted to the team.
Both players' numbers are extremely close. Lee is averaging 47.7 yards per punt and Jones 46.3. Lee's net is 41.4 compared to Jones' 41.3. Jones has placed 32 of his 79 punts inside the 20 with nine touchbacks, while Lee has 28 of 90 punts inside the 20 with seven touchbacks.
—Coach Steve Spagnuolo rarely says a discouraging a word about a player, even when they have been benched.
Cornerback Jonathan Wade became a starter after Tye Hill was traded to Atlanta and started the first four games of the season. Rookie Bradley Fletcher started the next three games before being injured and lost for the season.
However, Quincy Butler started five games, followed by Justin King starting three. Wade was inactive Dec. 20 against Houston, as rookie Danny Gorrer was active for the first game of the season. Butler was injured in that game and did not play Sunday against Arizona.
Wade was active, but even with Arizona often using four wide receivers, Wade couldn't get on the field. The Rams used three cornerbacks and three safeties in their dime defense.
But, when Spagnuolo was asked where Wade comes up short, he said, "I'm not going there. We just decided to play certain guys over other ones. Jonathan Wade is still in there working. He may play this week. We just decided to put guys in at certain situations. That's what we went with yesterday."
—With records of 3-13 and 2-14 the last two seasons, the Rams had the second overall pick each year. With a loss to the ***** Sunday, they will have the first selection. A win and a Detroit win over Chicago would still give the Rams the first pick.
However, if the Rams win and the Lions lose, the first choice will come down to strength of schedule. Entering the final week of the season, Rams opponents have won two more games than Lions opponents. The team with the lower percentage in strength of schedule receives the higher pick.
Thus, if the Rams win and the Lions lose, teams on Detroit's schedule would have to win three more games on Sunday than the teams on the Rams' schedule. If strength of schedule is tied, the Lions would get the top pick because the Rams beat them earlier this season.
BY THE NUMBERS: 1-16 — The Rams' record in division games since the start of the 2007 season. They have lost 13 consecutive NFC West games.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "It did yesterday. I would agree with that. He is in his second year. A lot was put on him last year and by that I mean all the expectations and he started and this year there is a new system. He is getting used to another coach and I think (line coach) Brendan Daly has done a great job with him. He would tell you the same thing about Chris. I do think Chris has gotten consistently better. I would agree with that." — Coach Steve Spagnuolo, asked if the "light switch" has come on for DE Chris Long.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
For the first time since suffering a concussion Nov. 22, rookie tackle Jason Smith did some very limited work at practice Wednesday. He is unlikely to play Sunday, but Smith was pleased to be back.
"I'm happy that I'm able to be here with the guys, working out at the facility," he said. "I'm happy to be at practice today and be able to run around a little bit."
—Rookie quarterback Keith Null still had the majority of reps in practice Wednesday, but Kyle Boller had more than last week.
Spagnuolo once again isn't revealing who will start Sunday against the *****.
"I am going to wait to make a decision," he said. "They are both healthy, I like what they both do, they both got reps today and again, we've done it the same way every week. We'll take it through the week of practice and see what we feel like in the end."
—OT Jason Smith was at practice for the first time since suffering a concussion Nov. 22 against Arizona. Smith is unlikely to play in the season finale against San Francisco.
—DE Leonard Little did not practice Wednesday, but hope to play Sunday. He still has an open wound from a knee infection.
—LB Paris Lenon did not practice Wednesday because of a toe injury, but is expected to play Sunday.
—G Mark Setterstrom will have surgery to repair a torn triceps, an injury he suffered Sunday against Arizona.
—LB James Laurinaitis was limited in practice Wednesday because of a knee injury.
—T Phil Trautwein took some reps with the first unit on the right side Wednesday, Starting right tackle Adam Goldberg is the only backup guard on the roster, so Trautwein could play if one of the guards is injured.
—WR Donnie Avery was limited in practice Wednesday because of a thigh injury.
GAME PLAN: The most important aspect of the game, especially if Keith Null starts again, is keeping the blitz away. Arizona got to Null with some pressure, and certainly the ***** will try the same tactic.
On offense, limiting turnovers will be important. Null has eight interceptions in three starts. The Rams' minus-13 turnover ratio is the second-worst in the NFL and their 33 turnovers is tied for third-worst.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH: Rams LG Roger Allen III vs. ***** DRT Justin Smith - Making his first start, Allen will have his hands full with the relentless Smith, who goes hard on every down.
Rams DE Chris Long vs. ***** OTs Joe Staley and Adam Snyder. Last week, Long was expected to start on the left side, but he was moved to the right side in an attempt to take advantage of the matchup with Arizona LT Jeremy Bridges. It worked. Long had one of his best days as a pro against the run and pass. The defensive coaches will likely match him against the tackle they believe he will do better against.
INJURY IMPACT: The Rams are now on their third left guard in four weeks. Jacob Bell suffered a torn hamstring Dec. 13 against Tennessee. Mark Setterstrom started the next two games, but left in last week's game because of a torn triceps. The latest left guard is rookie Roger Allen III. Through the first 10 weeks of the season, the Rams had started just six different offensive linemen. They have added three starters in the next six games.