Team probably needs to win its final six games to make playoffs
BY STEVE KORTE
News-Democrat

ST. LOUIS -

The St. Louis Rams enter Thanksgiving weekend -- a time for counting your blessings -- with their playoff hopes close to flickering out, their starting quarterback sidelined indefinitely and their defense in a shambles.

So, how do the Rams (4-6) keep from losing their competitive spirit?

"It's tough, but we have to work this thing out," Rams linebacker Dexter Coakley said. "We can't lose focus, we can't just lose fight. We have to continue to fight."

Coakley said this is the time where professional football players need to act professionally.

"You're going to have some adversity, but a leader, a veteran, a guy who takes pride in what he is doing, he is going to go out there and regardless of the outcome, he is going to work and compete," he said. "The younger guys need to see how the older guys approach tough times.

"Hopefully, they will feed off that, and they won't get caught in the trap of thinking that it's all over. It's not over. We still have games to play."

The normally upbeat and energetic Rams wide receiver Torry Holt said he's made a point of trying to project a positive attitude this week.

"I think now it's that much more important for me to be more upbeat, more positive, and don't get out of character," Holt said. "I think the most important thing is just to continue to lead by example."

Rams interim coach Joe Vitt said he wasn't worried about his team staying motivated.

"We're all men," Vitt said. "What I'm not going to do is stick an air pump in their ear and start pumping them up. I'm not going to do that.

"This is a great game, and we're all blessed to be a part of it. I'm excited after 27 years to go coach this game. If they are not excited to play this game, then just let us know. We'll bring the next guy on."

The Rams probably need to run the table, winning all six games left on their schedule, to ensure a playoff berth.

"I don't really care about playoff scenarios and this and that," Rams defensive lineman Tyoka Jackson said. "I come to work because I love to do it. As soon as I don't want to do this anymore, I'll do something else because it's too hard. This is a tough, tough business."

Jackson said the team took their 38-28 loss to the Arizona Cardinals last Sunday hard.

"It's funny," Jackson said. "The wins you forget about in 24 hours. The losses kind of stay with you.

"We're bothered right now. We don't need anybody telling us how bad we were to feel bad. You guys do anyway, and that's all right because that's your job, but I don't need anybody telling me that I played bad. Just like when I play well, I don't need anybody telling me that. I can look at the film to see that."

The Rams will be playing their next several games, and perhaps the rest of the season, without quarterback Marc Bulger, who has an injured throwing shoulder.

Jamie Martin will take over at quarterback, but he's going to need help from a running game that produced only six yards in the loss to the Cardinals.

"You have to run the ball better than we did last week, that's obvious," Martin said. "You can't win the game running the ball like that. Obviously if you run the ball, it opens up everything. It makes the pass protection a little easier. When you are running the ball, it takes stress off other areas of the game."

The Rams' defense also needs to find a way to stop the run, and at the same time, keep a secondary racked with injuries from unraveling.

The Rams currently rank 29th in overall defense and 32nd in scoring defense among the NFL's 32 teams.

The Rams are on pace to allow 480 points, which would break the club record of 471 allowed during the 2000 season.

Coakley and Chris Claiborne, two linebackers signed during the offseason to shore up the defense, have spent more time on the sidelines than on the field in recent weeks.

Coakley and Claiborne leave the game whenever the Rams go to their nickel and dime pass defenses, and opponents have been using a lot of three- and four-receiver formations against them.

"It's very new to me," Coakley said of his lack of playing time. "I experienced it a little bit last year at Dallas when I was rotating. It's different. I can't worry about what the coaches are doing because then I'm not focusing on playing the football game.

"When my number is called, I want to be ready to help this football team."

Jackson said there is no secret to fixing the defense. It all starts with the players.

"We just need to play better," Jackson said. "Stop making the stupid mistakes that we make, stop the stupid penalties, protect the ball, take it away. That's not going to change. That's the NFL."