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  1. #1
    RamWraith's Avatar
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    Road trip will say a lot about the future

    By Jim Thomas
    ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
    10/24/2006


    They've had the bye week to digest that tough-to-swallow loss to Seattle. And now the fun begins. Starting Sunday in San Diego, the Rams play four consecutive games against playoff contenders, with three of them on the road.

    After visiting the Chargers (4-2), the Rams entertain Kansas City (3-3) on Nov. 5, then travel to Seattle (4-2) and Carolina (4-3). It figures to be the defining stretch for Scott Linehan's inaugural season as an NFL head coach.

    Go 2-2 or better, and the playoffs loom as a possibility. Do worse than 2-2, and the Rams could miss postseason play for the third time in five seasons.

    "I think after the bye, it's really not a second season, but it's certainly a refocus time," Linehan said. "This is a key stretch. A tough stretch. They all are. Every NFL game is."


    That certainly seems to be the case with the Rams this season. No matter who they play, it's a fight to the finish. All six Rams games have been one-possession contests, decided by eight points or fewer.

    Until this year, the Rams never had played more than five straight one-possession games since their move to St. Louis in 1995. (That stretch occurred in 1997, when Dick Vermeil's first Rams team went 2-3 between mid-November and mid-December, with all five games decided by seven or fewer points.)

    Linehan's Rams are 4-2 in their series of close finishes. Only a 54-yard field goal by Seattle's Josh Brown prevented them from being 5-1.

    "If that kick goes wide right, our attitudes could be completely different right now," Rams wide receiver Kevin Curtis said after the 30-28 loss to the Seahawks. "We very easily could be 5-1, 6-0. Or the other end of it."

    A few more bad breaks and the Rams just as easily could be 2-4 as 4-2.

    But more often than not, the Rams have ended up on the plus side of that fine line between winning and losing.

    "This team is getting the identity," offensive guard Adam Timmerman said. "We've got heart. We're going to fight. We're not going to give up if things start going bad, or we're behind. I'm proud of my teammates for that."

    For defensive end Leonard Little, being 4-2 at the break is a disappointment.

    "Knowing the players we have on this team, I actually thought when we brought in the players we brought in, that we'd be 6-0 at the bye," Little said. "But we're some fighters. That's one thing we are. We'll come back and claw and scratch our way back to the top somehow."

    That newfound resiliency will be put to test over the next four weekends, starting Sunday in San Diego. Even with last week's 30-27 loss in Kansas City, the Chargers rank first in the NFL in total defense. They are fourth in total offense.

    "Other than that, they've really got a lot of holes," Linehan joked. "That's a pretty good formula they've got there, with both sides of the ball playing so well."

    From 2002 through 2005, the Rams won only 10 of 32 regular-season road contests, but they're 2-1 away from home this season, and must win at least one of the three upcoming road challenges to become a playoff contender. That's assuming they hold serve at home against the Chiefs.

    "Without a doubt, there's a different attitude, just in the locker room," Curtis said. "There were different things going on last year. You didn't know what to expect. This year, it's really a good foundation with the coaches and some of the players that we have in there. Every game we play, I think we really believe to the end that we can win it, no matter what we're up against."

    Even if it's a Chargers team that arguably has the game's best running back (LaDainian Tomlinson) and best tight end (Antonio Gates).

    If nothing else, Linehan's team has begun to develop its own personality and is learning what it can do well:

    The Rams are eighth in the NFL in total offense and have the game's third-ranked quarterback in Marc Bulger and his 99.8 passer rating.

    Even with the bye week, running back Steven Jackson still ranks among the league leaders in yards from scrimmage (fourth), rushing yards (seventh), and first-downs gained (fifth).

    Torry Holt remains among the league's leading wide receivers, with Isaac Bruce not far behind.

    On defense, the Rams are giving up lots of yards, ranking 24th in total defense. But they are eighth in red zone defense, and fourth in takeaways (16).

    Throw in the fact that the Rams have committed only five turnovers, and they are a league-best plus 11 in takeaway-giveaway differential.

    Put all of those elements together, and it's not a bad team profile. But it could be better, particularly after the Rams squandered a two-touchdown lead against Seattle.

    "I told the guys coming into the locker room, that especially on defense, we had to finish," Little said. "Once we get 'em down 21-7, the game shouldn't have been close. To give them that many points (23) in the second half is ridiculous. We as a defense, and I as a defensive player, we've got to step up and make plays when it's time to do it."


  2. #2
    general counsel's Avatar
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    Re: Road trip will say a lot about the future

    as the quality of the opponent is moving up in a big way, the biggest considerations for success over the next several weeks will be our red zone performance and our turnover ratio. We lost the turnover battle to seattle and of course it cost us big time. Our terrific red zone performance in the first half of the seattle game is what put us in command. We are going to have to continue to take care of the football and cause turnovers because thats what we are living off defensively. We give up a lot of yards and without the turnovers, we are in a lot worse shape defensively than it looks now. Causing turnovers is tougher against the better teams of course, since by definition (gsot aside), the better teams tend to make less mistakes.

    I hope with brown back haslett will be willing to blitz more. Without a pass rush over the coming weeks, we are going to be in major trouble and there are no signs to indicate that pass rush is going to come exclusively from the front four.

    Closing teams out is another critical element as we move forward. When you have a first down on the other teams 37 yard line, you have to be able to get points. You dont need tds every time to close teams out, field goals are important as well to extend the margain.

    Ramming speed to all

    general counsel


  3. #3
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    Re: Road trip will say a lot about the future

    GC nice post.

    I would add, protect Marc better no more sacks coming from a three-man rush. Convert the third down and short. Stay balanced, we got away from the run against the hags, SJ did not get more then 2 carries from the middle of the third quarter. No carries in the 4th
    Pound the ball in the red zone and use the TE as advertised.

  4. #4
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    Re: Road trip will say a lot about the future

    Good to hear from Little. I also agree with him. RIDICULOUS. Even if we had won that game, it was still absurd to have been that close. That D REALLY needs to step up now against the Charger's excellent offense.


    Always and Forever a fan of the St. Louis Rams

  5. #5
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    Re: Road trip will say a lot about the future

    After the Seahwaks game Linehan did say the sacks of Bulger were an area of concern. Having that issued focused on during the bye week is big. Let's see what happens.

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