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Burwell: Rams Find More Ways To Extend Frustration

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  • Burwell: Rams Find More Ways To Extend Frustration

    Rams find more ways to extend frustration

    Sports Columnist Bryan Burwell

    LANDOVER, Md. — On one end of FedEx Field were the Washington Redskins, trotting off the home field to an unsettled chorus of 87,780 ambivalent fans. There were few ringing endorsements in the throes of this unsightly 9-7 victory over the visiting Rams, only relief that their imperfect heroes had been resourceful enough — or darned lucky — to barely find enough ways not to lose.

    And while there may be no ringing endorsements descending from the stands in FedEx for the home team, these football-savvy folks are wise enough to know that what they have — flawed as it may be — sure does beat the alternative. The alternative was your St. Louis Rams — winless in 11 months — who keep working hard as ever for their new boss, the resiliently positive Steve Spagnuolo, but so far have nothing to show for it but a proficiency for administering gut-twisting, self-inflicted wounds.

    Two weeks into his first season as the Rams coach, Spagnuolo is 0-2, and his team has not exactly practiced what the inspirational new coach has been preaching.

    He said he wanted a tough, passionate, smart team that would find ways every Sunday to compete and win ballgames. So far, Spags' Rams have gotten the tough and passionate part down cold. But it's been an excruciating challenge watching them as they attempt to nail down Step No. 3. For the second week in a row, the Rams found just enough maddening ways to lose a game that they could have realistically won.

    "We have some work to do," an obviously disappointed Spagnuolo said after the game. "It doesn't happen overnight. I never expected it to happen just like that. Just because you preach it and worked on it in the offseason in training camp, there's no guarantee it's going to happen in the game. A game's different. The speed of the game's different. Guys think differently and coaches think differently."

    Unlike a week ago, it wasn't penalties that killed the game-winning opportunities for the Rams. They cleaned that up fairly well (six penalties for 45 yards). Instead, this time it was the untimely matter of bad execution and questionable strategies that turned a potential victory into the Rams' 12th consecutive loss.

    Donnie Avery was the most obvious goat of the day, but he certainly wasn't the only one. The first wide receiver picked in the 2008 draft, and the guy who was a hero in last year's 19-17 upset victory over the Redskins, had major ball security issues, dropping at least two passes and fumbling the ball inside the 5-yard line on a potential go-ahead scoring drive early in the fourth quarter.

    The dropped passes could have been forgiven if only Avery had just held on to the ball when the Rams needed him the most. Midway through the third quarter and into the early fourth quarter, the Rams had just driven 66 yards to the Washington 9-yard line, with Steven Jackson (17 carries, 104 yards) pounding out 26 of those on eight tough carries. With the defense doing its job all day, keeping the Redskins out of the end zone, this was an opportunity for the Rams — trailing 9-7 — to take a commanding (well, in this game with these two sputtering offenses, it could have been called "commanding") 14-9 lead.

    On third and 4, Marc Bulger whipped a bullet to Avery on the far right side of the field, and as the speedy receiver tried to spin out of a tackle by Washington's Chris Horton and collect those all-important yards after the catch, the Redskins' safety stuck his hand in and popped the ball out of Avery's grasp.

    What happened next was a slow-motion bad dream.

    The ball went sailing high into the air. Avery fell to the ground, lurching vainly to recover the loose ball. There was a mad scrum of bodies as the ball did a backspin, bouncing to the 7-yard line, where cornerback Carlos Rogers leaped on the ball. And while the near-capacity crowd erupted, all Avery could do was groan and face the music after the game.

    "I should have kept (the ball) high and tight," Avery said. "I know better than that. It's all on me. I lost it for the team. They did everything possible to help us win, and I let them down."

    Avery was the most obvious villain, but there were other mistakes that would undo the Rams (and just for the record, none of them by the normally combustible Richie Incognito, who played a rather clean game).

    Spagnuolo registered a few head-scratching coaching decisions that easily could go down as contributing factors in this defeat.

    After the turnover, the defense got Washington to go three-and-out and the Rams got the ball on Washington's 49-yard line. The way Jackson was running with the ball, it seemed like the strategy would be to keep pounding the ball into the gut of the big tailback and let him grind out the yards and eat up the clock.

    First down, 5 yards.

    Second down, 3 yards.

    With less than 10 minutes to go and looking at a third-and-2 on Washington's 41 — and with Jackson averaging 4.3 yards on his last six carries and 6.1 yards for the game — how hard would it be for him to get 3 measly yards on two plays?

    But on third down, Bulger threw an incomplete pass, and on fourth down, the Rams tried to get real cute and failed miserably.

    Punter Donnie Jones shifted out of punt formation to wide receiver and running back Kenneth Darby moved into the wildcat formation in an attempt to draw the Redskins offside. It didn't work, and with only one timeout left in a two-point game, Darby unwisely burned the Rams' last timeout when he should have just taken the delay penalty and given Jones more room to drop a punt down near the goal line.

    "During the heat of a game, it's always up to the coach to hit players with reminders," Spagnuolo said, taking the blame for the mistake.

    The painful truth is after two weeks, the Rams have shown us two rather significant things: the defense has done more than enough to help them win and the young offense and the neophyte coaching staff have done just enough as they struggle through their growing pains to cause them to lose.

    "They've stuck with us through our growing pains," said Bulger. "Now we have to start helping them out."

Related Topics


  • eldfan
    Result that matters eludes Rams again
    by eldfan

    LANDOVER, MD. — Progress? Yes. Results? Not quite. And that's what made Sunday's 9-7 loss to Washington all the more excruciating for coach Steve Spagnuolo and the Rams.

    "I'm very disappointed," Spagnuolo said. "There's no moral victories in this league. But I'm mostly disappointed in the fact that we've got a football team that works their butts off, and they haven't had a chance to feel victory yet. We've got a long ways to go here."

    Spagnuolo apparently was so disappointed that it took him nearly 25 minutes from the end of the game to address reporters. The NFL's so-called 10-minute cooling off period wasn't nearly enough for Spagnuolo to collect his thoughts after this setback.

    The Rams got 100 yards-plus rushing from Steven Jackson, achieving some degree of balance offensively. The defense was stellar in the red zone, limiting the Redskins to just three field goals in four trips inside the 20. Actually, all four of those red zone trips advanced inside the 10.

    And the Rams cut down significantly on their mistakes from the season-opening fiasco in Seattle. Trouble was, they still made enough Sunday to start 0-2 for the third consecutive season.

    "It is a cliché that you take one or two plays out of a game and the outcome changes," Spagnuolo said. "But in this particular (game), that would be true. Because there were certain plays in there that if they went differently, we might be on the other end of the win-loss column."

    The most obvious — and most costly — mistake happened early in the fourth quarter. Trailing 9-7, the Rams marched methodically from their 25 to the Washington 9, overcoming a false start penalty on tight end Daniel Fells and left tackle Alex Barron's second holding penalty of the day.

    On third-and-4 from the 9, quarterback Marc Bulger completed a pass to Donnie Avery for first-down yardage at the 5. But Avery was rocked by Redskins safety Chris Horton, the ball popped out, and Washington cornerback Carlos Rogers fell on the fumble.

    "I was just trying to get more yards," a disconsolate Avery said. "I was trying to get YAC (yards after contact) on the play, and ended up fumbling. I let the team down."

    Avery has been responsible for the only two Rams turnovers this season, losing a fumble on the opening kickoff return last week in Seattle.

    Even after Avery's miscue Sunday, the Rams' offense had two more possessions to take the lead. But the first series stalled at the Washington 41. On fourth-and-2, Spagnuolo sent out the punting unit, but then flanked punter Donnie Jones out to the left and lined Kenneth Darby behind center in a variation of the wildcat formation.

    However, this was no trick play. The Rams never intended to run the ball; their sole intention...
    -09-21-2009, 07:35 AM
  • r8rh8rmike
    Bernie: Quick Takes On Rams 9-7 Loss @ Washington
    by r8rh8rmike
    09.20.2009 8:19 pm
    Quick Takes on Rams 9-7 loss @ Washington
    By Bernie Miklasz

    Good day…

    * The Outcome: The game was there for the Rams all day, just waiting to be claimed. Baffled coach Jim Zorn and the Redskins tried to give it away to the visitors, and the Rams flubbed the opportunity. Were the Rams better in Washington than they were in Seattle? Yes. The Rams defense kept the Redskins out of the end zone, and Steven Jackson rushed for 104 yards. But the bottom line is the 12th consecutive loss for the franchise. Disappointing. The Rams have played two games and have scored 7 points. That’s inexcusable.

    * The Effort: The Rams played hard in Washington and the players are clearly determined to do better. That’s what they should be doing, of course. They have every reason to be motivated. But that hasn’t always been true ; in 2007 and 2008 we saw too many faint-hearted efforts. Now the challenge will be to hang tough during more hard times. The Rams are off to an 0-2 start and the schedule doesn’t get any easier. Green Bay comes to The Ed after getting burned at home by Cincinnati, and then the Rams head to San Francisco, which is 2-0 and playing a physical, relentless style of football. San Franciso coach Mike Singletary is succeeding in changing his team’s losing culture. The Rams aren’t close to making that conversion.

    * The Coach: Keeping the morale up will be more of a challenge for rookie HC Steve Spagnuolo. I don’t mind his positive approach. This is the Dick Vermeil way of doing things. Spagnuolo has to stay upbeat, and keep his players working and competing. It might make fans feel better to hear/read Spagnuolo savage his team after a loss, but that wouldn’t achieve anything. He has to remain true to himself. Keep an eye on Spagnuolo. You don’t really find out about a coach until he has to deal with losing streaks and adversity, and the rookie boss has entered that zone. In addition to the 0-2 start and one TD in two games, the offensive line has taken a hit with injuries. Post-Dispatch beatwriter Jim Thomas noted that it took Spagnuolo 25 minutes to gather himself before he faced the media after the game. (The NFL-mandated wait time is 10 minutes.) I don’t know what that means, but again: losing isn’t easy to handle.

    * Game Management: Spagnuolo and staff really need to grow in this area. Offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur can’t keep getting plays in late. You can’t burn all of your timeouts early in close games. Wasting the final timeout before that 4th quarter punt with 9:25 left in the game? What was that? A confused player, Kenneth Darby, called it - but ultimately this is the coach’s responsibility to make sure the players know what to do and when to do it. And defensive coordinator Ken Flajole was slow to adjust when the Rams inexplicably left Redskins tight end Chris Cooley uncovered for most of the first half.

    * Play...
    -09-21-2009, 03:05 PM
  • eldfan
    St. Louis Rams' losing streak reaches 16 games
    by eldfan
    St. Louis Rams' losing streak reaches 16 games

    JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — For a few brief moments Sunday afternoon, sunshine broke through the dark cloud that has been hovering over this franchise for a full calendar year.

    Rams defensive end Leonard Little pawed at the short pass in the flat intended for Jaguars fullback Greg Jones, and then got the football fully in his grasp. He sprinted to the end zone and dived in for a dramatic touchdown just before quarterback David Garrard could knock him out of bounds. Josh Brown's extra point gave the visitors a 17-13 lead with a mere 4 minutes 36 seconds to play at Jacksonville Municipal Stadium.

    "You're thinking, 'It's about time something good happened for us,'" tight end Randy McMichael said. "A guy like Leonard, who's out there sick and the oldest guy on this football team, and he just makes the biggest play of the year for us."

    Little's 36-yard interception return was the kind of play that can change a game, even change a season.

    But no. Not this time. Not this team. Little has been sick since Friday with strep throat. As for the Rams, they're sick and tired of losing.

    Despite leading for the first 3 1/2 quarters, and then regaining the lead on Little's first TD since 2004, the Rams couldn't seal the deal. Jacksonville's Josh Scobee kicked a 36-yard field goal 7 minutes into overtime, giving the Jaguars a 23-20 victory.

    "This one probably hurts more than any of them," McMichael said. "Not being able to close it out, that's the most disappointing thing."

    So the agony of defeats continues. Seasons change, coaches change, the result doesn't. The Rams are 0-6 this season. Overall, their franchise record and league-worst losing streak is at 16.

    Happy anniversary, Rams Nation. Today marks the one-year anniversary of the team's last victory — a 34-14 triumph over Dallas on Oct. 19, 2008.

    Obviously, rookie head coach Steve Spagnuolo has been at the helm for only six of those losses, but even he is running out of things to say to his players.

    "I don't have any magical words," Spagnuolo said. "I just asked them to hang together, hang tough."

    Easier said than done after so many setbacks. And from Steven Jackson's vantage point, they all make you feel awful.

    "It don't matter how you lose a game," Jackson said. "It really doesn't make you feel any better. At least (not) for me. At the end of the day, we're 0-6. I can't say, 'We almost had that one, we're 0-5 1/2.' A loss is a loss."

    Things started out promisingly for the Rams. Marc Bulger, making his first start since suffering a shoulder injury Sept. 27 against Green Bay, went five for five on the opening drive,...
    -10-19-2009, 06:14 AM
  • eldfan
    Finding the Positive in the Rams' 0-2 Start
    by eldfan
    by Seth Doria Seth DoriaColumnist, Featured Columnist

    Columnist Written on September 22, 2009
    In the bottom-line business that is professional sports, the most important thing that happened to the St. Louis Rams on Sunday was another loss.

    In losing 9-7 to the Redskins in Washington, the Rams are now 0-2 and two games back of the 2-0 San Francisco ***** heading into next week’s home opener against Green Bay.

    And if the Rams were a team with high expectations, falling to 0-2 would be borderline catastrophic. Three teams last year made the playoffs from 0-2, but that was an anomaly. Most of the time, 0-2 is a precursor to disaster.

    But the Rams aren’t a team with high expectations. Not even the most die-hard pie-in-the-sky Rams fan dared dream of better than 7-9 or maybe (if they were high or drunk) 8-8.

    So yes, the Rams lost again on Sunday, 0-2 is 0-2, and you are what your record says you are. But when you’re the St. Louis Rams and you’re 5-29 over your last 34 games, you learn to find the hidden positives in the bottom-line failures.

    And so it comes to pass that losing 9-7 to Washington can be considered a success in many ways.

    Red zone defense: The Redskins’ lone scores came on Shaun Suisham field goals of 21, 28 and 23 yards. Washington came close to a touchdown on one other occasion. In the fourth quarter, David Vobora stopped Clinton Portis two yards behind the line of scrimmage on 4th-and-1 from the St. Louis two-yard line.

    On each of those drives, the Rams defense held strong with their backs against their own goal-line, forcing the Redskins to settle for three rather than seven.

    Steven Jackson: Not only did Jackson finish with 104 yards on just 17 carries for a 6.1 yard average, he also got involved in the pass game with four catches for 15 yards.

    A week after not catching a single ball against Seattle, it was encouraging to see quarterback Marc Bulger take advantage of the best player on offense in more ways than one.

    The run defense: Washington did gain 125 yards on the ground, but it took them 33 attempts to get there. Not counting the three kneel-downs at the end, the Redskins gained 121 on 30 carries.

    For a team that gave up 4.9 yards per rush attempt last year and 117 yards on 19 carries to Julius Jones in Week One, it was heartening to see Clinton Portis held to just 76 yards on 19 carries.

    The pass defense: Even though Chris Cooley had seven catches for 83 yards—continuing a trend of the Rams defense getting shredded by opposing tight ends—it’s worth noting four of Cooley’s seven catches came in the first eight minutes, and six came in the first half. In a tight game that was in doubt until the end, Cooley did not have...
    -09-23-2009, 08:45 AM
  • r8rh8rmike
    Bernie: Spags Had To Go For It
    by r8rh8rmike
    10.18.2009 5:27 pm
    Oct. 18: Spags Had to Go For It
    By Bernie Miklasz

    My Stream of Consciousness flow on the Rams’ 23-20 OT loss @ Jacksonville.

    * Make it 0-6 on the season and 0-16 since Oct. 19, 2008. Monday is the 1-year anniversary of the Rams’ last regular-season win. And now Indianapolis and Peyton Manning come to STL on Sunday. The Rams are 5-33 since the end of the 2006 season. This, presumably, is some sort of karmic payback for the Miracle of 1999.

    * This is a bottom-line business. It isn’t high school. In the NFL they don’t hand out trophies and ribbons for trying hard. And 0-6 is really bad. And 16 consecutive losses is unacceptable. But I respected the Rams’ effort and determination and several aspects of their performance at Jaxville. There have been many times since the start of the 2007 season when I’ve wanted to stop watching the game, because the Rams have been so weak in terms of competitive character. I’ve seen too many Rams games where the players don’t care, and these no-shows are disgusting. Watching Sunday’s game, I saw a group of players who were doing everything and anything they could to win a game. And I respect that. I think the Rams are getting better. I know that isn’t enough, and that it doesn’t count; there are no moral victories. But if nothing else I at least want to come away from a game with a some respect for the players and their desire to win. And that happened Sunday. A team that’s been ravaged by injuries fought like mad to win a game. I appreciate that part of it.

    * Coach Steve Spagnuolo had to go for the win at the end of the 4th quarter. His offense had battled and scrambled and survived its way down the field and had a chance to win in regulation. The Rams defense — on the field for a remarkable 51 snaps during the second half — was gassed. You just knew if it went to OT and the Jaguars got the ball first, the Rams defense would be too worn down to make a stop. So you had to go for the win, go for the throat, right then and there. Seven seconds left, at the Jax 9, and one timeout left. You have to take a quick shot into the end zone. If it fails, and the ball is thrown out of the end zone or is incomplete, you don’t need the timeout. You kick it on the final play. Or if you make a play that’s short of the end zone, then you call the timeout and kick it. And if you turn the ball over or take a sack, so be it — at least you went down taking your best shot, and most people would respect the attitude. I would not criticize Spagnuolo for being aggressive there, even if hs decision blew up on him. You have to go hard there, let it roll. You were 0-5, and the organization had lost 15 in a row, and there’s no reason in the world to be safe and conservative.

    OK, even if you disagree — and as a guy who tries to be fair I recognize that there’s a reasonable case to be made for what Spags did — then answer me this:...
    -10-19-2009, 04:14 PM