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Burwell: 0-2 Feels Different This Year

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  • Burwell: 0-2 Feels Different This Year

    0-2 feels different this year

    Sports Columnist Bryan Burwell

    Just because you meet two men on the same floor in a narrow stairwell, there's no guarantee that they're headed in the same direction. Steve Spagnuolo keeps trying to emphasize this every time the clatter from some disgruntled Rams fans and impatient media wags gets a bit too close to the impressionable ears of his green-but-growing football team.

    Every time someone ventures to compare his winless two-game start of the season to Scott Linehan's atrocious 0-2 nightmare from last season, almost by reflex, Spagnuolo quickly puts up the blinders. You can see him figuratively clap his hands over his team's collective ears as he essentially tries to shout above the din (with apologies to a certain Mr. M. McGwire): "I'm not here to talk about the past."

    There is some definite merit to Spagnuolo's strategy, because even though the '08 Rams and these '09 Rams are standing on the same 0-2 platform, there has to be a very real sense among most practical-thinking folks that it's just not the same. Linehan's Rams were a pratfall waiting to happen, lurching down the stairs toward 2-14 oblivion. On the other hand, Spagnuolo's Rams are earnestly clutching the handrail, trying hard to climb one step at a time upward toward respectability.

    On Monday afternoon as he addressed his team and praised them for their obvious improvement from Week 1's 28-0 disaster to Week 2's frustrating, but decidedly better effort in a 9-7 loss to Washington, "Dean" Spagnuolo delivered this rather instructive message to a young team still learning how to become winners:

    "We should be upset that we lost — disappointed, but not discouraged," Spagnuolo said. "These are all the things I said to them. Be careful not to think just because it was 28-0 a week ago, (and) this week (it) was a two-point deficit that it's automatic that we're going to (win this week). It doesn't happen that way. Every week is a new week and we've got a new challenge this week with Green Bay. We get it corrected, we detail it, we come back on Wednesday, and all we do is put the blinders on to face Green Bay."

    Three weeks ago when you looked at the early part of the Rams schedule, the toughest and seemingly most unwinnable game appeared to be Sunday's home opener against the Packers. The Pack were being touted as one of the rising teams in the NFC. Now they are a struggling 1-1 team that suddenly looks vulnerable, even to a team like the Rams, who are on a 12-game losing streak.

    Green Bay's offense is beat up, mistake-prone and suddenly incapable of protecting star QB Aaron Rodgers, who was sacked six times and knocked down four other times by the 17 blitzes in a 31-24 loss to Cincinnati. But as bad as the offense was, the Packers defense was the big surprise. When you give up 31 points to a Bengals team that scored one TD the week before, that ought to raise a few eyebrows in the Rams' offensive team rooms this week.

    What was surprising about this game was not simply that the Packers lost a home game or even that they gave up 31 points to the Bengals. The real shocker was how effectively the Bengals were able to run inside the tackles against a Dom Capers-coordinated defense that prides itself on stringing the running game to the outside. Yet on Sunday, Cincy tailback Cedric Benson ran for 141 yards, much of it off the hips of his tackles.

    I mention this as a public service to all of us who were under the impression that this was going to be a Steven Jackson-happy offense. While Jackson was finally emphasized in the Rams game plan last week with a season-high 104 yards, it was on only 17 carries, and he got only four receptions for 15 yards.

    So now here comes Green Bay, which struggled to contain Cedric Benson, who is not in Jackson's class as an NFL running back.

    But look what Benson did against the Packers. His first three carries were for 12 yards. His first four carries gained 40 yards, and his first 11 attempts were good for 76 yards. And he did it all on four basic plays — off tackle left, off tackle right, a sweep right and a sweep left. What the Bengals did early was establish the running game by employing obvious running formations. On the first drive, Cincy used three tackles on some plays. The Bengals also used one overload formation (two tackles on the same side) and sent their fullback in motion to attack the Packers' outside linebackers, which allowed Benson to go both inside the tackles and get to the edge quite effectively.

    If this Rams team is going to continue to climb up that stairwell to respectability, the smartest way to do that is to rely heavily on the one dynamic offensive weapon they have, Jackson. Spagnuolo talked about emphasizing the positives from last week's game, and one of those positives were the three offensive drives that had at least 10 plays. The obvious magic of those drives was the effective use of Jackson, who gets stronger and better the more you use him. So far after two games though, he's only carried the ball 16 and 17 times. That's not enough, not nearly enough.

    "I don't know that we have a targeted number," Spagnuolo said Monday. "(But) we would certainly like to feed him the football in different ways. That is true, but no targeted number."

    If this team is going to get better there may not be any need for a targeted number of touches for Jackson, but there must be an unrelenting reliance on him. He needs the ball early and often.

    Spagnuolo shouldn't be happy — and the Rams probably won't win — unless at the end of the game Jackson is the weariest man in the building.

Related Topics


  • evil disco man
    Jackson looks for more carries in Rams' offense
    by evil disco man
    Jackson not carrying a heavy load
    Associated Press

    ST. LOUIS -- Steven Jackson is coming off his first 100-game of the season and is ready for heavy duty. But it might be a while before he gets a 20-carry game, even if the St. Louis Rams have built their offense around him.

    Jackson has always believed he's at his best in the fourth quarter, after the 235-pounder has worn down the opposition.

    "I'm kind of like a streaky 3-point shooter," Jackson said Thursday. "The more I get a chance to touch the ball, the more I get a feel for what the defense is trying to do. It allows me to get that good lather and kind of get downhill and take advantage of the fatigue on defense."

    Jackson had 104 yards on 17 carries in a 9-7 loss at Washington last week. He was limited to 67 yards on 16 carries in the opening 28-0 loss at Seattle after the Rams (0-2) got stuck playing catchup, so he should be feeling pretty fresh heading into Sunday's home opener against the Green Bay Packers.

    "He's in great shape, came to training camp in great shape, always upbeat, does everything 100 mph," coach Steve Spagnuolo said. "What more could you ask for as a coach?"

    More carries, of course. Jackson understands it's part of the growing process for a rebuilding franchise, under a new staff with unproven skill players, that has scored only one touchdown in two games.

    "He needs to be the focus of this team and this offense," offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur said. "We're constantly going to make an effort to get him the football."

    Like every other team, until the Rams show they have other playmakers, the Packers (1-1) will be trying to take Jackson out of the game by jamming the line. Green Bay struggled last week against the Bengals, with Cedric Benson rushing for 141 yards and a 4.9-yard average per carry.

    "You always want to try to make the offense one-dimensional," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. "We are definitely planning to take the run away from them."

    Rams offensive tackle Jason Smith, the second overall pick of the draft, could miss two weeks with a sprained left knee, although he got a vigorous workout on the sideline Thursday with cycling and pilates exercises. Center Jason Brown has a sprained right knee, although he has not missed any practice time.

    Jackson's game average of 18.5 touches, counting receptions, is well below his accustomed work load. He got the ball 27 times per game in 2006, his best season, when he rushed for 1,528 yards and caught 90 passes to set a franchise record for a running back.

    He averaged 24 touches last year, picking up his fourth straight 1,000-yard season despite playing only 12 games due to injuries.

    The Rams were fairly balanced last week, with 28 passes and 21...
    -09-24-2009, 07:48 PM
  • Rambos
    Rams Searching for Answers
    by Rambos
    By Nick Wagoner/Senior Writer

    As Rams coach Steve Spagnuolo used the wee hours of Monday morning to watch the tape of Sunday’s loss at the hands of the Cowboys, he couldn’t help but find himself every bit as shocked and disappointed with his team’s inability to tackle as he figured he would be right after the game.

    “I will just sum it up this way,” Spagnuolo said, shaking his head. “We have got to solve the defensive issues. I think most of it can be solved by tackling. I added it up this morning, on the 11 plays we missed tackles, after the missed tackle there was a total of 183 yards given up. So you can do the math and figure out if we don’t tackle better that part is not going to get better.”

    In a confounding season that has seen the Rams start 0-6, there have been myriad issues cropping up every week; some of them have continued to rear their ugly heads while others seem to come more sporadically.

    But at the heart of the issue is the stuff that should be easy. In its purest form, blocking and tackling are the most basic tenets of the game. They are the things you are taught from the moment you step foot on a field back in pee wee football.

    On Sunday, blocking wasn’t actually much of the issue against the Cowboys as the offensive line had one of its better pass protection games of the season. No, this one boiled down to a basic lack of tackling.

    “We have got to get back to basics,” safety Quintin Mikell said. “That’s what it all boils down to. When you have a game like this, you just get back to basics. You stop worrying about schemes, you don’t worry about this or that, you just get back to basics and get back to what you do every week in football. I feel like we have just got to get back to that.”

    For the better part of the season, tackling had been one of the fundamentals the Rams hadn’t really struggled with much save for a few spurts here and there. As Dallas continued to pound away in the running game with DeMarco Murray, the missed tackles piled up.

    In an unofficial count, the Rams had about 13 blatant missed tackles against the Cowboys with the clear majority of those blanks coming from the secondary on plays that allowed Murray to hit on some big runs.

    When all was said and done, Murray had rushed for 253 yards on 25 carries, including a 91-yard jaunt in which he was untouched by the first of the baker’s dozen of whiffs.

    For a coach who emphasizes to his defense that stopping the run should always come first, Spagnuolo couldn’t help but remain disappointed by what he saw on the film.
    “It’s a team game but I can’t get past the run defense and I’m talking about the whole team,” Spagnuolo said. “Because I think it’s that important. I just think that a team that is able to run like that on any opponent, it makes it hard to win the game on offense, defense and special teams, all three...
    -10-25-2011, 06:56 AM
  • MauiRam
    Rams try self-analysis to stem their troubles ..
    by MauiRam
    By Jim Thomas Tuesday, October 4, 2011

    As the Rams' bye week begins, coach Steve Spagnuolo and his staff are in the midst of self-scouting. During a normal game week the focus almost entirely is on that week's opponent. But this week, the staff will look at its team from within.

    "I can tell you the things I know we're going to look at," Spagnuolo said Monday. "Certainly protections. Certainly third down on both sides. Certainly the run fronts on offense. These are the things that just stick out. You guys (in the media) can probably list another five or six of them."

    Sure can. Red zone offense, red zone defense, dropped passes, run defense, first-down offense, kickoff returns, false starts, slow starts all come to mind. If the Rams really wanted to self-scout all of their problems, they might need three bye weeks to work through everything.

    "I've learned this over the years," Spagnuolo said. "You can't go searching for things that are not there. And you can't knee-jerk react to things that you find. Because in a lot of instances, it just comes back to fundamentals. I know that's not the glorious answer that you want, but a lot of times that's what it comes down to."

    If true, the Rams must be about as fundamentally flawed as you can get, because they are at or near the bottom of the league in many categories. They are tied for second to last in points scored (46) and in points allowed (113). They're last in rushing defense, last in average yards gained on first down, and in the bottom quartile (or last eight teams) in red-zone offense, kickoff returns, total offense and total defense.

    So the Rams' 0-4 record isn't a fluke. But those expecting Spagnuolo and staff to reinvent the pigskin between now and the Green Bay game Oct. 16 will be disappointed. They aren't going to come out in a 3-4 defense, or switch to a run-and-shoot offense against the Packers. You simply can't make major scheme changes in a week or two.

    "I'll reiterate this," Spagnuolo said. "Both schemes — all three (counting special teams) — have been proven in this league at various places. So we believe in that. I know the players believe. What I do think we need to do is do it better. That's as simple as I can state it. And I believe in that.

    "Will we find a couple of wrinkles? Yeah. But you do that all the time. If we were 4-0, we'd find a couple of scheme wrinkles. But at the core, we're not going to abandon what we do. We're just going to do it better."

    Nonetheless, the staff already has talked about tweaking things. Spagnuolo, for example, said they have discussed rolling out quarterback Sam Bradford more to help the pass protection.

    "We could do that," Spagnuolo said. "Because Sam does throw the ball well on the run."

    And they've talked...
    -10-04-2011, 12:42 AM
  • r8rh8rmike
    Rams Keep Effort Up
    by r8rh8rmike
    Rams Keep Effort Up
    Monday, December 21, 2009

    By Nick Wagoner
    Senior Writer

    As the ball came shooting out of the hands of Houston running back Arian Foster following a 13-yard catch and run, the eyes of rookie Rams defensive tackle Darell Scott immediately got large.

    It was as though Scott was about to sit down to a big meal, which, coincidentally, was something he’d been physically unable to do even had he wanted to in the days leading up to Sunday’s 16-13 loss to the Texans.

    Scott reacted immediately and hauled all of his 6’3, 312 pound frame as fast as it could go from near the line of scrimmage the 20 or so yards required to pounce on the ball.

    Ultimately, Scott fell on it at the Rams’ 8 but the fact that Scott was well enough to chase it down at all was nothing short of a testament to the effort these Rams are still putting in despite the 1-13 record attached to their name.

    “You talk about an effort play from a game that I don’t know if he even ate anything the three days before it,” coach Steve Spagnuolo said. “That was a pretty good indicator of what those guys have inside of them.”

    Effort doesn’t amount to a whole heck of a lot in the NFL. In fact, it’s probably the minimum requirement for what it takes to win an NFL game. Most teams that find themselves playing into January start with effort as the baseline and build from there.

    As with most things in life, when something goes wrong, the easy thing to do is give up, regardless of how well compensated you are or whatever prestige might go with a particular endeavor.

    For the Rams, that opportunity to call it a day has presented itself time and again this season. Yet, for many reasons, they have refused to pack it in and go quietly into the offseason.

    “That’s what I expressed to them in the locker room,” Spagnuolo said. “That means a great deal to me, the staff. I know it’s not easy especially for the vets. It’s not an easy thing to go through, not for any of us and yet they are able to dust themselves off, come back to work on Wednesday and get ready to play a game.”

    While that hard work and effort has amounted to just one win and a whole lot of respect from Spagnuolo for the players, those efforts aren’t going completely unnoticed around the world of football.

    To wit:

    CBS analyst and former Steelers coach Bill Cowher on the Rams: “The Rams are playing hard every week, and that is a reflection of their coach. I've been watching film on them and they are playing hard. As coaches, we are judged on wins and losses, but at this time of year, you're tired and beat up, and if a team is still putting out a good effort it's a tribute to their coach.”

    Or this excerpt from Sports Illustrated’s Peter King in his Monday Morning Quarterback column on “I love...
    -12-22-2009, 06:23 PM
  • r8rh8rmike
    Rams Focus On Staying United
    by r8rh8rmike
    Rams Focus on Staying United
    Monday, October 5, 2009

    By Nick Wagoner
    Senior Writer

    As the clock wound down on the Rams’ loss to San Francisco on Sunday, running back Steven Jackson made it a point to provide some obvious leadership to his young teammates.

    No, Jackson didn’t return to the sideline yelling and screaming. He didn’t get a silly penalty to try to prove some sort of toughness, either.

    Instead, Jackson did what he always does. When the ball was handed to him, he ran as hard as he could. Regardless of the score, Jackson kept grinding away against a San Francisco defense that had fully committed to trying to slow him down.

    In the process, Jackson knowingly sent a message to his teammates that quitting is never an option.

    “That last drive I was able to be in, I just tried to run with a different determination, not to say that I was holding anything back, but you have got to understand that when you are down like we were you don’t give up,” Jackson said. “We are professional football players and we are expected to execute. We are going to lose battles out there but within those battles you cannot lose yourself in the game. We have to continue to fight no matter what the scoreboard says.”

    Now four games in to the 2009 season, the Rams have reached the quarter pole of the first season under coach Steve Spagnuolo.

    While that opening stretch hasn’t resulted yet in a victory, Spagnuolo and locker room leaders such as Jackson are doing everything they can to keep the ship headed in the right direction.

    For the league’s fourth-youngest team (average age of right around 26), the rebuilding process can be slow and painful. And when dealing with youth and inexperience, it’s imperative for the people who have been around – the veterans and the coaching staff – to keep hammering away at the details until they become second nature.

    It’s a painstaking process but it must be done. And though Spagnuolo can’t send any messages with his play on the field, it is his job to continue to take the temperature of his team and find ways to keep everyone’s head focused on moving on to the next step and not allowing any losses to fester.

    “I believe in this group,” Spagnuolo said. We can get out of this and work our way out of this. It’s going to take a lot of work. Nothing I am going to say is going to be different than what I have been saying all year long. Those games are done, we move on to Minnesota. We try to learn from it and we try to get better as a football team.”

    Indeed, Spagnuolo has been true to his message from day one, never altering the tone or even the volume of what he wants to convey to his team even in the face of adversity.

    Following Sunday’s loss to San Francisco in which many of the problems that have plagued the Rams in the...
    -10-05-2009, 07:32 PM