Rams Focus on Finishing

Posted Oct 21, 2011

In one short week, the Rams receiver corps has taken on a decidedly different look.

If all of the possible changes that could happen occur, the Rams will present the Cowboys with some challenges heretofore unseen by any of their opponents when the teams meet Sunday at Cowboys Stadium for a 3:15 kickoff. Even if they don’t the Rams will have at least one new addition on the outside.

That’s because this week the Rams traded for Pro Bowl wideout Brandon Lloyd. Last year’s top target, Mark Clayton, is eligible to return to the lineup after coming back to practice from the Physically Unable to Perform list but probably will be held out this week.

In Lloyd and eventually Clayton, the Rams are hoping to get the boost needed to dig them out of their 0-5 start and get their first victory.

“The way (Mark) and Brandon have kind of clicked up together,” running back Steven Jackson said. “You can see them talking through routes, talking through assignments, that those guys get each other. I think when you have guys like that amongst the receiving core that’s young and talented that we already have, it’s going to help catapult us in areas that probably we thought was going to take a little bit more time. I think now that time has sped up by bringing those two guys back.”

The Rams hope that process has been sped up enough that it will help an offense that has showed signs of life by moving the ball well against tough opponents such as against Green Bay last week but failed to finish drives and put points on the board.

That task this week could prove even more difficult based on a variety of factors.

While Lloyd will almost certainly get the start, Clayton will not be activated and get an opportunity to return. The Rams have three weeks to decide when to take Clayton off the PUP list and put him on the 53-man roster.

Whenever that time comes, though, the Rams are hoping that Clayton and Lloyd can give them to experience and consistent play making ability to begin putting the ball in the end zone and points on the board.

“I think just experience and how they, they’ve been around,” offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels said. “They’ve been in some big games, been in some tight games and they’ve had to deal with some adversities, and they’ve been through a lot of seasons. I think that as you go through the course of a year, there’s a lot of things that may happen during the course of a year and those guys have been through some of them. I think the game day experience helps and their ability, and they’ve both made plays in this league that have certainly helped their teams win. Adding those two guys to our mix here and hopefully they can bring a lot of energy and positive plays to our team.”

Making matters even more complicated is the Rams’ questionable quarterback situation. Starter Sam Bradford is still nursing a high ankle sprain in his left ankle and did not practice all week.

Bradford did test out some braces and took some drops indoors on Friday and he is being called a game time decision.

Backup A.J. Feeley took all of the repetitions with the first team during the week and the Rams must now decide if Bradford is healthy enough to play and then determine if he is versed enough in the game plan to play in a game without the benefit of practice.

For his part, Bradford has vowed to try to play this week as the Rams go to Dallas for a game that is as close to a homecoming as possible for the Oklahoma City native.

“I’m definitely, I’m doing everything I can to play…whether we were playing in Dallas or in Alaska, I’m going to do everything I can to play every Sunday,” Bradford said.

Jackson and his teammates believe in Bradford’s ability to play through pain but they also believe Feeley can play well enough to help the Rams win.

“I think that Sam has shown us that he’s a tough kid, he’s a competitor,” Jackson said. “If he’s able to play, I believe he’s going to be out there. If not, A.J. has taken the snaps. He knows the offense. He knows the game plan. He’s going to need our help, all ten guys on the field to help execute the play. He’s a veteran that we know if he gets in trouble, he knows how to get us out of trouble. If we need to lean heavily on the run game, I’m prepared to do so as well.”  

No matter which direction the Rams end up taking in terms of personnel at quarterback and receiver, they must find a way to finish drives and score points.

Dallas has the top ranked run defense in the league and the Rams have made a habit of driving up and down the field without scoring touchdowns.

Against the Packers last week, the Rams put up more than 400 yards of offense but managed just a field goal. False start penalties, botched laterals, underthrown interceptions and missed field goals plagued the Rams in that game as they have in other situations this year.

Until those things are corrected, it won’t matter much who is on the field or what the opposing defense is doing.

“Whenever you put yourself in a situation where you have an opportunity to score, we’re learning that one mistake’s enough to knock us out of those situations,” McDaniels said. “There are no excuses for it and we’ve got to eliminate our mistakes before we start worrying about what the other team plays and their coverages and all of that. It’s really about us and once we eliminate our mistakes we’ll have an opportunity to see if what we can do with the ball and our offense and our scheme and our players is going to be good enough to put enough points on the board to win. But until we knock out those mistakes it’s hard right now for us to do that.”

The defense, meanwhile, must find a way to get off to a quick start and keep the Rams from falling behind so quickly that they have to change what they do.

Last week, the Rams defense performed well in the second half but gave up 24 unanswered points in the first half to create a hole they were unable to dig out of.

Dallas has struggled to run the ball but will almost certainly look to exploit the Rams’ struggles in that area and then come with quarterback Tony Romo, tight end Jason Witten and receivers Miles Austin and Dez Bryant in the aerial attack.

“I’m sure they’re going to try to, if you’re looking at us, they’re going to try to establish the run,” defensive coordinator Ken Flajole said. “I would expect that we thought we’d get the same thing from Green Bay. That they try to establish the run even though they’re a very prolific passing team, so we’ve got to be ready to play both phases, hopefully make them one-dimensional.”

Of course, traveling to Dallas to take on the Cowboys is always a tough task and for the Rams to get their first win, they will need a lot of things to go their way.

But despite his team’s struggles in the first five games, coach Steve Spagnuolo believes his group is on the verge of a breakthrough.
“I do,” Spagnuolo said. “I know this, and this has been the focus. I do firmly feel that we are a better football team now than we were three weeks ago. I’m not talking about last year; I’m just doing it in a progression. The goal is to be better this week than we were last week, and the hope is eventually be good enough where we start winning football games, because that is what it is all about. We are not there yet.”

For the Rams to get there, they’ll need to put it all together sooner than later.