Rams Grow to Expect More

Posted Oct 25, 2010

In a sullen locker room after a heart-wrenching last second loss to Tampa Bay on Sunday, there were no smiles. There were no jokes or laughs or barely any conversation aside from the hushed tones of players facing the media music.

Instead, there was a team extremely frustrated and upset that it had just allowed a 17-3 lead slip away in the closing seconds as the Bucs rallied to an 18-17 victory.

And in that locker room, the always upbeat Steve Spagnuolo found the silver lining.

“I do like the fact that our team feels the way they do,” Spagnuolo said Monday. “The guys that have been around here for a long period of time, this is a different feeling. They should be upset that we lost. We basically let one get away that we could have won. To me, it just makes us a more determined group. We should still have the same confidence we had 48 hours ago. That doesn’t change. We are the same team. So go out there and practice with confidence this week to go win a game. That’s what we will be focused on.”

Any loss at any level of the game can be difficult to swallow but there was little question that Sunday’s had a different feel to it than some of the others. Through seven games, the Rams sit at 3-4, tripling their win total from the entire 2009 season and matching the win total combined of the past two seasons.

In some places, that might be considered enough but for this Rams team, it’s a bitter pill to swallow, especially considering they have lost three of those four games by a grand total of seven points.

The near misses might have been enough to edify past teams but from the beginning of the year, Spagnuolo has emphasized to his team that it should go into every contest anticipating coming away with a victory.

“It’s a whole new attitude with this team,” linebacker James Laurinaitis said. “Every game we go into we expect to win. So this game is extremely sour right now. I’ll just put it like that. It’s extremely frustrating.”

At the heart of the matter in the aforementioned trio of losses has been an inability to put teams away, especially in the second half.

Against Oakland in week 2, the Rams held a halftime lead but sputtered offensively in the second half, leaving the defense on the field for long stretches and asking them to come up with the stops required to preserve the lead.

That same scenario nearly played out last week against San Diego but the Rams were able to make the play or two required to come away with the win.

This week, the Rams jumped to an impressive 17-3 lead with dominant performances in all three phases of the game. But after the touchdown pass to tight end Michael Hoomanawanui gave them the two-touchdown edge, the offense struggled to gain traction and the defense again found itself on the field for the bulk of the second half.

So, after studying the film, what conclusions could Spagnuolo draw from the disappointing defeat? The simple answer is that the Rams simply didn’t make enough plays to win the game, a common theme among all teams in the league when they lose a tight game.

“It’s not one thing,” Spagnuolo said. “I told the guys in there, don’t be deep thinking this thing. Should we have won the game 17-12, we would have won it because we would have made one or two plays somewhere in there. That’s how close it came down to and it wouldn’t be as big a question. Do we have to get better in the second half? Yeah. But we looked at everything this morning. Was it scheme? Calls? Did they make any major adjustments? I don’t think so – a couple of little tweaks here and there but nothing (major). It’s a tackle here, it’s a completed pass there. It’s just simple football stuff.”

The simple football stuff, it seems, hasn’t been a problem for the Rams in the opening 30 minutes of games this season. Against the Bucs, the Rams gave up an early field goal but only after a turnover deep in Rams territory and even then the Bucs nearly were unable to generate any points.

Even then, the Rams responded with 17 unanswered points and seemed to be in control of the game with a possession coming their way out of the halftime locker room.

On his further examination, Spagnuolo said he doesn’t believe there is a drop off in intensity or aggressiveness in his team. In fact, in Sunday’s game, Spagnuolo delivered the message to his team that he wanted to keep the foot on the gas pedal and continue to deliver.

Before halftime, Spagnuolo called timeouts in hopes of getting the ball back for his offense in an effort to expand the lead to three possessions. That didn’t fall their way as Tampa Bay mustered a field goal.

Still, Spagnuolo believed his team came out of the locker room ready to get that three-score lead with the opening possession of the second half.

“I thought so,” Spagnuolo said. “To us, it was a 0-0 game coming out. At that point, what I said to the team at halftime was ‘Let’s get this thing to three scores, let’s be aggressive.’ Because I think you can operate better as a defense when you get to three scores and away you go. That didn’t happen.”

Spagnuolo said he also examined the scheme and the play calls to see if there were things in that regard that could be done better in the second half. Such is life as a play caller though that it’s hard not to run things over in your mind.
“You are going to go in there and if there are 30 plays on either side of the ball whether we won or lost, you are going to sit there as a signal caller and say ‘Na, I probably could have called better on that,’” Spagnuolo said. “There’s two or three always. When you win by 40 points you can say that.”

If nothing else can be gained from a loss such as Sunday’s, it is that belief that the Rams are continuing to build a level of expectation that losing in any way is simply no longer acceptable.

“It makes it tougher but the road to success, this league that we play in, any given Sunday, any team has a chance to win,” running back Steven Jackson said. “We are a young team that has taken our lumps but we have got to continue to strive to play through this.”