Rams Look to Rebound

Posted Sep 26, 2011

In a quiet and solemn locker room following Sunday’s loss to Baltimore, Rams coach Steve Spagnuolo kept the message to his team as simple as possible.

There was nothing profound there, no deep, introspective Sun-Tzu philosophical speech, no Lombardi-esque rah rah speech.

No, it was a simple message delivered with the urgency that would be needed when your team just fell to 0-3 and you are doing your best to keep a season from slipping away.

“I told the team when you get in a situation like this as a football team, all you worry about is winning a game,” Spagnuolo said. “That’s it. You don’t worry about stats or any of that stuff; you just worry about winning a game. This particular year the next team on the schedule is Washington so that’s what we’ll focus on.”

In that message, Spagnuolo emphasized to his team that there is no reason to look at anything else right now. Three games into the season is way too soon to begin wondering about scenarios or playoff pictures or any of that kind of stuff.

Anything beyond what happens this week is of little to no importance. The task right now at 0-3 is to fix the myriad mistakes that have plagued the Rams in the first three weeks and go back to work.

As one of the team captains and the heart and soul of the team, running back Steven Jackson reiterated Spagnuolo’s message to his teammates and later to the media about focusing on the task at hand.

“The season is not lost,” Jackson said. “First things first, we need to get a W. I wouldn’t lie to you. We definitely need to get a W and we need to get one fast. It’s not because of a lack of work ethic. I can rest assure you that. I give you my word as the captain of this team. Guys are working hard. To be competitive, you have to show up each and every Sunday, you have to do the little things right. You can’t continue to come in each game making mistakes in the red zone, making mistakes on special teams and different areas of the game, especially when you play good teams like we have these first three weeks.”
Indeed, the Rams have faced three teams widely regarded to be among the league’s legitimate playoff contenders in the opening three weeks.

In the first two weeks against the Eagles and Giants, the Rams suffered double digits losses largely via self inflicted wounds that seemed to be reasonably correctable. But Sunday’s 37-7 loss to the Ravens opened up some new wounds that raised more questions than already existed.

The continued mistakes have left the Rams to wonder about finding solutions but not their current predicament.

“It’s pretty easy to see to me,” defensive end Chris Long said. “We make a lot of mistakes, bottom line. And we are playing good teams. You can’t make mistakes against good teams. Last year there were some games where we weren’t playing as stiff a competition as this. If you want to be a good team, you’ve got to beat good teams. We make that many mistakes against a bad team you might not win a game. We’ve been making them against the Ravens, the Giants and the Eagles.”

Unfortunately for the Rams, things aren’t going to lighten up anytime soon in terms of the schedule.

Going into tonight’s game against Dallas, Washington is 2-0. After this weekend, the Rams head to the bye week and then face Green Bay and the Cowboys on the road followed by high-powered New Orleans at home.

Since 1990, when the NFL expanded the playoffs to 12 teams, only three teams starting the season 0-3 have gone on to make the postseason. Only one 0-4 team, the 1992 Chargers, has gone on to play on the game’s biggest stage.

Of course, none of those statistics are anything the Rams need to worry about at this juncture. They don’t care about making any kind of history, only about getting that first win in the books in hopes it will snowball into a winning streak.

The question is how do you avoid falling into the traps that are inherent in such a disappointing start?

“You don’t panic,” Laurinaitis said. “There has to be a sense of urgency. You just have to keep focus on getting that first W. That’s where it’s got to start. The next one is Washington but I’m not going to panic. I know the kind of guys we’ve got in our locker room. We have a bunch of tough individuals that are going to go to work and try to work on stuff and stay humble. That’s what you have got to do. This one definitely stings but as cliché as it sounds you have to move on to the next one. You can’t change what just happened, you’ve got to face it like a man and try to fix what we did wrong.”

The fixes required this week and in the coming weeks are many. Against the Ravens, the Rams struggled in nearly all areas of the game.

Offensively, there were breakdowns across the board with protection issues for the offensive line, the inability of receivers to get open and make catches and even quarterback Sam Bradford put the onus on himself for not getting rid of the ball quickly.

“You just have to find a way to win,” Bradford said. “I think we’re all frustrated. I think everyone is disappointed and I think we know we’re better than 0-3. But at this point, it just becomes all about us coming together as a team and finding a way to win whether that’s running the football all day, throwing the football all day. As an offense, we’ve got to find a way to be better and help our defense and just find a way to get a win.”

The Rams aren’t without their holes on defense also. While the Ravens had great success throwing the ball deep against the Rams secondary, it’s also not possible to hit those deep balls if the pass rush is getting home and forcing the quarterback to deliver the ball faster than he’d like.

There isn’t any one solution to what ails the Rams right now but one thing that isn’t breaking down is the belief in the locker room in the talent that’s in place.

“I know we don’t have that broken spirit because if we did, then we would continue to have loss after loss,” left tackle Rodger Saffold said. “Guys are still trying to say ‘Hey, you’ve got to pick it up, pick it up, pick it up.’ We need that. That’s something that wasn’t in this locker room years ago. So right now you might hear that people are down but you get to Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, you will start hearing that positive talk again, people talking about how hard we’re working, hear people getting excited for that fourth game.”

Jackson backs up what Saffold says and also doesn’t believe there is a large talent gap in place like there might have been in past year. 

“We are very disappointed,” Jackson said. “We have the talent, coach and (general manager Billy) Devaney have gone out and tried to make every position competitive so we can have the best guys on the field at all times and for these last three games for whatever reason we continue to stump ourselves, continue to turn the ball over, continue to execute and it is very frustrating. All we can do is look ourselves in the mirror and that’s where we can start. It’s very frustrating, especially as a team leader. You want more, especially because you see the grind, you see what guys are putting in but for whatever reason it’s just not happening for us on Sunday.”

The good news is there is still time to dig out of the hole that’s been dug in the first three weeks. While this year’s team is a bit different in terms of personnel, the makeup of the locker room hasn’t changed.

Last year’s team showed an uncanny ability to be resilient, consistently coming back after dropping a couple of games. Long, Laurinaitis and others that were here for that hope to draw from that experience moving forward.

“It’s frustrating but the season is not over,” Long said. “The sun will rise tomorrow. We have been in worse situations than this. Maybe not with the “expectations” as high but our expectations are always high…we want to compete for a division title. That’s still our expectation. We want to compete for the NFC West championship. We are 0-3, we have 13 games left. You do the math. We are not out of anything.”