Rams Making Most of Homefield Advantage

Posted Oct 5, 2012

It had been nearly five years since the Rams last appeared in a nationally televised game from the comfort of the Edward Jones Dome.

To be precise, before Thursday night against Arizona, the Rams hadn’t played at home in a national game since December of 2008.

But on Thursday night, the Rams and their fans did all they could to show the country that football is alive and well in St. Louis. The team did it with a convincing 17-3 win against the Cardinals in a game thoroughly dominated by the defense.

The fans did it by showing up in full throat and providing the Rams with a homefield advantage the likes of which has been missing for a long time.

Put simply, Thursday’s win could be the tipping point of a renewed love affair between town and team.

“It’s big to win at home,” defensive end Chris Long said. “You’ve got to put the product on the field for the fans to meet us halfway.  I don’t expect fans to come out and watch poor football.  Right now we’re playing good football.  We’re playing quality football, physical football, grind-it-out type football and I think it’s a lot of fun.  We have an identity now, so hopefully the fans will continue to come in and support us.”

Indeed, for the first time since 2006, the Rams have put a winning product on the field at least in terms of wins and losses. The victory against Arizona moved the Rams to 3-2, a game above .500 for the first time since November 4, 2006, a span of 93 games. 

The common denominator to those three victories? All of them came in front of the hometown crowd, a crowd that seemingly grows in numbers and enthusiasm with each passing week.

“It feels great,” linebacker Jo-Lonn Dunbar said. “Somebody just told me this is the first time over .500 in a long time, that’s a little crazy. It feels good to have that crowd rocking behind us. They were loud tonight. As long as we can keep that going on and keep winning at home, I think we’re good.”

Considering the recent history of the Rams, it’s understandable that it might take some time for people to warm up to the Rams again but based on the decibel level on Thursday night, it seems that process isn’t taking long and will only be expedited with each victory enjoyed on the Edward Jones Dome surface.

With a primetime platform and Rams legends Kurt Warner and Marshall Faulk in the house with NFL Network, Thursday’s game provided a perfect opportunity to prove that it’s a new day and a new era in St. Louis beyond the walls of the Rams own locker room.
And the Rams wasted no time in doing that in taking the opening kickoff right down the field for a touchdown only five plays and a little more than two minutes into the game.

Defensively, the Rams continued to feed off the crowd’s energy and put together one of the most dominant defensive performances in franchise history as they racked up nine sacks, a fumble recovery and kept the Cardinals out of the end zone on three trips to the red zone.

“It’s awesome,” quarterback Sam Bradford said Thursday night. “Shout out to the fans. I thought they were awesome. When our defense was on the field, they were loud. It’s probably the loudest that I’ve heard the Dome. Hopefully, that continues to get better. The more we win, hopefully, the more reasons they have to come out and support us. But I thought our fans were great tonight.”

As would be expected with the youngest roster in the league, there will be some growing pains as the Rams continue to develop but there’s little question that they are already forming an identity that St. Louis fans can embrace.

Sure, the days of lighting up the scoreboard with relative ease are long gone but there’s something to be said for playing a hard nosed, defensive style that results in bloody slugfests.

Add in the nature of the NFC West Division – a group with three other teams cut from similar cloth as the Rams – and you have a recipe for plenty of games just like the two the Rams have played in the past five days. That is to say, games that may not be pretty but will keep fans interested and entertained in an entirely different way than the Greatest Show on Turf days.

“(Division games) are huge,” Long said. “To have the great opportunity of winning two division games in five days is awesome.  Having them both at home…hopefully our fans just continue to rally behind us.  It was awesome to play here tonight.  Division games are the most fun.”
Perhaps there’s no cut and dry way to determine the impact of a loud home stadium on a team. There are no statistics that really support it though some might point to false starts caused or mental miscues in general.

But there’s certainly plenty of merit to building a homefield advantage in the eyes of the players. While teams that might have a different identity than the ones the Rams are building may not feed off a crowd’s energy as much, a team that wants to get things done defensively absolutely wants that enthusiasm and noise.

“It’s huge,” linebacker James Laurinaitis said. “You have to play great in your home, especially when you have a dome.  When you have a dome, that’s a huge advantage.  There’s only one outdoor stadium I can think of, and that’s Seattle, that has a huge advantage with their fans. If you’re going to play well in a dome, you’re going to be pretty loud and it’s going to be hard for opposing teams.”

The Rams won’t return to the confines of home until what figures to be a difficult Oct. 21 showdown with Green Bay.

A three-game home win streak might not seem like much but the Rams haven’t done it since 2010 and hadn’t started a season by winning their first three home tilts since 2003 when they ran off wins against San Francisco, Arizona and Atlanta.

Having two of the first three home victories come against division foes might be a good omen considering that tidbit. Of course, winning at home can only take you halfway to where you want to be.

“We’re going to take great pride in that,” running back Steven Jackson said. “We one, want to be a very tough home team and two, we want to win our division. For us to be able to win these last two games is huge. It’s big for us, but it doesn’t stop here. We’ve got to continue to build off this. We have a nice little break coming ahead of us, but we’ve got to face another tough team on the road and we have to learn how to win on the road.”