Rams Narrow Focus for Stretch Run

Posted Dec 13, 2010

As they embarked on a stretch in which they were set to play three consecutive and four of five games on the road following their bye week, the Rams made it a point not to look at the big picture.

In that schedule, they saw no trends, they saw no big picture challenge, all they looked at was that one opponent that came next on the schedule.

Following Sunday’s 31-13 loss to the Saints in New Orleans, the Rams will finally get to return home for the holidays with games against Kansas City and San Francisco the next two weeks at the Edward Jones Dome.

With three games left on the regular season slate, the Rams remain firmly in control of their destiny in the NFC West Division.

And while coach Steve Spagnuolo is maintaining that single game ethos, he’s also made it exceedingly clear to his team that things are about to get kicked into another gear.

“What I did talk about a little bit today was starting today it’s about getting ready for Sunday’s game,” Spagnuolo said. “It’s about extra rest. It’s about taking care of your body; it’s about coming back on Wednesday with the determination to make sure we are not sitting here next Monday feeling the same way. I don’t think it’s status quo Wednesday, Thursday, Friday this week. I think everything has to go up a notch. I think they’ll come back that way, I really do.”

So it is that much like they haven’t had time to pat one another on the back after a win, the Rams don’t have time to wallow in self pity about what went wrong in Sunday’s loss to the mighty Saints.

“(It’s) very important on Wednesday that we come with the mindset that we don’t lose any confidence from this,” running back Steven Jackson said. “We take this is a learning experience, watch the film on Monday, correct the things we made a mistake on but on Monday we embrace the fact that we have another tough team in Kansas City coming in and we have to play tough and continue to play the football we have all year.”

That means the Rams must set about quickly forgetting about the things that cost them the game in New Orleans and getting back to the basics of the things that have put them in position to win the division in the first place.

That means doing all of the things they’ve done so well all year: things like protecting the ball and not turning it over, winning the time of possession battle, coming up with timely takeaways, protecting quarterback Sam Bradford and getting after opposing signal callers with a relentless pass rush.

That’s the recipe the Rams concocted to get to 6-6 and even now at 6-7, don’t expect that to change.

It is that recipe that has the Rams staring down a fascinating duel in the final three weeks of the NFL regular season.

Despite the fact that his team did not lose any ground to Seattle and still sits atop the division, Spagnuolo lamented the fact that next week’s game could have even more meaning had his team played up to the standard that he believes it can.

“The thing I have a hard time with is we haven’t lost any ground but we want to gain some ground,” Spagnuolo said. “That’s where we’re at. I think the team feels that too. I think this was another one of those games where we played a really good football team where the game is done and over, you feel like you are capable of having success against a team like that if you play better and you know you can play better. I think all of the players feel that way. We all know that. That’s what is disappointing. We just feel like if we had not made some of those mistakes, we are in that game and who knows at the end.”

This week, the opponent is AFC West Division leading Kansas City, a team that has used a formula similar to the one the Rams have used this season in playing solid defense, running the ball and not turning it over.

The Rams did few of those things in Sunday’s loss to New Orleans. They were just one-of-11 on third down conversions and allowed the Saints to go 11-of-16 in those situations. Further, the Rams turned it over three times and again struggled to score in the red zone.

Much like the Saints, Kansas City isn’t the type of team that will let anybody get away with such egregious mistakes as the ones that plagued the Rams in the Big Easy.

“The goals that we are still reaching for – which are still there – won’t be achievable unless we get back on track and get focused on this one,” Spagnuolo said. “Because this Kansas City team is a pretty good football team.”

While it remains to be seen whether the Chiefs will have the services of starting quarterback Matt Cassel as he recovers from an appendectomy, Spagnuolo wanted to ensure his team will work quickly to get back on the same page that led to its winning two of three on the road.

In his mind, that means Spagnuolo wants to see more dedication and desire at practice, more intensity, more film study and an increased tempo out on the practice field.

While the Rams are battling for their division crown, intrastate rival Kansas City is doing the same, meaning there will be plenty of want to in Sunday’s game.

Even the normally reserved Spagnuolo can acknowledge that the Rams are already in preparations for the biggest game in St. Louis in years.

That still doesn’t mean the Rams will change how they do business in the coming weeks.

“This game is important,” Spagnuolo said. “Let’s face it. For what we would like to try to do and accomplish, this game is huge. Right now, we do take the same approach. It’s going to be the same thing that we do every week but I did and part of it was probably coming from that, it’s all got to go up a notch. It has to become really important, making sacrifices, taking care of bodies and detailing work and extra time, etc.”

As one of the few people in the locker room with extensive postseason knowledge, nobody knows better what is going to be required of everyone to reached the promise land when the dust settles. 

“I don't think anybody is really in any kind of panic mode,” linebacker James Laurinaitis said. "We have high-character players who are hungry to work hard and improve. I know it's time to get back to work and try to get better. And we will."