Rams Ready for Dress Rehearsal

Posted Aug 25, 2011


Heading into the third preseason game a year ago, the Rams had a lot more questions than answers.

None of those queries were as burning as the one at starting quarterback where a rookie version of Sam Bradford was preparing to make his first NFL start at New England in the exhibition contest that most closely resembles a regular season game.

Bradford and the Rams resoundingly answered those questions with a dominant performance against the team that would go on to post the best record in the league. The Patriots were so frustrated by the way the first half went that coach Bill Belichick left his starters in the game well into the third quarter.

Make no mistake, the Rams have questions again this year but none seem to be as quite as pressing.

The biggest thing for the Rams as they head into Arrowhead Stadium for Friday night’s third preseason game against the Chiefs, is finding the consistency and success you hope to have when the real games start.

“I think the guys know that even though it’s not a regular season game there is some importance to it,” coach Steve Spagnuolo said. “To get ready and carry some   confidence into the next two weeks. Having said that, if it doesn’t go right we bounce back from that, too. But we want to go out and see where we are at.”

Every team in the league generally views the third preseason game as the one that matters most. Teams play their starters for longer periods of time – Spagnuolo says he’d like to see his starters go through the first half and possibly a series into the third – and they game plan for the opponent a little more than they do other preseason contests.

“I would think with us and the other 31 teams it would be the same thing,” Spagnuolo said. “You enter the third preseason game; we know how sometimes the fourth preseason game, although it may be different this year. All of those guys may need a little bit more work, we’ll worry about that next week but I know that the team is looking forward to getting back in a game setting. We as a group, as a team, we talked about, we weren’t particularly happy with everything about our performance last week, so when you feel that way you’re just anxious to get back out there and play again.”

Indeed, the Rams were not pleased with how they played at home against Tennessee last week. Not that they are in any kind of panic mode but they would like to bounce back from that with a strong showing in the annual Governor’s Cup game.

Of course, it was also only a year ago when the Rams had a sloppy second preseason game in Cleveland and followed with the strong performance in New England which just goes to show that what you see in the exhibition season isn’t always the reality.

For Bradford and his offensive teammates, the goals this week are pretty simple: be more consistent from play to play and run the ball more successfully, especially with running back Steven Jackson in the game.

The consistency issue is one that should come in time as the Rams adapt to new coordinator Josh McDaniels’ system. After opening with a lightning bolt 83-yard touchdown pass last week against the Titans, the offense struggled to piece together positive plays even though they’d hit a big one every now and again.

“We’ve just got to get in our rhythm,” Bradford said. “Obviously we’ve made mistakes. We saw those, we’re going to get those corrected. At the same time we did a lot of good things. We had good plays but it seemed like they only came one or two plays at a time. Whereas if you’re going to put scoring drives, you’ve got to put together 8, 10, 12 plays in a row.”

Part of that includes finding a way to generate a running attack that more closely resembles the one that beat up on the Colts in week one than the one that struggled to the tune of 44 yards on 21 carries last week.

In fact, the running game as a whole is a point of contention for both sides. Not only do the Rams want to get Jackson revved up behind what should be the starting offensive line in the regular season but also to bounce back and do a better job of stopping the run.

That should be even more of a challenge this week as Kansas City boasts one of the league’s best rushing duos in Jamaal Charles and Thomas Jones.

“We’re interested to see if we can run the ball better than we did last week and if we can stop the run better than we did last week, and a lot of other things,” Spagnuolo said.

One area that could help the Rams do better in stopping the run is some personnel changes and evaluations Spagnuolo and his staff would like to make this week.

All week in practice, the Rams have plugged in free-agent acquisitions Ben Leber and Brady Poppinga with the first team at outside linebacker alongside James Laurinaitis. That pair is expected to start against the Chiefs as the Rams continue to get a handle on who is going to win those outside positions.

Na’il Diggs and Bryan Kehl started last week but Spagnuolo says it makes for a more fair evaluation if everyone gets a shot to play with the starters.

“Part of that is getting, if I use the linebacker position for an example, if some guys are going to win jobs as the starter,” Spagnuolo said. “You know, the Mike linebacker is kind of intrinsic, we’d like to see them working with him. And the same thing with the backup Mike linebacker so we just thought it was fair to give everybody a chance to work with the particular signal callers on defense and on offense as well.”

Safety Darian Stewart also figures to get his first look with the top defense in game action as well. He’s been working in place of Craig Dahl the past few days and could also get a start next to Quintin Mikell in the secondary.

Mikell, for one, is excited to see how the defense continues to come together as he blends in to his new team.

“The biggest thing to me that I think is that everyone is kind of flying under the radar,” Mikell said. “There are some very good players on this defense that many people probably don’t know about. Hopefully this will be a breakout year where people start to take notice but there are some guys on this defense that can flat out play and a lot of people don’t know about it so I am excited.”

Depending on how many plays the starters get in the first half, they could work their way into the third quarter. In this condensed version of training camp and the preseason, the time is now as this game is the closest thing there is in football to a dress rehearsal.

 “We’d like to get them out in the second half and go a series,” Spagnuolo said. “Now that may change if we get the play number really high but I think there is still a lot of timing, execution, lot of things to clean up.”