The next in a seemingly endless line of top-level opponents comes to St. Louis this weekend to provide the Rams another enormous task in their quest for the elusive first victory.
In the New Orleans Saints, the Rams might be getting their stiffest challenge yet as the Saints appear to be hitting on all cylinders following a 62-7 destruction of Indianapolis last weekend.
This week, the Rams have taken the attitude that they can’t allow anything that’s happened previously to affect what they do on Sunday at noon at the Edward Jones Dome.
“What can you say? It sucks for the other team, great for them,” running back
Indeed, the Rams long wait for that first win has only dug them into a deep, deep hole that will be hard to claw out of. In order to do it, the Rams must find a way to overcome a team that on paper, at least, ranks among the best in the league in many categories, particularly on offense.
Of course, if you’re looking for a silver lining, consider that the Rams seem to have a knack for playing the Saints close even when there seems to be a disparity in the two teams’ prior performance.
To wit, the Rams carried a 0-8 record into New Orleans in 2007 and came out with a convincing 37-29 victory against a 4-4 Saints team. Two years later, the Rams were 1-7 and welcomed a Saints team that would go on to win the Super Bowl to the Edward Jones Dome.
In that contest, the Rams actually threw a pass into the end zone that could have won the game before falling 28-23.
Saints quarterback Drew Brees said even when the teams met last year and New Orleans emerged with a 31-13 victory; the game was much closer than the score.
“Last year I thought the game was a lot closer than it looked on the score board just because our defense was able to get some turnovers,” Brees said. “I don’t know what it is, I think first of all the Rams are a very competitive team who just by looking at their record doesn’t tell the story about their team.”
For the Rams to keep it close this time, they’ll need to make some major improvements from a disappointing performance last week against Dallas.
In that game, the Rams struggled to stop the run mostly by virtue of poor tackling technique according to defensive coordinator Ken Flajole.
“Well we preach low target tackling and I think that’s part of it,” Flajole said. “There were a couple of runs where we got up on peoples shoulder pads and they’re strong backs, last week that hurt us. The other thing is, is there’s leverage errors. I think any time there’s explosive runs on the defense, there’s usually always some leverage errors with the back-end people. That was an issue as well last Sunday. Those are things that we’ve got to continue to try to correct.”
The Rams have had to make some adjustments to their scheme, especially on the back end, because of injuries at cornerback. That’s left them leaving safeties high to help in coverage and just seven defenders to stop the run.
The results haven’t been good as the Rams rank last in the league in run defense. But Flajole says the injuries and schematic changes are no excuse and the performance must improve against New Orleans’ talented backfield of Darren Sproles, Mark Ingram and Pierre Thomas.
“Even though we were playing a lot more split safety zones to make sure we could help the corners a little bit,” Flajole said. “Did that any in anyway excuse our performance? Not in any way. To have those type of rushing yards, even if you’re in seven man fronts is unacceptable.”
On the other side of the ball, the Rams appear poised to play a second consecutive week without the services of starting quarterback
With Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams calling the shots, the Saints continue to be a blitz heavy team that will bring pressure from a variety of angles. That can result in sacks and big plays for the defense but also makes New Orleans susceptible to big pass plays down the field.
“New Orleans they blitz more so to put pressure on the quarterback, get the ball out of his hands fast,” Jackson said. “When you’re forcing plays or trying to get the ball out of your hands due to a blitz I think it calls for turnovers and that’s what they thrive off of. Getting you uncomfortable and not in a rhythm as an offense and making the quarterback make mistakes.”
“This defense is a good defense, it’s an aggressive style,” offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels said. “Gregg Williams does a great job of getting them ready to play. They play each opponent a little differently, but one thing you’ve got to know is they’re going to blitz you. We’re going to have to do a great job of handling pressure and you won’t beat them, and you won’t score a lot of points on offense if you don’t handle blitz and our guys have been focused on that.”
Regardless, the Rams must find a way to leave last week behind just like the Saints can’t dwell on their dominant effort against the Colts.
That leaves only one thing to do.
“The thing about this league is, and I’m sure pretty about a lot of different professional leagues, you have to have a short memory,” Jackson said. “If things are going good or if things are going bad you really have to prepare for your next opponent. They’re not going to take it lightly on you because you are struggling or just because you have injuries. Each and every team is looking to win that one trophy. To be able to week in and week out focus on your opponent, focus on what you need to do, allows for some players to have great careers.”