Rams face a big stage, bigger task

2013-10-28T04:45:00Z 2013-10-29T10:39:09Z Rams face a big stage, bigger taskBy Jim Thomas jthomas@post-dispatch.com > 314-340-8197 stltoday.com

When Sam Bradford was lost for the season, so were the Rams. At least, that’s conventional wisdom and the feeling of most people outside the walls of Rams Park. Those inside the walls can’t afford to think that way, especially the head coach.

“There was a book written in the late ’90s by — I think the author’s name was (Willie Jolley),” Fisher said. “The title is ‘A Setback Is a Setup for a Comeback.’ I referenced that back to them.”

Call it Fisher’s book-of-the-month club suggestion for his players, or more accurately, his book of the next two months in a season that ends Dec. 29.

“So, that’s what we’re going to do,” Fisher added. “Our comeback’s already in place.”

Of course there are easier ways to start a comeback than by playing Seattle, tonight’s opponent in a 7:40 kickoff at the Edward Jones Dome.

If the Seahawks had a book out it might be titled: “Smash-mouth: We’re Good and We Know It.”

Along with New Orleans, the 6-1 Seahawks have the best record in the NFC. They have one of the best running games in the NFL, featuring Marshawn Lynch — he of the “Beast Mode.” They have one of the best young quarterbacks in the game in Russell Wilson, who can beat you with his arm and his legs.

On the other side of the ball resides the NFL’s second-ranked defense, and perhaps the best secondary in the game — the self-described Legion of Boom.

Best of luck with that comeback, 3-4 Rams, particularly with backup Kellen Clemens starting at quarterback in place of Bradford, who’s out of the year with a knee injury suffered last week at Carolina.

“We’re going to play. We’re going to play hard,” Fisher said. “Yes, we’ve been dealt with a setback but we’ll come around. (The players) will come around. They’re excited about having a chance to play on Monday against the Seahawks.”

Be careful what you wish for. Tonight marks the Rams’ first Monday night appearance in seven years, and it’s hard to imagine more difficult circumstances. For one, there’s the opponent. For another, there’s the quarterback situation. And lastly, there doesn’t figure to be much of a home-field advantage at the dome, what with Game 5 of the World Series _ Cardinals vs. Red Sox _ taking place down Broadway at Busch Stadium.

The Rams can’t worry about the crowd or lack thereof.

“They’ll be loud,” Fisher said. “If they come, they’re going to be loud, yeah. We expect a great crowd. ‘Monday Night Football’ is a great environment.”

The Rams aren’t worried about Clemens.

“He’s going to give us everything he’s got,” offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer said. “He’s going to be prepared. He knows what he’s doing. He doesn’t have to go out there and win the game by himself. He’ll make plays. ... When things break down he’s got some athleticism, so that’s a good thing.”

As for the opponent, suffice it to say the Rams have plenty of respect for the Seahawks.

As defensive end Chris Long sees it, it’s a tossup between Lynch and Minnesota’s Adrian Peterson as the NFL’s best back.

“I really do have that much respect for Marshawn and what they do there,” Long said.

Simply stated, if the Rams can’t contain Lynch and the Seattle ground game, they have no chance to spring an upset.

Overall, the Rams’ defense has been the most disappointing aspect of the team so far, regressing in almost every area from a year ago.

Speaking of the Carolina game in particular and referencing the season in general, linebacker James Laurinaitis said: “There were just too many simple mistakes at this point of the season and this point of certain people’s careers. It’s just little things that need to be cleaned up — weeks ago. The same things that keep reoccurring. We’ve got to just fix it.”

So what’s holding up getting it fixed?

“We’ve got to play better team defense, just put it like that,” Laurinaitis said. “There’s certain plays that were really dang good, and there’s some plays where you’re just scratching your head. The frustrating thing is it’s not just one position group, or one guy. It kind of just hops around. And you can’t be a good team defense if you have plays where people are taking turns being the guy that makes the mistake.”

The Rams can’t make any mistakes when it comes to Lynch. You’ve got to want to tackle him; he doesn’t go down easy. But if the linebackers and safeties get caught looking in the backfield or getting sucked in by play-action, Wilson is more than capable of burning them in the passing game. Up front, members of the Rams’ defensive line must maintain integrity in their rush lanes. Otherwise Wilson will scramble circles around them.

Overall, that kind of discipline, awareness, and assignment-sound football has been lacking on a consistent basis by the Rams’ defense.

Meanwhile, even if Bradford were in the lineup, moving the football against the Seahawks would be a formidable task. When it comes to stopping the run, Seattle’s experienced front four and improved linebacker corps normally don’t leave much room to maneuver. The Seahawks’ vaunted secondary will contest basically every step made by Rams receivers.

“Both safeties are very good players — run support players, pass defenders,” Fisher said. “And what can I say about the corners? They’re ball hawks. They get up and challenge people and they create problems outside for you, so they’re very good.”

This may be a game where the Rams need a special teams or defensive score to have a chance. A “plus” margin in turnover differential wouldn’t hurt, either. All things considered, it will take toughness, resiliency and maybe a little luck to pull this off.

“It’s gonna be a big test for us,” Long said. “We’ll come in with a lot of emotion. Nobody believes in us. That’s fine. But we believe in ourselves. Our coaches believe in us. And you can use that to your advantage, too.”

Follow Jim Thomas on twitter @jthom1

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