Who would have thought that the Rams would be at .500 so late in the season? After all, the Rams’ record of 15 wins and 65 losses over the last five years set the record for the worst five-year sequence of any team in the history of the National Football League.
Yet, here we are, with three games remaining in the 2012 season, with the Rams still mathematically alive in pursuit of a playoff spot. While it’s unlikely that they’ll make the NFL’s 12-team post-season party, this season is a far cry from last year’s 2-14 disaster.
Unlike previous years, though, the Rams made some seriously smart strategic decisions after last year’s debacle. For starters, they cleaned house in the front office as well as the coaching staff. Of course, they’d done that before, but this time they lured Les Snead, a well-respected executive with the Atlanta Falcons, away from that franchise to become the Rams’ new general manager.
Snead has a reputation for recognizing talent. That’s been borne out in this season’s NFL draft, as the Rams are reaping dividends already from several of their selections in last spring’s league lottery. Rookies such as wide receiver Chris Givens and cornerback Janoris Jenkins have contributed significantly to the Rams’ elevated status this season.
I mention those two players for another reason. Earlier in the season, when the Rams traveled to San Francisco to play the vaunted 49ers, new head coach Jeff Fisher suspended both Givens and Jenkins for a “violation” of team rules. They were allowed to be with the Rams on the sidelines, but could not participate in the game, which ended in a bizarre and unusual tie, a tie that could have serious negative impact on the Rams’ chances to make the post-season.
Fisher was the other shrewd off-season move made by the Rams. Owner Stan Kroenke pursued the former, long-time head coach of the Tennessee Titans in direct competition with other teams who were interested in signing Fisher to lead their franchises. Kroenke reeled in Fisher with a lucrative, multi-year deal to turn the “Lambs” back into Rams.
Slowly but surely Fisher has established a positive attitude among his players. Always realistic about the caliber of talent on other teams, Fisher nonetheless insists that his team be tenacious, determined and mentally tough. They may not win every game, but they’d better make a focused effort to be their best.
The Rams have had some serious rough roads this season, losing two of their first three and then going winless for more than a month after a 3-2 record for their first five games. After a five-game skid, though, with only a draw, they’ve now won three straight games for the first time since 2005.
Their defense is playing determined, dogged football, digging deep in the trenches to stall the opponents’ running game, and playing tight man-to-man coverage to curtail the other team’s passing attack. Their offense hasn’t kept pace with the rapidly improving defense, but quarterback Sam Bradford manages to eke out victories. Veteran running back Steven Jackson has proven that he’s still one of the toughest and most durable of offensive weapons, wide receiver Danny Amendola has been just a step down from Bradford’s version of Torry Holt and Givens has emerged as a formidable received.
Rookie placekicker Greg Zuerlein routinely splits the uprights from beyond 50 yards. Only an inexcusable delay-of-game penalty against the Rams in the first contest with San Francisco prevented Zuerlein from having another game-winning field goal.
Fisher has instilled pride and self-belief in his team, the youngest in the NFL, in his first season here as head coach. While the Rams’ chances of playing in January are slim, their ability to entertain their fans has brought back enthusiasm missing since the days of “Mad Mike” Martz and his Greatest Show on Turf. That sure makes the Edward Jones Dome more fun.
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