NFL Team Report - St. Louis Rams - INSIDE SLANT
After the St. Louis Rams lost to Arizona to drop to 5-8 and were officially eliminated from the playoffs, linebacker James Laurinaitis had a message for his teammates, especially the younger ones.
Laurinaitis emphasized the importance of finishing the season positively and striving for an 8-8 record.
Quarterback Kellen Clemens said then, "I think that the veterans in this looker room will probably step up; we've already heard from some of them. We're going to go back to work. I think the thing that we want to see now going forward is finish; finish the season strong. We want to see improvement. We'll go back to work. We're eliminated, but we still have to play them. Let's go back to work on Monday, get better and try to win them."
The Rams have done just that, winning home games against New Orleans and Tampa Bay to nudge their record to one game away from a .500 record, something the franchise hasn't achieved since 2006.
Asked the importance of finishing 8-8, coach Jeff Fisher said, "We were close last year (7-8-1). It'd be great. It'd be a great way to go into the offseason, but I think overall what we've done over the last couple weeks against a very good opponent - in particular, two weeks ago - I think you can see the improvement. That's where we are. The guys, I heard them talking yesterday after the ball game that they've got a lot of games left. They don't want to stop playing. So, that ought to be a daily reminder as we push through the offseason."
Of course, it won't be easy getting to .500 with a road game at Seattle against a Seahawks team that is still trying to win the NFC West and earn home-field advantage through the playoffs.
Fisher said he likes the fact the game has high stakes for Seattle.
"Yeah, we'd much prefer that because, in a lot of ways, if it didn't and they locked up home field throughout and everything then you guys put the little asterisk by the win if that happens," he said. "We'd rather have it mean something."
After a Christmas Day practice, Fisher said of his team, "You can tell right now they're really excited. This is a meaningful game for the Seahawks and this is a meaningful game for us because it's our last one. So, they want to play well."
The Seahawks are coming off a home loss to Arizona, but they are still difficult to defeat at home. The loss to the Cardinals was their first at home since the 2011 season finale.
What makes it tough to play there? Said Fisher, "Obviously, it starts with the football team. They're a very, very good football team. Then, they've got a fan base that never sits down. They stand up for three and a half hours and make noise. So, it's hard to hear and hard to communicate."
With Fisher as coach the last two seasons, the Rams are 1-2 against Seattle, but the two losses were at Seattle last year 20-13 and earlier this season at home in Clemens' first start, 14-9. The Rams won at home in 2012, 19-13.
Fisher said the Rams have been able to play Seattle tough because "I think there's matchups. You have to have speed up front on defense to match (quarterback) Russell's (Wilson) speed and we can do that, but every game's different. You can look back and say they were close, but the matchups are the same, but the games are different. We can't go up there thinking, well we played them close the last few times we played them, so expect to go in there and play them close again. You have to actually go in there and execute."
SERIES HISTORY: 31st regular-season meeting. Seahawks lead series, 19-11. The Rams' last win in Seattle was in 2004, and they have scored a total of just 51 points in the last six games there. The three games played over the last two seasons have been low scoring with a total of just 88 points by both teams.
NFL Team Report - St. Louis Rams - NOTES, QUOTES
--Running back Zac Stacy needs 42 yards to reach 1,000 for the season, a notable achievement considering he had one carry for four yards in the first four games.
Asked about Stacy reaching the milestone, coach Jeff Fisher said, "You can hand it off a few extra times for Zac, but we're going down there trying to win the football game and do whatever it takes. That's a very good defense, but I'd like to think if we could stick to our game plan that he'd have a chance for 1,000 yards."
--With Jake Long out for the final game with a knee injury, Rodger Saffold will start at left tackle, the position he played for three seasons before the Rams signed Long in the offseason.
This year, Saffold has started games at right tackle and right guard.
Said Saffold, "Right guard is a position I was never used to playing. I have a lot of experience playing left tackle, and I think that's what saves me the most. When I had to go back and forth to right tackle I was able to practice it all through OTAs, all throughout training camp and that helped me too. It's basically just the experience of playing the game that allows you to move."
Fisher believes Saffold's future could be at guard. He said, "Rodger's a tremendous athlete and, when healthy, you could put him up there with some of the best in the league. I think we would like to think his future is probably at right guard or even left guard for that matter, but he plays the tackle position very well."
Fisher said the team likes him "as a puller" at guard. "He does an outstanding job pulling, and a lot of what we've done in the run game this year has involved him pulling."
--Safety T.J. McDonald has improved each week since returning from a broken leg, and linebacker Alec Ogletree has wrested the team tackle lead from James Laurinaitis.
Both were standouts in the win over Tampa Bay. Said Fisher, "They both played very well. T.J. got the sack. He had some nice open-field tackles, and "Tree" had two more caused fumbles. He's very good at that. He'll be very good at that for a number of years, so I'm pleased with their improvement and their production."
--This year's Pro-Bowl players will be announced Friday, and defensive end Robert Quinn is expected to be in the group. If it happens, Quinn will be the first Rams defensive player to be in the Pro Bowl since safety Aeneas Williams and defensive end Leonard Little in 2003.
BY THE NUMBERS: 30-10 - The combined record of NFC West teams in non-division games. The Rams finished 6-4, meaning Seattle, San Francisco and Arizona are 24-6. Said coach Jeff Fisher, "I feel like we're closing the gap. We're closing the gap and I hope we'll be able to catch the other teams. I think one of the things that you probably would discover is how teams struggle after they've played teams in our division the next week because they're such physical ball games."
QUOTE TO NOTE: "It's unfair to compare him, the two of them. He was an outstanding player. The game was different then, completely different. They were permitted to do a lot more, in particular with their hands, than you are now." - Coach Jeff Fisher, asked to compare Rams defensive end Robert Quinn with franchise icon Deacon Jones
NFL Team Report - St. Louis Rams - STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
--DE Sammy Brown, who has been on the Rams' practice squad all season, was signed to the active roster to replace T Jake Long, who was placed on injured reserve.
--T Jake Long, who suffered a torn ACL and MCL in Sunday's game against Tampa Bay, was officially placed on injured reserve.
--WR Tavon Austin has yet to practice since suffering an ankle injury against Arizona and missing the previous two games.
--DE Chris Long, who did not practice Wednesday because of a thigh injury, returned to full participation Thursday.
--S T.J. McDonald did not practice Thursday because of an illness.
--RB Daryl Richardson, who started the season opener but has become the forgotten man in the offense, did not practice Thursday because of a thigh injury after being limited Wednesday.
It's fairly straight forward. To beat the Seahawks anywhere, much less in Seattle, a team must run the ball effectively and hold the Seattle offense down by stopping the run and getting pressure on QB Russell Wilson. While the noise in Seattle can con found an offense, it shouldn't affect the defense.
Arizona limited the Seahawks to 10 points last week in Seattle, and that's what the Rams will attempt to do.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH:
--Rams DRE Robert Quinn vs. Seahawks LT Russell Okung - Quinn set the club record with his 18th sack against Tampa Bay and has his sights set on reaching 20. Okung missed eight games earlier in the season, but has played the last five and will be tasked with trying to keep Quinn away from QB Russell Wilson. Tampa Bay used multiple players to help, and Quinn still managed three sacks against the Buccaneers.
--Rams RB Zac Stacy vs. Seahawks MLB Bobby Wagner - Stacy needs 42 yards to reach 1,000 for the season, and the Rams hope to run the ball and control the clock in the noise of CenturyLink Field.