By Alex Kuhn
Rams fans watched last Sunday as an all too familiar result ensued: the St. Louis Rams fell to the Detroit Lions.
An uneducated Rams fan would say, “Typical Rams.” However, those of us that have watched this team, week in and week out, realized that this was not the “typical Rams.” This was not the same team that has gone 15-65 over the past five season. This is a different team. A team led by Jeff Fisher who has clearly instilled a toughness in his team that has not been there over the past five seasons.
Over the past five seasons, at the first sign of adversity, the Rams would fold and get blown out. When starting left tackle Rodger Saffold went out with a neck injury in the fourth quarter, the Rams responded by marching down the field and kicking a go-ahead field goal with 2:00 to go with Wayne Hunter playing left tackle. While they eventually would lose as Mathew Stafford led a two-minute drill to score the winning touchdown, there were still positives to take away from the game.
Week two against the Redskins was more of the same, adversity struck early and often.
On the first play from scrimmage, Danny Amendola caught a pass and fumbled the ball. Redskins cornerback Josh Wilson recovered the fumble and returned it 30 yards for a touchdown. The Rams would get down 21-6 after several apparent missed calls by the replacement referees, including two plays that would have resulted in touchdowns for the Rams.
The Rams once again lost Saffold and their best offensive player Steven Jackson to injury. But the offense would not fold. The Rams responded by going on a 7 play, 80 yard touchdown drive to cut the lead to 21-13 late in the 2nd quarter. On the next Redskins possession, Rams prized offseason acquisition, Cortland Finnegan, intercepted a Robert Griffin III pass which led to a field goal. The deficit was cut to 21-16 at half time.
The Rams forced a three-and-out on the first possession and went on a 4 play, 63 yard touchdown drive to take a 23-21 lead. The Redskins responded by going on an 8 play, 80 yard touchdown drive to take a 28-23 lead. And once again, the Rams responded.
After another defensive stop, Mathew Mulligan blocked a punt and set his team up with the ball at the Redskins 24 yard line. Four plays later, Mulligan caught, what proved to be the game winning touchdown pass, which put the Rams up 29-28. A successful two-point conversion extended the lead to 31-28 which would prove to be the final score.
Many have asked, “What is different about this year’s team?” Answer: A number of things. However, these are the two main differences
1. The Secondary: While there are still clear holes on defense, they are being patched up one player at a time. The two corners are the biggest differences from last years’ defense. Both Cortland Finnegan and Janoris Jenkins are huge upgrades in the secondary. Finnegan is not a shutdown corner but he is darn close. He now has two interceptions on the year and the ball is very rarely thrown his way. Jenkins is still learning and is occasionally susceptible giving up the big play. However, he makes big plays as well. He is extremely athletic and has the ability to become a premier corner in the NFL.
2. The Mentality: Like I said earlier, last year’s team folded under adversity. Not this year. The Rams have survived injuries to key players, bad calls, and early deficits against good football teams, and are sitting at 1-1. If it were not for a clock error and a great final drive by Mathew Stafford, they could be 2-0.
For so many years, the Rams were the ones who let teams get in there head. This year it is the other way around. Two weeks in a row, the edge that the Rams play with, has caused opposing players to retaliate. Last week, Lions wide receiver Titus Young was benched after head-butting Janoris Jenkins. Of course this week Josh Morgan threw the ball at Cortland Finnegan while his team was attempting to go on a game tying drive. Morgan was flagged and the Redskins moved back 15 yards. Billy Cundiff would have had a 47 yard attempt to tie the game. However the penalty forced the Redskins to try a 62 yard field goal which was not close.
The mentality is the biggest difference in this year’s team. Jeff Fischer has instilled a toughness and no excuse mentality that has worked wonders. This team makes no excuses and plays with an edge that has not been seen from a Rams team in years.
The way they have responded to injuries has been spectacular. As I said earlier, two weeks in a row, the Rams have lost their best offensive lineman. Both times they were facing elite defensive lines and both times, backup Wayne Hunter has held his own. Also, the Rams lost their best player, Steven Jackson, and Daryl Richardson filled in admirably.
Richardson, the rookie 7th round draft pick, rushed for 85 yards while filling in for Jackson. The Rams would have had zero chance winning a game without Jackson in the past, yet they found a way to get it done. While this team is young and there will be growing pains, the future is bright for the St. Louis Rams as long as Jeff Fischer is leading the way.