Through the first six weeks of the 2012 NFL season, the Rams have ridden the rollercoaster of ups and downs to a 3-3 record.
It’s a record that is unquestionably an improvement over 2011 and recent seasons but it’s also one that the new look Rams aren’t happy about under the guidance of coach Jeff Fisher because of some missed opportunities.
But Sunday’s game against high-octane Green Bay at the Edward Jones Dome affords the Rams an opportunity to do much more than just climb back to a game above .500 and extend their home winning streak to four.
In fact, the noon kickoff against the Packers represents the start of a three game stretch – sandwiched around the bye week – in which the Rams will find out a lot more about where they are in their vast remodeling project.
Nothing against any of the six teams the Rams have seen so far but starting Sunday, the Rams begin seeing some of the teams widely regarded as the league’s best. Green Bay and quarterback Aaron Rodgers are a different challenge entirely.
“Keep in mind we’ve played six games and three out of the six games were against rookie quarterbacks, who all are going to be good quarterbacks, but this is not just a rookie quarterback,” Fisher said. “We have some challenges ahead of us, so our defense needs to be at its very best.”
And it’s not just the defense. Although the Packers come to town with an identical 3-3 record, they also are coming off a thoroughly dominant 42-24 win against previously unbeaten Houston on the road last week.
The Packers are also expected to bring their usual cadre of “Cheeseheads,” the nickname for their vast expanse of fans located all over the country. Although the Rams have showed vast improvement in short order this season, they are also aware of the possibility that Green Bay fans will do just about anything to nullify home field advantages at any visiting venue around the country.
“I believe our fans are going to answer the call,” running back
To win “these kinds” of games, the Rams will have to execute in some important areas that have proved difficult in the opening weeks. In the first six games, the Rams sit near the bottom of the league in red zone production and are coming off a loss to Miami in which an inability to finish drives with touchdowns instead of field goal tries cost them a victory.
The offense appears to be clicking after gashing the Dolphins for more than 450 yards last week and revving up the running game with the power and speed combination of Jackson and rookie
The next step is to take away the miscues that kill drives and keep them from going for seven points instead of three.
“I think there are a couple of things,” Schottenheimer said. “Last week, it was some missed opportunities. We had some penalties. I think we were inside the 30 three different times and had penalties. We overcame one penalty and had another penalty. You can’t do that. We had some situations where you put yourself in long yardage situations. It comes down to just execution. It’s certainly not just one guy, one thing. It’s something that just comes down to taking it one play at a time, executing, not shooting yourself in the foot against a good defense like Miami and that’s kind of what we did. That will be a focus for us throughout the week.”
The good news, then, is that Schottenheimer and the Rams view their touchdown scoring struggles as a result of things that are indeed correctable.
“I think so, yeah, absolutely,” Schottenheimer said. “I think we moved the ball really, really well, but we have to finish drives. We’re playing an opponent this week that you need to score points because they’re awfully good on the other side of the ball as well. We do it one play at a time and when we do it 11 guys doing it the right way, we’ll be just fine.”
On the flip side, the challenge facing the Rams defense is, perhaps, the most multiple and varied offense in the league. Rodgers and Co. haven’t quite been up to their own lofty standard for most of the season but seemed to find something last week against the Texans.
That performance, in which Rodgers threw for 338 yards and six touchdowns, gives Green Bay some momentum coming in to St. Louis.
“We’re going to have to play them at their best,” assistant head coach Dave McGinnis said. “I don’t pay any attention to that type of thing. You knew what they do. He’s got a history of what he does. We know how good they are at doing it. It’s going to be up to us. We’ve got to really, really play well and we’ve got to play well for every snap. Every snap, we’ve got to be on point because there’s no relaxing against this group.”
Green Bay has played well for the bulk of the season but did experiences its toughest outings against NFC West opponents San Francisco and Seattle, two defenses thought to be among the best in the league.
The Seahawks got to Rodgers for eight sacks in that meeting and the Packers have allowed the second most sacks in the league at 23. If the Rams can turn up the heat like they did in their win against Arizona, it would go a long way toward slowing the Packers and putting them in position for a victory.
“Well, you saw what happened,” McGinnis said. “They’re not going to sit there and just let you hit their quarterback. They’re really not. So, they’ve got a lot of things they can do to adjust it. So, all across the front, we’re going to have to be at our best and it’s going to be down after down after down. It’s not just because if you get to him once it means you’ve found a way to get to him every time because they’re very good at what they do. They’ve won a lot of games with this group for a reason. They’re really good at what they do.”
With a tough game in London against New England and then a road game against the powerful Niners in the offing after this weekend, the Rams are fully aware of the value of getting a win against Green Bay and continuing to take advantage of their home field chances.
So the hope is they can finish drives with scores, contain the Packers’ powerful offense and feed off what they would love to be an energetic and enthusiastic home crowd.
“Well, we’ve talked about that,” Fisher said. “We had great support last time we were here at home on the Thursday night against Arizona and we’d like to keep that going. That’s all. It’s a bigger challenge for them because it’s an earlier game, but I think they’ll respond very well.”
That statement could just as easily apply to his team.