TSX: Rams Showing Improvement

James Laurinaitis (Getty/G Newman Lowrance)

Last season, the Rams were one of the worst teams in the NFL in the red zone. Whether it was on offense or defense, the team struggled mightily.

On offense, they reached the red zone just 34 times and scored 11 touchdowns, a 32.4 percentage that was fourth-worst in the league. They added 10 field goals for an overall scoring percentage of 61.8.

On defense, the Rams also ranked fourth from the bottom in the league, allowing 36 touchdowns on the 59 red-zone trips by opponents (61.0 percent). Add in 15 field goals, and opponents scored 86.4 percent of the time.

It's only been three games so far this season, but the improvement is significant. That has led to the Rams allowing only 49 points, fourth-fewest in the NFL, and no team has more than the 17 points Arizona scored in the season opener.

In last Sunday's 30-16 win over Washington, the Rams held the Redskins to three field goals in their three trips to the red zone.

Said middle linebacker James Laurinaitis, "I think we're jelling. We're very resilient. We have a mentality right now that the next play's the most important - I think that's the one thing you can look at. If a big play happens, OK, forget it about. You can't change it."

There might have been no better example than on the opening drive of the second half against Washington. Prior to halftime, the Rams came away empty after a 16-play drive that reached the Washington 1-yard line when a 21-yard field goal was blocked. The Rams still led 14-13 after having led, 14-0.

On the first play of the second half, a 56-yard pass play from Donovan McNabb to Santana Moss and a horse-collar tackle penalty on Rams safety Darian Stewart put the ball on the 8-yard line.

On third-and-goal from the 2-yard line, running back Clinton Portis was dropped for a one-yard loss. The Redskins kicked a field goal and led for the first time, 16-14, but the Rams answered with scoring drive that ended with ... a red-zone touchdown run by Kenneth Darby.

"Nobody was down," coach Steve Spagnuolo said, when asked about the mood at halftime. "We were up by a point. All I said to them was to be up by a point at halftime, you're in a football game. There's nothing wrong with that. We're going to go out and battle. I never expected when we got up 14 to nothing ... I anticipated that Washington would chip their way back somehow, someway. I just never thought it was going to be easy, and our players understood that. I looked at it a different way at halftime.

"We were up by a point, we had done a lot of good things. It just so happened that at the end of the half we did our worst, but let's not forget about where we were in the first quarter. So the guys came out and ... they had the one big play which could have deflated us but, I'll tell you what, the defense kept them out of the end zone. To me, that was huge. Then the offense answered."

Offensively, the Rams haven't been great in the red zone, but their 12 trips is tied for the second-most in the league and they have scored five touchdowns for 41.7 percent, which ranks 22nd. That and their 75.0 percent overall scoring mark is an improvement from 2009.

On defense, the Rams rank fourth in the NFL, having allowed just three touchdowns in 11 opponent's trips (27.3 percent).

Sunday against Seattle, if they can hold the Seahawks to 17 points or less, it will be the first time a Rams team has opened a season with four such games in a row since 1978. The last time they started a year with three straight was in 1999.

NOTES, QUOTES

- LB Bryan Kehl was picked up on waivers from the Giants on Sept. 15, and has contributed on special teams and defense. Sunday against Washington, Kehl had four tackles and his pressure on a blitz contributed to a Donovan McNabb interception in the fourth quarter.

Kehl was playing as a nickel linebacker because of injuries the Rams have experienced on defense.

Said coach Steve Spagnuolo, "I was impressed with that. I think he'll continue to get better."

- Pat Kirwan of Sirius XM Radio wrote this on NFL.com after the win over the Redskins: "It was Week 3 last year, in a victory over Washington, when Matthew Stafford brought so much hope to Lions fans, who realized they finally had a quarterback of the future. Well, the Redskins once again launched the career of a rookie quarterback, as well as the dreams of the St. Louis fans.

"Sam Bradford got his first win as a pro on Sunday, and he did it by playing the second half without Steven Jackson in the backfield. On top of that, he was 7-for-16 on third downs. Bradford is only being sacked once every 20 pass attempts, which is impressive at this early point in his career.

"If Bradford can keep up the production he has delivered to date, he could wind up with 3,500 yards and 21 touchdowns by season's end. It was just a few months ago when many Rams fans were criticizing the selection of Bradford in the draft. I suspect I will not hear from any disgruntled fans on my Sirius radio show this week."

Just to clarify, however, The Rams were 7-for-16 on third downs against the Redskins, but on third-down passes, Bradford was 8-for-11 for 81 yards with six of those first downs.

Bradford has received a world of experience in three games, and on Sunday, he had a 93.4 passer rating on third down and 104.2 in the fourth quarter (although he had just five pass attempts).

Still, he was kicking himself for missing wide receiver Brandon Gibson in the back of the end zone in the final quarter.

Said Bradford, "That was a touchdown. If that was going to come back to haunt us, I was going to kill myself over that one. When they lined up on that coverage, I knew the corner was going to 'squat.' Yeah, I wish I could have that one back."

- Asked what it meant to be given the game ball by center Jason Brown after the win over Washington, coach Steve Spagnuolo said, "It means a great deal, but I tell you what, I'd just as soon chop it up into 75, 80, whatever it is, count up all the players and coaches and give everybody a piece of it. It's humbling. I appreciate it. I love these guys, but that's a team effort."

Stan Kroenke, the new majority owner of the team, was in the locker room after the game and went to every locker, shaking each player's hand.

Spagnuolo wasn't specific when asked what the owner told him. "Stan's great," Spagnuolo said. "I just love having him there. He was terrific. We just both were enjoying the win really."

BY THE NUMBERS: 11 -- The number of consecutive division games the Rams have lost at home. Overall, they have lost 15 straight in the division. Since 2007, the Rams are 1-18 in division games and they are 1-15 in home division games since 2005.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "It feels good. Finally you know that feeling of what it means to pull a close one out. I think that's important. We can talk about it, encourage it and all that stuff, but to actually feel it, that's something that we know now. We know this is our first time. As the game gets closer, we can overcome that and get the game going. I think that's the most important thing we've learned from this. Now we've got those Seahawks. Hopefully, this is one of many. That's the message we want to send." -- LB James Laurinaitis after the win over Washington.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

PLAYER NOTES

- RB Steven Jackson saw limited action in practice Friday after not practicing Wednesday or Thursday with a groin injury he suffered last week against the Redskins. Head coach Steve Spagnuolo said the team is taking it day by day with Jackson, who is expected to be a game-time decision Sunday against Seattle.

- S Oshiomogho Atogwe saw limited action in practice Friday after not practicing Wednesday or Thursday with a bruised thigh he suffered in last week's win over Washington. He was listed as questionable on Friday's report.

- S Craig Dahl returned to practice after missing last Sunday's game against Washington because of a concussion. Dahl worked at FS Oshiomogho Atogwe's spot. Atogwe isn't practicing because of a quad injury.

- LB Bryan Kehl, who had a pressure that led to an interception in Sunday's game against Washington, could see more time as the nickel linebacker in passing situations.

- OG John Greco saw some time at right guard Sunday against Washington in a rotation with Adam Goldberg. Greco was in the game for significant time when the Rams were running the ball with the lead in the fourth quarter. The rotation is expected to continue.

- DT Clifton Ryan remained out of practice and not on the field watching as he deals with migraine issues.

GAME PLAN: Control field position. The Seahawks' average drive start after kickoffs has been the 38.5-yard line. Rams PK Josh Brown has just one touchback this season, although 10 of his 13 kickoffs have reached the end zone, resulting in a 24.5-yard line drive start for opponents.

For the fourth straight game, the Rams will try and hold their opponent to under 20 points. They have allowed just 46, ninth-best in the NFL, and have allowed only three touchdowns in 11 red-zone trips. Last week against Washington, the Redskins failed to score a touchdown all three times they reached the red zone.

MATCHUPS TO WATCH: Rams special teams vs. Seahawks special teams -- Seattle has been electric on special teams this season, Leon Washington returned two kickoffs for touchdowns in last week's win over San Diego, and he leads the NFL with a 46.3-yard average. Washington has averaged 24.8 yards on his five non-touchdown returns, which the Rams would be happy with. In addition, rookie Golden Tate leads the NFL with an average of 25.2 yards on five punt returns with a long of 63. The Rams rank 18th in the league in punt-return defense (8.6) and 21st in kickoff-return defense (26.1).

Rams running game vs. Seahawks run defense -- With RB Steven Jackson's availability in question, the Rams could be hard-pressed to run the ball and open up the passing game. The Seahawks have allowed just 67.7 yards per game, which ranks fifth in the NFL, and they rank third in average per attempt against with just 2.6.

INJURY IMPACT: Because of continuing injuries to special-teams players, RB Chauncey Washington is expected to be active Sunday against Seattle. Washington was signed off the Jets' practice squad Tuesday and practiced Wednesday. ... The return of S Craig Dahl from a concussion comes at an opportune time with safeties Oshiomogho Atogwe (quad) and Darian Stewart (hamstring) iffy for this week.

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