The St. Louis Rams 2013 campaign is almost over. Ups, downs; peaks, valleys: this season has the "youth" asterisk attached to it forever more...
The game today in Seattle will be a tone-setter for the Rams in the off season. I often wonder if there are key items a coach like Jeff Fisher has to concern himself with going into a game like this? Wins are always great for a team's fans, but how important is a last game - like this one - to the mental growth of the youngest team in the NFL? The idea of conquering arguably the best team in the NFL - in their crowd deafening home stadium - in the final game of the season seems like a mountain sized task for the largely inexperienced and injury riddled Rams.
Decision have to be made today for banged up players who Fisher may want to sit. Though inactive today, would it have been worth playing Tavon Austin if his ankle isn't 100%? Would he keep Zac Stacy in a physical game - like the one today is bound to be - if the Rams fall behind early? Then there are the question mark players for next season, who could be on the bubble. Austin Pettis is going to be evaluated, since he'll be at the end of his rookie deal. Brian Quick - who has more than a few fans here at TST - could be targeted for replacement in the coming NFL Draft. He's only shown flashes of what Fisher and Snead hoped he be up to this point, and I still say he plays timid at times. I'd be willing to bet both Pettis and Quick see quite a few snaps today, regardless of the score.
For the St. Louis Rams, this is game represents a chance to hit .500 in the win/loss column for the first time since 2006. Is that enough to inspire Fisher to pull out all the stops, and play this game like there's no tomorrow? There really isn't a next day for the Rams after today. Players will clear out their lockers when they arrive back in St. Louis, regardless of the final score. Being a spoiler for another team's post season position won't drive Jeff Fisher to play this like a Bowl game. But if there's one thing I've learned about Jeff Fisher, it's his absolute craze for beating division foes. Whats more, is the viable argument to be made the Fisher-era Rams have quite literally been built to counter the Seattle Seahawks model. If true, this is one of two opportunities Fisher will have to see just how successful he's been so far.
The biggest challenge in this game, is going to be Pete Carroll's. NFC West teams are flat out physical beasts. Guaranteed at least a playoff berth, will Carroll allow his starters to stay in a game if a few start hobbling off the field? Home field advantage is one thing, but can he afford to risk Russell Wilson with Robert Quinn and Chris Long trying to tear his head off? The Rams have recovered from early season rushing defense woes, so how long does Carroll risk injury to Marshawn Lynch, or his thin list of offensive tackles?
If the Rams come out of the gate fast and score like they have the last few weeks, I can easily see Carroll pull the plug on trying to win. He knows there will be Rams' players on the field trying to keep their jobs, and they're willing to do anything - ANYTHING - to make a play. So it isn't a "player to watch" kind of game today: It's Seattle coach Pete Carroll.
I'm hoping next year's Rams' schedule won't include a season finale in Seattle. Why this continually happens to the Rams is anyone's guess. It's a tough place to win, with Seattle currently 13-1 at home. But truth be told, a win in the unbelievably loud venue, against a great football team, will be something the youthful Rams can remember for the rest of their lives...
Enjoy the game!