Rummaging through the message boards, I'm really surprised at the number of hopeful threads filled with fans plotting the Rams' second half march to the playoffs. It sheds light on a couple things we need to talk about while basking in the glow of this week's game, hereafter known as "The Win." Should we be ready for a turnaround?
Depends on how you define turnaround. An epic one? Not likely. A turnaround that will at least make Sunday's interesting again for Rams fans? Probably.
First and of least significance, the number of threads predicting playoffs is proportional to the number of threads last week demanding Linehan's head. I enjoy being a rational fan, but if you are of the fair weather variety, take advantage of the chat room fete now underway. And of course, you're always welcome at TST, regardless of the weather.
Second, it speaks to the weakness of the NFC West, that an 0-8 is not yet mathematically eliminated from title contention.
Finally, let's get back to the rational part of things. The Rams played good, inspired football this week, and as long as they keep it up (i.e. no turnovers, playing to team strengths, etc.) they'll at least make the last seven games competitive and, once again, entertaining for fans to watch.
I'm not trying to be cynical or throw cold water on the celebration, honestly. But before you start planning excuses to ditch work for a February parade, think about the number four. That's how many times the Saints defense sacked Marc Bulger this week. Four sacks for a loss of 28 total yards.
Take those four sacks and consider them along side the fact that New Orleans played this game without starting DE Charles Grant, LB Scott Shanle, and DT Brian Young. Imagine the woes of our offensive line applied to another team's defensive line, and you roughly have described the Saints' situation this week.
I certainly don't want to take anything away from the Rams win this week; they played hard, played well, and they earned it. However, the offensive line remains as porous as Missouri limestone, and the injury depleted unit is likely to struggle with teams that do have a solid rushing game. In fact, the week eleven game against Seattle could be a particularly tough one for Bulger's ribs. Along with the Seahawks, the Rams play two other teams whose pass rush rates among the top ten in the league: Green Bay and Pittsburgh. The limitations of the offensive line will put the playoffs out of reach...for this year.
That said, all is not lost and a turnaround may indeed be at hand. Look no further than once again to the number four. The Rams scored four touchdowns, on the basis of a strong running game and a passing attack we almost forgot was possible. Despite a weak line, the return of Steven Jackson put some desperately missing umph back into the running game. Jackson's a special talent, and his abilities can compensate, to some extent, for a weakened offensive line. That, in turn, set up the passing game, and the return of balance in the Rams attack opened up the field and removed some of the burden from the team's most obvious Achilles Heel.
Well, let's also not fail to mention the fact that New Orleans "are very, very bad," according to Football Outsiders. Sunil from Canal Street Chronicles even recommends that opposing quarterbacks throw toward cornerback Jason David.
Along with flawless execution, Jackson's running game gives the O-line enough breathing room to keep the Rams offense moving the ball downfield, and that, given the abilities of the skill position players on this team, enables a turnaround not of epic proportions but of at least enjoyable proportions. The next seven games shouldn't be so painful to watch (hell, Linehan might even save his job), and that's gotta be considered a turnaround in and of itself.