When the St. Louis Rams journey to Washington D.C. this week, they'll have the proverbial monkey on their backs taking the trip too. While I think the rough schedule explains more about not being able to win more than a game at a time, it gets interesting when you look at who the beat, versus who beat them. The good news is the Rams seem to be gelling on defense, or at least enough to pound a bad Oakland Raiders team into the dust.
Like all Rams fans, I'm buying in. Yes, St. Louis won't be headed to the post season once AGAIN, and they'll have to fight their way to a 9-7 record. Their stretch run includes an apparently swooning Arizona - who looked terrible against the Atlanta Falcons this past Sunday - and finishing with yet another finale in Seattle. In between, Washington and the New York Giants will seek to salvage some respect, and save at least one head coach's job (i.e. - Tom Coughlin). I truly believe it will be Eli Manning's last road game as a Giant too. The "Less-er Manning" needs at vacation, change of scenery, or maybe something like this?
Why I'm "buying in" has to do with seeing how this team is finally growing up. Jeff Fisher and Les Snead have built a talented young squad, and they're playing with youthful abandon. Stupid penalties are down, as are dropped passes. "Yards after catch" is a crucial statistic, and this may very well be why the Rams offense turned in such a stellar performance against Oakland. Tre Mason and Stedman Bailey made the most of every pass that came their way.
The Rams defense - inspired by the return of Chris Long from injury - showed the asset few talk about in NFL media circles: Speed. This group of players isn't just physical they're so fast teams have tried to pass the ball inside of three to five seconds all season long. This speaks volumes when it come to just how good opposing offensive coordinators think this group can be. Now that the secondary has Trumaine Johnson and Janoris Jenkins back, it may very well be the deepest defensive back group the team has had since their arrival in St. Louis. The addition of Mark Barron has turned the safety corps into an intriguing team strength, with T. J. McDonald and Rodney McLeod having stellar seasons thus far.
All that's left to prove for the 2014 St. Louis Rams is winning more than a single game, before losing the following week. This is where the word "consistency" merges with promise. From the woeful opening day loss to Minnesota, to the incredible smashing of Denver, the Rams have shown their youth. At some point this season, Fisher must of known his players would grow up, and it looks like they have, right? You'd think so, wouldn't you? But getting over the hump of winning more than one game in a row won't be an easy thing. The Rams aren't good against teams outside the NFC West in 2014. With 5 of their 7 loss coming from teams from beyond their division, it's worthy of mention the Rams have struggled on the road too (2-4). Washington will be their second to last road game of the 2014 season.
While most have viewed the circus of Washington's steady debacle in the media, they have some bright spots. Their defense is actually higher in NFL rankings than St. Louis (#11 to #14), and they're tied in sack numbers at 28 each. Outside linebacker Ryan Kerrigan has 9.5 sacks to the Rams' Robert Quinn's 9. Alfred Morris has quietly had a pretty good season, with 893 rushing yards and seven touchdowns. The Redskins also have the #10 passing offense in the NFL.
Washington is coming off a major league embarrassment against Indianapolis (49-27). Tight end Jordan Reed had a great day, with 123 receiving yards. Colt McCoy threw for 392 yards and 3 touchdowns.
I mention all these Washington fun-facts for a reason. If the Rams' players buy into the Washington dysfunction banter - however true it really is - they could find themselves in a bad way on Sunday. Also, don't forget the last few times these two teams have met. They've been tough, physical games with tempers flaring at times. How many of you remember this play by then Rams corner back Cortland Finnegan?
These have been "chippy" games, and the Rams' young players better be ready for Washington to try and bait them into penalties. Jeff Fisher needs to stress class and maturity leading up to this game. His players need to walk away, and not bite on attempts by Washington to win the game on penalty miscues.
Theses two teams actually match up well. While Washington continues to try and sort themselves out, the Rams will attempt to do something they haven't been able to to do all year: win back-to-back games. Add in that the Rams have division foe Arizona next week, and this could very well take the shape of a trap game for St. Louis. IF - and I stress the "IF" - the Rams can play like they did against Oakland, and blow out Washington, the degree St. Louis could upset the post season apple cart for Arizona and Seattle will be enormous.