Armed with a handful of ex-Packers and crippled by a slew of injuries, Rams Head Coach Steve Spagnuolo sounded as though he was hoping against hope.
“We’re looking forward to playing this game. We just had our bye week and we’re looking forward to playing some football,” the pleasant-talking Spagnuolo told Green Bay media as he began Wednesday’s conference call.
At 0-4, Spagnuolo spent last week trying to fix a defense that is ranked 27th overall and dead last against the run, and has lost three of its top four cornerbacks and seven corners in all since the start of training camp. This weekend, Spagnuolo will take his team to Green Bay, which is not where you go to get well on defense.
What does a game against Aaron Rodgers and the Packers’ fourth-ranked offense present?
“All kinds of headaches, sleepless nights and Tylenol, that’s what it presents,” Spagnuolo said. “He’s one of the elite guys. He doesn’t do much wrong. Obviously he’s a talented quarterback and intelligent, and he’s surrounded by what looks like to me a lot of other smart football players.
“When you put a lot of intelligence on the field, along with talent, you get the results on the football field that they’ve been having. You don’t stop this particular offense; you try to slow it down. You hope they have an off day because when they’re on, they’re tough to stop.”
Spagnuolo was the wunderkind defensive coordinator of the New York Giants that waltzed into Lambeau Field and threw a blanket over Brett Favre and the Packers in the 2007 playoffs. The performance of the Giants defense in that game helped vault Spagnuolo to prominence and land him the Rams head job.
That was then, this is now.
These days, Spagnuolo is in the third year of a rebuilding project that has yet to get over the hump. This was supposed to be the season, but then the roof fell in.
“We weren’t planning on being in the situation we’re in right now. We had high expectations – nothing is lost, we can still achieve what we set out to achieve at the beginning of the season – but we certainly know we need to find a way to win a football game and going up against the Super Bowl champs presents a very steep hill to climb,” he said.
“We have a very resilient group here. I’m always amazed at how they bounce back and work and I always feel better when I’m out there working with them. That’s the only way you can get better, by working at it.”
Quarterback Sam Bradford, the first pick of the 2010 draft, is the centerpiece-player of the Rams’ reconstruction, but Bradford is off to a slow start this season. He’s completed less than 50 percent of his passes and his passer rating is a lowly 70.8, a heartbeat from last place in the league. So is the Rams’ offense overall, 31st in the league.
“It’s been a rough road for him thus far. The offensive line hasn’t come together as we had hoped. Having a new system, did that have an effect? I think we’re finding out it does, but we’re hopeful that with four games underneath us and a lot of growing pains we’ve gone through, at some point I hope we’ll reap the benefits,” Spagnuolo said.
Popular ex-Packers Al Harris and Brady Poppinga will be in the lineup for the Rams. Also on the roster is Josh Gordy, a defensive back reserve on last year’s Super Bowl team. Running back Quinn Porter had a try with the Packers.
“Certainly, the injuries have hurt us. We’re never going to use that as an excuse; you have to overcome those and people that step in have to be more consistent. We’ve had periods of good football play. I can go back to that Monday Night Football game against the Giants and we looked pretty good in the first quarter. All in all, it hasn’t come together as we had hoped. We’re just trying to find a way to win a football game right now,” Spagnuolo said.
The best news, maybe the only good news, for the Rams is that star running back Steven Jackson is nearing a full recovery from a calf strain.
“When you feel like your horse, your warrior is ready to go, there’s another weapon there. I think Steven is back almost at 100 percent. Sam is slowly developing a comfort level with some of our younger receivers, and being able to hand the ball off to Steven certainly gives him a little bit more of an advantage trying to be two-dimensional, not one-dimensional,” Spagnuolo said.
“We’re hoping to piece something together that somehow, some way can slow down that juggernaut you have up there.” Additional coverage - Oct. 12