Rams show anything is possible

October, 19, 2008
10/19/08
7:53
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

 
 Scott Rovak/US Presswire
 Steven Jackson breaks through a hole in the second half of the Rams' stunning 34-14 win over the Cowboys.

ST. LOUIS -- Quarterback Marc Bulger overthrew a potential 92-yard touchdown pass to Donnie Avery in Week 7.

Oh, well. There was plenty more where that came from.

These are the new St. Louis Rams, after all. The resilient Rams. The Jim Haslett Rams.

You wouldn't recognize them.

Tough-minded, physical, passionate and explosive, these new Rams staked their record to 2-0 against the NFC East since Haslett replaced Scott Linehan following an 0-4 start.

The Rams' 34-14 victory over the Dallas Cowboys in the Edward Jones Dome did more than validate St. Louis' road upset over the Washington Redskins in Week 6. It did more than expose the Cowboys as a fragile team made even more vulnerable without quarterback Tony Romo. This Rams victory reintroduced St. Louis as a potential player in the NFC West, trailing only idle Arizona (4-2) in the division.

"What do you have to lose?" Haslett had asked the Rams' players after their 0-4 start.

"I think a lot of guys just embraced that," running back Steven Jackson said after trampling the Cowboys for 160 yards on the ground.

Haslett is the right man in the right place at the right time. A fiery linebacker during his playing days, the Rams' former defensive coordinator under Linehan has won over the players.

"He knows how our emotions go and he knows what we're feeling and I think he knows how to get to us and how to motivate us," guard Richie Incognito said, "and we run with it. "Football is an attitude and we got the right one going for us right now."

Ten more things the Rams taught us in Week 7:

1. Marc Bulger is gaining credibility as a leader.

The Rams' quarterback shrugged off suggestions he has taken a more vocal role in the locker room. The leadership he is showing on the field was undeniable last week and obvious again Sunday. He stood in the pocket and took punishment after delivering a 20-yard strike to Dante Hall on third-and-11.

"He'll get smacked around, pick himself up off the ground and say, 'Come on, guys, let's go, let's go, let's go,' " Incognito said. "He's come to the forefront as a leader, being a little more vocal and that's great for this football team."

2. Jackson is faster than he looks.

The Rams list their Pro Bowl running back at 235 pounds. Jackson appears bigger. Perhaps that's why defenses continually take the wrong angles trying to stop him. It happened when Jackson ran outside, squared his shoulders and outran the Cowboys for a back-breaking 56-yard touchdown in the third quarter.

"As soon as he hit that edge and squared his shoulders, it seemed like the whole offensive line knew he was gone," tackle Adam Goldberg said. "It was just time to run down there and celebrate with our guy."

3. Being a nuisance a good thing.

The Rams used what offensive coordinator Al Saunders calls a "nuisance play" to spring Jackson for his long touchdown run. Goldberg, starting at left tackle for the injured Orlando Pace, switched places with the tight end. Offenses show such combinations in part to force opponents to spend extra time preparing for them. In this case, a nuisance turned into a nightmare for the Cowboys.

"It's nice when your nuisance plays pop big like that," Goldberg said.

4. The Rams remain unpredictable.

Losing tight end Randy McMichael to a season-ending injury before the bye week left the Rams short-handed at tight end, a key position in Saunders' offense. The result in Week 6 seemed to be a dependence on three-receiver groupings, which the Rams used more than half the time against Washington.

Everything changed against the Cowboys.

Saunders used fewer than three receivers nearly 70 percent of the time against the Cowboys. The Rams averaged nearly 9 yards per attempt on 14 carries with two backs, two receivers and a tight end. They averaged 12.4 yards per pass attempt with one back and two tight ends. The Rams exploited the Cowboys' run blitzes, particularly on Jackson's breakaway run.

"I was really confident in our game plan," Jackson said. "Watching a lot of film on those guys, we really felt like their body language as a defense, if you jump on them, we felt like we could really take them out of their game."

"We just tried to kill their morale. They are a talented team and it's something that we felt if we could jump on them, we could put them away."

5. Platitudes aren't always platitudes.

 Standing in the Rams' locker room following their Week 3 humiliation at Seattle, I listened skeptically as fullback Dan Kreider, a Super Bowl winner with Pittsburgh after the 2005 season, said all the right things.

"These guys have it in them," Kreider said then. "We've worked hard every week. Sometimes guys don't think you can do it, then you don't work hard during the week. You can't say that at all."

Kreider was right, a reminder that just about anything is possible in the NFL.

"[Haslett] has been very much like, 'Hey, let's go have fun and play football and not worry about anything else,' " Kreider said Sunday. "You can't change the past. All you can do is what is coming ahead of us. That mentality, guys have bought into."

6. The Rams can win without Pace.

Keeping Pace healthy was the Rams' top priority heading into the season. A seven-time Pro Bowl choice at left tackle, Pace had missed most of the previous two seasons with injuries. A thigh injury forced Pace onto the inactive list against the Cowboys. Perhaps that is why the Rams used more tight ends.

Whatever the case, St. Louis played its best offensive game of the season without its best offensive lineman.

7. Stats can be misleading.

The Cowboys picked up some cheap yardage after the Rams had put away the game. Marion Barber finished with 100 yards rushing, but he wasn't much of a factor.

The Rams' defense generally played well enough when it mattered. The pass rush sacked Cowboys quarterback Brad Johnson three times while pressuring him throughout.

8. Donnie Avery should be on your fantasy team.

The rookie is giving the Rams the deep threat they need to take pressure off Torry Holt and give Jackson the matchups he needs to run the ball. Avery had a 42-yard reception among his five catches. He couldn't quite get to the deep pass that would have easily produced the 85-yard score, but more practice time with Bulger should help them complete that play in the future.

The Redskins couldn't stop Avery in the clutch last week. The Cowboys gave up a 42-yard touchdown pass to Avery in the first quarter Sunday.

9. Jackson has a long memory.

The Cowboys were among several teams that passed on Jackson in the 2004 NFL draft. They traded down in the first round and drafted Julius Jones instead.

Jackson remembers it well.

"It was definitely motivation," Jackson said. "The two previous times we played Dallas, I was injured. Coming into this game, it was one of those things where you have to make them pay. You have to make everybody play, but especially a team like that."

10. Attitude can be everything in the NFL.

There's no other way to explain what's happening to the Rams.

"After the bye week, I think guys really just looked at each other and said, 'We can either tank it for the rest of the season, which makes it a really long year, or we can put something together, play for the pride of ourselves and the team,' " Jackson said.

"Coach Haslett gave a speech. 'Let's just go out. What do you have to lose?' I think a lot of guys just embraced that. What do we have to lose at this point?"

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