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Saturday, September 21, 2013
Morning Ram-blings: Gaining ground?

By Nick Wagoner

EARTH CITY, Mo. -- Off-the-field issues and injury problems have been a plague upon the NFC West for most of the past offseason and, it turns out, those problems have carried over into the start of the regular season.

One or both of those things have popped up in San Francisco, Seattle and Arizona. Conspicuous in their absence from that list are the St. Louis Rams. Yes, the Rams are going to be without starting right tackle Rodger Saffold this week because of a knee injury, but he's expected to return sooner than later. At least to this point, the Rams' luck seems to be turning a bit.

On Friday, Seattle and San Francisco, the two teams many believe to be the division favorites, suffered more harmful blows. Seattle placed left tackle Russell Okung (toe), the team's best blocker, on the injured reserve list with the designation that could allow for a return. San Francisco linebacker Aldon Smith, the team's best pass-rusher, was arrested on suspicion of drunk driving and possession of marijuana. Smith's problems clearly run deeper than rehabilitating a toe injury.

Okung
Seattle might get by OK without Russell Okung, but trouble for the Seahawks and 49ers could help the Rams in the West.
Okung will be out for at least the next eight weeks. Smith's status is more uncertain, but he seems a strong candidate for some sort of discipline from the league. Any missed time by either player comes as a big loss given their respective past production.

Those two developments come on top of an offseason in which each team lost its best pass-catcher to injury, with Seattle's Percy Harvin and San Francisco's Michael Crabtree suffering from serious ailments. Other suspensions and injuries have also popped up in Seattle and San Francisco.

Meanwhile in St. Louis, it's been business as usual. The Rams have had mostly improved injury luck since the arrival of coach Jeff Fisher, who seems to have a good handle on how to take care of his players, and earns their trust with things like random "sleep-in Thursdays." Despite the persistent fear that's accompanied the addition of players with checkered pasts, the Rams have managed to mostly avoid any serious off-field issues for key players.

The Seahawks and 49ers are probably deep enough to overcome the losses they've sustained so far. Seattle, in particular, seems to be well-equipped to handle the bumps in the road. Still, the Rams went 4-1-1 against the NFC West teams last season, and though it's hard to expect them to repeat that performance, it's also hard to see how, with the continued deletion of key players from their rosters, San Francisco and Seattle have gained ground.

I.C.Y.M.I.

Our quick roundup of the daily stories on the Rams right here at ESPN.com. ... Following yesterday's edition of the Ram-blings, news came that Saffold would indeed miss Sunday's game because of a knee injury. ... With that knowledge, we looked at the Rams' unusual roster makeup as they carry a dozen offensive linemen. ... Finally, we discussed the Rams' need to establish a better rushing attack and keep the offense balanced moving forward.

Elsewhere: 

The Rams-Falcons game last week tied for the fifth-lowest-rated game locally since the Rams moved to St. Louis in 1995. A bit surprising given the buzz around the team, but not so much when you factor in the disappointing turnout the team had in the regular-season opener at the Edward Jones Dome. The disconnect between the apparent excitement of Rams fans, attendance and now ratings is a bit puzzling, but one has to wonder if it has something to do with the lack of public commitment to the team's long-term future in St. Louis. It's one thing for a skeptical fan to not fork over the money to attend a game, it's another to not watch one for free on TV.

The Associated Press with a look at quarterback Sam Bradford and his ability to spread the ball around.

St. Louis Post-Dispatch columnists Bernie Miklasz and Bryan Burwell previewed Sunday's game.

Jonathan Webb at stlouisrams.com checked in with linebacker Alec Ogletree.