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Rams follow Spagnuolo's blueprint to a tee

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Dan Arkush

darkush@pfwmedia.com
Executive editor

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Posted Oct. 18, 2010 @ 11:07 p.m. ET
By Dan Arkush

For the first time in his two years as head coach of the Rams, Steve Spagnuolo’s master plan was masterfully carried out by his troops on both sides of the ball in Week Six. An offense centered around the power running of workhorse RB Steven Jackson and a defense that generated relentless pressure to the tune of seven sacks got the job done in resounding fashion in the Rams' 20-17 upset victory over the Chargers.

Don't look now, but the Rams have won three games in a row at home for the first time since 2004, one week after a loss in Detroit that seemed to signal an altogether different turn of events. After the Rams were demolished 44-6 by Detroit and also lost WR Mark Clayton with a season-ending knee injury, it appeared the team would be heading into a dark tunnel with a one-way path to the NFC West basement. But after the Rams held on to defeat San Diego with a major assist from newly activated WR Danario Alexander, they remain right in the thick of things in a division that's there for the taking.

The PFW spin

What makes the Rams' turnaround really neat is the apparent fairy tale that came true on Sunday courtesy of Alexander, whose University of Missouri roots had made him a fan favorite even when it seemed more likely that he would provide a minimal impact after being activated from the practice squad five days before the San Diego game.

But it turned out the kid from Mizzou came to play Sunday, providing a major lift with a diving 38-yard TD reception late in the first quarter, which gave the Rams a very surprising 10-0 lead, on the way to his spectacular four-catch, 72-yard pro debut. It would be extremely premature to anoint the 6-5, 215-pound rookie, who was not drafted after wrecking his knee at the Senior Bowl, as the Rams' undisputed No. 1 receiver. However, there's no denying the benefits that his big body and downfield speed could provide moving forward.

It's more likely, though, that Rams rookie QB Sam Bradford, who bounced back admirably from his worst game as a pro in Detroit, will continue with the same kind of mix-and-match approach he used against the Chargers, connecting with nine different receivers.

Meanwhile on defense, the Rams have been mixing and matching with reckless abandon more often than not this season, attacking the quarterback from all angles with great pressure from the front four. It's the type of aggressive defense that Rams Nation expected last year from Spagnuolo but didn't get, presumably due to personnel limitations. But with veteran newcomers such as DT Fred Robbins digging in with great enthusiasm, the Rams' defense has been genuinely worthy of rave reviews save for its Week Five aberration in Motown.

One closing thought: There were many in St. Louis who shuddered at the conservative shell the offense retreated into in the second half, as the Chargers crept back into the game to make things interesting. But after all was said and done, depending on Jackson to pound the rock and control the clock was a bland but very sound strategy indeed.

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