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Rams in dire need of rebound against Niners

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Dan Arkush

darkush@pfwmedia.com
Executive editor

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Posted Dec. 20, 2010 @ 7:40 p.m. ET
By Dan Arkush

It sounds simple enough. If the Rams can win their last two games against the Niners at home this Sunday and against the Seahawks on the road the next Sunday, they will win the NFC West. That said, if they continue to perform like they did in their 27-13 loss to the Chiefs in Week 15, they are going to have a very tough time making the playoffs.

That is especially the case with 2010 first-round QB Sam Bradford, 2009 first-round OT Jason Smith and the team’s vulnerable run defense. For the first time this season, Bradford, who registered a season-low 40.9 passer rating against the Chiefs, failed to complete 50 percent of his passes (21-of-43) and struggled mightily behind shaky pass protection. Smith had three costly penalties matched up most of the time against the dangerous Tamba Hali on an afternoon that seemed to be haunted by the ghost of the departed Alex Barron (five false starts). The run defense wasn’t that bad until it surrendered a killer 80-yard TD romp by Jamaal Charles that sealed the verdict.

The PFW spin

After looking like they might be fired up for a spirited effort against their interstate rivals from K.C., with a pair of field goals that enabled them to jump off to a 6-0 lead, the Rams disappeared in the middle two quarters, managing only one first down while getting outgained 230-48 in that span.

Rams head coach Steve Spagnuolo couldn’t hide his concern in his Monday press conference when asked if he thought his team was peaking or improving down the stretch.

“On the surface, you’d say that would not be the case because in the last two weeks we’ve lost two games,” he said. “But it doesn’t mean that at any point you can’t get the thing right. And again, we can only play one game at a time. That’s the one we’re going to play on Sunday, and that’s the only one we have to worry about.”

One thing Spagnuolo has to be worried about is the left thigh injury suffered by DLE Chris Long, which he said will have to be monitored. A less-than-healthy Long could be a problem for a pass rush that mystifyingly minimized its blitz packages against the Chiefs, which has happened on more than one occasion this season, much to the chagrin of daily team observers.

One piece of good news on the other side of the ball, however, was the disclosure that rookie TE Michael Hoomanawanui, who has been out with an ankle injury, should be able to practice this week and possibly give Bradford and the Rams’ passing game a boost.

Bradford and Hoomanawanui established an instant chemistry that could come in handy against the Niners. In the first game against San Francisco this season — a tightly contested 23-20 overtime victory by the Niners in Week 10 — Bradford played much better than he did against the Chiefs, completing 30-of-42 passes for 252 yards and a TD and registering a 94.4 passer rating.

Spagnuolo was asked Monday if Bradford still seems mentally fresh and if he sees any signs of him hitting a rookie wall. “I can honestly tell you I have not seen that,” Spagnuolo replied. “He’s a very focused individual. He takes care of his body and he realizes the length of this whole thing.

“You’re talking about the rookie walls, but he played at Oklahoma, where they’re still practicing now. They’ll play another game here. I know he did that a lot in his career, so I think he’s kind of used to it.”

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