While the Seattle Seahawks enjoy one of the best home-field advantages in the NFL with their raucous and loud sellout crowds, the home of the St. Louis Rams hasn’t been that way for some time.
Sure the Edward Jones Dome was once a loud place, but that was back in the “Greatest Show on Turf” days when Kurt Warner and company filled the air with footballs and lit up the scoreboard like a Christmas tree.
That 1999 to 2001 vintage was a sweet one for Rams fans, who saw the team win its only Super Bowl and post a 37-11 record while rewriting the team’s record book.
With Rams owner Stan Kroenke’s stated desire to move the team to a new stadium complex near the Inglewood section of Los Angeles, this could be the Rams’ final season in St. Louis. The NFL will have plenty to say about that, and St. Louis isn’t waiting around with a new stadium plan in the works for the north riverfront area of downtown.
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Two dreadfully low crowds for preseason home games demonstrates a fan base that has grown tired of losing seasons and an owner that hasn’t spoken publicly here since Jeff Fisher was hired as head coach in 2012.
The Rams, 6-10 in 2014, open at home today against the defending NFC champion Seattle Seahawks in a game that should be capable of building a lot of interest — and attendance.
Seattle at St. Louis, (noon; TV: Fox Channel 2; Radio: WXOS-FM 101.1)
Is Fisher worried about an attendance dip?
“You know what? Not concerned about it at all,” he said. “It’s going to be really exciting for those that come. They’re going to see some really good football. Those that elect not to, that’s their option, but we hope that they’ll eventually come because we’re a much better team.”
The Rams have a new quarterback in Nick Foles and boast one of the NFL’s best defenses with all-pro defensive linemen Robert Quinn and Aaron Donald.
However, this team is 20-27-1 in three seasons under Fisher, hasn’t had a winning season since 2003 and ranked 31st out of 32 NFL teams in average attendance last season (57,018).
“I thought we were a better team last year than we were the year before; the record didn’t reflect it,” Fisher said. “We have to learn how to do the little things. We have to learn how to win close games. We have to learn how not to hurt ourselves; respect your opponent and just play.
“Don’t get caught up looking at the scoreboard. Just go out and play. That approach turns into wins.”
Super Bowl hangover?
Seattle came within a late interception at the goal line thrown by quarterback Russell Wilson of winning its second straight Super Bowl last season.
The “Legion of Boom” defense is missing holdout star safety Kam Chancellor but can still make a lot of noise. Could there be a Super Bowl hangover threat for one of the Rams’ chief NFC West rivals?
“They’ve been a tremendous team the last several years under Coach (Pete) Carroll and their defense has been a big highlight of that,” Foles said. “We know what kind of defense they are. WE have to go out there and execute.”
The versatile Wilson is back, sporting a new four-year, $87.6 million contract extension. He also feels he’s bonded even better with the Seahawks after picking up the tab and taking most of the team on an offseason trip to Maui.
Big piece of the offense
Wilson’s better feeling might have something to do with the addition of all-pro tight end Jimmy Graham. Graham had 51 touchdowns and 4,752 yards receiving in his first five seasons with New Orleans.
His 386 receptions since 2010 rank second among NFL tight ends behind only Dallas’ Jason Witten.
“We saw a guy (Thursday) night for the Patriots (tight end Rob Gronkowski) that provided an example of what can happen when you’re a big body and a big presence with good hand skills,” Rams defensive coordinator Gregg Williams said of Graham. “He does those things and so it’s been eye-opening for lots of people that haven’t seen him, what he can bring to them and how they’ve changed a little bit of the tools that they have now to work with, especially when you get down into the red zone.
“We’re going to have to make sure that we understand where he’s at.”
O-line an area of concern
Both teams have inexperienced offensive lines, with the Rams inserting two rookies and three new starters and Seattle adding new starters.
“I think the big thing is just to calm them down,” Fisher said of Rams rookie offensive line starters Rob Havenstein and Jamon Brown. “They’re going to be excited to play, but the great part about ‘JB’ and Rob is that they’ve played a lot of snaps in the preseason. And they’ve played and matched up against some good players in the preseason and they play good players out here every day in practice.”
Wilson’s big concern is a Rams defensive line that has sacked him 25 times in six career games.
“They have a great defensive line,” Wilson said. “The front seven is very physical and get to the quarterback and make plays. It’s really, really talented players and they know how to get to the quarterback.
“They have so many guys that come in and out of the game, so I think that’s their strength is obviously how physical they play, how fast they play. We’re going to have slow them down as much as we can and make plays.”
Rams linebacker James Laurinaitis is 15 tackles away from passing Hall of Famer Merlin Olsen to become the franchise’s all-time leading tackler.
“I can’t think of a better person than him to be the all-time leading tackler here,” Williams said of Laurinaitis, now in his sixth season. “I didn’t know he was that close. I’m going to wonder why he doesn’t have all of those tackles in the first quarter this week.”