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NFL Preview - St. Louis (0-5) at Jacksonville (2-3)
By Lyle Fitzsimmons, Contributing NFL Editor
(Sports Network) - It's not easy to be a Jacksonville Jaguars fan this week.
You're in a perpetually tough division. You have consistent problems with fan interest in a region surrounded by the Florida Gators and Georgia Bulldogs. And you're coming off a 41-0 road loss at Seattle that could leniently be described as, well...ugly.
But never fear, Jags Nation - there's at least one positive to dwell on.
At least you're not the St. Louis Rams.
The keepers of the Midwestern gateway continued a prolonged fall from NFL grace last week, losing a 38-10 home decision to Minnesota that kept them 0-for-2009 and marked the 32nd time in 37 games since 2007 that they'd ended 60 minutes on the scoreboard's short end.
The Rams haven't won at all since Oct. 19, 2008, when they defeated Dallas to improve to 2-4. The season subsequently ended with 10 straight losses, a streak that's now reached 15 in a row.
To make matters worse, St. Louis found itself in off-the-field headlines this week when controversial talk-radio host Rush Limbaugh was initially a part of - and then dropped from - a group bidding to purchase the Rams from the family of the team's long-time owner, the late Georgia Frontiere.
All this from a franchise that not all that long ago - 10 years, to be exact - was a Super Bowl champion, and even a few years later, in 2003, was a divisional champion with 12 wins and six Pro Bowl players.
Mediocrity has reigned since - yielding inglorious full seasons of eight, six, eight, three and two wins - while the revolving coaching door hastened the departures of Mike Martz, Joe Vitt, Scott Linehan and Jim Haslett...before welcoming in first-year man Steve Spagnuolo this time around.
Most recently a defensive coordinator with the perennially successful New York Giants - who won the Super Bowl under his auspices after the 2007 season - the optimistic Spagnuolo hasn't let the losing in his new surroundings alter his confidence.
"I was very, very, very happy about the energy today," Spagnuolo said, after the winless team's Wednesday practice. "I thought the guys came out with a lot of energy, which is a good thing. It's a credit to them, and I certainly appreciate it."
According to defensive end Chris Long, the Rams are running out of motivational options.
"You don't really have a choice but to keep grinding away," he said. "Continuing to work hard and try to keep going up, that's the only way we can do it. Build on the little things that we're doing well and try to make those things big things.
"It's no different than any other week. We're trying to get that win, just the same as if we were 5-0."
The Rams have won their only two meetings with the Jaguars all-time, beating Jacksonville at home in 1996 (17-14) and 2005 (24-21).
St. Louis is the only NFL franchise that Jacksonville has never defeated in the regular season or postseason.
Jacksonville's Jack Del Rio is 0-1 against the Rams as a head coach, while St. Louis' Spagnuolo will be meeting both Del Rio and the Jaguars for the first time as a head coach.
WHEN THE RAMS HAVE THE BALL
Spagnuolo announced that veteran Marc Bulger will reassume the starting QB's post this week after his brief appearance in relief of Kyle Boller against the Vikings. Bulger started the season's first three games before missing a Week 4 matchup with San Francisco with a bruised shoulder. He relieved Boller late against Minnesota and completed seven straight passes for 88 yards and a touchdown. He has 31 touchdown passes in 21 career starts against AFC foes. Elsewhere, workhorse Steven Jackson is off to another quality start, posting 451 yards (second-best in the NFC) on 104 carries. He had 200 scrimmage yards and a receiving TD in his last meeting with the Jaguars and has averaged an NFL-best 123.8 yards from scrimmage per game since 2006. He has nine TDs in his last 11 games against the AFC. Wideout Donnie Avery leads the Rams with 18 catches for 196 yards and has scored TDs in three of the four games he's played in October. Four players - Avery, tight end Daniel Fells and wide receivers Danny Amendola and Keenan Burton - shared the team lead with five catches against the Vikings.
Mistakes and misfortune, as much as plain old shoddy play, were at the root of the Jaguars' debacle against the Seahawks, which saw Seattle quarterback Matt Hasselbeck produce four touchdowns on just 18 completions. Seattle also scored on a 79-yard fumble return and wound up with 379 total yards. Nonetheless, Jacksonville still comes in with a plus-2 turnover ratio that's tied for third in the AFC and has gotten a pair of interceptions from rookie cornerback Derek Cox, placing him in a third-place tie among the conference's leaders. Linebackers Daryl Smith and Justin Durant are at the top of the team's tackling list with 35 apiece. Four players have recorded one sack apiece. The Jaguars have alternated between awful and respectable in terms of points allowed, giving up 14, 31, 24 and 17 before last week's 41. The 127 total is seventh- worst in the league.
WHEN THE JAGUARS HAVE THE BALL
As the zero on the scoreboard indicated, none of the Jaguars were particularly effective on offense last week. Workhorse running threat Maurice Jones-Drew was held to 34 yards on 12 carries, including 18 yards on one run. Overall, Jacksonville ran for just 38 yards on 15 carries. Quarterback David Garrard was forced to throw 32 times, completing 18 for 188 yards, though he was sacked four times. Backup Luke McCown was also sacked once in a brief cameo appearance. The running game could be revived against the Rams, however, and Jacksonville is 17-4 in 21 games since 2006 in which it rushes for at least 150 yards. Jones-Drew has 45 touchdowns in 52 career games and four rushing scores in his last three. On the outside, Torry Holt faces the Rams for the first time after spending 10 seasons with them and ranking second in franchise history in receptions, yards and touchdowns. Mike Sims-Walker returns from a one-game suspension and aims for a fourth straight game with six or more catches.
On defense, the Rams' 363 yards allowed per game and 146 points allowed have predictably caused problems. St. Louis has held just one foe - Washington in Week 2 - to less than 28 points. The Redskins won, 9-7, while other games have seen St. Louis allow 28, 36, 35 and 38 points. Opponents have split their attacks evenly, accounting for 125.8 yards on the ground and 237.2 in the air, while the Rams have posted just nine sacks and three interceptions. Individually, former Ohio State linebacker James Laurinaitis leads with 40 tackles and has one of the three interceptions. End Leonard Little has three sacks this season and 83� since 2000, third-most in the league. In the backfield, safety Oshiomogho Atogwe has one interception this season and 14 since 2007, second in the NFL. He's picked off three passes in his last four October games. Also, safety Craig Dahl recorded his first career sack last week.
For the Jags, all bets are on. Garrard should bounce back against a defense prone to big plays in the air, which also means good things for a motivated Holt and the returning Sims-Walker. Meanwhile, Jones-Drew should benefit from their success as well. For St. Louis, a healthy Bulger could mean a worthwhile play on wideout Avery. Defensively, coming off 41 points allowed, Jacksonville's would be just a small a stretch against a team that's turned the ball over 12 times.
At some point, a guy like Spagnuolo is going to get something out of these Rams. But on the road against a team equally looking to bounce back, it probably doesn't happen this week. Probably. Expect a fair amount of points and a good dose of big plays in a game that'll probably come down to a fourth- quarter score to either decide it or put it away.
Says here that it'll be Jones-Drew, or Holt, making that play. But if it's Jackson instead, don't be shocked.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Jaguars 30, Rams 24
10/15 13:07:09 ET
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