- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 16, 2009

EARTH CITY, Mo. | At a team meeting Monday, St. Louis Rams coach Steve Spagnuolo invoked the “2009 rule.”

From now on, the first-year coach told his team, the only subjects on the table would be the current season and the next game: Sunday at the Redskins.

“The 2009 Rams stand on their own,” he said. “It has nothing to do with teams coming forward or any teams going backward.”

If only it were that easy.

Try as he might, Spagnuolo cannot separate the Rams from their recent dreary history. The problems resurfaced in an error-filled 28-0 loss at Seattle on Sunday in their season opener.

“We definitely can’t go, ‘Here we go again,’ ” safety Oshiomogho Atogwe said. “If you do that, you have a defeatist mindset, and you won’t have the capability of winning anyway.”

The Rams committed 10 penalties and suffered the NFL’s first Week 1 shutout since 2006. It offered more evidence that the sad-sack Rams have deteriorated into the NFL’s worst team.

At 5-28, the Rams have the NFL’s worst record since 2007. One of the victories was a 19-17 win at FedEx Field last season.

The Rams have defied the NFL’s system of parity by failing to be competitive. Since the start of 2007, they have a league-high 12 losses by 20-plus points. Lowly Detroit is the only other team in double figures.

The loss at Seattle fit the Rams’ profile. In 2007 and 2008, the Rams were outscored by 408 points. The last nonexpansion team to be outscored by 400-plus points in back-to-back seasons was Houston in 1972-73. The Oilers were outscored by 464 points while going 2-26.

One week into the season, Spagnuolo faces a creeping crisis of confidence.

“I’m just worried about the 2009 Rams,” he said. “It’s what I believe you do. You put things behind you and move on.”

The Redskins considered Spagnuolo for their coaching opening after the 2007 season. Spagnuolo withdrew from the process, saying he was not ready to become a head coach for the first time at any level.

A year later, Spagnuolo debuted with the worst loss by a coach in his first game since the expansion Cleveland franchise opened the Chris Palmer era with a 43-0 loss to Pittsburgh in 1999. Palmer lasted two seasons, going 5-27.

Like the Redskins, the Rams were attracted to Spagnuolo because of his work as the New York Giants’ blitz-happy defensive coordinator in 2007 and 2008. The Giants went 3-1 against the Redskins in that span, holding them to fewer than 300 total yards twice.

Spagnuolo had more talent to work with on those defenses. Under Spagnuolo, the Giants finished in the NFL’s top six for sacks in each season. The Rams have been in the bottom half of the league in sacks the past two seasons.

The Rams had 61 sacks in 2007 and 2008. That’s as many as the Giants had in the 2007 regular season and playoffs, which ended with a Super Bowl XLII upset of New England.

To improve their pass rush, the Rams took Virginia defensive end Chris Long with the second pick in the 2008 draft. Long had only four sacks as a rookie. Creaky end Leonard Little, at age 34, remains the Rams’ top pass-rusher.

Nothing changed in the opener. Neither Long nor any teammate came close to Seattle’s Matt Hasselbeck. He went 25-for-36 for 279 yards and three touchdowns without being sacked.

After opening with four scoreless possessions, Seattle went to an up-tempo offense, and the Rams were lost. The Seahawks scored on four of their next five possessions.

“It’s a process, and we have to stay with it,” said safety James Butler, who followed Spagnuolo to the Rams as a free agent. “We have to keep the faith. We can’t dwell on the past and worry about what’s gone on here before.”

A history lesson could be helpful. In Spagnuolo’s first game as the Giants’ defensive coordinator, Dallas rolled up 45 points. In the last game of that season, the Giants won the Super Bowl.

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