Here’s what St. Louis Rams head coach Steve Spagnuolo said on a conference call with Bay Area reporters this morning.
Q: You’ve seen the 49ers quite a bit over the years. Could you talk about differences you see this year with their offense?
SPAGNUOLO: A lot of the personnel’s the same. I know I counted up a lot of guys, same guys we played in the second-to-the-last game of the season last year, and yet I think they’ve been very, very productive. They find ways to control the football – they certainly do that in the pass game, very good on play-action and I think they’ve got some wide receivers that are making some plays for them, including those tight ends, because they’re just like wide receivers. We’ve got of respect for them.
Q: Does that make them difficult to prepare for, given the way they use those tight ends?
SPAGNUOLO: Yeah, I think anytime an offense has the ability to put a personnel group in there and come out and do a number of different things because of the abilities of the players, especially the skill people, that’s always going to make it a little bit more challenging. Now, we’ve had a number of teams that we’ve played this year like that. This is certainly another one, and it’s going to be a challenge for our defense, no question.
Q: What have you seen from Alex Smith that might be different from years past?
SPAGNUOLO: It’s hard, he played at the end of our game, the 15th game of the season last year, and came in and I thought he made some nice throws. And really at the end they were driving, it was an eight point game. I think he’s a quality quarterback. He’s got a lot of ability. Jim’s obviously done a great job with him. I think it’s evident to me when you watch the film that the other ten players with him on offense have a great deal of confidence in him, and I think the offensive line has come together so well that I think it makes the other six guys out on the field, no matter who they are, a lot better.
Q: How has the Brandon Lloyd deal been working with the Rams
SPAGNUOLO: He’s been terrific. I love the kid as a person – tremendous character. He was a shot in the arm for us, energy-wise, just stretching the field and some plays that he can make. He’s been in the league a long time. He’s experienced. I think that’s helped with the young receiving corps that we have. When we lost Danny Amendola, who was becoming a vet for us even in his fourth year, that left a little bit of a void. Same thing with Mark Clayton, when we lost him for the better part of the season he was on P.U.P. So, Brandon stepping in there and filling that void I thought was really important for our football team.
Q: You mentioned his character. He was here for a few years and didn’t leave with a great reputation in the locker room. What have you seen character-wise from him that you like?
SPAGNUOLO: Just like when Brandon and I talked when he came here, nothing in the past, that was all wiped clean. What I was more concerned about him was going forward. Of course we had the luxury, (offensive coordinator) Josh McDaniels had worked with him in Denver and had a terrific experience with him. This league is different year to year. Guys are different in their first year than they are in the eighth, ninth, and tenth. The Brandon Lloyd that I’ve had the privilege of working with here has been terrific and we’re glad we have him.
Q: Has he really had a chance to work much with Sam Bradford? Bradford was injured when he first got there. How has their rapport developed?
SPAGNUOLO: Well, it’s getting there, and you guys are smart enough to figure out that the quarterbacks and the wide receivers have to have a lot of reps under their belt to have that perfect timing that you see around this league. You’re right, the day we get Brandon in here, that Monday, the Sunday before, last play of the game is when Sam Bradford tweaked the ankle and then we didn’t have him for two games, so there was a good, better part of 20 days that we lost there and then they’ve been trying to play catch-up ever since. You can see it a little bit in games where they’ll be off a little bit, and yet because of the quality of both guys and the ability of both, they’ve found a way to connect on some plays that have helped us at least be successful on certain drives.
Q: At the beginning of the season how did you see the NFC West unfolding?
SPAGNUOLO: I’m not a crystal ball guy. I know we have a game against the 49ers this weekend. The rest of it I’m not wrapping myself in. We’re doing that game-to-game thing here. We’re just trying to find a way to win a football game.
Q: There were a lot of people who thought that the Rams would win the division because of the stability you had at quarterback. Did that put new expectations or pressure on the team?
SPAGNUOLO: I don’t think so. I think, and I go back to the beginning, it’s been a rough year for us, obviously, but we embraced that. I know the whole team did, the staff did, I did. You’d much rather be in that role. Now, certainly you want to live up to it and exceed it, and we haven’t done that for a lot of different reasons, some out of our control, some quite enough of it in our control. It didn’t happen. We’re trying to find a way to correct that. We’re hoping we can start doing that this week and it would carry on to this game Sunday.
Q: Speaking of the stuff that was out of your control, you had the lockout and a new offensive system coming in. But at the same time the 49ers did, too. Why do you think it’s been more difficult on you guys than it has been on the 49ers?
SPAGNUOLO: The one challenge we’ve had – now we’re never going to use this as an excuse, but you’re asking the question – one thing that’s really important on offense, especially when you’re putting a new one in, is continuity, especially on the offensive line. We haven’t had that. We haven’t had continuity at wide out. You really need it in the landscape of this year, and with teams like ourselves and San Francisco where you’re putting in new offenses especially. You really had to bank on having the same 11, 12, 13 guys through training camp. In the beginning of the year we knew there’d be some rough edges, but you’d hope that you’d get to this certain point of the season and those reps underneath your belt would surface and you’d have some success. I think that’s happened for San Francisco. I know Jim has spoken of it quite often, that the goal is just to get better and get better. I think you have a better chance of doing that when you can keep the same the same 11, 12, 13 guys on offense. We haven’t had that, and again, as a professional football team, professional coaches, professional players, you have to find a way to overcome that and it’s been tough for us to do that.
Q: Talk about DE Chris Long’s progression.
SPAGNUOLO: I think a lot has to do with the continuity in the system, the coaching – he’s been with the same coach for three years – and also the fact that Chris is a pretty good talent. I think they knew that when they took him here before I got here in whatever draft that was, ’08. Chris is one of those tireless workers. He’s a tireless worker on the field. He’s got a great motor, and I think he as he’s grown in this business, I think he’s taken detail deeper and deeper, and I think it’s resulting on the field. We need him to do that. We feel like any good defensive football team, it begins up front, and Chris is certainly one of our guys up front that we really bank on.