For the Rams this week, traveling to Buffalo to take on the Bills at Ralph Wilson Stadium at noon Sunday actually means that weather goes from a minor detail to an important factor.
Allow Buffalo coach Chan Gailey to provide the forecast for those that don’t keep up with such things.
“It is going to be rainy, cold and maybe spitting a little snow,” Gailey said. “It is just ideal.”
“Well I am just speaking for my team.”
You don’t have to squint too hard to read between the lines of Gailey’s weather report. His team is used to playing in such conditions, particularly at this time of the year.
The Rams, on the other hand, play their home games in the temperature controlled and covered Edward Jones Dome.
Temperatures Sunday are expected to hover in the range of 40 degrees, with rain and possible snow also in the forecast. For the Rams, that means a fairly drastic change in playing conditions, particularly coming off a home game last week and a game in Arizona with temperatures outside in the 80s at game time.
In fact, the Rams haven’t played a game this season with temperatures 40 degrees or below and haven’t had one since Dec. 24 last year in Pittsburgh. Since the Rams last played in Buffalo on Nov. 21, 2004, they’ve played in just five games with temperatures 40 degrees or lower.
“That’s usually always the case when you go up there at this time of the year,” coach Jeff Fisher said. “So you go up there and both teams are playing in it and you make the most of it. Ball security becomes the issue – you have to protect the football. You have to handle and throw and catch a wet football.”
With that in mind, the Rams have taken as many steps as possible this week to prepare for whatever Mother Nature might have to offer Sunday afternoon.
Quarterback Sam Bradford and his receiver group have spent time after practice this week with a bucket of water and a bunch of footballs, dipping the balls in the cold water and then throwing routes.
Playing at Oklahoma, Bradford had the occasional opportunity to play in cold and wet conditions.
“Yeah, I’ve played in a couple in college,” Bradford said. “If it’s cold, that’s really not a big deal. Obviously, if it starts to rain or snow, then that can affect things a little bit more. We’re going to prepare for the worst conditions possible. We threw after practice with balls, dipping them in the water bucket. We’ll continue to do that and prepare for the elements.”
The other area where weather can come into play is on special teams. The Rams face a big challenge in taking on Buffalo’s top ranked punt return and second-ranked kick return game.
Factoring in wind, cold and potential precipitation only figures to complicate things further for Rams kicker Greg Zuerlein and punter Johnny Hekker. Not that the unflappable rookies are too concerned about it.
“You are going to approach it the same from my perspective,” Zuerlein said. “You are going to go out there and try to hit the ball the same whether it’s 100 degrees or if it’s minus-30 degrees so we just go out there and give it a whack.”
Regardless of weather conditions, Sunday’s game carries a lot of weight for both teams as they try to cling to distant playoff hopes. At 5-6-1, the Rams find themselves in the mix in the NFC but have little margin for error. Ditto for Buffalo in the AFC playoff picture.
For the Rams, venturing outside of the NFC West Division has been tough sledding as they have a 4-0-1 record in the division but are just 1-6 outside of it, including a 0-3 mark against AFC East teams.
Buffalo is the final opponent in the AFC East slate and the Rams are well aware of their lack of success against that division but not letting that factor in to how things will shape up this week.
“Our focus is on this team, so those things mean nothing,” Fisher said. “They’re not going to think about that when the ball’s kicked off or when they’re playing. They’re going to think about their opponent, so that’s where you focus.”
Playing much better of late, Buffalo enters Sunday’s game having two of its past three and playing much better in all phases of the game. Still, the Bills have been similar to the Rams in that it’s been difficult for them to find the consistency needed to win on a regular basis.
Buffalo is dealing with myriad injuries, particularly on its offensive line and has a number of pieces that could miss Sunday’s game.
Maybe the weather will be an X factor, maybe it won’t but either way, the Rams don’t plan to change how they approach the game.
“We’ll deal with the elements,” offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer said. “That’s something that we’ve talked about all week. No matter what the elements are, normally up there this time of year, it’s going to be cold, it’s going to be rainy and misty and we’ll just deal with it. In terms of our plan, we’re not going to change our plan. We’ll go in with the plays that we’ve got and we’ll just have to execute it.”
Running back Steven Jackson, who looks forward to every chance to play the game he loves but really likes the idea of a cold-weather, meaningful December game, echoed those sentiments.
“We’re definitely expecting that it may be a little cold up there, but the elements are a part of the game and we’ll be prepared for it,” Jackson said. “We’ve just got to make sure that we lock in and make sure the details of our assignments, we take care of it now so on Sunday, we’re just reacting and not allowing things that we cannot control to affect us.”