Sunday, August 19, 2007

Rams' Offense Remains Ineffective


Those looking for positive signs from the Rams didn't have much to hang their helmets on in Saturday night's exhibition game against San Diego.

The first-team offense, albeit minus running back Steven Jackson, was held off the scoreboard. The first-team defense was so-so at best against the potent Chargers running game. And special teams sprang several leaks, including one tidal wave: an 81-yard punt return for a touchdown by Darren Sproles.

It all added up to a 30-13 loss to the Chargers that must have left the Rams' coaching staff thankful that it's still only August.

"There's not a whole lot of positives in the loss," coach Scott Linehan said. "I'm sure when we watch the film ... there's going to be some things we're going to look at and say, 'That wasn't so bad.' But right now, it's hard to put a lot of positive spin on it."

With their starting offenses on the field, San Diego and the Rams both advanced the ball twice into enemy territory in three possessions.

The difference? San Diego converted its first such possession into a touchdown. The Rams, meanwhile, lost the ball on turnovers on both of their possessions. And that pretty much was the difference in Saturday's exhibition contest played in a half-empty Edward Jones Dome — that, and San Diego's punt return for a touchdown.

Keep in mind that neither team's Pro Bowl running back touched the football Saturday. The Rams' Steven Jackson, who led the NFL in yards from scrimmage a year ago, was in for only one snap. The Chargers' LaDainian Tomlinson, who finished No. 2 in yards from scrimmage last season, was not in uniform.

The Rams nickeled and dimed their way downfield after taking the opening kickoff. Despite no play gaining more than 9 yards, the Rams advanced the ball to the Chargers 26, where they had a first down with just over 8 minutes to go in the opening quarter. But after taking a short pass from Marc Bulger, Madison Hedgecock had the ball stripped by San Diego linebacker Shaun Phillips. Shawne Merriman recovered the fumble for the Chargers.

Linehan looked at the replay not once, but twice, on the big scoreboard screen in the dome before tossing his red flag. But Linehan's replay challenge was unsuccessful.

In any event, San Diego made the most of the turnover, marching 71 yards for a touchdown. Tomlinson's understudy, Michael Turner, had gains of 17 and 9 yards on the drive, with linebacker Will Witherspoon and cornerback Tye Hill missing tackles that could have shortened each gain considerably.

Wide receiver Vincent Jackson scored the touchdown on a 5-yard reception from Philip Rivers with 1:48 left in the first quarter. Jackson came down with only one foot in bounds, but members of referee Larry Nemmers' officiating crew ruled that Jackson was pushed out of bounds by Rams defenders.

The Rams took the ensuing kickoff and advanced quickly into Chargers territory. On first and 10 from the San Diego 25, Bulger went to the end zone, but his pass intended for Torry Holt was picked off by Chargers safety Clinton Hart with 11:49 left in the second quarter.

"They stayed true to their coverage," Bulger said. "I probably should have put it on (Holt) more, put it on his body more. I led him a little too much."

Bulger and the starters played one more series before giving way to the backups, but went three-and-out. So in five series with the starting offense this preseason, albeit most of them with rookie Brian Leonard as the feature back, the Rams haven't scored a point, much less a touchdown.

"You want to always come out and do your best," Bulger said. "But we're not going to panic. We definitely want to come out and score more touchdowns and finish drives. We're really good at making adjustments during the game. ... It's a little difficult to do that now, because you don't want to show things."

In three of those first-team possessions this preseason, the series has ended with a turnover — two interceptions by Bulger and the Hedgecock fumble. Together, the Rams are minus six in two exhibition games. They have committed six turnovers, but their defense hasn't come up with a takeaway.

"It starts with the head coach, making sure we continue to work on it," Linehan said. "We emphasize it. We talk a lot about (turnover margin). But we have not executed that in preseason. ... And that's got to change."

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