Monday, September 24, 2007

Rams not on the same page

Alex Marvez,

TAMPA - St. Louis quarterback Marc Bulger throws into the end zone thinking his wide receiver will cut the sideline route short and use a seven-inch height advantage in single coverage to snare the football.

Drew Bennett instead runs a fade directly toward the back pylon, allowing mismatched Tampa Bay cornerback Phillip Buchanon to intercept what becomes an under-thrown pass.
This was supposed to be the second coming of the "Greatest Show on Turf?"

Of the NFL's winless teams, only New Orleans is more disappointing than the Rams. The Saints, though, can avoid dropping to 0-3 by winning Monday night against Tennessee.

St. Louis is already there after Sunday's 24-3 road loss to Tampa Bay.

"We seemed to have a lot of those (mistakes)," said Bulger, who tried to take the blame for the miscommunication with Bennett. "I don't want to be standing here next week playing the 'What if?' game because we're digging a big, big hole right now."

More surprising than the size of that pit is how it was created. St. Louis has some of the NFL's top skill-position talent in Bulger, running back Steven Jackson and two wide receivers (Isaac Bruce and Torry Holt) with Hall of Fame-caliber statistics. The defense was the biggest area of concern entering the season.

Yet it's a punchless St. Louis offense that is proving a liability. The Rams' inability to score touchdowns after halftime or when reaching the red zone proved costly again Sunday as Tampa Bay (2-1) extended a 10-3 lead in the fourth quarter. Previous losses to Carolina and San Francisco followed a similar script.

"We had every chance to put all these teams away," Rams wide receiver Dante Hall said. "This is extremely frustrating."

Bulger had as many turnovers as the Rams had points, but he isn't completely responsible for Sunday's mess. There were more botched routes, dropped passes, suspect play calls and a three-of-12 success rate on third downs. Plus, the offense received little help from sloppy special teams play that included Jeff Wilkins missing field goals of 42 and 43 yards.

Jackson rushed for 115 yards on 30 carries but the Bucs never changed a cover-two scheme that deployed their safeties deep to prevent big plays. Of his 17 completions, Bulger's longest pass covered just 18 yards.

"Something needs to be corrected," Bulger said. "Trying only gets you so far. Maybe in high school and grade school it works. But in the NFL, nobody wants to hear about that."

Still, fixing the problems won't be easy. Three of the Rams' next four games are on the road against Dallas, Seattle and Baltimore.

By the end of that stretch, Bulger might not still be standing. An offensive line already without All-Pro left tackle Orlando Pace (shoulder/injured reserve) lost another starter Sunday when left guard Mark Setterstrom suffered a season-ending knee injury. Fittingly, Setterstrom was hurt blocking on a field goal attempt after a fourth-quarter Rams drive stalled at the Tampa Bay 7-yard line.

"I'm losing my offensive linemen every week it seems like," Jackson said. "Now it's getting to the point where I'm not concerned about my production. These are my friends as well."

Unlike last Sunday against San Francisco, Jackson didn't throw a sideline tirade late in the fourth quarter as the Rams unraveled. This week, it was tight end Randy McMichael who lost his cool.

After Bulger's ill-timed throw to Bennett was intercepted in the third quarter, McMichael began waving his hands and screaming "I'm open!" to a Rams assistant coach while leaving the field. He kept repeating the same message for several minutes while sitting on the bench.

When Bucs third-string running back Earnest Graham scored the first of his two fourth-quarter touchdown runs, McMichael bounced his helmet off the ground in frustration as shell-shocked teammates in the vicinity showed no emotion at all.

"Everybody is in a funk," McMichael said. "We're really out of sync. If we didn't have the talent, you could understand why stuff like this happens. But we have so much talent, especially on the offensive side, and our defense is fighting their butts off.

"The craziest thing about this is it's so many little things. The little things are getting us beat."

Monday, September 17, 2007

Rams, 0-2 at Home, Have History Against Them

By Bill Coats

Research done by colleague Bernie Miklasz makes this much crystal clear about the Rams: Statistically, their chances of making the playoffs are almost nil.

As Miklasz wrote earlier in the week, “Over the last five seasons, since the divisional realignment went into place, of the 60 NFL teams to have qualified for the playoffs, only four made it there after starting off 0-2. And of the four of the 60 who survived, only one, the 2003 Philadelphia Eagles, reached the postseason after opening the regular season with two consecutive home losses.”

That exactly where the Rams stand after stumbling at the Edward Jones Dame against Carolina last week and then San Francisco 17-16 on Sunday. The Rams last started 0-2 at home in 1998; they finished 4-12.

“It’s a hole,” kicker Jeff Wilkins said just moments after his 56-yard field goal try with 1:04 left fell short. “But it’s a long season.”

That was the mantra in the locker room as the players tried to apply some positive spin to a highly disappointing start.

“It’s a big loss as far as the (NFC West) division goes,” linebacker Will Witherspoon said. “There’s a long road ahead of us. You can’t just say, ‘Well, we started 0-2 and let’s just ride in from here.’ You can’t just shut it down.”

Dante Hall, whose fumbled punt with about 5½ minutes left, set up Frisco’s game-winning field goal, was perhaps the most adamant in defending the Rams’ hopes of achieving a major turnaround.

“We went 4-1 last year and didn’t make the playoffs, so it’s not in any way a season-ending loss for us,” Hall said. “It hurts, but in no way, shape, form or fashion is this season over.”

It resumes next week at Tampa Bay.


Wilkins, who nailed a 53-yarder earlier in the game, is one of the most accurate long-range kickers in the league. Still, he knew after pregame warmups that 56 yards was probably out of his range.

“I give (coach Scott Linehan) a distance, and last week and this week I was saying the 35-yard line, which would be a 53″- yard try,” Wilkins said. “But then when it comes down to something like that . . . that’s where I rely on adrenaline maybe to get me a couple of more yards. I hit it and . . . that was pretty much (all) I had.”


Notes & quotes:

>>QB Marc Bulger, sacked six times and hit hard on perhaps half of his 41 pass attempts, reported soreness in his ribs and knee after the game. Since Bulger became the team’s primary QB in 2002, he’s only been sacked more often twice – seven times, by Carolina last year and Frisco in ’05.

>>RG Claude Terrell left briefly with a bruised right thigh, Adam Goldberg stepping in for him. “I got leg-whipped pretty good,” Terrell said.

>>WR Isaac Bruce’s 145 yards (on eight catches) marked his most prolific outing since he totaled 170 vs. Green Bay in 2004.

>>The Rams did a decent job on RB Frank Gore, the NFC’s top rusher last year. Gore’s 20 carries netted 81 yards, but 43 of them came on a tackle-busting 43-yard touchdown jaunt. He averaged only 2.0 yards on his 19 other carries.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Rams facing more time without Pace

The sight of Pro Bowl left tackle Orlando Pace dropping to one knee in pain as he tried to walk off the field after injuring his right shoulder in the second quarter Sunday had to make the hearts of St. Louis Rams fans slump.

Pace will undergo an MRI on his shoulder today, and his teammates are bracing for the possibility of another long period without the anchor to their offensive line.

"We played a while without him last year, so unfortunately we do have some experience with it," Rams quarterback Marc Bulger said of Pace, who missed the final six games of the 2006 season with a torn triceps muscle in his left arm.

Pace was injured pass blocking with 1:45 left in the second quarter.

Rams coach Scott Linehan said the initial diagnosis for Pace is a sprained shoulder.

Adam Goldberg, who has played mostly guard in his previous four seasons in the NFL, replaced Pace at left tackle.

"That's kind of the life of a backup offensive linemen," Goldberg said of being ready to play anywhere if needed. "Due to the rules in this league, you can't carry a backup at every position. I went into this game knowing that if any of the four (offensive linemen) other than the center got hurt, I was going in there."

Goldberg said he felt better prepared to play left tackle than they did last season after replacing Pace in the second quarter against Seattle in Game 10.

"It's never fortunate when somebody like Orlando -- a Hall of Famer -- goes down, but given that circumstance, I was fortunate that for the last three weeks I've been playing left tackle," he said.

The Rams were already thin at tackle after Todd Steussie suffered a broken foot in the preseason.

It's unknown if the Rams will stick with Goldberg at left tackle or move Alex Barron from the right side to the left side if Pace is sidelined for an extended period.

In other injury news, linebacker Pisa Tinoisamoa suffered a sprained right foot on a 7-yard run by DeAngelo Williams with 10:38 left in the fourth quarter. Tinoisamoa returned for a couple of plays, but then retired to the bench.

What Brown can do for you

Millford Brown was somewhat of a surprise starter at right guard in place of Richie Incognito, who has a high ankle sprain.

Claude Terrell also had worked at right guard in practice.

"They have been very close, and it was going to have to be one of the two," Linehan said.

Brown said he knew he would be starting already last Thursday, even though he was never told directly.

"The way the rotation was going in practice, and they kept telling me, 'You need to have a good one this week,"' Brown said.

Brown said he felt he performed well.

"I obviously did pretty good in the run game," Brown said. "But, we lost the game."

Quick hits

The Rams' inactives included wide receiver Drew Bennett, who has been bothered by a tight thigh muscle for the last week, and defensive end Victor Adeyanju, who sustained a sprained knee in practice last week.

Also inactive were Terrell, running back Antonio Pittman, linebacker Quinton Culberson and defensive end Eric Moore.

The Rams are 8-5 in season openers since coming to St. Louis in 1995.

The Rams had four tight ends in uniform for the game, but none of them caught a pass until Randy McMichael hauled in an 8-yard reception with 5:49 left in the game.

McMichael finished with two catches for 24 yards.

The Panthers had one sack, while the Rams went sackless in the game.

The Panthers had a huge advantage in time of possession in the second half as they had the ball for 19 minutes, 59 seconds compared to 10:01for the Rams.

According to the press box statistics, the Rams' leading tackler was free safety Oshiomogho Atogwe with 10.

Monday, September 3, 2007

Fitz traded to Bengals

The Rams were minus one quarterback Saturday morning when they took the field
for practice at Rams Park, and sent another packing a few hours later when they
sent their final roster cuts into the NFL office.

The day began with quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick traded to Cincinnati for a
seventh-round draft pick in the 2008 draft. It’s believed to be a conditional
pick, with Fitzpatrick needing to be on the Bengals roster a certain number of
games in order for the Rams to receive the seventh-rounder.

Later in the day, the Rams placed No. 4 quarterback Brock Berlin on waivers.
That leaves the Rams with only two quarterbacks on their active roster, a
growing trend in the NFL.

"I think there were six or seven (teams) last year (with two quarterbacks), and
I think there could be more including ourselves this year," Scott Linehan said.
"Either way you’re giving up something, so we’ll have to have a contingency
plan for a third. We’ve got a couple ex-quarterbacks on our roster. We’ll
figure out what kind of plays we’d have to run with those fellows."

That would be wide receivers Drew Bennett and Marques Hagans, who were both
quarterbacks in college. In the meantime, the Rams plan to sign Berlin to the
practice squad if he clears waivers by Sunday afternoon.

The Rams made several other moves to get down to Saturday afternoon’s roster
limit of 53 players. Offensive lineman Todd Steussie, who underwent surgery for
a broken foot Friday, has been placed on the injured reserve list, ending his
season. Cornerback Fakhir Brown’s four-game suspension for violating the NFL
substance abuse policy began Saturday afternoon, meaning he does not count
against the 53-man roster.

Besides Berlin, the Rams released seven other players -- according to league
sources -- to reach the 53-man limit: wide receivers Derek Stanley and
Dominique Thompson; offensive linemen Dustin Fry and Jeremy Parquet; linebacker
Jon Alston; defensive tackle Keith Jackson; and cornerback Darius Vinnett.

As of late Saturday afternoon, the Rams had not confirmed those cuts or made an
announcement on released players.

The biggest surprise in the group was Alston, a third-round pick in 2006, who
although raw and unpolished, had seemed to make substantial progress over the
course of training camp and the preseason. But it appears that rookie free
agent Quinton Culberson has won Alston’s roster spot. Fry (fifth round),
Stanley (seventh round), and Jackson (seventh round) were ’07 draft picks.

Even with Saturday’s roster moves, there could be more moves forthcoming before
the roster settles in. The Rams still have nine defensive linemen -- one more
than usual -- with ends Trevor Johnson and Eric Moore both on the roster as of
Saturday afternoon. The release of Vinnett left them with only eight defensive
backs -- one fewer than usual.

In addition, all four tight ends -- Dominique Byrd, Joe Klopfenstein, Randy
McMichael, and Aaron Walker -- remained on the roster as did fullback Madison