By Jim Thomas

With such a young group of skill position players, it was expected that the Rams would have some ups and downs on offense this season. No one, however, expected the kind of “down” that took place in Week 4 against San Francisco.

Anytime you’re below 200 yards in total offense, and don’t reach the teens in points scored, it’s a bad day at the office. And the Rams were at 188 yards and 11 points in their 35-11 drubbing against San Francisco.

In completing only 46.3 percent of his passes (19 of 41), throwing an interception and losing a fumble, it was one of quarterback Sam Bradford’s worst days as a pro.

The fact that it all took place on national television, in prime time, made matters that much worse. Bradford sat staring into his locker stall for what seemed like an eternity after the game, his frustration obvious.

“I was very frustrated,” Bradford said Wednesday, nearly a week later. “Last week was definitely one of the tougher games that I’ve had, just knowing how good this offense can be and the way that we can play. To perform the way that we did, it was very frustrating.”

Over the past two games, 24-point losses to Dallas and San Francisco in which the Rams were outscored 66-18, Bradford was sacked 11 times, hit 15 additional times and pressured (where he wasn’t hit but had to hurry his throw) on 15 more occasions.

Put it all together and Bradford was sacked, hit, or pressured 41 times according to Post-Dispatch film study of those two games. He looked a little gun-shy in the second half of the San Francisco game, and by the end of the game ***** defensive backs were aggressively jumping the underneath routes making it all but impossible to get any rhythm in the passing game.

Was that a case of the Rams simply getting too predictable on offense?

“I don’t think so,” offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer said. “I think (the *****) felt like they were getting pretty good pressure on Sam. So, I think they felt the ball was going to come out pretty quick.

“They were matching all the stuff underneath, which means there were guys playing zone behind it and they’re ‘manning’ everything up underneath. That kind of makes it hard. ... There’s certain plays I’d like to have back that I called. But I don’t think it was anything other than the fact that we just didn’t execute very well.”

Making matters worse in the Thursday night game was the fact that Bradford was as inaccurate as he has been in a while. He missed what would’ve been a sure touchdown pass to Austin Pettis on a busted coverage by the *****. He had a defender in his face and was hit on the play by Ray McDonald, who got around right guard Harvey Dahl. Even so, just a little air under the throw and it’s seven points.

Later in the game, Bradford slightly underthrew a deep ball to Brian Quick. Quick could have done a better job fighting for the ball. But the ball was tipped and intercepted in the end zone — another potential seven points gone awry.

“I thought (Bradford) did the best he could considering the circumstances,” coach Jeff Fisher said. “Love to have that throw back to ‘AP’ (Pettis). But sometimes when you’re attacking coverages, you’re expecting the receiver to go to one place. And then when the coverage is blown people just miss a lay-up type thing. Austin kind of waved and Sam had a rusher in his face and Sam put the ball where he ordinarily would, in the chest.”

Obviously, the Rams’ offense hasn’t progressed anywhere close to the point where it can afford missed lay-ups. Bradford’s performance against San Francisco re-ignited the entire debate on his progress, or lack thereof, as an NFL quarterback picked No. 1 overall (in 2010). With the game televised on the NFL Network, national critics had a field day.

Be that as it may, it was hard to defend Bradford — unless you happened to be the San Francisco defense.

“He started really, really well,” Schottenheimer said, speaking of Bradford’s play in the first two games this season, against Arizona and Atlanta. “I think he’s played well at times; I think he can play better.

“I think he’ll tell you that. But again the best way to get him to play better is to have balance.”

That seemed to be the only thing that mattered this week at Rams Park: more balance on offense in terms of being able to the run the football more productively. It was almost to the point where you could ask Fisher about the weather and he’d start talking about the running game. The conversation invariably circled back that way.

For example, when asked to evaluate Bradford’s performance one-quarter of the way through the season, Fisher began by saying: “I think he’d be more productive had we been able to keep games close and run the football.”

OK, so how do the Rams run the football better? They are open to any and all suggestions.

“If you know — we’re looking for answers, so we’d love to have it,” Bradford said. “But I think the biggest thing is we’ve got to keep trying to rush the ball. More rushing attempts; just getting those guys comfortable running the ball.

“Positive runs. We’ve got to avoid negative runs because when we rush the ball for negative yards and put ourselves in second-and-long, it’s really hard to keep coming back (from) those runs.”

Sounds easy enough. But so far, much easier said than done.