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Bulger catches up with passing game
By Jim Thomas
ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
It didn't seem possible during the preseason, when the Rams' starting offensive unit failed to score a touchdown. Or in the early weeks of the regular season, when every game seemed to be a festival of field goals.
But Marc Bulger has made the transition to coach Scott Linehan's offense, and has done so in impressive fashion. Bulger has completed at least 61.9 percent of his passes in the past four games. His passer rating has been 110 or higher in each of those contests.
He has thrown for 300-plus yards in three of the four games, and has nine TD passes and just one interception in a span that began with a Week 3 victory in Arizona and continued through the Week 6 loss to Seattle.
"It's been a difficult transition," offensive coordinator Greg Olson said after the Seattle game. "I'm sure it hasn't been easy. But he's stuck with us, and he's handled it like a true professional."
Bulger set a franchise record by throwing 248 consecutive passes without an interception, a streak broken against the Seahawks. As the Rams prepare for Sunday's contest in San Diego, Bulger quietly has moved up to third in the NFL in passer rating (99.8), trailing only Indianapolis' Peyton Manning (103.2) and Philadelphia's Donovan McNabb (101.7).
"He has worked very hard at improving his game on a weekly basis," Linehan said. "I gain more and more appreciation for the little things that he does, as far as his accuracy. ... He knows more and more about what we expect as far as still being aggressive, yet at times not making throws that don't need to be made."
Bulger shrugs off his numbers.
"If the numbers are good, they're good," he said. "If they're not, they're not. But we're 4-2. That's all that matters to me."
Undoubtedly, there will be bumps in the road over the final 10 games. San Diego's No. 1-ranked defense presents a formidable challenge. But there's no doubt that Bulger has made a successful switch from the high-risk, high-reward offense of Mike Martz, to the aggressive yet prudent approach of Linehan.
"It was frustrating at first," Bulger said. "It took, what, one or two weeks into the regular season? But I think in the big scheme of things that's not a long time, which is nice. Some teams and some offenses take a year or two. We're still early in the season, but I think we've adopted this as our new system, and everyone's getting more comfortable with it and embracing it."
So much for the concern — or was it panic? — among fans and the media about the slow-go on offense during August and early September. Bulger's mind-set never wavered. He wasn't concerned. Things would come around.
"I think I made that pretty clear," Bulger said. "I didn't mean to. But it kind of turned into that."
At the time, Bulger's attitude struck some as almost cavalier. While recognizing that the NFL is a week-to-week proposition, it's obvious in hindsight that Bulger knew what he was talking about.
"We have too many guys, that have played too long, with too much talent in here," Bulger said. "You've got Steven (Jackson); you've got Torry (Holt); you've got Isaac (Bruce); you've got Kevin (Curtis). You've got too many guys, so I can't screw it up that bad.
"If I can just get them the ball, they're going to make something happen. And once we were 'semi' on the same page, something was going to happen.
"I won't (name) teams, but we weren't going to be one of these teams that can't move the ball for a first down. I knew things were going to start clicking eventually."
In the process, Bulger has shown that he is more than just a "system" quarterback. He flourished in Martz's offense, and now he's starting to shine in a system that is markedly different in philosophy.
"Like I've said, the verbiage is a little different," Bulger said. "The philosophy's a little bit different. But when you're coming from the old (Martz) offense that encompasses, I think, everyone's offense in the league, it was easier."
However, that wasn't the case in terms of taking care of the football. Under Martz, it wasn't uncommon for Bulger to be told to throw the ball deep no matter what the coverage. Bulger doesn't get those kind of instructions from Linehan. Far from it.
"Scott made that an issue in the spring," Bulger said. "That was one of our points of emphasis — taking care of the ball — and he hammered on us every day.
"We're going to take care of the football. And it's easier to check the ball down and not worry about punting it, with the coaches behind you, and the defense that you know can get turnovers for you."
Re: Bulger catches up with passing game
The last paragraph referring to punting grabbed my attention. Last year our special teams (coverage units & punter) were less than average not to mention our defense.. Kind of makes sense why Mike Martz pushed Bulger to take chances. Also from Linehans point of view protect the ball and trust the other units to do their jobs.
I for one am drinking the Linehan KOOL-AID. Not drunk yet but liking it so far.