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Flags leave Rams with little to salute
By Jim Thomas
ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
Three weeks after Veterans Day, the Rams took part in Flag Day this past Sunday at the Edward Jones Dome. But it was no celebration.
The Rams' season-high 126 yards in penalties against Arizona may have been an extreme. But unfortunately for coach Scott Linehan, it was merely the latest example of what's becoming a seasonlong trend.
Despite his efforts to minimize penalties, particularly of the pre-snap and post-whistle variety, Linehan's Rams are among the most penalized teams in the NFL this season.
Only Dallas (809) has been assessed more penalty yards than the Rams (721). And only Minnesota (93), Arizona (88) and Detroit (86) have been assessed more penalties than St. Louis (85).
Perhaps most disturbing is the fact that the Rams lead the league in false-start penalties this season (31). According to the STATS statistical firm, right tackle Alex Barron leads the NFL in false-start penalties (nine). Also according to STATS, center Richie Incognito is in a three-way tie for most holding penalties assessed (four).
Over the course of the season, dating to training camp, the Rams have run laps after practice because of pre-snap penalties such as false starts. When a "penalty" occurs in practice, the Rams repeat the play, according to Linehan.
"There's got to be some kind of consequence," Linehan said. "I think the emphasis has to be on holding that person, or persons, or group accountable to those things."
But there's only so much that can be done in the middle of a season. By league rule, players cannot be fined for such things as too many penalties. Bench Barron, you say? And replace him with ... who?
"You've got to overcome penalties," Incognito said following Sunday's 34-20 loss to Arizona. "They're going to happen. But when you've got that many, at critical times, it's tough."
There was a time when the Rams' offense was good enough to overcome penalties, sacks, and almost whatever obstacles were thrown at them. The 1999 Super Bowl championship team, for example, was penalized 113 times — the 10th-highest total in franchise history.
The '06 Rams are on pace for exactly that many penalties this season — 113. But the team isn't good enough offensively, defensively, or on special teams to consistently overcome that many flags. Which is why Linehan has stressed smart football since the start of his tenure: limiting errors, penalties and turnovers.
Even on the heels of Marc Bulger's three interceptions against Arizona, the Rams have done a good job limiting turnovers. Only six teams have fewer giveaways than the Rams' 16. But penalties are another matter.
"You would think it shouldn't happen," running back Steven Jackson said. "And it's continued to bite us. So we've just got to eliminate it."
Penalties were a huge factor in the Arizona loss. The final figures actually showed the Big Red with more penalties (11 to 10) than the Rams. And Arizona also had more than 100 yards in penalties — 107 to be exact. But those figures were misleading.
When Arizona scored with 2 minutes 10 seconds to go in the third quarter to take a 24-10 lead, the Cardinals had been penalized only five times for 40 yards, compared to the Rams' eight times for 116 yards at that point. With the contest pretty much decided, the Cardinals were penalized six times for 67 yards in the final 16 minutes.
The fact that there were many penalties Sunday shouldn't be a big surprise considering the officiating crew. According to research done by the Tacoma News Tribune, referee Ron Winter's crew — which worked the game — is tied for the most penalties called in the NFL. Winter's crew averages 14.3 penalties a game, the same average as referee Gene Steratore's crew this season.
As was the case against Arizona, the Rams were flagged for 10 penalties (for 78 yards) Oct. 8 in Green Bay — matching their season-high penalty total — with Winter's crew also working that contest.
No matter which crew works a Rams game, Linehan said penalty totals like those in the Arizona game are unacceptable from his team.
"It not something we can have and expect to win," Linehan said. "They're hard to overcome. Penalties are part of the game. But penalties that happen before the ball is snapped are unacceptable. Penalties that happen after the ball's whistled dead are unacceptable."
False starts obviously fall into the pre-snap area. So does the offside penalty by defensive end Leonard Little that wiped out a Ron Bartell interception. Some unnecessary roughness calls, such as Incognito's in the third quarter against Arizona, fall into the post-whistle category.
RAMBLINGS: Defensive lineman Michael Brown has been added to the Rams' practice squad. He replaces Tim Sandidge, who was signed to Kansas City's active roster.
Re: Flags leave Rams with little to salute
anyone notice how players like Incognito and Chavous who have given away penalities say that the Rams should be able to overcome them, not that they shouldnt happen in the first place.
they need to know its not ok to commit a penalty, because at the moment they dont seem to care, thinking that the team can overcome it. which they obviously cant.