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Fundamental Flaws: Turnovers, penalties are costly in loss to KC
By Jim Thomas
ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
From the moment he took the Rams' head-coaching job, Scott Linehan stressed the importance of creating takeaways, avoiding giveaways and limiting silly penalties. It became his mantra. He stressed it, obsessed over it, and drilled the point home to his team in the chill of spring minicamps, the heat of training camp and the start of the regular season.
But apparently, the Rams need some remedial Football 101, because they seemed to have forgotten Linehan's message.
Three lost fumbles by St. Louis led to 17 Kansas City points in the first 1½ quarters Sunday. On the flip side, the Rams defense that had produced 15 takeaways in the first five games came up with zero for the second straight Sunday.
As for silly penalties, there were four false starts, including back-to-back ones against right tackle Alex Barron that helped sabotage what might have been a score-tying drive in the fourth quarter.
Throw in the fact that the Rams once again were inept on run defense, and it added up to a 31-17 loss to Kansas City. A season that once seemed full of promise at 4-1 has now spiraled downward to 4-4.
"I wouldn't call it a downward spiral," Linehan said. "I'd say we've had three setbacks. Played three pretty good teams. I would say that would probably factor into it. We just haven't played well enough. We've got to defend our home turf, and we haven't done that the last two times we played at home."
The Edward Jones Dome didn't seem like much of a home turf Sunday. About one in five fans seemed to be wearing Kansas City red — and they weren't shy about cheering for their Chiefs.
"It actually was pretty loud in a couple of instances when we were trying to go no-huddle — just to hear the play, and hear the snap count," offensive guard Adam Timmerman said. "It's pretty bad when you've got to go silent count in your home stadium."
But that's what happened early in the fourth quarter after those false starts by Barron.
"I switched to a silent count, just because after probably the fourth (false start), that's what I do," quarterback Marc Bulger said. "You usually do that on the road. It's a little bit safer. Gives the defense a better jump, but I didn't know what else to do."
The flags against Barron, the most penalized player in the NFL last season according to the New York Times, began an agonizing sequence of events for St. Louis just when it looked like an amazing comeback was possible.
The Barron penalties turned a second-and-one situation from the Chiefs' 26 into second and 11. An incomplete pass followed, and then Bulger threw 14 yards to Isaac Bruce for an apparent first down.
Instead, Bruce was flagged for offensive pass interference. Bruce was livid, and so was the Rams' coaching staff. According to the only replay shown on the stadium scoreboard, it was a bad call by side judge Tom Fincken.
In fact, as the replay was shown in the Dome, one nearby sideline observer heard Fincken mumble to himself: "I (messed) up."
Perhaps, but the Rams messed up plenty of times on their own.
They were gashed for 172 yards rushing and a touchdown by Chiefs running back Larry Johnson.
"We're doing a good job 90 percent of the time stopping the run," strong safety Corey Chavous said. "But we're giving up big chunks of yardage on two or three plays a game. You can't allow 50- and 60-yard runs, and that's what our defense has been doing the last couple of weeks."
On the first Kansas City possession of the game, the Chiefs were hemmed in, facing a third and 9 from their 3-yard line. But a miscommunication in the front seven left the Rams lined up wrong, and Johnson popped loose for 45 yards.
"For an average fan looking at the game, they'll say we're a soft defense," defensive end Leonard Little said. "But it's not like that. It's not even close to that. We've got to be more disciplined in the things we do. We've got to know what we're doing on every play."
Even with those defensive problems, the Rams nearly overcame deficits of 17-0 and 24-7. They trailed only 24-17 when Bruce was flagged for offensive pass interference.
As angry as he was after the play, Bruce had little to say on the subject after the game.
"It's no big deal," Bruce said. "That's what the ref saw, so he called it. No time to dwell on it. You've got to play the next play."
But the St. Louis defense couldn't do that after the Rams had to punt the ball away — on a pooch punt out of field goal formation by Jeff Wilkins. In fact, the team seemed to loose its cool when the Bruce play was followed a few plays later, by a questionable pass interference call on linebacker Dexter Coakley.
"I thought Dexter had great coverage, I'll say that," Chavous said. "It's definitely frustrating. Those two plays were tough on us. But we've got to find a way to forget about those plays. ... I think we have a mature enough football team where that should be the case."
It wasn't the case Sunday.