By Howard Balzer
Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Looking for anything to inject life into his moribund football team, coach Scott Linehan revealed today that Trent Green will start at quarterback Sunday when the Rams host the Buffalo Bills. A release sent by the team's public relations department said Linehan would reserve comment today.

That in itself is odd, that a team would make a major change at quarterback and not have the head coach available to comment. But that's not surprising; things are often strange at Rams Park.

Here's what Linehan will likely say tomorrow: "This is no reflection on the job Marc Bulger is doing at quarterback. We still have confidence in Marc. But we are looking for a spark to our offense, and hopeful that Trent can provide that."

In three games, Bulger has completed 58.4 percent of his passes for 519 yards, with two touchdowns and two interceptions. His passer rating is 73.2. Last season, in five games for the Dolphins before suffering a season-ending concussion, Green completed 60.3 percent of his passes for 987 yards with five touchdowns and seven interceptions and a passer rating of 72.6. Green's average yards per attempt on 141 attempts was 7.00. Bulger's this season is 5.83 on 89 attempts.

Bulger has been sacked 11 times this season and was sacked 76 times in 28 games in 2006 and 2007. He has appeared to often throw the ball too quickly because of a lack of trust in his offensive line. Monday, offensive coordinator Al Saunders acknowledged that "we need to establish a sense of confidence in Marc that he will be protected."

At least for this week, Green will have to exhibit that confidence.

Behind The 8-Ball

Mondays are brutal for losing NFL teams, especially those like the Rams that are still searching for the license plate of the truck that hit them the day before. And the Rams have been blasted by 18-wheelers the first three games of the season.

Coaches watch film and look for positives, anything that will help them keep the heads up of players who know that another season has a chance of being lost very quickly.

So it was that offensive coordinator Al Saunders delivered a five-minute soliloquy to the media Monday, explaining how what the offense did against the Seahawks was at least better than it was last season in Seattle.

There was only one sack instead of seven. There were two turnovers instead of five. Yada, yada, yada. Of course, the scoreboard looked pretty similar: 33-6 in 2007 and 37-13 Sunday. But Saunders is trying to keep his players working, trying to make them see slight areas of improvement.

"We're making progress in some areas," he insisted. "But we're just not there yet against real good defensive football teams."

To be sure, the offense did awake from something of a slumber in the second half against Seattle. There were 177 yards of total offense on 30 plays and quarterback Marc Bulger was 12-for-18 for 145 yards.

Still, the total ineptitude in the first half is troubling. As coach Scott Linehan said, "I think the o-line as a group, performed very well against a very good defensive front, but the bottom line is you have to score. You have to outscore your opponent and you canít go into any road game in the NFL or maybe any league spotting a team 17, 24, 27 points in the first half and expect to win the game."

Here are the ugly numbers in the first half: The Rams have trailed by a collective score of 61-12 at halftime, including 21-0 against the Eagles and 27-6 against Seattle. Stunningly, the offense has gained just 208 yards on 77 plays (2.7 per play), and is 3-for-19 on third down. The last two games, the Rams have had 58 and 63 yards at halftime. At least, on third-down, there has been improvement each week: the Rams had no third-down conversions in the first half against Philadelphia, one against the Giants and two against Seattle. That, of course, is small consolation.

On their first possession of each game, there have been two three-and-outs, gaining five and four yards. In the opener, they actually had two first downs on their opening drive and gained 25 yards on seven plays.

Coupled with a defense that can't stop anyone consistently, and these games are basically over before they begin.

Asked about the play of Bulger, Linehan said, ďI think I used an analogy, maybe I didnít, if you have a 15-foot putt, you have to make it. You have a third-and-7; you have to be able to hit the guy, even if your protection isnít perfect. Guys have to get open for him and have to protect for him, the running game has to be there, the score has to be even and all of that stuff. Thatís what gets any of us going.
"We have to make plays even when the plays arenít easy to make. Marcís no different than anybody else on our team. I think itís time for the play-makers to step up and make plays and coaches have to give them an opportunity to do it.Ē

As for that leaky defense, Linehan said, "The expectation is that the defense in the third year of a system with, I would say, everyone that is playing for us was hand-picked by us. Weíre at the no-excuse time. Itís time to perform. I donít think anyone has ever made excuses, but itís easy to say first-year this and second-year that. Weíre in the third year of a system with players that weíve picked to play within the system and it is what it is. We have to go out and perform and play, if need be, we need to go out and shut people down too. Thatís the way this business is. It might sound kind of cruel and to the point, but it is what it is.Ē

Yes, it is what it is. And right now what it is is awful.

Perhaps the symbol of this Rams defense, a unit that has no takeaways in three games, came on Seattle's first possession of the game. The Seahawks had moved from their own 33 to the Rams' 16, where it was first down.

Seattle quarterback Matt Hasselbeck threw a pass intended for rookie tight end John Carlson. Rams linebacker Pisa Tinoisamoa did a nice job in coverage and got both hands on the ball. However, it harmlessly dropped to the ground. What did Tinoisamoa do? He was smiling broadly for his pass breakup. Is that how much the standard has been lowered on this defense, that a player is happy simply to not allow a touchdown?

Tinoisamoa should have been mad at himself for failing to come up with a play that would have stopped the Seahawks. Make a damn play.

*Running back Brian Leonard will finally be active for the game against Seattle after an MRI showed that Antonio Pittman has a small crack in his fibula. Pittman will miss four to six weeks. Leonard will be the backup to Steven Jackson against Buffalo.

*Tackle Orlando Pace suffered a mild groin strain against Seattle, but it is not expected to affect his status for this week. Ö Right guard Richie Incognito is also expected to practice and play after suffering a strained knee against the Seahawks. Ö It is hoped that left guard Jacob Bell and defensive end Leonard Little will both return against the Bills. Each player has missed the last two games because of a hamstring injury.