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Thread: Inside slant 9-21-06
Inside slant 9-21-06
Sep. 21, 2006
The Sports Xchange
Inside slant · Strategy and personnel · Notes, quotes
Last week, the Rams were confident their offense would be able to break out against the ***** after not scoring a touchdown in the opening week. At halftime, rhythm seemed to be developing as they took a 10-3 lead into halftime after scoring in the red zone late in the second quarter.
New center Richie Incognito and left guard Todd Steussie seemed to be working well together as the half ended. But then, left tackle Orlando Pace was lost for the remainder of the game, and more changes occurred on the line. The offense sputtered in the second half, scoring just three points and gaining 117 yards on 29 plays.
That brought up continuing questions about the time it's taking for quarterback Marc Bulger to become comfortable with a new way of doing things.
New coach Scott Linehan, though, says he's pleased with Bulger, while believing that production will progressively get better.
"Marc has done everything I've asked," Linehan said. "I've asked him to be a guy that manages the game and protects the ball, that understands what we want to get out of the running game and those kinds of things. Certainly, by our ability to protect the ball right now and the fact that our running back is averaging over five yards a carry is a great start.
"I think we've certainly got to work on our efficiency in the passing game, which will come. I believe that and that's what Marc believes. He's accepted everything we've asked, so to answer your question, yes. We're all perfectionists and we all want to be better, and we need to be, and we'll continue to work on being better every day."
Bulger has consistently been well over 60 percent in accuracy, and after two games he is at 54.4. But he is not dwelling on statistics.
Said Bulger, "It's tough, especially when you know what you've been able to do. You can't live in the past. We have to move on and know that this is new. We're going to have to push to learn this and be patient all at once. It's not easy, but we're going to have to deal with it and there's no sense in pushing or giving up now. We have to fight through it.
"I really don't worry about numbers. I definitely want to get my completion percentage up. That's the one I'm disappointed in. Something I can control is the completion percentage and I do want to get that up. If we could have come out with a win, I would feel a lot better right now, but I'm not worried about stats."
While the perception is that the issue is about learning a new system, it's deeper than that. It's about a new coach and players feeling comfortable with each other. It's about a quarterback going from a high risk/high reward philosophy to one that stresses ball security. It's about figuring it all out in regular-season games, which is a different world from off-season workouts in shorts and preseason games when defenses don't disguise things. In every game, there are instances where Bulger and his receivers learn how to react to things the defense does within the confines of the new philosophy.
"I have some catching up to do. I think it's going to take repetitions and time to figure out where he wants you to go with the ball every time, just like it did with the old offense," Bulger said. "I knew it was going to be different. You can't make a conscious effort to say you're going to run the ball and then throw the ball 50 times like we used to. You can't have it both ways.
"I knew in that respect it was going to be that way. At the same time, teams are playing Cover 2 and Cover 8, and when they do that, it's tough to throw the ball way down the field. You have to take shorter routes and check downs. That's been their plan and I think as time goes on we'll get more film. His systems work. He wouldn't be a head coach if he didn't know what he was doing. In Minnesota he proved that and I think he proved that in Miami. When he knows his personnel better and we all get more familiar with him, that will come because he's proven himself."
55th regular-season meeting. Rams lead, 29-23-2. The teams have split the season series the last two years, with each team winning on the road in 2005.
Strategy and personnel ·
Because of injury issues on the line, the Rams conducted tryouts this week for guard David Loverne and center-guard Ross Tucker.
PLAYER PERSONNEL NOTES
--LT Orlando Pace did not practice Wednesday and (my addition: was evaluated again Thursday and listed as questionable). The only way he will play is if he is cleared Thursday to do some work in practice the following day.
--LB Pisa Tinoisamoa practiced with a red jersey Wednesday so contact would be avoided on his dislocated left elbow. Tinoisamoa wore a brace on his arm, and told reporters there's no way he will miss this week's game.
The Rams would like to take advantage of matchup advantages they have against Arizona's secondary, but to do that they will have to handle the Cardinals' pass rush and blitzes. Communication will be vital within the offense, but there have been breakdowns at times in the first two games of the season.
Defensively, the Rams will look to limit RB Edgerrin James on first down and get pressure on QB Kurt Warner, who has fumbled seven times in two games and was sacked five times last week against Seattle.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH
Rams LT Todd Steussie, who has been known to struggle with speed rushers, vs. Cardinals DRE Bertrand Berry, who has emerged as one of the league's best pass rushers.
--Rams WRs Torry Holt and Isaac Bruce, who believe they are on the verge of breaking out in the passing game, vs. Cardinals CBs David Macklin and Antrel Rolle. Macklin lost his starting job to Eric Green, but he has a groin injury and is questionable.
--Rams blitz pickup, which is suspect at times, vs. Cardinals S Adrian Wilson, who had a field day in Arizona's victory over the Rams last season in St. Louis. Someone will have to figure out a way to block Wilson.
The offensive line has taken several hits early in the season after a summer of virtually injury-free football. The loss of C Andy McCollum for the season resulted in two position changes, and now there is the possibility that LT Orlando Pace won't play this week. If Pace doesn't play, a line that featured Pace at left tackle, Richie Incognito at left guard and McCollum at center will now have Todd Steussie at left tackle, Adam Goldberg at left guard and Incognito at center.
Notes, quotes ·
--They got along as good as possible in QB Kurt Warner's final days in St. Louis, when he served as a backup to current Rams starter Marc Bulger.
And even Bulger figured he wouldn't have much contact with Warner after he left for the Giants in 2004 and then moved to Arizona last year. But that hasn't been the case. As Bulger revealed Wednesday, after being asked about his relationship with Warner, "I talked to him last week prior to the last game. We speak every three or four weeks, or so. I asked how things are going there and I think he's having a good time. Ever since he left here he stayed in contact. I thought after the first month or two, he might go distant. In New York as well as Arizona, he is always calling and I get to see him throughout the country at different events, too."
--The Rams aren't built to be a stout team against the run, defending instead with speed and tackling ability. If a team wants to grind it out on the Rams with running, they could have trouble stopping it.
But coach Scott Linehan still likes the makeup of the defense, and the job being done by the guys inside.
"The first game, I thought our interior guys really played well," Linehan said. "Jimmy (Kennedy) had an injury that he was able to play with but affected him some in the first game and this week. He played pretty well considering he was having to make an adjustment not being able to play with his hands, and I think he'll be that much better this week. La'Roi (Glover) is doing a nice job in there. I think we've got a really good backup in Jason Fisk.
"La'Roi and Jason aren't the 300-pound size as Jimmy, so we've got to do some things in there to help cover up for their lack of beef by putting more people in the box when we know people are going to run. It's still a team game. We've got to do a good job for them in that area but we certainly have some guys that play hard and penetrate and play in the other team's backfield."
--Coach Scott Linehan is pleased with the progress of second-year right tackle Alex Barron.
"I think he's playing pretty good," Linehan said. "I think he's doing the things you want to improve on from your first year to your second. His run blocking is better. I think he's a very good pass protector. When we have both him and Orlando (Pace) healthy I think that's going to be very positive for us. He's progressing very well. He's made a lot of improvement from his rookie year."
Barron was a left tackle in college, so Linehan was asked if any consideration was being given to move him to left tackle if Pace is unable to play this week because of a concussion.
Not a chance, Linehan said. He added, "That's because he's been on the right side here. We've had to move enough and we want to try to keep things as stable as we can with (Todd) Steussie at left (tackle). Adam (Goldberg) has played a lot of guard. He started quite a few games at Minnesota last year at guard. That would be our contingency plan right now."
With the possibility that Pace won't be able to play Sunday against Arizona, the Rams expect the Cardinals to throw everything but the kitchen sink at the offensive line.
"I'm sure they will," Linehan said. "I'm sure that we'll get a little bit of all those things and something new that we haven't seen. We have to prepare, like we do each week, for all the twists that we could get. I think they're certainly going to test us there."
Asked if the game plan is scaled back because of the changes, he said, "We put together a game plan and we'll work situations as the week goes on. I think you have to be aware of things that make more sense for the guys at this point. Try to avoid experimenting or doing anything new; try to work things that there is a certain level of comfort with the guys up front, so they can go out and play fast on Sunday."
BY THE NUMBERS
1 - Number of times in his career before this season that QB Marc Bulger had two consecutive games without an interception. Bulger hasn't had an interception in the first two games of the season.
QUOTE TO NOTE
"I would say, outside of that play, I was pretty consistent. It's hard to really focus on the rest of your game when you gave up a big play like that that really costs your team. You've really got to look down deep and continue to work. That definitely affects your grade in the game." - FS Oshiomogho Atogwe on his play against San Francisco, when he failed to get over in time on a play that ended up being a 72-yard touchdown pass.
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