BY JEFF GORDON
STLtoday.com Sports Columnist
09/15/2005
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Columnist Jeff Gordon
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To get back into the playoffs this winter, the Rams must fix two recurring problems this fall: Kicking-game breakdowns and red-zone inefficiency.

The Rams have gotten used to working around special teams breakdowns. “It can deflate you,” Rams receiver Torry Holt observed.

The Rams have the offensive firepower to offset such blunders if -– and only if -– they can finish off their long drives up the field. “We have enough talent on this squad where we can kind of make up for that,” Holt said. “Last week we didn’t. In the past, we have.

“Last week we didn’t.”

Last year they didn’t do it enough, either. Quarterback Marc Bulger had a passer rating of 76.0 from the 19-yard-line and in last season -– and just 56.3 from the 10 and in.

Marshall Faulk rushed for just 1.6 yards per carry in the red zone last season and 0.4 yards per carry inside the 10. Power-running Steven Jackson was supposed to upgrade that this season, but he got just one yard on three red-zone carries Sunday.

So the Rams stumbled to a 28-25 loss. They moved up and down the field, controlled the time of possession . . . and settled for field goals on four of their trips into the red zone.

Here is a quick recap of the Rams’ failure Sunday:


TRIP NO. 1

With a first down on the San Francisco 11, Jackson tried the right side for three yards. Bulger threw a quick pass to Holt for one just yard. But then right tackle Rex Tucker was flagged for a false start that pushed the Rams back to third-and-11 on the 12.

Then Bulger’s pass to Kevin Curtis fell incomplete and the Rams had to summon place-kicker Jeff Wilkins.


TRIP NO. 2

The Rams got as far as the San Francisco 17. But on first down, ***** defensive end Bryant Young beat Tucker and sacked Bulger for a six-yard loss. That was followed by an incomplete pass to Shaun McDonald, an incomplete pass to Curtis and another Wilkins field goal.


TRIP NO. 3

In the final minute of the first half, the Rams earned a first down on the San Francisco 16. Bulger hit Holt for a quick four-yard gain. But then Young sacked Bulger for a six-yard loss and a pass to McDonald got just three of them back.

So out came Wilkins to boot his third field goal of the game.


TRIP NO. 4

On their first drive of the second half, the Rams got as far as the San Francisco 11 with a first down. But then they started moving backward again -– Jackson got dumped for a three-yard loss, Bulger couldn’t connect on his pass to Holt and Julian Peterson stormed in to sack Bulger for a nine-yard loss.

That brought out Wilkins for his fourth field goal of the game. That drive took 9 minutes 40 seconds and yielded a 41-yard field goal.

After the Rams finally scored on a 29-yard touchdown pass from Bulger to Bruce, they had one more arduous drive into the red zone. This time they converted -– on fourth down, from the San Francisco 6, on a misdirection screen pass to tight end Brandon Manumaleuna.

Talk about pulling teeth . . .

“As good as we are offensively and with the talent we have, we get in the red zone and not capitalize, it’s disheartening,” Holt said. “You would think, with the talent we have, the players we have, the schemes that we have, once we get in the red zone, it’s an automatic score.

“That’s the way we think. I’m sure that’s the way the fans think. To get down there and not do anything and have Wilkie come in and kick a 3, a 3 . . . to get points is good, we need seven points. That’s how our football team wins.”


So what has been going wrong?

“Just a lack of execution,” Holt said. “A breakdown here, a breakdown there, a short route here, a short route there. All those things, that’s execution, that’s a lack of execution and maybe even a lack of focus. Coach, he stressed that, the need to get more focused on our details in the red zone.

“Coming out this week, I think guys will play close attention to our red zone play and what we need to do to get better.”

About time, isn’t it?