BY BILL COATS Thursday, September 2, 2010 5:00 am

An avid hunter, Rams kicker Josh Brown knows the sinking feeling of an off-target shot. And Brown had too many wayward boots for his liking last season.

Brown, signed as a free agent in 2008, had increased his field-goal accuracy for three consecutive seasons — 80.6 percent in 2006, 82.4 in '07 and 86.1 in '08 — before dipping in '09.

He missed five times in 24 tries, a 79.2 percent success rate. It was his worst showing since going 18 for 25 in 2005 for Seattle.

"Those numbers are not the numbers I want to have or to reflect how much I care about what I'm doing," he said. "Took a lot of inventory this year in what we were doing and how we were approaching the game, and it's been paying off."

Brown, who teams with long-snapper Chris Massey and holder Donnie Jones, has been perfect in the preseason: seven for seven on field goals, including a game-winning 37-yarder last week at New England, and four for four on extra points heading into tonight's game against Baltimore.

"Great preseason; definitely the kind of momentum and confidence you want to carry into Week 1" of the regular season, Brown said.

Oddly enough, a hip injury that kept Brown out of the preseason opener and on the sideline for several more days might have played in role in his flawless performance so far.

"It's been the best Catch-22 ever," said Brown, 31. "You never want to miss practice time, but at the same time, I was able to get a lot of rest. And when you don't have somebody helping you taking some reps off of you, as far as having another kicker in, you do carry a larger workload from a kicker's standpoint.

"It's not going to be the workload of a defensive back or a wide receiver. But for what you're specifically hired to do, it's a lot. To get a week, week and a half off of just pure rest may be the difference between an 80 percent year and a 90 percent year."

As the preseason wraps up, Brown likes the rhythm he's been able to develop with Massey and Jones.

"We've been here three years together, and we know each other inside and out," he said. "That's the most important thing, to make sure that we're all firing on all the cylinders we've got, that the timing's good, the stroke has to be good, it has to be rhythmic."

ARCH RIVALRY TALK

With Missouri and Illinois headed for a matchup Saturday at the Edward Jones Dome, former Mizzou wide receiver Danario Alexander and ex-Illini tight end Michael Hoomanawanui have been sharing some trash talk.

Actually, Alexander has been doing most of the yapping.

Noting the Tigers' 5-0 record in the Arch Rivalry, Alexander said, "I don't plan on them losing this year, either. Of course Mizzou is going to win. I predict by 21 points."

Despite Illinois' lack of success here, Hoomanawanui enjoyed the series with MU.

"Playing your first game every season in the dome, seeing the black and gold and orange and blue split right down the middle, it's an atmosphere that you go for as a college football player," he said. "It was definitely great, and it gave us an opportunity to see where we stood against a good opponent right off the bat."

Alexander tried to cajole Hoomanawanui into a bet, even offering to give some points. No dice.

"Those darn Tigers seem to get us every year," Hoomanawanui said. "But ... I'm pulling for (the Illini), and hopefully they can come out with a victory this time."

RAM-BLINGS

Coach Steve Spagnuolo said he plans to keep his starters on the field for about 15 plays tonight. ... Hoomanawanui is the Rams' leading receiver in the preseason, with eight receptions for 112 yards and two touchdowns.