Linehan, coaches won't use injuries for an excuse
By Jeff Gordon
ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
Rams coach Scott Linehan put on his brave face Monday after telling the world that Steven Jackson is hurt.
Jackson will miss at least one game – and possibly additional time – with a partial groin muscle tear.
“We’ve been hit by the injury bug,” Linehan said. “But you can’t go there . . . look at it like we’ve got an insurmountable, on paper, challenge for us this week. We’re sitting here with no wins in three games and we’re playing probably the hottest team in defensive the NFC, maybe all of football right now.
“If we keep our minds right, it’ll be the greatest win we’ve had since we’ve been here. It will be exciting to watch Brian Leonard and Travis Minor play. That’s the only way you can be.
“You’re not going to stand here and create excuses for your football team. We’re going to suit up and we’re going to play ball against Dallas.”
Linehan also reported that Mark Setterstrom will miss the rest of the season, as feared, with a serious knee injury. And he admitted that Bulger has been playing with two broken ribs in addition to badly bruised knees.
Here are some other highlights of the coaching news conference:
On the condition of quarterback Marc Bulger: “He almost didn’t make it out of the last game . . . he’s limited. He was limited going into the game. He has a couple of broken ribs, but he played with it. We’re not going to say that’s the reason why he didn’t have the best game of his career. That was not an easy task. He should be much better this week. He’ll feel much better in practice which will enable him to have a better week of practice.”
On why he didn’t use back-up Gus Frerotte: “If (Bulger) is too hurt to play, he’s not going to play the game. We have 100 percent confidence in Gus, but Marc played with it last year. He had a similar injury and was able to perform. My feeling was, if he was able to practice pretty much Wednesday and Thursday without taking too many plays off, there was no question we were going to go there.”
On the loss of Setterstrom: “We’ll be looking at some replacement possibilities in the next 24 to 48 hours.”
On the fill-in guards Milford Brown and Claude Terrell: “They’ve got the size for the position. It helps us match up against the interior people we were playing in that game. It’s better in the run. You saw some of that from our success when we ran the ball this game, versus the first two. It should enable us to continue to do that.”
On using Andy McCollum to fill in: “It’s an option. Obviously he’s been a great center for years and center is his position. Because of his experience, his ability and what he knows, he’s definitely an option.”
On the status of Richie Incognito: “He is making strides. I don’t know what that means until we see him practice. He has been running and working on it. Very hard to get back on the field. He still has some pain in there on certain movements. I would say he’s still questionable at this point.”
On replacing Leonard at fullback: “Between Richard Owens and Dominique Byrd and Joe Klopfenstein, there has to be somebody. We’ll put somebody in there.”
On using new running back Antonio Pittman: “He’s much further ahead than when he came here and has been working at learning the system and the offense. He’ll be available for this game for sure.”
On making better use of Drew Bennett: “We’ve got to get him on the practice field, No. 1. That will help get the timing down. He hasn’t been able to practice full speed yet. That will help, he will be much improved. Our bottom line is we just have to execute better, protect the football and we’ll score more points if we do that.”
On all those lateral passes to the receivers: “Some of them have to do with the team playing a pretty loaded box against Steven. Some of runs we have aren’t very good if they bring a safety a certain way. We can’t throw too many of them. A few are good. We are looking for four yards, just like we are on a run. It’s not designed to be an explosive play necessarily. You can’t live with them 100 percent.”
On offensive coordinator Greg Olson’s play calling: “I think Greg called a great game. I know the score doesn’t indicate it, but our whole idea is, one week we’re slinging it around and we have more explosive plays throwing the ball since I’ve been here – we had 10 plays of 16 yards or more – and our quarterback got banged around pretty good.
“So we knew we have to have that balance between run and pass. We wanted to run it more against a team we felt we could run it against. Get the ball more to Steven. We were in control of the game for the entire first half. Said it last week, said it the week before. I felt the same way. What we’ve done is we’ve squandered the opportunity to make the work for us and pay for us with a win.
“When you do that, and you play it close to the vest, you’re running the ball and you’re doing that, the margin for error is very small. You cannot turn the football over.
“I stand by Greg. Greg has done absolutely everything I’ve asked him to do and more since he’s been here. It’s a tough challenge for him. I’ve got to help him more.
“Two games in a row we’ve had game plans that were designed to exploit what we thought we could exploit and I felt if we took care of the football, it would have been the right plan. Obviously we’re not scoring enough points so we’re going to have to do something different.”
On the aggression of his offense: “On each drive we actually took an attempt at a field goal, we took a shot at the end zone. One week, you threw it too much, give Steven the ball. The next week, you ran it too much, you’ve got to throw these guys the ball.
“We’ve got to score. We’re not going to win the game if we don’t score. If we don’t stay aggressive and be focused on that, why play the game? We’ve got to push the ball down the field when we can. Can’t force it down the field.”
On scaling back the game plan to protect the battered Bulger: “We did not want him to take some of those shots he did. We felt like going into this game against Tampa Bay that we could control the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball. By playing it a little closer to the vest this week, we’d control it. We may not be able to open it up as much as we have previously. But we felt yesterday that was our best chance to win that football game.
“We felt like we would be able to run the ball. We’d keep Marc clean. We’ll keep him healthy in that game and limit the shots he was taken. Your margin for error is small when you play that way.
“Unfortunately, we had some turnovers and we did not score in the red zone again. That kind has been our nemesis all weekend. It has to be corrected and it will be corrected.
“I still believe that it all starts up front with the protection of the quarterback. We have to find better ways to protect him and still take the shots down the field without worrying about him getting hit. The previous week we have 10 explosive passes; we had two yesterday, and two runs.
“Our recipe for success around here is to not turn the ball over and create explosive plays. Well, we turned the ball over and we had just four explosive plays yesterday. So we’ve got to find a way to generate explosive plays and still hang onto the football and not get our quarterback hit.”
On missing Jackson: “He’s one of our best players, if not the best player. We’ll look at other ways to get some of our other playmakers the ball. We’ll try to find other ways to do that. We’ll find a way to spread the ball around.”
On Leonard filling in: “It was a bonus for us he got a lot of work at tailback during preseason. Obviously that will help him as he gets ready this week. We think he’ll be capable of taking over that role in Steven’s absence.”
DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR JIM HASLETT
On the status of linebacker Pisa Tinoisamoa: “He’ll probably play this week. He’ll practice Wednesday and go from there.”
On his assessment of his unit’s play in Tampa Bay: “I thought we played really well for about three quarters and then with about 11 minutes to go in the fourth quarter and they start cracking a couple runs on us and we missed some tackles. There is really no excuse. We just couldn’t finish the game out. I would have loved to finish the game the way we played the first three quarters because we did a pretty good job.
“One thing we wanted to do going into the game is stop the run. We did it for three quarters. I think they had 20 at halftime, or 30. They didn't have much. Handle Joey Galloway was the No. 2 thing, We did a good job with Joey. They didn’t really threaten us much down the field. He didn’t get a lot. He got the one slant on us. And then handle the adversity – which I thought we didn’t do a good job of in the fourth quarter.”
On dealing with the lack of offensive support: “Our guys understand that we’re struggling on the side of the ball, but it will come around sooner or later. We just have to continue to do our thing and do it for four quarters. We can’t do it for three or 3 ˝ quarters like we did a couple of games. We need to play the whole game.
“If you want to be a dominating defense in this league, if you want to be a top 10 ranked and all those things . . . then at some point, you can’t worry about the other side of the ball. Take accountability for your side of the ball.
“You have to do it all the time. You can’t miss tackles in the fourth quarter and you can’t get misaligned.”
On the play of the secondary: “The (Buccaneers) dropped a couple balls yesterday, had some guys open. We didn’t match routes perfectly yesterday. For the most part, we did a pretty good job.
“You have to look at the positives. I looked at the yardage racked up in this league yesterday and there is 500, 600 yards. Look at the good stuff on defense. You’re seventh in the league in defense. I know it’s early in the season, but you can’t say that the last couple of years. So build on that. Build on the pass coverage.”
On the play of Adam Carriker: “He played OK. He can play better. Right now he’s in the thinking mode. He’s thinking before he reacts. We talked to him about just going out and playing. Don’t worry about every step you’re taking. Go make tackles, go run to the ball and do all the things you did in the preseason . . . he’ll get better and better as he plays that position. Right now he wants to analyze every block, every scheme.”
On the play of the linebackers: “I thought they played well. They made a lot of plays yesterday. They made a lot of tackles. Had a couple missed tackles. For the most part, the pass coverage was excellent. The run, the way they fit, was good. We’ve got to come up with some big plays. We have to start stripping the ball and get turnovers, We haven’t had an interception yet.”
On the challenge of facing the Cowboys: “They got it all. They can run the ball, they can throw it, they have a great quarterback, two good running backs, good tight ends, receivers – we’ll see where we’re at after this week. They have a whole slew of players. It starts with the quarterback, he’s kind of a gunslinger, a little bit like Brett Favre. He’s got a good arm, got great confidence himself . . . T.O. is T.O., one of the best that ever played . . . a huge offensive line, massive, 6-7, 6-8, 350, 360.”
On the team’s dire straits: “It’s early in the season. It’s not like the season is over. Some how, some way, we have to get a win. Things change fast in this league. It’s always been that way.”