By Bryan Burwell
Sunday, Sep. 17 2006

SAN FRANCISCO Even from a distance, as it sits out there on the fog-shrouded
edges of the San Francisco Bay, the ballpark formerly known as Candlestick
always seems to have a rather gloomy feel to it. The symbolism of the darker
side of the Rams-***** rivalry seems to belong inside the walls of this eerie
place; the shrieks and blood-curdling howls of despondent Rams fans still
linger in the shadows of (what else?) Monster Park, as they recall upsets and
bad dreams.

So now it's up to Scott Linehan to see what luck he can bring to Monster Park
and the latest chapter in this great rivalry. He's new to a primary role in the
show but quite familiar with the drama, growing up a closet ***** fan as a kid
in Seattle. Yet if he does have any magic touch, Linehan isn't particularly all
fired up about using it for the good of casting out Monster Park's bad karma.

There are much bigger things on his mind. If he's going to use that
enchantment, it will be for the greater good of trying to convince everybody
that his new-look offense eventually will stop sputtering. Linehan wants to
show folks how if the 1-0 Rams really are going to be the surprise of the NFC
West, it won't be solely because of Jim Haslett's new and improved defense.

Head coaches have egos, too. Head coaches who've earned their reputations as
offensive gurus need some love, too. A week ago, Linehan publicly played the
role perfectly as the gratified rookie coach earning his first NFL victory. He
said all the right things. He was delighted that it was a "team victory." He
couldn't stop bubbling on and on about how well Haslett's schemes contributed
to the season-opening upset of Denver, and how much fun it was to see this
shocking new formula for victory in St. Louis.

"We did something no one in their wildest dreams could have imagined," Linehan
said late last week.

But here's a glimpse inside the private, ultracompetitive Linehan. This is a
revealing glance that tells you just how much his gut is burning and his pride
is aching to show everybody that his revamped offense will soon stop being a
bit player in this Rams Revival.

When I congratulated Linehan on his first win, I casually mentioned that it was
going to take a little time to get used to "all this defensive (stuff)."

"Thanks," said Linehan, who smiled, shook my hand earnestly, then began
walking away.

"Hey," he said, looking back over his shoulder. "There's going to be some
offensive (stuff) real soon, too."

A few days later on the practice field, Linehan laughed when reminded of the
remark. "We won a football game with great defense, forcing five turnovers out
of a very good football team that is a legitimate Super Bowl contender, and we
got outstanding special teams play," Linehan said. "The offense did not operate
as well as I expected. We had our (inefficient) moments in the red zone. But we
did at least protect the ball. ... We didn't have a single turnover."

But Linehan knows the Rams can not live on defense and special teams alone.
Sooner or later, this offense has to put the ball in the end zone.

"Is what we did offensively acceptable?" Linehan asked. "No, not at all. But
we're going to get it together. We have to become more execution oriented, and
I need to be more patient with the run down there in the red zone."

Linehan probably needed a game like this to see that the smartest thing to do
with a tailback like Steven Jackson is to keep handing him the ball. If the
offensive line blocks for him, Jackson rarely loses yards. On three carries
inside the red zone, Jackson averaged 4.3 yards a carry. On the six other
red-zone plays, six pass plays resulted in five incompletions and one penalty.

Part of that ineffectiveness with the pass was quarterback Marc Bulger's
willingness to avoid mistakes in the red zone. He probably threw several passes
away because of tight coverage, which is what Linehan has been pumping in his
head all winter, spring and summer. "Marc's been more than great," Linehan
said. "He's proven to me in no uncertain terms how much he's bought in to what
I'm selling. He has executed the offense exactly like I want him to. To tell
you the truth, I had to tell him that he's been almost too obedient. I told
him, 'OK, you proved that you know how to run it. Now I give you permission to
take some chances. Go ahead and roll the dice a few times. I don't mind you
taking chances. I don't mind you trying to fit it in there like you used to.' "

A little of the old (attitude) with a lot of the new. If the offense can figure
out how to make that perfect blend, perhaps we're in store for a little
coming-out party in this creepy old place.