Thursday, September 22, 2005

By Nick Wagoner
Senior Writer

During the heyday of the Greatest Show on Turf, the formula was simple. Take the Rams’ total yards gained, add in the points the team scored and the results were wins, lots of wins.

But the first two weeks of this season have exploited a glitch in the old Rams’ formula. Against San Francisco in week one, St. Louis put up plenty of yards (405) and a decent amount of points (25), but left with a loss. Last week against Arizona, the Rams posted just 297 yards with 17 points and found a way to win.

Of course, the circumstances for each game were far different. For instance, St. Louis had all kinds of trouble converting red zone opportunities into touchdowns against the *****, which kept its point and win total down in that game. Against Arizona, the Rams struggled to sustain success after a dominant opening drive.

“If the stats are there great, if not and we’re winning then that’s great too,” quarterback Marc Bulger said. “I feel like I know what I’m doing; it’s just a matter of how the game progresses on how much we are going to throw the ball for what the stats will be. I’m not worried, but I’m not extremely happy. There’s room for improvement, but we’re not too far off.”

Fortunately for the Rams, the defense has been good enough to keep the offense in a position to win games at the end. St. Louis allowed just 217 yards to the *****, allowing the Rams a shot to win at the end. Against the Cardinals, the Rams actually put the game in the hands of their defense and came out on top when that group came through with a stand in the last minute.

“These games are different,” Bulger said. “You get behind, you throw the ball a lot and last week with the heat we seemed out of sync. We’ll get there. We have got to help the defense out. Fortunately they have been bailing us out a little bit.”

There is no doubting the offensive talent the Rams have. Bulger ascended to near the top tier of quarterbacks in the league last year. Steven Jackson is one of the most exciting young running backs in the league and the emergence of Kevin Curtis and Shaun McDonald gives the Rams a pair of sidekicks for star wideouts Torry Holt and Isaac Bruce.
Combine those skill position players with a veteran offensive line and the offensive outburst many are expecting should be coming soon, shouldn’t it?

“I believe it’s right around the corner,” Bruce said. “We’ve been moving the ball pretty easy. We’ve been in the red zone a lot. We just haven’t capitalized with touchdowns.”

With a home opener against a young and injured Tennessee defense on the slate this week, the chance for that outburst would seem to be there. Then again, you never know if or when it will happen.

“I think it could happen at any given time,” Holt said. “It could happen this weekend, the weekend after. It’s just a matter of us going out and executing. The last couple of weeks we have had some big plays that were close, but a breakdown in execution somewhere kind of held us back. I think we’re on the verge of busting out and having that big, big day and putting up those big numbers like we have done in the past.”

It isn’t too often that an offense ranked eighth in the league would be upset with its output, but things are different when you play for the team that not so long ago set the standard for all that an offense could be.

The Rams face the expectations created by their three-year run of 1999-2001 on a daily basis. If they don’t score 500 points or average 500 yards then maybe they aren’t too good. Those are expectations that nobody could live up to.

Because the NFL is an ever-changing league with ever-changing personnel and coaching schemes the Rams have been forced to change along with it. San Francisco allowed a lot of yards to St. Louis, but did it in a way that limited the Rams’ ability to throw over the top for big plays.

There aren’t many offenses left in the NFL that can simply dominate every week no matter who is on the other side of the ball.

Coach Mike Martz said he believes the offense hasn’t taken off yet for a number of reasons.

“Some of it is what I’m doing in terms of play selection,” Martz said. “I think at the end of the game last week, we got very conservative just trying to use up the clock. [We] felt good about our [special] teams and our defense, and didn’t want to risk. [We] probably got too conservative. That stuff, we’re just playing to win right now. That stuff all happens.”

One problem that has kept the Rams from getting the kind of offensive continuity of days gone by is the inability to stabilize the offensive line, particularly right tackle. Rex Tucker, who started the season at the position, is out with a calf injury, causing Blaine Saipaia to move back to right tackle. Saipaia spent a good portion of the preseason moving all over the line.

Martz said getting the offense where it needs to be is a difficult balance to reach.

“When you just open up and go after people in the passing game things look a lot different, like we did up in Detroit,” Martz said. “We wanted to get Steven the ball, and we’re trying to make a real effort to get him the ball and win this game. We think by getting him the ball it’s going to help us win the game. The down side to that is when you’re throwing the ball a lot you have better chance of scoring more points, but it’s a lot more risk involved too. That’s where we are.”

Obviously the offense hasn’t been too terrible or the Rams wouldn’t have any wins. There have certainly been glimpses of what this offense is capable of. Take all of the time the first-team offense was in in that game against Detroit or the fourth quarter against the ***** or the first possession against Arizona.

St. Louis made offense look easy in all of those situations, leaving everyone with the desire for that type of offensive firepower to flex its muscle on a more consistent basis.

“Offensively we haven’t reached our potential yet and we have to come back and be committed this week and break out of our cycle,” tight end Roland Williams said. “We have high standards, we want to put up big numbers, we want a lot of points and our last two games we haven’t done that yet. We are still working hard and you haven’t seen the last out of this offense yet.”