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Offense Looking for Red Zone Rhythm
Monday, September 11, 2006
By Nick Wagoner
Given a day and a film session to review his team’s continued inability to put the ball in the end zone, Rams coach Scott Linehan likened the offense’s touchdown struggles to a slumping baseball player.
“I liken it to last week, watching the Yankees play, I think A-Rod (shortstop Alex Rodriguez) hadn’t had a hit in 22 or 23 at bats,” Linehan said. “Then he got two hits in a row and they stopped talking about the hitless streak. I think we have just got to go in there and get it done and start a new streak and that is scoring down there.”
Apparently, breaking that scoreless streak is easier said than done, though. Taking into account the preseason, the Rams’ first-team offense has now failed to score a touchdown on 23 possessions including the preseason.
While the group hasn’t exactly sputtered in its overall performance, there has certainly been a glaring lack of touchdowns. The Rams posted 320 yards of offense against Denver, a respectable total considering the short field they often worked with.
Running back Steven Jackson had 121 yards on 22 carries and quarterback Marc Bulger threw for 217 yards. So, it’s clear the Rams can move the ball, but a lingering issue remains the team’s inability to score when it gets in the red zone. That is, inside the opponent’s 20-yard line. St. Louis finished 19th in 2005 in the red zone with 24 touchdowns in 51 attempts.
The Rams ventured inside Denver’s 20 on five occasions Sunday (the last of the five to take a knee to run the clock out) and came away empty each time.
After moving the ball well on the first possession, driving 69 yards to Denver’s 7, the Rams settled for Jeff Wilkins’ 26-yard field goal. The defense got the ball right back, though, as linebacker Pisa Tinoisamoa recovered a fumble on Denver’s 3 to give the Rams a prime opportunity for a touchdown.
Jackson gained a yard on first down, setting up a play action pass call on second down. But a protection breakdown let the Broncos come at Bulger free up the middle. Bulger spun away and threw the ball away, but there was no receiver in the vicinity and Bulger was still in the pocket. He was flagged for grounding.
Two plays and another penalty later and Wilkins missed from 44 yards away. Linehan said coming away with no points on that opportunity might have put a bit of a mental block on the offense.
“That right there was more so than the drive before, the one that got us a little bit out of whack and got us a bit tight and tentative after that that we were snakebit or whatever,” Linehan said. “The natural tendency was to start pressing a little bit.”
Whether it was pressing or poor execution, the offense failed to get the job done after that point despite a few good opportunities. It didn’t help that the Broncos employed one of the league’s best linebacker corps and a pair of talented cornerbacks, but either way, the Rams know they must improve when they get deep in opposing territory.
“I think there were plays to be made out there, that’s the frustrating part about it,” offensive coordinator Greg Olson said. “I think throughout the week we try to prepare for as many different looks as we will see in the game. I don’t think there was anything different that we didn’t expect or that we didn’t anticipate. I just think it was a combination of we had some mental errors on a couple of plays and we had physical errors where we just got beat or we didn’t make a throw. It was a combination of the two.”
Olson and Linehan insist Bulger is comfortable in the new offense, but Bulger says he will need some time before he is completely at ease in the new offense. It will take some getting used to for Bulger to go from the pass-happy gunslinger mentality of the past to a player asked not to take so many risks when the ball is near the end zone.
Bulger missed on some throws in the red zone Sunday, but that is all a part of a new philosophy of taking care of the ball and taking the three points instead of coming away empty handed.
“I almost feel like I’m playing in a different division,” Bulger said. “Growing up, I always watched Steelers games and this game reminded me of that – field position, taking care of the ball and punting. I’m used to winging it.
“There’s a different way we’re going to approach the offense. It’s going to be careful, safe, err on the side of caution and hopefully it will work.”
It did work against the Broncos as the Rams had zero turnovers and created five takeaways for a plus-five turnover ratio. Few teams, if any have ever lost with that kind of turnover advantage.
The Rams have had just three turnover-free games in the past four seasons, making Sunday’s performance more impressive than it might have seemed at first glance. Although the coaching staff and players are happy with the victory, they still know that there needs to be improvement made offensively.
“The blame for the offense not being as good as it needs to be falls on my shoulders,” Linehan said. “Everybody has to be accountable at their individual positions to improve every day. That’s all I ask of our team. I promise I will work very hard to improve every day and get better at some of the things we are deficient at. The way I look at it, is we just won a big ball game. There are no style points in wins. You either win or you lose and the Rams won yesterday.”
And though there are still questions about the offense that need answering, Linehan wants it to be clear that nobody wants to find the end zone more than he does.
“As a competitor it weighs on you,” Linehan said. “Willie Mays said it one time about being in a slump. They said ‘What do you do to get out of a slump? He said ‘Keep swinging.’ We are going to keep calling plays and try to get it in the end zone.”
Re: Offense Looking for Red Zone Rhythm
I don't agree with the reference to a slump. I do agree with the attention to not turning the ball over. Bottom line in the RED ZONE is the play calling. Rams have the talent to run the ball in tight quarters. If the 2nd trip in the RED ZONE resulted into a TD the whole complexion of the game changes.
Hey we won that's all that matters. Just think we need bury the opposition with our running game so close to the End Zone.