Thursday, September 28, 2006

By Nick Wagoner
Senior Writer

WR Torry Holt says the Rams' offense is close to getting over the top.

After having its most complete offensive performance of the young Scott Linehan era against Arizona last week, the Rams believe they are getting closer and closer to being the type of offensive force that Linehan has built in all of his NFL stops.

“I was talking to Kevin (Curtis) and Shaun (McDonald) and Dane (Looker) and we were saying we are that close to putting up 28 or 30 points,” receiver Torry Holt said. “I mean, we are THAT close as an offense. Will we get there next week? I don’t know. That would be great, but if we keep improving and keep making it a point of emphasis I think we will eventually get over the top. We are close and we are sticking together, not pointing any fingers, and recognizing the problems and attacking the problems.”

The Rams posted 364 yards of offense against the Cardinals and quarterback Marc Bulger seemed to find his rhythm by throwing for 309 yards and a touchdown. Bulger was quick on the release and accurate with his throws, signs that he is more comfortable in Linehan’s offense.

Helping the offense find a rhythm was a few adjustments made by Linehan and the coaching staff. Instead of changing the plays or the playbooks, Linehan decided early last week to change some of the verbiage for the play calls to the way it was before he arrived.

Seemingly, that helped the Rams feel more comfortable and take advantage through the air.

“We’ll do that, and I think continuing to call things we’re doing more and more will add to the familiarity,” Linehan said. “It’s like anything else, the more you practice something, the better you get, and the more comfortable you get. Really that’s going to be the key to us is sticking with things, and not overreacting to maybe our lack of execution in an area and just knowing a lot of it is we’ve just got to get it down better. There’s going to be a lot of both when it comes to getting us in sync and those kinds of things.”

As Linehan points out, the Rams have been going through the process of learning the coach’s system, but he also is still feeling out his players and learning what they like. Take Holt’s double move for a touchdown against Arizona as an example.

That’s a play that has resulted in six points on numerous occasions in Holt’s time in St. Louis and Linehan has showed a willingness to listen to input from his players on the types of plays they like.

“I think the familiarity helped a little bit,” Bulger said. “I think with each week the reps and getting more familiar with it is helping. I think we’ll see an improvement every week. Obviously, we’ve got to score some more touchdowns, but I think there has been improvement. We hadn’t had a dip in the improvement yet, which is nice.”

Patience has been preached the whole way and now it seems to be paying off.

In the opener against Denver, the Rams posted 320 yards and followed that with 265 yards against San Francisco. The 364 from last week was the team’s high, but it was also the most balanced.

Running back Steven Jackson has been a big part of the offensive plans since Linehan’s arrival. After a pair of games in which he ran for over 100 yards to open the season, Jackson’s numbers dipped against the Cardinals, but only in the rushing department.

Jackson finished that game with 62 yards on 24 carries, but he added another 59 yards on three catches. The establishment of Jackson as a key cog in the offense is opening things up for the passing game. As Bulger says, a strong running game is a quarterback’s best friend.

“We got our running game going the first two games and I think that maybe created that a little bit, getting them to play some man coverage on the outside,” Bulger said. “Hopefully, if our running game keeps progressing and we keep getting 100-yard rushers, then they’re going to have to single up outside, and that’s what we’re trying to force teams to do. If we can’t run the ball when they are in Cover 2, it’s going to be awfully tough to throw, so I think it was a direct result of being able to run the ball in the first two games.”

This week, Detroit presents just that challenge. The Lions have been susceptible to the pass, allowing 269 yards a game in the air, 29th in the league. On the flip side, they have been stout against the run, ranking sixth in the league by allowing just 80 yards per contest.

Coached by Rod Marinelli, who is spending his first year in Detroit after coaching the defensive line in Tampa for 10 years, the Lions employ the main elements of the Tampa 2 defense. That system emphasizes defensive backs covering a certain area, leaving small windows to throw in.

In other words, it’s important for Jackson to get going again to open things up for Bulger and the aerial attack.

Linehan spent three seasons with the Vikings, where they played Detroit twice a year. Although it’s a new coaching staff, he has a pretty good idea of what to expect from the Lions defense.

“I can’t remember a game where we didn’t feel like we were in a big-time physical game when I was in Minnesota against a Detroit team,” Linehan said. “That’s been their staple defensively. They’re playing really well against the run. I think they’ve had a few injuries and things that have caused their secondary to be moving people around. I think they’ve been working on improving, which I’ve seen the improvement over the last three weeks. They’re one of those kinds of defenses that you’re going to have to earn it to beat them.”