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Offensive line fails to protect Bulger
By Bill Coats
ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
It wasn't so long ago that Milford Brown was looking for work, Claude Terrell was on coach Scott Linehan's bad list for missing a meeting, and Alex Barron was one of the NFL's emerging right tackles.
On Sunday when the Rams fell to the visiting San Francisco ***** 17-16, Brown and Terrell were manning the right side of the line, at tackle and guard respectively, and Barron was at left tackle, a position he'd played for part of just one game previously as a pro.
Two games into the season, injuries have reduced the offensive line to a patchwork unit. Only center Brett Romberg and left guard Mark Setterstrom were in their normal spots.
"It'll take a little time to get used to it," Barron said, "and it isn't like we have all the time in the world. It needs to happen fast."
If it doesn't, quarterback Marc Bulger might need to increase his life insurance policy. Left tackle Orlando Pace (shoulder) is done for the season, his backup, Todd Steussie (foot) is out indefinitely, and right guard Richie Incognito (ankle) is struggling to get healthy.
The ***** cooked up some different looks, blitzed repeatedly and sacked Bulger six times. Bulger, who was nursing sore ribs and a tender knee afterward, was hit hard at least a dozen other times.
Linehan charged onto the field at one point to protest when Bulger was leveled by linebacker Derek Smith after releasing the ball. "I'm not really going to comment on whether or not something should've been called," Linehan said. "He was getting hit a lot, and I wasn't very happy about."
Since Bulger became the team's primary quarterback in 2002, he's only been sacked more often twice — seven times, by Carolina last year and by Frisco in '05.
"There was a lot of pressure (Sunday), but I can't really tell until we see the film what the issues were," he said. "I probably held on to the ball too long in certain circumstances. We definitely have some corrections to make."
That Bulger threw for 368 yards and a touchdown, without an interception, was startling. "He definitely showed us he was tough, because he took a lot of shots," 'Niners cornerback Nate Clements said.
Hurried often, Bulger still managed to find Isaac Bruce eight times for 145 yards. Fellow wide receiver Torry Holt had five catches for 74 yards.
The line wasn't solely culpable for failing to keep off the pressure; some of the missed assignments occurred in the backfield.
"They brought some exotic blitzes," Setterstrom said. "But we have a system and we have to know how to pick it up."
Brown, a guard signed as a free agent in July, had played tackle just once previously in six NFL seasons. "I felt pretty comfortable, but I guess I didn't do good enough; we lost. That's the way I feel about it," he said. "They were bringing more than we could actually block at times. They disguised it pretty good."
Romberg said the ***** often succeeded in flummoxing the Rams. "We had a little bit of trouble identifying things," he said. "I'm sure part of their package was confusion. ... Going into the game, we had a couple of people we were supposed to be looking at, and they kind of changed their scheme up a little bit."
Still, as Setterstrom declared firmly: "As much as people want to make a deal out of (the shuffled line), it's no excuse. Our job is to keep Marc upright and doing his thing. Any time you see him on the ground, you hate it. You've got to take it personally and make sure that doesn't happen again."
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