By Jim Thomas
ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
Tampa Bay loaded the box with eight defenders to stop the run. Rams wide receiver Drew Bennett, at 6 feet 5, was matched up in one-on-one "press" coverage with Tampa Bay cornerback Phillip Buchanon, who is 5-11.
On first and goal from the Tampa 10, it looked to be the perfect opportunity to run a fade pattern to the back of the end zone. Quarterback Marc Bulger thought so, too, checking out of a running play into a pass.
Trouble was, Bennett ran to the back of the end zone, but Bulger threw it only 5 yards deep. Buchanon was beaten on the play, but because the pass was thrown well short of Bennett, Buchanon was able to recover and come away with the ball. The interception, with 5 minutes 42 seconds left in the third quarter, snuffed out one of the day's best scoring chances for the Rams, who trailed 10-0 at the time.
"Obviously, we weren't on the same page," Bulger said. "I thought it was going to be a jump ball (where Bennett turns and comes back for the ball). He thought it was a fade (to the back of the end zone)."
If so, it was news to coach Scott Linehan.
"If that's the case, we're not doing a good enough job of coaching it, because it was a fade," Linehan said. "I'm sure Marc would tell you that if he had to do it all over again he'd throw it higher. But again, that's water under the bridge and we've got to work more at it."
For his part, Bennett said he needed to play pass defense once it became apparent that the ball was underthrown.
"I've got to protect the throw a little better," Bennett said. "I can't let the guy intercept it in the end zone. That's a big turnover."
UPON FURTHER REVIEW
So what's with all those short tosses to Rams wide receivers down the line of scrimmage this season — plays that have gained very little yardage?
They're called "smokes" or "smokescreens" — and it's a form of audible to check out of a called running play against stacked boxes.
"I think a few are good because we're looking for 4 yards, just like we are on a run," Rams coach Scott Linehan said. "It's not designed to be an explosive play necessarily. You can't live with them 100 percent, so we've got to find more ways to take advantage of maybe a bad look against the run."
— LG Mark Setterstrom (knee) is out for the season.
— RB Steven Jackson (groin) is out for at least a week.
— QB Marc Bulger has two broken ribs but will play Sunday.
— RG Richie Incognito (ankle) is questionable for Dallas.
— CB Tye Hill (back, ribs) is expected to be out another two to four weeks.
— LB Pisa Tinoisamoa (ankle) is probable for Dallas.
— WR Isaac Bruce (blow to head) should be fine for Dallas.
— S Jerome Carter (thigh) is day to day.
In 21 red-zone plays this season, the Rams' offense has gained 30 yards.
"This is Week 3. We've got 13 more weeks. It'll be an even longer season if we decide to pack it in right now. But the character of the guys we have on this team, that's not going to happen."
— FS Oshiomogho Atogwe
In their first three games, the Rams have faced the NFL's No. 12 (Carolina), No. 23 (Tampa Bay), and No. 31 (San Francisco) offenses. They step up in class Sunday at Texas Stadium, against an unbeaten Dallas team that leads the NFC, and is second to New England, in the NFL in total offense.