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Rams have enough talent to get more from offense
By Bernie Miklasz
St. Louis Post-Dispatch
We're still waiting for the "Greatest Show on Turf" to reappear. We're still waiting for that elusive break-out game. We're waiting for Marc Bulger, Torry Holt, Isaac Bruce, Steven Jackson and Marshall Faulk to give carpal tunnel syndrome to overwhelmed scoreboard operators.
"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."
The Rams malfunctioned in the red zone at San Francisco but still squeezed 25 points out of a lost afternoon. At Arizona, the offense produced two dazzling touchdown drives. But much of the time, the Rams stalled in that 17-12 victory, and that gave the Cardinals an opening to nearly steal the game.
"Last week, I don't know if it was the heat, but we just didn't seem in sync," Bulger said. "We'll get there."
The Rams offense is putting up positive numbers. After two games, they rank eighth among 32 teams in yards, and 10th in points. It's just that we know they're capable of supplying more electricity.
In the last 22 regular-season games, the Rams have topped 30 points only twice. By admittedly unfair comparison, the 1999- 2001 Rams exceeded 30 points a stunning 36 times in 48 regular-season games. But the decline in scoring is obvious; the Rams were only 19th in points last season.
With so much talent on hand, the formula for a reversal is there. But for the points to flow, coach Mike Martz and the offense must unclog the pipeline.
Some of the problems include:
-- Poor field position. Because of a lethargic return game, the offense plays on a long field.
-- Third-down struggles. The Rams converted at least 42 percent of their third-down plays in five of the past six seasons, which put them in the top 10 in the league rankings. This year, through two games, the conversion rate is 35 percent, which ranks 22nd.
-- In 2003, Bulger was among the best NFL QBs on third downs, with 13 touchdowns and a rating of 102.6. His performance on third downs has leveled off.
-- Red zone alert. The Rams rank 22nd in the league in percentage of touchdowns scored while in the red zone. Bulger's QB rating in the red zone slipped from 104.2 in 2002, to 83.6 in 2003, to 76.0 in 2004.
-- Pass-protection breakdowns are an issue; can this aging line play at the high level needed to set the playmakers free?
-- Martz is searching for the right play-calling touch. In Jackson, an oversized but quick running back, Martz has an exceptional new piece for his attack and would like to be more ground-oriented. Late in the Arizona game, Martz went conservative, but the Cardinals stuffed the Rams' running game, and the offense faded. Martz is trying to alter his play-calling identity. Martz still has those radical, wide-open tendencies, but he feels an urge to be more conservative. Martz should eventually concoct the right mix.
According to one theory making the NFL rounds, the Rams are easier to stop now because defensive coordinators are no longer surprised by Martz's formations, motions and personnel groupings.
Tennessee Titans coach Jeff Fisher, a respectful Martz rival, disagrees.
"The unpredictability of this offense makes it such a challenge," Fisher said. "They have the potential to be very explosive in the run game with (Jackson). And of course the passing game is the passing game. The three receivers are right there with the top three of any other team in the league. From a route running standpoint, and the ability to get open. And of course the ball gets there. It gets there on time and it gets there in a real tight area. It's pretty impressive to watch. It certainly isn't like anything we've faced."
The Titans, an old nemesis, will try to keep the Rams in check Sunday at the Edward Jones Dome. Will the Rams finally bust loose and hang 30 on a defense?