By Bryan Burwell
Sunday, Sep. 24 2006

GLENDALE, ARIZ. Under most circumstances, it would be easy for the Rams to
roam out here to this desert oasis and be fooled into thinking they're on a
well-deserved mini-vacation. They stay at a plush resort with a sprawling,
manicured golf course, swaying palm trees, elaborate pools and grottoes dotting
the premises. Everywhere they look under these cloudless skies, the warm desert
air " and these long-stemmed, bikini-clad patrons " easily could lull them
into believing that they've arrived in Shangri-la.

But the tone for this trip already has been set by the events of the previous
week. A disappointing loss. More critical injuries. Another week of sluggish
offense. An AWOL starter left at home. This is business, strictly business. At
this stage in their early season, there isn't a guy on the Rams roster who
shouldn't understand the sense of urgency surrounding Sunday's NFC West
showdown with the Cardinals.

The 1-1 Rams are not a team in need of a spa vacation, though a surprise
makeover wouldn't be such a bad thing. The level of impatience is rising to
outrageous proportions as we wait for Scott Linehan's offense to gel. As good
as the defense has played through two games, it's unfair to expect that Will
Witherspoon, La'Roi Glover, Leonard Little and the rest of that hard-hitting
gang can continue to carry the Rams with an offense that can't put points on
the board.

It almost sounds preposterous to write. We've become so conditioned to things
going the other way around this football team. But Scott Linehan's rebuilding
plan did not include a blueprint without a productive offense, and I for one
can't conceive of this skill-position talent not getting on the same page. With
or without a healthy offensive line, it's not unreasonable to expect that the
offense that rolls out Marc Bulger, Torry Holt, Isaac Bruce and Steven Jackson
should get into the end zone more than once in eight quarters.

Plus, Linehan's NFL resume as a coordinator may be brief, but it shows that his
offensive schemes do work. The problem is that too many folks want to compare
Linehan's offense with Mike Martz's offense, which is like comparing apples to
oranges. Martz ran a high-risk, high-reward attack that didn't much concern
itself with ball security, balancing the run with the pass, time management or
field position. It worked for a long time, but in the end last year, the
complaints about Martz's strategies led to him being fired.

Just in case anyone forgot, Linehan's perceived strength was that he would be
the anti-Martz. His approach is only conservative in comparison to Martz's. A
better description is "conventional." What he considers a good drive is
anything that ends in a kick (punt, extra point or field goal) and doesn't end
with a turnover. He wants quarterbacks to keep mistakes to a minimum and
running backs to be workhorses, and many of his pass routes are based on short
strikes that allow the receiver to take off and gain yards after the catch.

It is a dramatic departure from the past seven years, but how much longer
should anyone have to wait for Holt, Bruce and Bulger to get in sync?

The good news is, there are signs of offensive progress. Linehan does not freak
out if Jackson fails to break off a 9-yard gain every time he touches the ball.
And once again, Steven Jackson's NOT tap-dancing anymore. And here's why: "I
have the comfort level of knowing that if I don't get the big gain, I'm going
to see the ball again," he said. "Sometimes in previous years I have looked for
the big gain a lot and sometimes that hurt us. Now I can stay consistent with
my run reads and know that coach is going to give me another chance."

And that might be the greatest progress of all.