By Bryan Burwell
ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
Monday, Sep. 10 2007

By the end of the day, the building was almost empty, and the only advantage
the home team had at its disposal was the uncomfortable relief that most of the
disgruntled home crowd had gone home early. So now, instead of listening to the
thunderous rage of 65,000 irate customers, the Rams marched glumly off the
field at the Edward Jones Dome on Sunday afternoon pelted by the venom of a far
more intimate gathering of only a few hundred stark-raving patrons.

The noise was ugly and unsettling. It was mean and nasty, downright insulting
and viciously personal. The Rams were surrounded by screaming fanatics and
vulgar insults in the aftermath of this ugly, 27-13 loss to the Carolina
Panthers, and in many ways it was a fitting conclusion to a miserable day.

The Rams started their so-called season of promise with the worst sort of dud.
They kept telling us how they've been preparing this season-opening game plan
for months. Yet once the game began to unfold, it looked like they were
actually caught completely by surprise.

Scott Linehan, the head coach, and Greg Olson, the offensive coordinator, had
an entire offseason to solve the riddle of how the Carolina defense keeps on
discombobulating the Rams offense, and they came up woefully ill-prepared. This
is supposed to be one of the most potent offenses in the National Football
League, with a Pro Bowl quarterback pulling the trigger, a Pro Bowl running
back who led the league in total offensive yards a year ago in the backfield,
two Pro Bowl wide receivers on either side and a new tight end who was supposed
to be another lethal weapon at Linehan's disposal.

Yet for the second time in 10 months, Carolina coach John Fox bamboozled
Linehan and Olson. Fox's defense once again turned the Rams into a
one-dimensional, ineffective offense. Last November, it was a bruising 15-0
shutout in Charlotte, N.C., that turned Steven Jackson into the invisible man.
On Sunday, it was another strange day that made a 6-foot-2, 231-pound beast of
a tailback vanish into thin air (and this time, he took tight end Randy
McMichael with him). I'm struggling to understand how an offense that has so
many Pro Bowl weapons can't find ways to dictate and dominate.

Jackson carried the ball only 18 times for 58 yards (with two game-killing
fumbles). The Panthers had middle linebacker Dan Morgan shadow Jackson wherever
he went all day long, which was fine and dandy. So why didn't Linehan attack
the Panthers with an offensive ploy that sent tight end McMichael into the void
in the middle of the field?

I'm confused. Why do you have four tight ends on the active roster, why do you
hotly pursue McMichael in the offseason, then forget that the tight ends exist
until garbage time in the fourth quarter?

Linehan blamed the odd offensive strategy on the loss of offensive tackle
Orlando Pace with two minutes remaining in the first half. When Pace went out
with a shoulder injury, Linehan said, "We had intended on attacking (all) parts
of the field. But (after Pace went down) we didn't want to put a guy (backup
tackle Adam Goldberg) who hadn't been working a lot of tackle in a bad
position."

I'm not buying it. A year ago, when Pace was knocked out of the lineup, the
Rams played the final seven games without him, and they played perhaps their
best football during that stretch. All they did was pave the way for Jackson to
become the most productive running back in pro football.

He gained 1,041 total offensive yards for an average of 152.5 yards a game in
the final six games last season. He averaged 116.5 yards rushing, failing to
top the 100-yard mark only twice. He averaged 25 carries a game and 31 touches
(combined runs and receptions).

So, no, the problem with the Rams' offense isn't coping with Life After
Orlando. It's coping with coaches who keep forgetting how committed they have
to be to sticking with a game plan that realizes that you have to keep feeding
Jackson the ball. It's coping with coaches who have brain cramps too often,
where they forget about how and why this offense should work like a dream
almost every Sunday.