Rams Recap: More good than bad in last-minute loss
BY JEFF GORDON
Post-Dispatch Online Sports Columnist
Thursday, Sep. 02 2004

Orlando who?

For a night, anyway, the Rams excelled with their various offensive line
combinations at Oakland on Thursday night. They didn't miss the unsigned
Orlando Pace, the hobbled Chris Dishman, the disabled Kyle Turley or the
retired Dave Wohlabaugh.

The Rams played a strong, sound, well-rounded offensive game. They got their
key starters in and out of their preseason finale without incident.

They didn't quite get the victory – the Raiders rallied for a 28-24 victory in
the final minute of the exhibition – but this final exhibition game produced
more good than bad.

The makeshift offensive line created consistent running room for Marshall
Faulk, Lamar Gordon, rookie Steven Jackson and Arlen Harris. This impressive
foursome took turns pounding the Raiders defense.

Also, quarterbacks Marc Bulger, Chris Chandler and Jeff Smoker all got ample
time to operate the passing game. The Rams consistently moved the ball
regardless of who was running the show.

On the down side, the defense missed too many tackles and allowed Oakland a
couple of late touchdown drives. That unit will have plenty to work on before
the Rams, 1-3 in the preseason, face Arizona in their season opener Sept. 12 at
The Ed.


THE GOOD

* There's another combination that works! Bulger fired a strike to tight end
Cam Cleeland, who bounced off three tacklers on a terrific 46-yard gain. The
Rams are threatening to make better use of their tight ends in the passing game
this season.

That would be a good thing.


* Just like in the old days, Bulger threw a quick outlet pass to running back
Faulk in the red zone. That 7-yard passing play was the Rams' first touchdown
in a first quarter during this preseason.

Bulger earned a perfect quarterback rating for his brief three-pass outing.


* Rookie linebacker Brandon Chillar blew in on a blitz, crushed Raiders
quarterback Kerry Collins and jarred the football loose. He got the sack, but
not the fumble recovery. Still, this is the stuff Tommy Polley used to do.


* It was good to see receiver Kevin Curtis sort-of-recovered from his case of
shin splints. He accelerated on a slant route to nab the first pass Chandler
threw in the game.


* Then he ran a deep curl-in route to catch still another pass from Chandler.
Curtis showed some heart playing through that injury.


* It was great to see running back Gordon recovered from his ankle surgery. He
had some nice bursts out there, which may help land the No. 3 job behind Faulk
and Jackson.


* How about that sideline catch by Dane Looker for a 19-yard gain later in the
second quarter? How did he get his feet down? Now THAT is what a possession
receiver does.


* Defensive tackle Brian Howard nearly scored a safety after blowing up a
screen pass to Amos Zereoue with about 2 minutes left to play in the first
half. And that wasn't the only time Howard made himself noticeable.


* Smoker had the whole second half to make a spectacle of himself. And he did.
He marched the Rams into the end zone on his first try, zipping a quick
three-yard, over-the-middle pass to Cleeland to push the Rams ahead 17-14.


* Linebacker Tony Newson, another Ram outplaying Polley these days, scored an
impressive sack off a third-quarter blitz.


* The Raiders kept testing young cornerback Kevin Garrett, but he held up just
fine on the deep routes.


* Smoker did a splendid job escaping a Raiders blitz long enough to fling the
ball to Cleeland for a 16-yard gain. Then he fired another brilliant pass to
Mike Furrey, good for 18 yards, to advance the ball back in the red zone.


* All this led to Gordon's touchdown burst up the middle and a 24-21 lead
midway through the fourth quarter.


THE BAD

* The Rams defense suffered death by 1,000 cuts on Oakland's first drive. For
the fourth time in four games, they yielded points on their first sequence of
the game.

In this case, the combination of Rich Gannon's short passing and effective
running by various backs led to a quick 7-0 Raiders lead. There was nothing
glaring in that 13-play, 77-yard series, except for some missed downfield
tackles by various Rams defenders.

Finally, Gannon finished off the drive with a wild scramble capped with a
five-yard lob to Justin Fargas in the end zone. Ouch.


* Wide receiver Torry Holt sat out the game with a sore back. That sort of
injury is never a good thing, even during the preseason.


* It took fill-in Scott Tercero, just moved over to left tackle, slightly more
than one quarter to get flagged for illegal motion.


* With the Rams continuing to miss tackles, the Raiders marched to another
touchdown in the second quarter. Kerry Collins hit Alvis Whitted with a 60-yard
bomb to push the Oakland lead to 14-7.


* Tight end Brandon Manumaleuna got nabbed for holding while run blocking in
the second quarter, undermining a potential scoring drive.


* When right tackle Greg Randall got a chance to show something, he probably
shouldn't have drawn a first-down, illegal-motion penalty in the red zone.


* Then the makeshift line (Tercero in particular) allowed Chandler to get
hammered after the Raiders rushed just three linemen on third down. So the Rams
had to settle for a field goal that cut Oakland's lead to 14-10 at the half.


* Early in the third quarter, Randall was flagged for a holding penalty the
Raiders opted not to accept.


* We suppose the lineup shuffling had something to do with it, but the Rams
suffered a noticeable relapse in their kick coverage Thursday night. We realize
that kicker Jeff Wilkins has a linebacker mentality, but the team really
doesn't want him to be using it so much.


* If Mike Furrey is going to return punts, then he better learn to let 'em go
once he backs up to his 5-yard line.


THE UGLY

* Those cats calling the game on KPLR – where did they come from?


* How about that "crowd" in Oakland? Were the rest of their fans meeting with
the probation officer Thursday night?