Rams Working Toward Regular Season
Sunday, August 19, 2007
By Nick Wagoner
Like any team reflecting on its performance the day after a preseason game, the Rams and coach Scott Linehan found themselves dissecting the game film, searching for positive and wondering about the negatives.
In the aftermath of a 30-13 loss to San Diego on Saturday night, Linehan had trouble finding anything positive to come from the loss with a couple of possible exceptions. But with a day to reflect and, more important, a chance to review the game tape, Linehan found some silver linings through the loss.
“I am very encouraged by a lot of things,” Linehan said. “It wasn’t the outcome we wanted from any game. You go into any game with the goal to win No. 1 and No. 2 is to improve in all three phases and continue to evaluate your roster and see where guys possibly fit. There were a lot of encouraging signs as far as where we are compared to a year ago at this time. I feel very good about where our roster is heading and we’ll be able to continue to progress. We have to correct some things that are critical to winning football games, but there’s some very encouraging signs as far as our personnel is concerned..”
Linehan expressed concern after the game about the team’s penchant so far in the preseason of turning the ball over on offense and not creating any on defense. But the most disappointing part of that actually reveals a positive.
While the first-team offense has yet to put any points on the board in five preseason possessions, it has proved more than capable of putting together long, sustained drives that will put it in position to score.
“I think it’s the same thing as last year,” quarterback Marc Bulger said. “We were moving the ball in the preseason and we couldn’t finish drives and it worked out. But it’s pretty frustrating to work really hard to show the fans and everyone what you are capable of but I think when the time is right we will start scoring and hopefully it starts next week.”
For a bit of perspective on how the offense has fared when its been on the field, consider that on those five positions, there was just one three-and-out (last night against the Chargers). Additionally, that group has accounted for 174 net yards (including penalty gains), had the ball for 20 minutes and 17 seconds and has moved the ball into opponent’s territory on four of the five chances.
All of that was done without the help of running back Steven Jackson, who has played about five total snaps in the first two preseason games.
And, the Rams haven’t exactly been taking on some slouch defenses. Minnesota was the best in the league against the run in 2006 and San Diego has one of the most well-rounded and talented defensive units in the league.
Taking all of that into account, none of the coaches or players are ready to hit the panic button.
“You always want to come out and do your best,” Bulger said. “We definitely want to come out and score more touchdowns and finish drives. We are not doing a good job of that now, but we are not going to panic.”
Linehan said the team will continue to emphasize winning the turnover battle, something it did more often than not in 2006. While clearly the Rams can’t afford to continue to turn it over on offense as the first unit did twice against San Diego, the defense will have to continue to work on getting the ball back for the offense.
In this preseason, the defense has yet to get a takeaway and Trevor Johnson’s near interception against Minnesota was about as close to getting one as possible. The emphasis on takeaways will continue, but Linehan is pleased with certain areas of how that unit is coming along.
For instance, Linehan said the defense is “head and shoulders above” where it was last year in some of the fundamentals such as where to line up and being in the right position.
Defensive coordinator Jim Haslett echoed those sentiments and said he saw some good signs from his group against San Diego also.
“It was night and day from last year,” Haslett said. “I’m glad that the Chargers and Norv (Chargers coach Turner) gave us all the shifts and the motions and all that stuff, because that’s one area we weren’t very good in last year, adjusting to all the formations. Yesterday was outstanding to be honest with you. I thought they did a nice job with it.”
Meanwhile, on special teams, the Rams had another set of struggles that were cause for concern. Darren Sproles returned a punt 81 yards for a touchdown and the Chargers seemed to have plenty of running room on all returns.
“We have worked really hard at it,” Linehan said. “That was a bad play. Nobody wants to have a ball ran back on you. That’s not an acceptable play. There’s a lot of things that should have happened on that play that didn’t.”
Again, not all of the news was negative for the special teams’ units, either. While Sproles brought back the punt for a score, punter Donnie Jones continues to impress with his distance and hang time on punts. He got two opportunities to kick against San Diego and averaged 51 yards on his attempts with a long of 53.
Also, St. Louis fans got their first look at returner Dante Hall, who got a punt and kick return opportunity. Hall nearly broke the opening kickoff for a touchdown, bringing it back 25 yards, though the play was called back for holding. He followed that with a punt return that featured something many haven’t seen from a punt returner in St. Louis in a long time: he ran forward for 12 yards.
“That was also very encouraging, even though we had the penalty,” Linehan said. “That was something that was a bright spot and even on the long punt him being able to get back there like a centerfielder and get that punt and get 10-12 yard return and head north and south. Hopefully that is a sign of good things to come as well.”
Perhaps the best news is the same news any team wants to hear when it comes out of a preseason game. The Rams are still relatively healthy. Guard Richie Incognito suffered a left ankle injury, but it was not broken and isn’t believed to be serious, though he could be limited this week.
Receiver Drew Bennett took a hard hit late in the game, but is fine and did not even need x-rays on his ribs. Otherwise, the Rams seem to be in pretty good shape heading into the third preseason game against Oakland this week.
That’s good news as they prepare for what is generally considered the most important of the preseason games. Linehan said the starters will likely play the first half and Jackson will get some extended work against the Raiders.
“Right now what we have to start doing is getting ourselves ready to game plan a little more for this game and start getting our guys kind of tuned to getting ready for an opponent,” Linehan said.