Red zone leaves Rams red-faced
By Jim Thomas
ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
Wednesday, Sep. 13 2006
Rams offensive coordinator Greg Olson couldn't resist the chance for the quick
laugh while meeting with the media Monday.
"I don't suppose anybody wants to talk about the red-zone scoring," Olson
More precisely, lack of red zone scoring.
It was one thing for head coach Scott Linehan and quarterback Marc Bulger to
shrug off the inability of the first-team offense to score a touchdown in 11
exhibition possessions. But now it has happened in a regular-season game,
albeit an 18-10 upset victory over Denver in which every Rams point came on
Jeff Wilkins field goals.
For the prideful Linehan, who made his NFL reputation as a play-caller, the TD
drought is no laughing matter.
"I think as a competitor, it weighs on you," Linehan said. "Willie Mays said it
one time about being in a slump. They said, 'What do you do to get out of a
slump?' He said, 'Keep swinging.' So we're going to keep calling plays and try
to get it in the end zone."
The Rams started a series on the Denver 3 and another on the Denver 17 thanks
to turnovers produced by the St. Louis defense.
They had a first-and-goal from the 8 on an otherwise masterful opening drive.
And a first-and-goal from the 9 on an 82-yard, fourth quarter-drive kept alive
by a roughing-the-punter call.
If the Rams had scored on two of those four red-zone opportunities, a tight
game becomes a rout.
The Rams had their fifth red-zone opportunity at the end of the game, following
a 37-yard run by Steven Jackson to the Denver 6. But with the Broncos out of
timeouts and just 1 minute 51 seconds left in the game, Linehan ran out the
clock with kneel-downs by Bulger.
There's no doubt, Denver's quick defense deserves some credit for keeping the
Rams out of the end zone. But Olson also noted that Denver didn't throw
anything unexpected at the Rams once they got close to the goal line.
"There were plays to be made out there," Olson said. "I just think it was a
combination of we had some mental errors on a couple plays, and we had physical
errors where we just got beat, or we didn't make a throw."
The most frustrating red-zone sequence came after linebacker Pisa Tinoisamoa
recovered a fumble at the Broncos 3 late in the first quarter.
After a run by Jackson gained a yard to the 2, Bulger was swamped by the Denver
pass rush and threw blindly -- and incomplete -- to the left corner of the end
zone. That's where wide receiver Dane Looker was supposed to be, but Looker got
held up on his route and couldn't get there.
As a result, Bulger was flagged for intentional grounding, which meant a loss
of down, and a loss of 14 yards.
"I don't fault Marc for that," Olson said. "That guy's a competitor, and he
knows you don't take a sack in the red zone. There was a physical breakdown in
protection. Somebody comes clean. He scrambles out of it. He knows that there
should be a wide receiver in that area."
The nightmare sequence continued with an incomplete pass by Bulger on third
down -- he was one for seven passing in the red zone. So Wilkins lined up for a
34-yard field goal, and nailed it. But the play was negated by a holding
penalty on Madison Hedgecock. After the penalty yardage was marked off, Wilkins
then clanged a 44-yarder off the right upright, for his only miss of the day.
"That right there ... got us a little bit out of whack, and got us a little bit
tight and tentative after that," Linehan said. "I think we were like, 'We're
snakebit.' I think the natural tendency was to start pressing a little bit."
While Bulger was ineffective throwing in the red zone, the Rams had a
reasonable amount of success running inside the 20. On Monday, Linehan talked
about the need to avoid negative plays.
But the Rams didn't have any negative running plays in the red zone, before the
game-ending kneel-downs. Jackson carried six times for 20 yards in the red
zone, with gains of 1 yard (twice), 3 yards (three times), and 9 yards (once).
Despite the red-zone woes, there's no need to panic. The Rams did move the ball
fairly well. Only 12 teams gained more yards on opening day than the Rams did
(320 yards). And it was a low-scoring weekend all around the league. Nineteen
teams scored less than 20 points. There were three shutouts -- the first time
that has happened in one week in 15 years.
"I think it's like anything else," Linehan said. "The minute we start clicking
and going, it'll be quickly in our rear-view mirror.
Wilkins was named the NFC's special teams player of the week with his
franchise-record six field goals against Denver. It's the second time Wilkins
has won player-of-the-week honors with the Rams. He has been player of the
month on two occasions.
Rams sign center
Center Brett Romberg, who has played in only one game since entering the league
in 2003, was signed off Jacksonville's practice squad to replace Andy McCollum.
McCollum was placed on the injured reserve list Tuesday after suffering a
season-ending knee injury against Denver.
Re: Red zone leaves Rams red-faced
Interesting signing, a little surprising too, I assumed we would be moving one of our own practice squad guys onto the team. Does anyone know anything at all about Brett Romberg? I never heard of him before.