Monday, September 12, 2005

By Nick Wagoner
Senior Writer

SAN FRANCISCO – Anyone watching the statistical breakdown of Sunday’s game without seeing the score probably thought the Rams were winning easily against the *****.

After all, St. Louis dominated nearly every statistical category (special teams being the exception), but at the end of the first quarter the Rams had just a 3-0 lead and when the clock hit zero the ***** managed a 28-25 win.

So, how does a team that outgains its opponent by nearly double manage to lose?

There can be any number of reasons for something like that, but St. Louis did it by failing to convert in the red zone time and again.

The Rams finished the game just one-of-five in the red zone and were forced to settle for a quartet of Jeff Wilkins’ field goals. If the team converts any of those opportunities in to touchdowns, it would probably be 1-0 right now.

So, what it is that makes offense in the red zone that much different for a team that at one point had a 125-12 edge in total yards?

Running back Marshall Faulk isn’t sure.

“I can’t say,” Faulk said. “Until you watch film and see exactly what happened, and what they did and what we didn’t do you just can’t say. When you’re playing, other than the quarterback and the offensive coordinator you never know exactly what they do, you just play.”

The quarterback and head coach did indeed have a better explanation for the problem after the game.

“That’s coaching,” coach Mike Martz said. “That’s poor play selection on my part, pure and simple. You get down there and don’t score a touchdown…The old coach didn’t do a real good job in this one.”

The Rams had similar struggles in the red zone last season when they were 15th in the league at a 55 percent touchdown efficiency rating.

The failure to put the ball in the end zone was particularly frustrating for quarterback Marc Bulger, who wasn’t able to break through until a brilliant fourth-down call in the fourth quarter.

“It’s a chess match down there and they were guessing right a couple times and they made some good plays,” Bulger said. “I put the ball on Kevin (Curtis) and the safety came over and hit him pretty good and knocked it out of there.”

STUFFING THE RUN: Although the Rams struggled on special teams and in the red zone Sunday, a different problem that plagued the team last season was more than corrected against the *****.

The St. Louis run defense ranked near the bottom of the league last season and struggled so much that the team went out and signed a pair of free-agent linebackers in an effort to fix that problem.

It paid off against San Francisco as the Rams’ manhandled the *****’ running game. San Francisco managed just 34 yards on 21 carries for an average of 1.6 yards per attempt.

HELD UP: Otis Amey’s 75-yard punt return for a touchdown was probably the turning point in the game, but it probably shouldn’t have happened at all.

Running back Arlen Harris appeared to be in position to tackle Amey, but he was unable to get away from the grasp of the San Francisco blocker.

Amey immediately broke outside and took it for a touchdown and a 14-6 lead.

“I know 33 got held on the punt return, I’m watching him,” Martz said. “They missed it, obviously. That happens.”

EARLY CHALLENGE: The Rams burned a challenge and subsequently a timeout on the first play of the game when recently-acquired cornerback Chris Johnson stepped out of bounds with the ball at the 1 on the opening kickoff.
Martz said the challenge came from something that someone in the booth saw.

“We thought he was standing out of bounds when he touched the ball in which case it would have come out to the 40,” Martz said. “We saw something upstairs where we felt like his foot was out of bounds and it wasn’t.”

INACTIVES: The Rams’ inactives Sunday were: running back Aveion Cason, offensive linemen Alex Barron and Claude Terrell, cornerbacks Terry Fair and Ronald Bartell, linebacker Drew Wahlroos and defensive tackle Brian Howard. Ryan Fitzpatrick was the third quarterback.

San Francisco’s inactives were quarterback Cody Pickett, tight end Trent Smith, defensive end Corey Smith, receivers Rashuan Woods and Rasheed Marshall, tight end Eric Johnson and defensive tackle Ronnie Fields.