By Jim Thomas

The first game was so clean, it was almost antiseptic: only four penalties and just one turnover. The head coach wanted to run the football. Presto! The Rams piled up 202 yards. On defense, he wanted to stop the run. Lo and behold, just 38 yards allowed.

With rare exception, the 19-17 preseason victory over Indianapolis represented everything Scott Linehan wants to stamp into his inaugural St. Louis Rams squad.

But the Rams were penalized 13 times for 104 yards in Game 2 against Houston. The first-team offense couldn't find the end zone. The running game faltered. The run defense stumbled. The 27-20 loss represented the kind of sloppy, uninspiring football Linehan is trying to stamp out.

"I don't think we played as smart and as tuned in as we did a week ago," Linehan said afterward. "I didn't feel very good about any phase of our team, not compared to last week."

After reviewing game film, he backtracked a bit. "I wouldn't say we took a step back," Linehan insisted, while praising the work of the starting defense.

He also went into a little damage control on the subject of the first-team offense, currently zero for five in terms of scoring touchdowns when it had the ball this preseason.

"Offensively, in the two games, in the first quarter we've had nine 'explosive' plays," Linehan said. "Our goal for a game is eight. In the first quarter, we're not playing the other team's second or third unit, so we've shown our ability to be explosive."

Linehan's coaching staff defines an explosive play as any pass that gains at least 16 yards, or any run that gains at least 12.

Linehan also pointed out that the first Rams possession against Houston began on the St. Louis 7 after a downed punt.

"The NFL stats show that you have about an 8 percent chance of scoring points when you start a drive inside your 10," he said. "So I guess, we'll count that one (as a possession)."

Linehan made his reputation -- and got the Rams' head-coaching job -- in large part because of his offensive résumé. So perhaps his minor irritation over some minor criticism of the offense is understandable.

"I want our identity to be a consistent one," Linehan said. "I don't think anybody wants to be on a football team that goes up and down. Whether it's how we run it, or how we stop the run, or how we do on third down, or what our red zone success ratio is, I want to see a level of improvement and consistency as a team."

The Rams get another chance to make that happen tonight at Arrowhead Stadium, in the Governor's Cup game against Kansas City. Kickoff is 7:30 p.m. It's the third preseason game, normally the contest where the starters play most.

Linehan didn't say, but look for the starters to play the entire first half, perhaps even a series into the third quarter.

Linehan and his staff spent more time game-planning this week for the Chiefs. Following Monday's workout, the team also went with what basically is its regular season practice routine. Linehan even had crowd music piped into Thursday's indoor workout in preparation for the team's first road game.

"How we travel, how we meet, all those things are part of getting into a routine," Linehan said.

From a veteran player's perspective, August is no time to panic or get uptight.

"You always want to play well," quarterback Marc Bulger said. "I was disappointed in a couple things I did last week. But at the same time, it doesn't mean anything."

As for the Governor's Cup ...

"I couldn't even tell you who won last year," Bulger said.

It was St. Louis 27, Kansas City 23. The Rams were 3-1 in exhibition play last summer.

"Were we?" Bulger said. "See how much that means?"

That was a joking reference to the fact that the Rams finished 6-10 in the "real" games, and Mike Martz got fired.

"These (preseason) games, they don't mean much," Bulger said. "As long as everyone's healthy and we do some half-decent things on offense, I'll be happy. But everyone coming out healthy is my main concern."

As for the notion that the first-team offense is struggling, Bulger said, "We've been moving the ball. ... If we had a bunch of three-and-outs, we could be concerned. Obviously, we want to score, but just playing a quarter, you don't really get a feel."

After four weeks of training camp and preseason practice, Bulger feels he's in sync with the receiver corps. He's very much ready for September.

"Yeah," he said. "I think we're all getting pretty ready to get Denver in her