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  1. #1
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    Are St. Louis Rams Greatest No-Show on Turf?

    Are St. Louis Rams Greatest No-Show on Turf?
    (Photo Illustration/P-D)By Jim Thomas

    Injuries to key Rams like Steven Jackson and a lack of depth produce dismal offensive season

    * * * * * * * *

    For most of the past decade, Al Saunders has been used to high-octane offenses.

    "I've been here when we've been the very, very best there was," Saunders said, referring to his time here during the Greatest Show on Turf years.

    Whether it was in St. Louis or Kansas City, Saunders has seen quarterbacks throw for 400 yards. Running backs run wild behind efficient offensive lines. Or in the case of Tony Gonzalez in Kansas City, tight ends dominate a game.

    "Those are the things that I'm used to," Saunders said.

    Saunders has gotten none of the above this season as Rams offensive coordinator. Maybe it's some sort of karmic payback, and evening out from the highs of days gone by. Because as these Rams reach the three-quarter pole of 2008 with Sunday's game against Miami, the Rams rank 29th in total offense and last in points scored.

    Last week against Chicago, the team rushed for only 14 yards, the fourth-lowest total in the 71-year history of the franchise.

    And in 10 of 11 games this season, the Rams have failed to score 20 points. Three more games like that before the end of this season and the team will tie a franchise record for scoring futility.

    "It's been frustrating for all of us, players and coaches alike," Saunders said. "It's been a tremendous challenge. And part of the challenge for all of us is getting the best out of every individual in every circumstance."

    There have been a lot of circumstances to deal with in a 2008 season that has been a perfect storm of things gone wrong.

    The team's best player, running back Steven Jackson, missed the first 27 days of training camp in a contract holdout.

    Two starting offensive linemen, center Brett Romberg (hand) and right guard Mark Setterstrom (knee) suffered training camp/preseason injuries. Setterstrom's was season-ending.

    Starting wide receiver Drew Bennett suffered what turned out to be a season-ending foot injury in the regular season opener.

    Just when Jackson was rounding into form, starting tight end Randy McMichael suffered a season-ending leg injury in Game 4.

    Two weeks later, Jackson was enjoying his best game of the season (against Dallas) when he suffered a strained right thigh muscle. He has appeared in only one game since, and carried just seven times.

    No. 3 wide receiver and return man Dante Hall was placed on injured reserve aftera Week 8 ankle injury against Arizona.

    Left tackle Orlando Pace and left guard Jacob Bell have missed two games apiece with injuries and have missed time in others.

    Nick Leckey, who started the first 10 games at center, suffered a broken foot during pregame warmups last Sunday against Chicago, and is out for the season.

    "When you're trying to build anything, consistency is always a dimension that you'd like to have available," Saunders said. "You always hate to use injuries (as an excuse), because everybody goes through injuries, and you have to have players that step in and step up."

    But the Rams simply haven't had the depth to compensate adequately for players lost to injury. That has been particularly true in the case of Jackson and McMichael.

    Since Jackson's injury, there hasn't been much of a running game, with the exception of the San Francisco game and part of the New England contest. The Rams have averaged only 74 yards rushing per game and 3.4 yards per carry over their past five games all losses.

    "That's the thing I thought that we would really be able to establish," Saunders said. "Everywhere I've been, we've always been able to run the football. If you can run the football, you can have a balanced offense. That's what you're always striving for."

    But without much of a running game, the Rams have been too one-dimensional.

    Without McMichael, the Rams have had little output at tight end. In seven games without McMichael, the entire tight end position has eight catches for 66 yards. (And 26 of those yards came on a catch by newcomer Daniel Fells against Chicago.)

    In addition, Saunders frequently has kept tight ends in to block to help the offensive line pass protect. But without McMichael and Jackson in the passing game, the Rams have had almost no interior passing game.

    "Usually this offense generates from the inside-out," Saunders said. "Tight ends, third wide receivers, running backs. Those are the great mismatches. This is like basketball. You try to create the mismatches with your skill players.

    "Getting (Jackson) on a linebacker one-on-one gives you a tremendous advantage. Getting Randy McMichael on a linebacker or strong safety is a tremendous advantage."

    But the Rams have thrown a scant 28 passes over the middle this season; only Tampa Bay (21) has attempted fewer in the NFL. Interestingly, when the Rams have thrown over the middle they've had great success, with 17 completions for a 60.7 percent completion rate, three touchdowns, and a 120.8 passer rating.

    Teams have stacked the box on running downs, and doubled outside receiving threats Torry Holt and Donnie Avery in passing situations. Avery and fellow youngsters Keenan Burton and Derek Stanley have had their moments, but not enough to get the Rams in the end zone very often.

    "For all intents and purposes, we've got three rookie receivers that we're trying to rotate in there," Saunders said. "From an effort standpoint and a learning standpoint, they've done a terrific job.

    "Sometimes everything has gone just perfect. When everything is not perfect from a split standpoint or an assignment standpoint, that turns out to be an interception, or turns out to be a play where you don't get the result that you need."

    Keep in mind, Burton missed time in the middle of the season because of knee surgery, and Avery missed much of training camp and the preseason with a fractured hip.

    "So has it been challenging? Yeah, it's been very, very challenging," Saunders said. "Because I know what we can do if all the pieces are in place and we're executing at a balanced level."

    But moments like that have been few and oh-so-far between this season.


  2. #2
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    Re: Are St. Louis Rams Greatest No-Show on Turf?

    i just saw the Lions play on Thanksgiving so i gotta say no. (to the question on the thread name)

  3. #3
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    Re: Are St. Louis Rams Greatest No-Show on Turf?

    If they played on grass though, then watch out!

    The Chiefs and Bengals play on grass, right? Then that leaves the door wide open for us. At least we can win something.

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