By Jim Thomas
Of the Post-Dispatch
Tuesday, Sep. 14 2004

In many ways, Sunday's 17-10 season-opening victory over Arizona was a
microcosm of the best - and worst - of Rams offensive football in recent years.

On the plus side was the work of the Rams' offensive line, the running game,
and the overall offensive productivity.

Rams pass blockers logged the team's first sackless game since Game 5 of 2003,
a 36-0 Monday night victory over Atlanta - this week's opponent in the Georgia
Dome.

In the running game, the team's 176 yards rushing was the most for the Rams
since November 3, 2002 - a 192-yard rushing output at Arizona.

The average yards per carry of 5.9 was the highest for the club since the
regular-season finale of 2001, a 31-13 victory over Atlanta in which the Rams
averaged 6.6 yards per carry.

"When you look at the tape, the sustaining of blocks, and the things that they
were able to do, I was very pleased with (the offensive line)," coach Mike
Martz said. "I was very pleased at how physical they were."

The offensive line efforts helped the Rams log 448 yards of total offense, a
figure topped only once last season, against - do we see a trend here? -
Atlanta.

The problem was, all those yards Sunday got the Rams only 17 points and only
one touchdown. It was the first time since a 13-10 loss to Dallas in 2002 that
the Rams had scored as little as one touchdown in a home game.

Three turnovers, plus a one-for-three day in the red zone, kept the Rams from
routing Arizona.

"I think it would be more frustrating if we couldn't get outside of our own
30-yard line or something, and we were just not moving the ball," quarterback
Marc Bulger said. "Certainly it's a little frustrating, but we knew if we just
kept going at it, the ball's going down the field, eventually we're going to
get it in the end zone and score some points."

Against Arizona, the Rams finished minus 3 in giveaway/takeaways - meaning
their defense came up with no turnovers to counter those three turnovers by the
St. Louis offense. Minus 3 is usually a recipe for defeat - teams that are
minus 3 normally lose about 90 percent of the time in the NFL. (The Rams were
minus 3 in the 20-17 Super Bowl loss to New England three seasons ago.)

Fumbles by Steven Jackson and Dane Looker accounted for two of the Rams'
turnovers. The other came on a Bulger interception. After the game, Martz said
the INT was simply a bad decision by Bulger. But after reviewing tape, Martz
noticed that a receiver ran a wrong route.

"We had a receiver basically turn up instead of turning out on that thing,"
Martz said. "It brought his defender at the last second, when (Marc) was
throwing the ball, right into the throwing lane."

Martz didn't name the receiver, but it was pretty obvious from looking at
television replays during the game Sunday that it was tight end Brandon
Manumaleuna.

The Rams led the NFL in turnovers in 2003 (39), 2002 (34), and 2001 (44), so
starting a season with three turnovers isn't a good omen.

As for the team's red-zone struggles against Arizona, Martz said, "I think if
we hadn't done that, we were in a position to really kind of take charge of
that game early."

Martz blamed himself for a third-and-goal call from the Arizona 2 on the
opening drive of the third quarter. On the play, tight end Cam Cleeland took an
inside handoff and was dropped for a 2-yard loss.

"I'd take that third down and 2 - that play back," Martz said. "I felt like
with the structure of defense that they do in goal line, it would be good.
Guessed with it a little bit. They came off the edge, and weren't fooled with
it. And we didn't get the ball in the end zone. So that's a coaching error."