Friday, August 22, 2008
By Nick Wagoner
What to Watch: Baltimore
1. Lots of Work
The third preseason game is traditionally the final opportunity for starters to get in nearly a full load of work and get one more chance to fine tune before the regular season.
For the Rams, the final test of the preseason comes in the form of the Baltimore Ravens. For the Rams offense, it’s a tough test but one the team would like to pass heading toward the regular season.
The first team offense has not scored a touchdown in 10 preseason games. Saturday’s game against the Ravens represents what will likely be the final chance for that group to break through before the regular season opens on Sept. 7 at Philadelphia.
After a couple of interceptions derailed that unit last week against San Diego, the group began to turn it on. One drive featured 17 plays, 14 of which were running plays. That drive stalled out at San Diego’s 2.
Another drive set the Rams up for a long field goal attempt before the half though that kick missed.
This week, the Rams would like to finally break that spell and get their first group into the end zone. Running back Steven Jackson broke his holdout in the middle of the week but will not play against the Ravens.
Receiver Torry Holt sat out against San Diego with back spasms but returned to practice this week and will play.
The starters are expected to play the first half with a chance they could work into the third quarter. Putting points on the board won’t be easy, though, considering Baltimore’s defensive reputation.
“(We) certainly like to be more productive when it comes to the offense in improvement with points on the board,” coach Scott Linehan said. “Again, we’re playing another top five defense, so the challenge is great.”
2. A Better Bulger
Perhaps no player, coach or fan wants to see the first team offense break through this week more than starting quarterback Marc Bulger.
Bulger has struggled in the first two preseason games, going 10-of-23 for 85 yards with three interceptions. Against the Chargers, Bulger performed better after the two picks but had the misfortune of some dropped balls work against him.
Still, Bulger was not pleased with his performance.
“I’ve been doing this for a long time, and I know nights like tonight are unacceptable,” Bulger said after the San Diego game. “For whatever reason, and there are a million reasons, I could tell you why things happened, but it’s a bottom-line business, and they made some plays.”
Bulger will likely join the first unit in playing into the third quarter though some early success could temper that.
No matter how much or how little he plays, Bulger would like to see an improvement in his performance this week as it could well be his final preseason game appearance.
“You either scored a touchdown, or you didn’t,” Bulger said. “As far as myself and the first unit, we didn’t. We’re going to keep working on that. There were good things, but no one wants to hear about all the good things we did or all the bad things I did. It’s a bottom-line thing.”
3. Picking Up the Pace
The Rams’ goal at the beginning of the preseason was to bring left tackle Orlando Pace along slowly but surely following his rehabilitation from a torn labrum that ended his season only a quarter into the 2007 season.
Sure enough, Pace took it easy for most of training camp and in to Tennessee. But Pace got about a quarter of game action against the Titans in the preseason opener and continued to get plenty of reps thereafter.
Against San Diego, Pace took it to a new level. He played about 40 snaps, the most he’d played since the middle of the 2006 season.
That extra strain didn’t cause Pace to aggravate the shoulder injury but the shoulder was extremely sore all week.
The soreness kept Pace out of practice most of the week and he is considered questionable for a final tune-up against the Ravens.
“I haven’t decided what we are going to do,” Linehan said. “He felt much better yesterday and today and so I think there is a good chance he could play but we haven’t decided yet though.”
4. A First Look
As the battle for the No. 6 receiver spot wages on among Dane Looker, Derek Stanley, Reche Caldwell and Marques Hagans, the fact that second-round choice Donnie Avery has yet to play in any games or scrimmages of note has been lost in the shuffle.
Avery suffered a pelvic bone injury at the beginning of training camp and missed most of the work done in Wisconsin.
The first receiver taken in the draft will get his first chance to show what he can do against the Ravens.
“He started to make a come back last week and we considered playing him some but we felt that if we could play him a little more this game and probably more snaps than the other guys it would be good especially,” Linehan said. “This week and next week is big for him.”
Linehan indicated that Avery could get some opportunities as a kick returner as well.
5. Developing Defense
After a rough open in Tennessee in which the defense allowed 340 rushing yards and 27 points (the rest came on an interception return), the Rams rebounded quite nicely last week against the Chargers.
In that game, the Rams got pressure on the quarterback and dominated the line of scrimmage. Along the way, they racked up four sacks and eight quarterback hits in holding San Diego to six points and close to just 200 yards of total offense.
The Ravens will start young Troy Smith at quarterback. Smith has some escape ability and could provide problems with his legs.
The Rams are hoping to continue the success of last week and would especially like to force their first turnover of the preseason.
“To be really good, you’ve got to continue to do that each week and I’d like to see us keep the score down,” Linehan said. “Obviously, the rushing thing got better, but bottom line is…I’d like to see us continue to improve in both areas as far as being consistent.”