Glenn Dickey, Chronicle Staff Writer

Saturday, December 4, 2004


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The Rams ran all over the ***** in the first half of their 24-14 win at Monster Park in the fourth game of the season, and ***** defensive coordinator Willy Robinson expects them to try the same style when the teams meet again in St. Louis on Sunday.

"If you look at their last three losses, they were passing the ball much more than they were running," Robinson said after yesterday's practice. "When they were running the ball more, they were successful. We're preparing to stop their running first, but we've got to be more disciplined than we were in the first game.'

Robinson didn't think it would make much difference to the Rams' running game if rookie Steven Jackson replaces the injured Marshall Faulk. "It could make a difference in their passing game because Faulk is a great receiver, but No. 39 (Jackson) is a very good runner."

The Rams ran for 174 yards in the first game, the second-highest total for any ***** opponent this year, but Robinson denied that it was because the ***** were caught by surprise.

"The media had been all over Mike Martz's rear the week before that game because he was throwing the ball so much, so we expected him to emphasize the run. We always try to stop the run first, but guys got out of position."

Of course, Robinson admitted, stopping the Rams' running game is only half of the answer. The ***** have been just as weak stopping the passing game, and they'll be severely tested by veteran receivers Isaac Bruce and Tory Holt. Head coach Dennis Erickson also noted that "The third and fourth receivers have gotten much better, (Kevin) Curtis and (Shawn) McDonald." The ***** task was made more difficult as cornerback Jimmy Williams reinjured his toe at yesterday's practice.

"We'll just have to be more careful with when we blitz," said Robinson, whose preferred style is all-out blitzing. "We can't leave our DBs out on an island too often."

Among other things, the ***** have been plagued this year by long passes, usually for touchdowns, which Robinson said was lack of execution, not effort. "Instead of reacting, guys are thinking too much about what they're doing," he said. "Sometimes I think we'd be better off with guys back there who didn't think at all."

Erickson is at least as frustrated with his offense as Robinson is with his defense. "I've never coached a team where there have been so many quarterback fumbles, and so many fumbles recovered by the defense for touchdowns,'' Erickson said. "Maybe we'd be better off just handing the ball off."

There's not much that Erickson can do about the poor play, though. The only significant change he's making this week is putting Kwame Harris back at left tackle, moving Kyle Kosier to guard.

"Kwame's our best run blocker," he said. "It's no secret he's had problems in pass protection, but we'll just have to give him some help over there, maybe by moving a back."

Pass protection has been a problem for the whole offensive line. Letting veteran linemen Derrick Deese and Ron Stone go has hurt, but probably not as much as the loss by injury of Pro Bowl center Jeremy Newberry.

"I don't think we realized just how much of a difference his loss would make," Erickson said. "He's just so much bigger, so much more physical in the middle."

The weakness in pass protection has been a major reason for the inconsistency of quarterback Tim Rattay, but Ken Dorsey looked even worse and rookie Cody Pickett isn't ready.

Dorsey looked good in training camp when he could step into his passes, but he isn't mobile enough to evade a hard rush, and when he has to throw off his back foot, his lack of arm strength shows. Pickett, a 6-foot-3, 225- pounder, has the best arm of the quarterbacks and is fairly mobile, but he's been slower to pick up the offense than coaches had hoped.

E-mail Glenn Dickey at gdickey@sfchronicle.com.