Rams' injury-riddled line is major obstacle

Tuesday, November 21, 2006
Rams quarterback Marc Bulger was sacked by the Panthers' Damione Lewis (92) and Kindal Moorehead during Sunday's game in Charlotte, N.C. (CHUCK BURTON ~ Associated Press)

ST. LOUIS -- Scott Linehan, who came to the St. Louis Rams promising a balanced attack, resembled his pass-happy predecessor in his latest game.

Linehan abandoned the run early and did a play-calling impersonation of Mike Martz in a 15-0 loss at Carolina on Sunday. The offensive line is hamstrung by Orlando Pace's season-ending triceps injury, this on top of losing center Andy McCollum early in the season.

Resulting problems factored into an unbalanced mix of 41 pass plays and only eight runs as the Rams (4-6) got shut out for the first time since 1998 and managed only 111 total yards against a Panthers defense that ranked in the middle of the pack. St. Louis has lost five in a row after a 4-1 start, spoiling Linehan's first season as head coach.

"Not one of our better days, certainly," Linehan said Monday. "Offensively, we didn't get anything going."

Pace, who tore a triceps muscle on his left arm last week against Seattle, has been to the Pro Bowl seven straight seasons. His replacement at left tackle on Sunday, journeyman Adam Goldberg, is a big step down.

"It's a factor, but we have to move on," Linehan said. "We need to keep finding more and more ways to adjust. We can sit around and lament the fact that we don't have him, or we can go out, get better, and find ways to get it done.

"That's what we're going to do."

Among the shortcomings, Goldberg was manhandled by Mike Rucker on the safety in the fourth quarter that clinched it for Carolina. Linehan said Goldberg is more comfortable at right guard and tackle, perhaps leading to a switch with right tackle Alex Barron this week.

The Rams have been thin on the line all year, also losing guard Claude Terrell to wrist surgery in late August. Plus they're young at tight end with rookie Joe Klopfenstein starting.

The coaching staff had felt the passing game would loosen things up. Instead, wide receivers Isaac Bruce and Torry Holt had off-games and quarterback Marc Bulger, under siege from the start, also struggled while absorbing seven sacks.

"We may have abandoned the run too quickly," offensive coordinator Greg Olson said. "We kind of felt like we would have thrown our way out of it.

"Obviously, we've had some injuries up front that I think will now dictate some of the defenses maybe coming after us a little bit more."

Bulger might share the blame for some of the sacks for holding onto the ball too long, and for being a little jittery. But who could blame the quarterback?

"More than anything, he just got knocked out of rhythm, looking back on it and watching film," Olson said. "He got pressured early, and I think that factored into some of the decision-making."

Steven Jackson, who's among the NFL leaders with 811 yards and 4.2-yard average, totaled 27 yards on only seven carries. Olson said the coaches will devote a lot of the practice week heading into Sunday's game against the San Francisco 49ers trying to find ways to get him back in the offense.

Against the Panthers, they backed off after seeing too many eight-man fronts.

"Steven's a good enough back that he doesn't necessarily always have to have the perfect hole to run into," Olson said. "He's a big, strong back and there are times when he's going to have to run some safeties over."

The Rams had been averaging 22 points before allowing the Panthers to dictate terms. In 12 possessions, they ended with nine punts, an interception, a fumble and a safety.

Linehan said he had intended to run the ball more, but opted out of a half-dozen plays because of the look presented by the defense. He pointed out that it's difficult to run much if you can't hold the ball.

"When you don't stay on the field and you go three-and-out, you don't convert on third down, it doesn't give you an opportunity to do much of anything," Linehan said. "We weren't on the field enough."

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