Behind enemy lines: St. Louis

To a man, the Rams' offense can't wait to score a touchdown, especially from the red zone. In a preseason where the first-team offense played just more than four quarters while learning a new system, the starters didn't score a TD, and in the season opener against Denver, there were four failures in the red zone, as the Rams scored all their points on field goals in an 18-10 upset of the Broncos.

Technically, it was five red-zone failures last week, but that final red-zone trip came as the clock expired and quarterback Marc Bulger kneeled down three times.

Fans usually call for more creativity in the red zone, but coach Scott Linehan doesn't buy that.

"Just execute better," Linehan said when asked how to improve red-zone scoring. "Every play's unique in any game, whether it's the red zone or the 20 yard-line coming out. It's all really more execution. Every once in a while you have that perfect play, but I think you've got to really execute at your best when you get down there. It's not easy to score down there, as we were proving, but it is about the timing and details of it.

"I think it's a great humbling, but learning experience for all of us. We will work very hard on getting better at it without making it a mental thing. Just know that it's something we certainly need to improve on and just get better at executing down there. I really think that's it more than anything. You can over-analyze it, but I think we just need to play better and execute better when we get down there."

Linehan did acknowledge the frustration, but likened it to a hitting slump in baseball.

"I think as a competitor, it weighs on you," he said. "Willie Mays said it one time about being in a slump. They said, 'What do you do to get out of a slump?' He said, 'Keep swinging.' So we're going to keep calling plays and try to get it in the end zone."

Noting the failures against Denver, offensive coordinator Greg Olson said, "There were plays to be made out there. I just think it was a combination of we had some mental errors on a couple plays, and we had physical errors where we just got beat, or we didn't make a throw."

After the game Sunday night, Linehan said sometimes it can be a case of trying too hard. He elaborated on that when recalling the most frustrating failure when the Rams recovered a Denver fumble at the 3-yard line and had to settle for a field goal.

"That right there ... got us a little bit out of whack, and got us a little bit tight and tentative after that," Linehan said. "I think we were like, 'We're snake-bit.' I think the natural tendency was to start pressing a little bit."

Without coming out and saying it, the Rams have a quiet confidence that things will change this week in San Francisco. The 49ers had 34 points scored against them in the first game against Arizona, and while this game is on the road for the Rams, there is the feeling there are matchups to be won in the San Francisco secondary.

Using another baseball analogy, Linehan said of the negative streak, "I liken it to last week, watching the Yankees play. I think A-Rod (shortstop Alex Rodriguez) hadn't had a hit in 22 or 23 at bats. Then he got two hits in a row and they stopped talking about the hitless streak. I think we have just got to go in there and get it done and start a new streak and that is scoring down there."

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Bulger has heard the concerns about the offense's struggles, considering the first unit hasn't hey scored a touchdown, including the preseason. Thus, the questions have started regarding how comfortable Bulger is with the new offense installed by Linehan.

Said Bulger, "We're getting there. It's an ongoing process. Obviously, we're not there, but with each game and each practice we're getting to know each other more and more. He knows what I like more and I'm going to learn what he's thinking and what he's going to call more. Same with the receivers. He's going to start learning what routes they run better than others. It's a whole maturation process that we're going to have to go through. I'm not saying two or three years out, but we're getting there and I think we'll get better every week.

"We just don't want to panic after one week. I know we didn't do much in the preseason, but we're going to get it going. One week in, you look at Seattle, the No. 1 offense (from 2005), and they struggled a little bit. If we had the same system, we might have struggled, just because it is Week 1. I think you compound the fact that it's a new system and that's why we're a little bit slow right now. We are doing some good things. We're going to get there and we aren't going to panic."

As for those the offense is becoming conservative, Bulger said, "I don't think so. Like I said, there's a lot going into a new offense. Believe me, I'm with you. I'm used to having 300-yard games. It'll happen. We've got the most confidence in coach Scott Linehan. He's done it before. He's installing things with a purpose to bring us along. We've all been in the same system for six years. It's different for us. We're doing some things well, but obviously we're struggling a little bit in the red zone, but I think in time we'll get better."

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For the last 97 games, he had been a constant for the Rams, starting every one at center. He had also played in every game since the 1995 season. But Sundays will be different now for Rams center Andy McCollum, who will miss the rest of the season after tearing the ACL and MCL in his left knee against Denver.

Said McCollum, "My luck ran out, I guess. I've never had anything that forced me to come out of a game. So I don't really know how to handle it."

The Rams handled McCollum's absence by plugging in Larry Turner. There are no other true centers on the roster, although guards Richie Incognito and Adam Goldberg have played there in the past. While the team is looking for a center with experience, Turner is expected to be the choice at this time.

"That's a tough offensive line position to lose," Linehan said. "You go into a game, you don't want to lose anyone but you lose your center who's been snapping to your quarterback for quite a few years, let alone all off season ... you worry about some things like quarterback exchange or big things like that.

"He (Turner) showed that he's very capable and we were very happy with his performance. We'll look at some things that we can possibly do to give ourselves depth at that position, but we've got some different scenarios within our team right now. We've certainly got to give snaps to some of the guys that are already here, as far as making sure Richie gets some snaps, even Adam Goldberg, guys like that who have actually pulled the ball up in games. Richie's done it, not in the NFL, but he's done it prior to now. We've worked him quite a bit, and had been working him quite a bit in the offseason, but since we had the depth we had there, we didn't continue with it, but we're forced to now. We've got to look at some other options as well."

McCollum was placed on injured reserve Tuesday, and the Rams signed center Brett Romberg to replace him on the roster. Romberg came into the league as an undrafted free agent in 2003 with Jacksonville and was released by the Jaguars in this year's final cutdown. Rams offensive line coach Paul Boudreau was with the Jaguars last season.

McCollum said the injury happened when a Denver defensive lineman fell on his leg.

"It wasn't dirty or anything," McCollum said. "He was falling down, and my leg happened to be there. ... I knew it was something, because (the knee) popped. I felt it pop in there."

The injury came at a tough time. Noting that it was "a bad weekend" for his wife Christy, he said, "With this, and we had to get rid of one of our dogs. So there's a lot of crying at my house." Asked whether the crying was for him or the dog, McCollum said, "More for the dog, believe me."

McCollum said he won't think about retiring, that he plans to come back and play next season. In addition, known as one of the "Donut Brothers" with teammate Andy Timmerman, McCollum said, "I can probably eat more donuts now. I heard they're very therapeutic for the cartilage and what-not."

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The Rams didn't throw to the tight end in the opening win over Denver, but Linehan said that was by design, considering rookie Joe Klopfenstein was making his first NFL start.

"We were going to limit a little bit of what we did with the young tight end corps," Linehan said. "We only have two up, Madison (Hedgecock) backed up, both the fullback and tight end spot. He (Klopfenstein) was a little tentative early in the game, but as the game went on, he got better and blocked very well. He didn't really have many opportunities to catch the ball. We used some three-wide sets and things like that, but that was the designed nature of this particular game plan.

"We used him in protections on some play actions and things like that to help our protection and take some pressure off him. I think some games will lend more to the tight end and I think our utilization of him in the red zone will improve our productivity down there as well. Not many guys, whether they're drafted high, or not, start the opener. He did it with relatively little anxiety and improved as the game went on, and I think he played pretty good in the second half, and played great down the stretch of the fourth quarter."

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As the Rams prepared for the 49ers, Linehan continued to put emphasis on the fact the team did not commit a turnover against Denver. With five takeaways, the Rams led the NFL with a plus-5 turnover ratio after one week.

Said Linehan, "I was proud of our offense that they understand and, trust me, welcome the opportunity to see that we have to improve but also didn't wreck the game on our side. The thing that was great was we protected the ball. It's really hard to go through an NFL game and not turn the ball over; to be able to protect the football the way we did, and kind of hang in there even though it's a little frustrating to come away with threes instead of sevens.

"Not to make that the emphasis, but that's the obvious thing that we have to improve on. The one thing that I'm the most happy with is we're plus-5 in the turnover differential in the NFL right now and that's a great way to come out of the gates."

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* LG Richie Incognito, who made his first NFL start in Week 1, worked at center in practice Wednesday and could start there against San Francisco this week.
* T Todd Steussie might get the start at left guard against San Francisco if Richie Incognito moves from guard to center.
* LB Pisa Tinoisamoa did not practice Wednesday because of a sprained foot, and while he is listed as questioned on the injury report, it is expected that Tinoisamoa will play Sunday.
NT Jimmy Kennedy did limited work in practice Wednesday because of a broken bone in his hand, but Kennedy is expected to play Sunday despite being listed as questionable on the injury report.
* LB Jamal Brooks did not practice Wednesday after receiving treatment on an infected bursa area of his knee. Brooks is listed as questionable, but will probably play this week.
* QB Marc Bulger played smart football against the Broncos, and while he didn't have overwhelming statistics, there were no interceptions as was smart with his throws and decision-making.
* RB Steven Jackson got off to a good start, thanks to runs of 20 and 37 yards against Denver, and the fact the Rams had the lead in the fourth quarter. Jackson had 54 yards on 16 carries through three quarters, but had six attempts for 67 yards in the final quarter, including the 37-yard run.
* WR Torry Holt had seven receptions for a modest 80 yards against Denver, but was locked in a battle most of the day with CB Champ Bailey. In just his eighth season, Holt already has 9,567 receiving yards.
* WR Isaac Bruce now has 818 career receptions, and passed Henry Ellard and Shannon Sharpe Sunday to move into the 11th place on the all-time list. Bruce is also now 11th in receiving yards with 12,342 after passing Jimmy Smith against the Broncos.
* TE Joe Klopfenstein had his role somewhat limited in his first start as a rookie, but will have a larger role in the passing game as the season progresses.
* NT Jason Fisk played more than expected last week after Jimmy Kennedy suffered a broken bone in his hand, and did well tying up Denver C Tom Nalen, keeping him away from Rams linebackers in the running game.
* NT Montavious Stanley was signed off the Rams' practice squad by the Jacksonville Jaguars when they placed DE Reggie Hayward on injured reserve.
* LB Raonall Smith is playing the hybrid role of "Buck" end when the Rams go to a three-man line on third down. Smith either plays on the line as an end or drops back as a linebacker.
* DE Brandon Green, who filled in well in the rotation last season, was inactive for the season-opening game against Denver.

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