Behind enemy lines: St. Louis

Rams coach Scott Linehan hopes history repeats itself. Everything was good when the Rams were 4-1 five weeks into the season. The offense was clicking and the defense was forcing turnovers. But in a five-game losing streak that included two last-second defeats to division rival Seattle, the run defense has been gashed and the offense has sputtered the last two games. So what is it about history?

Well, when Linehan was asked how he manages to get through adversity in his first year as a head coach, he quickly recalled last season in Miami, when he was the offensive coordinator.

"I've been coaching a lot of years, and I've been through (difficult periods)," he said. "We were 3-7 last year in Miami. We were fortunate enough to win our last six games. We had been shut out a year ago at this exact same week by Cleveland. It wasn't a very pleasant experience. I draw on experiences like that.

"It's not the first time I've had to deal with a tough loss, or tough stretch of losses in my lifetime. As a head coach, or not a head coach, you've got to deal with it and draw on those experiences. That's certainly what I'll do, as well as with the other coaches. I know the other players will ... we have experience in that locker room. They know it can be an up and down league. We still can't overreact, even though it's tough not to."

Indeed, the Dolphins lost at Cleveland 22-0 on Nov. 20, 2005, and totaled just 194 yards of offense. Sunday in Carolina, the Rams were blanked 15-0, and totaled 111 yards of offense. After that loss last season, the Dolphins reeled off six consecutive wins to end the season with a 9-7 record.

Despite being distressed with how his team played Sunday, Linehan has never questioned the players' character.

"Their character has never disappointed me," he said. "I'm just disappointed with how we played. The character of the team is excellent. Our performance just hasn't been good enough in recent weeks. One thing I will say, up until yesterday's game, we've been in every game. Our guys have competed hard. We've lost two heartbreakers to Seattle. We've been shoe-to-shoe with San Diego on the road deep into the third quarter, getting ready to tie the game when we had a fumble.

"We had two key turnovers against Kansas City that didn't enable us to stay in a one-score game. This was the first game where I was just disappointed with how we performed as a team. We didn't play well enough to win a game like that one the road."

Following the loss to Carolina, Linehan said he felt the team looked flat, that they weren't sharp. After watching the film, he didn't change his tune, even though some players didn't totally agree with their coach.

"That's my observation, and that's how I saw it," Linehan said. "I take responsibility for that. They can take exception to it, but the whole point is we can't play like that, and we can't have a lack of whatever it is. Like I've said before, you can't bottle it up, but we've got to find it.

"There's got to be a spark, and guys know that someone's going to have to make things happen too. Starts with me to get the team prepared better. So I take exception to how we played. We should take exception to playing like we played. That's really the extent of that."

When asked if his team is frustrated or angry, Linehan said, "I think pride should set in at this point, and we've got to have some players step up. We as coaches have to step up and do a better job, and the players have to step up and play better. When you lose games, whether you lose five in a row, or you lose one, I think you get challenged, and you're pride's got to be something to motivate you. I don't know if anger is the word, but I sure think that it's got to hurt your pride enough to where you've got to change how you're doing things."

Said quarterback Marc Bulger, "Obviously when you're not playing good, you can be flat. Sometimes you're over-hyped, you have too much energy and you make mistakes. You can say that I guess. We weren't executing. Whatever you want to call it, flat, too excited, terrible -- that's what we were; however you want to describe it, we were probably that (Sunday)."

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The Rams find themselves in third place in the NFC West behind the Seahawks and 49ers, but knowing that a home win over San Francisco this week could erase a lot of doubts and tighten the division race.

However, judging by their offensive performance in Sunday's abysmal 15-0 loss to Carolina, it's difficult to develop any confidence that this team is capable of getting itself into playoff competition, even though it's mathematically possible.

"We've got to stick together first," said Bulger, after completing 19 of 34 passes for 142 yards and a passer rating of 53.8. "We know that we're going to get some of the wrath on us. Coach is going to feel it. We're behind him. Guys that have been around here, know that we've been through some tough situations. We've dug our own hole here. We have to climb out of it. It's no one's fault but our own.

"As long as everyone realizes that, we've got to stick together and get out of this. There's no easy way out of it in the NFL. People aren't looking for excuses for us. As long as we don't make excuses and accept the responsibility for the situation that we've put ourselves in, there's a chance. The minute that we start pointing fingers and making excuses, that will be the bad part of the season. I don't think that will happen though."

Heading into the game against the 49ers, a team that beat the Rams in Week 2, running the ball will have to become a priority again. Inexplicably, in a game the Rams were playing without left tackle Orlando Pace and against a defensive line that featured ends Julius Peppers and Mike Rucker, the Rams totally abandoned the run.

On three first-quarter possessions, they had two runs and nine passes, followed by three runs and 14 passes in the second quarter. And the pass wasn't working, as Bulger was 8-for-18 for 68 yards and sacked five times for 49 yards lost in the first 30 minutes. Of 20 first-down plays in the game, the Rams had four runs for 16 yards. Passing was another story. Bulger was 6-for-13 for 49 yards and was sacked three times for 26 yards in losses. That's 16 pass plays for a net of 23 yards.

Linehan seemed perplexed after the game, saying, "We had runs early that we were playing for the run, and we checked a couple of the runs and we threw a couple of those throws on some runs that were called. Their box had something to do with it. Some of those I didn't call enough. I think that's the only way we are going to have some success on offense is to stay balanced.

"We've got to stick with it regardless. The commitment was there to do it; we just never really got going. One of the problems, you can't get running with the football if you can't stay on the field. When we go three and out the whole first and third quarters, it hard to not only call a run or a pass, and by that time we're down and we're throwing. It's a little bit of everything."

Of course, until a late safety, when Bulger was sacked in the end zone, it was never more than a two-score game. Yet, Linehan got caught up in passing the ball. At halftime, the Rams had called 23 pass plays and five runs. It was worse in the second half, with three runs and 18 pass plays.

As running back Steven Jackson said, "For us to come out and put up a dismal performance like that is humbling. Hopefully we can get it together."

If they can't, with home games the next two weeks against the 49ers and Arizona, a promising start for Linehan's first year as a head coach will end disastrously.

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Unless RG Adam Timmerman is unable to play because of injured ribs, it appears the team's offensive line will look the same as it did last week, with Adam Goldberg at left tackle as the replacement for Orlando Pace.

If Timmerman can't play, the possibilities are endless, with the most likely having rookie Mark Setterstrom play there. Setterstrom was in for about 10 plays last week at Timmerman's spot. However, there is a chance Goldberg could end up at right guard, since the right side is where he's most comfortable. But that move would likely mean LG Todd Steussie would slide to left tackle with Setterstrom being the left guard.

Said Linehan, "You're always concerned with having guys that haven't played a lot, but I think (line coach) Paul (Boudreau) does a very good job of getting guys ready to play. Adam has played a lot more than we give him credit for, he's just better suited for the right side and I think that's a lot of the reason why he struggled last week. We're young in there at this point. That's what happens when you start having injuries; young players will play, but I think it will pay off for us down the road, these guys getting valuable time now."

While Linehan said it's important to "get our best five at the right positions out there," at this point it's tough to identify that best five.

Asked about the loss of Pace affecting things, Linehan said, "It's a factor, but we have to move on. 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, and that's what we're going to do.

"I think we've still got to look at what's our best five, and put guys in the position where they are most comfortable, but will have the most success. We've got to evaluate that as well. This is the hand we've been dealt. You can't go out and replace your team at this point just because you have injuries. Everybody's got to deal with them, and we've got to deal them."

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The Rams rank 31st in the NFL in rushing yards per game (153.2) and last in average yards per rush (5.2). Only Indianapolis has allowed more rushing yards (155.1).

Big plays have been a frequent occurrence, and it's been a pattern that pre-dated the arrival this year of Jim Haslett as defensive coordinator.

Said Linehan, "We've got to continue to tackle better. Teams are having success running the football and that's becoming a broken record now. It's not like we're not working on it. We're adding plays to our practices in our run periods and we're still looking for the answer and we need to continue to, because it's going to continue to hurt us if teams are able to run at will on us.

"Even with the big runs that were happening in the game (last Sunday) our defense was able to keep the score relatively low and give us a chance going into the second half and fourth quarter to come back if we ever got anything going offensively. Those big runs are like the sacks we had: They affected field position in a very negative way."

Asked how it can improve, Linehan said, "We're going to have to elevate our play, elevate what we're doing as coaches and players, and that's all you can do. One thing I learned a long time ago and will always live by is, we always have to do our best and work hard on a daily basis to improve and that's all we can do. As long as we do our best, there will be not regrets, but if you have regrets it's because you're cutting corners somewhere, and we can't do that."

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While Richie Incognito has been the starting center since Andy McCollum was injured in the season opener, Linehan said he believes Incognito is better suited for guard.

"At this point he's our best answer at center, but I think down the road, if we had an option, having him play guard again would be something we'd seriously consider," Linehan said. "I don't know if it's the mentality or temperament, but he's a throwback of what guards are. He's a big physical player and has an edge, but as a center sometimes you have to temper that."


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