First Look: The St. Louis Rams

In a 37-29 win over New Orleans on Nov. 11, the Rams played as complete a game as possible on offense and defense. The Saints scored 22 fourth-quarter points to make the game appear closer than it was. On Sunday against San Francisco, the St. Louis offense struggled behind an overmatched line, but the defense bailed the team out again.

For the second consecutive week, the defense held the opponent to less than 100 yards after three quarters. Relying on the defense has not been a usual occurrence for the Rams in recent seasons. "We leaned on them for sure, especially the second half," coach Scott Linehan said.

The Rams led 10-3 at halftime and had outgained the 49ers 169-82. But in the second half, the Rams managed just 38 yards on 24 plays. But they had no turnovers, and the defense kept the 49ers from scoring a touchdown. "It was pretty tough yards," running back Steven Jackson said. "We got off to a pretty good start, but they made some adjustments and knew what we were trying to do in the running game, and they were able to make things harder than they were."

Quarterback Marc Bulger said, "I don't want to say we were playing conservative. We certainly had plays that were (downfield) shots. There were a couple protection breakdowns. We hit a key third down on a pass to Torry (Holt), and we had holding."

That was in reference to a 21-yard pass to Holt on third-and-15 in the second quarter that would have moved the ball to the 49ers 43-yard line. But tackle Alex Barron was penalized for holding, and the Rams had to punt.

Added Bulger, "We were just doing stuff that was hurting us -- that we were doing before when we were losing. But it became pretty evident late in the third quarter that (the 49ers) were going to struggle scoring, and we were going to put it on our defense. It was just up to us not to (mess) it up, not to turn it over and not to give them big plays."

Call it an ugly victory if you want, but Linehan doesn't care.

"I've learned this coming from an offensive background, that there are no style points in winning and losing," he said. "There's just a lot of happiness all around when it comes to winning. That's the greatest part about this game. Even though it was a low score, it was a team victory. I was very proud of how we played."

As for coming home to play Seattle this week, Linehan said, "For once I don't have to stand up here and talk about a whole slew of injuries. We had a couple guys that need to get healed up this week, but nothing real significant. We're learning as a team, growing as a team, and we're looking forward to our rematch with Seattle this week. We've had some tough games with San Francisco, but today we were able to win this football game. We did not lose the game by being careless with the ball and doing things that lose games."

-- Rams offensive coordinator Greg Olson rues the irony of it all. "It's amazing how much we are looking forward to the return of a 35-year-old offensive lineman," Olson said. "But that's an indication of how this season has gone.

Olson was talking about Todd Steussie, who re-signed with the team Tuesday after being sidelined since Aug. 30 when he suffered a broken bone in his foot. After being placed on injured reserve and then reaching an injury settlement, that made Steussie eligible to return this week.

He could have re-signed at any time with another team, but he said, "I like St. Louis, and I just don't want to move my family around anymore. They like it here, too."

His loss was almost as important as any the Rams experienced on the offensive line. Last season, he started seven games at left tackle and eight at left guard because of injuries. When left tackle Orlando Pace was lost for the season in the season opener, Steussie wasn't available to replace him. The next week, the Rams made three changes on the line, starting a weekly game of musical chairs.

Now, it is expected Steussie will start this week, most likely at right guard but possibly right tackle. Asked how realistic it is for Steussie to start, Olson said, "Oh, I think it'll definitely be realistic. When you look at it, we've brought guys in off the street this season that have been active and have become starters in less than two weeks. So that's not unrealistic at all.

"He's got a lot of experience. And he's a very smart, very intelligent player. He knows all the line calls. He's done an excellent job in the two years he's been here with us. He's a great leader."

Said coach Scott Linehan, "Knowing Todd, he'll be available for this game. I know he's in very good condition. ... We'd like to get him ready as soon as possible. He's a veteran that works very hard at keeping in shape."

PLAYER NOTES

--QB Marc Bulger has just one interception in his last three games after throwing seven in the other four games he played.

--WR Torry Holt had eight receptions for 154 yards and three touchdowns against Seattle in the game played in St. Louis last season.

--WR/KR Dante Hall did not experience any problems with the ankle injury that had kept him out of four games. Hall had a 29-yard punt return against the 49ers that led to the Rams' final field goal in a 13-9 victory.

--WR Travis Taylor, who was the eighth receiver on the team's roster, was placed on waivers Tuesday to make room for OL Todd Steussie.

--RB Steven Jackson has made it through two games healthy after playing against Cleveland Oct. 28 and suffering back spasms.

--OL Todd Steussie was officially re-signed by the team Tuesday, and is expected to start at either right guard or right tackle this week against Seattle.

--S Oshiomogho Atogwe has interceptions in two consecutive games. In 26 games as a starter, Atogwe has six interceptions and seven forced fumbles.

REPORT CARD VS. 49ERS

PASSING OFFENSE: C-minus -- QB Marc Bulger had a respectable passer rating of 87.4 mainly because he didn't throw an interception and completed 65.6 percent of his passes. But his 21 completions were good for only 155 yards, and Bulger was sacked six times as the 49ers got consistent pressure. WR Torry Holt averaged just 7.9 yards on his seven catches, while WR Isaac Bruce averaged 10.8 yards on his five receptions. Holt did have a 3-yard touchdown that gave the Rams their only touchdown of the day.

RUSHING OFFENSE: C -- The numbers don't look bad when you see RB Steven Jackson had 92 yards on 23 attempts. However, 58 of his yards came on two attempts, meaning his other 21 carries totaled 34 yards. At one point in the fourth quarter, Jackson had 100 yards on 18 carries, but his next four attempts went for minus-13 yards before a 5-yard gain on his final tote of the day. After rushing for 92 yards on 16 carries in the first half, the Rams added just 10 yards on 13 rushes in the second half.

PASS DEFENSE: B-plus -- QB Trent Dilfer had a big fourth quarter, but the Rams kept the 49ers out of the end zone and intercepted Dilfer's final pass of the game. Dilfer's passer rating for the game was 44.8, despite completing 10 of 24 passes (with four spikes) for 141 yards in the final quarter. The Rams also had three sacks.

RUSH DEFENSE: A -- The 49ers never got a ground game going, as RB Frank Gore totaled just 32 yards on 15 attempts with a long of 7. The Rams were burned by Gore for a 43-yard touchdown the first time these teams played this season, but they didn't allow that to happen again. This marked the 11th consecutive game in which the Rams have not allowed a running back to total 100 yards.

SPECIAL TEAMS: B -- Nothing great, nothing particularly bad. KR Dante Hall returned for the first time since injuring his ankle Sept. 30 and averaged 10.8 yards on punts with a 29-yard return and 19.0 on kickoffs. The kick coverage was solid, except for a 41-yard run by Nate Clements on a reverse on a punt return. PK Jeff Wilkins appears recovered from his slump on the road, and he made two field goals, including one from 49 yards.

COACHING: B -- With the defense consistently stopping the 49ers, the offense went conservative, making sure not to commit turnovers. It was the second game in a row without a turnover after the team had 24 in the first eight games of the season. The Rams are only 2-8, but coaches still have the team playing hard.


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