Scott Linehan is struggling to help maintain the St. Louis Rams’ reputation as one of the NFL’s top offenses. Dennis Green and the Arizona Cardinals, meanwhile, have stumbled as they try to establish themselves as a high-scoring team.
After both suffered their first loss of the season last week, the Rams and Cardinals look to bounce back from lackluster games on offense when the NFC West rivals meet at Cardinals Stadium on Sunday.
St. Louis (1-1) has mustered one touchdown in two games, and had just 265 total yards in a 20-13 loss at San Francisco last Sunday.
Linehan was hired to coach the Rams after a successful run as offensive coordinator with Minnesota from 2002-04 and Miami last season. He took over a St. Louis team that perennially owned one of the league’s best offenses under Mike Martz.
Linehan disagrees with criticism that he’s been too conservative, noting his improvement with the Dolphins last year from 29th to 14th in total offense and his work with the Vikings—who were second, first and fourth in the NFL during his three years there.
“We’re changing an entire culture, not just an offense,” Linehan said. “It will take time and it does take time.”
Steven Jackson has a pair of 100-yard games, but that’s the only success story on offense. The Rams lost last week for the first time in 40 contests with a 100-yard rusher since moving to St. Louis in 1995 because of problems with the passing game.
Quarterback Marc Bulger has no interceptions, but also has just one touchdown pass. Offensive coordinator Greg Olson said Bulger has perhaps been playing it too safe.
“He’s probably just thinking a little bit too much,” Olson said. “He needs to cut it loose and play.”
The offensive line is patched together after losing center Andy McCollum for the season with a knee injury in the opener, and tackle Orlando Pace with a concussion against the 49ers. Pace’s status for Sunday’s game is uncertain.
Linehan said a CAT scan was normal, but he said the seven-time Pro Bowl tackle will be “limited at best” most of the week. Linehan said Pace told him after a team meeting on Monday that he felt better.
Todd Steussie finished last Sunday’s game at tackle, moving from left guard. Steussie would get the start if Pace isn’t able to play.
The Rams are hardly alone in their offensive woes as 12 teams in the league have scored fewer than St. Louis’ 31 points.
“It’s like my wife told me, you’re only going to improve from where you are right now,” Linehan said. “She didn’t say that to be a smart aleck, I just think it was a pretty keen statement because I really believe that’s where we’re at, to be sitting here 1-1 and acting like we’re in a state of dysfunction on offense.”
The Cardinals (1-1) are hoping their newfound home-field advantage can help them restart an offense Green labeled “inept” on Monday.
One week after Kurt Warner was voted NFC offensive player of the week for his performance in Arizona’s 34-27 season-opening victory at home over San Francisco, he was blamed, in part, by his coach for the offense’s struggles in last Sunday’s 21-10 loss at Seattle.
The Cardinals fumbled five snaps and were sacked five times. Warner completed 24 of 38 passes for 191 yards and one touchdown with one interception.
Star receiver Larry Fitzgerald had his streak of six consecutive 100-yard receiving games within the NFC West end, catching four passes for 52 yards. Edgerrin James, signed to a big contract in the offseason, is averaging just 3.1 yards on 44 carries.
Green hopes to find an edge Sunday in the new Cardinals Stadium. The game, like every other one at home for Arizona this season, is sold out.
“What we can do Sunday is have a sellout at home, have everybody come in wearing their red, be ready to have a good time, and get our offense back playing like it’s one of the best in the game,” he said.
Another area of concern is penalties. Arizona was penalized 11 times for 66 yards last week, including several for false starts, after committing 11 penalties for 83 yards in the opener.
“We’ve got to be, by a long shot, the worst penalized team in the National Football League,” Green said.
The Cardinals have won two of the last three meetings with the Rams after dropping five straight in the series. The teams meet again in St. Louis on Dec. 3.