Commentary

Lions stealing Rams' thunder

A woeful start offensively has fans in St. Louis longing for a return to the past, writes Seth Wickersham.

Originally Published: October 4, 2007
By Seth Wickersham | ESPN.com

Poor Scott Linehan. Look, we all knew it would happen. The Rams' offensive glory days were going to end sometime, and Linehan happens to be wearing the headset for the curtain calls. As if we needed further proof that the Greatest Show on Turf is officially over, look at what happened last week when receiver Isaac Bruce guaranteed a win against the Cowboys. Used to be a statement like that would elicit a "Well, duh," response because the Rams were, well, the Rams, who had scored 133 touchdowns in '99-'00. But what happened after Bruce's prediction?

St. Louis' offense didn't even score.

Mike Martz
Rob Tringali/Sportschrome/Getty ImagesFans in St. Louis are probably feeling nostalgic.
What's stupider, Bruce has guaranteed another victory this weekend against the Cardinals, which is prompting people to look at him like he has three eyes. Yeah, it's that bad. An offense that began the season with a QB/RB/WR combo (Marc Bulger/Steven Jackson/Torry Holt) as good as anyone's is strikingly inept.

St. Louis is 0-4 and has been outscored by 48 points the past two weeks. The offense has produced one touchdown in its past 32 drives, and a muffed punt set that up. Bulger, playing with two cracked ribs, hasn't thrown a touchdown pass in his past 50 attempts. According to St. Louis Post-Dispatch columnist Bernie Miklasz, the Rams have thrown behind the line of scrimmage or no further than 10 yards downfield 66 percent of the time.

Meanwhile, the Lions -- yeah, the Lions -- are 3-1 behind the playcalling of Mike Martz, who was fired from the Rams after going 54-33, including the playoffs, in the five full seasons he was head coach. Jon Kitna -- yeah, Jon Kitna -- looks like he'll be starting in the Pro Bowl this year, and is completing 71 percent of his passes.

The Lions lead the league in passing and are a blast to watch, two former signatures of St. Louis. Two Rams castoffs-turned-Lions, receivers Shaun McDonald and Mike Furrey, have combined for 514 yards and three touchdowns. While the Lions seem playoff bound, there was a recent column in St. Louis detailing why the Rams could finish 0-16.

Martz's offenses always have a great sense of timing, don't they?

Linehan is learning that sweeping up after the Greatest Show isn't a lot of fun. He was hired as the Rams' head coach last year in part because management thought he could sustain the Rams' offensive brilliance but make it a little safer, a little less turnover-prone and reckless. But three offensive linemen have gone down, as has Jackson. It hurts to breathe when you have cracked ribs, much less throw, as Bulger has discovered. And even though coaches usually get a pass when injuries decimate a team, many fans are wondering what life would be like if Martz still were around.

It used to be that injuries didn't matter in St. Louis. Trent Green went down, in came Kurt Warner. When Warner's thumb was injured, Green came back in and you couldn't tell the difference. When Warner's hand proved too much of a liability, even for a playcaller who lives and dies with risks, Bulger -- a castoff sixth-rounder from the Saints whom Martz picked up off the street -- finished the season with a 101.5 passer rating and six straight wins. That's great coaching.

If Linehan is a fine offensive mind, he isn't a groundbreaking, record-setting game-planner like his predecessor. Martz is the most innovative offensive mind since Bill Walsh, and that's what the Rams fans know. Decried toward the end in St. Louis as Mad Mike, Martz is loved in Detroit.

Kitna loves that Martz's schemes are so elaborate there are two playbooks, one for plays and one for formations. Kitna loves that he has a coach who, as he told the Detroit Free Press, correctly guesses defenses 85 percent of the time. He loves that throwing an interception doesn't mean he'll be looking over his shoulder because if you're a Mike Martz quarterback, you're going to throw your fair share of picks. Aggression is encouraged.

Suddenly, burned timeouts -- a Martz staple -- don't seem like such a big deal to Rams fans. And that's the burden Linehan is working with. If he had his players healthy, life no doubt would be different. But right now, the Rams can only hope that their Scotch-taped offensive line gels by midseason, when Bulger's ribs and Jackson's groin presumably will be healed.

Until then, Rams fans have to watch the aerial shells launched to streaking receivers in Motown and remember when those plays ended with the Bob 'N Weave.

Wick's Week 5 Picks
A 7-7 Week 4 can lead me to only one conclusion: I'm explaining my picks too much, even when I use Springsteen references to do so. Thus, I'm going to back to my 2006 good luck charm of simply listing the scores. No reasoning. Anything to get back on track.

Titans 23, Falcons 19.
Chiefs 19, Jaguars 12.
Cardinals 27, Rams 13.
Patriots 38, Browns 14.
Saints 24, Panthers 17.
Giants 31, Jets 28.
Steelers 27, Seahawks 24.
Lions 23, Redskins 21.
Texans 34, Dolphins 17.
Colts 37, Bucs 17.
Broncos 26, Chargers 20.
49ers 17, Ravens 13.
Packers 31, Bears 14.
Cowboys 20, Bills 16.

Seth Wickersham is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine.

Seth Wickersham | email

ESPN The Magazine senior writer
Seth Wickersham joined ESPN The Magazine after graduating from the University of Missouri. Although he primarily covers the NFL, his assignments also have taken him to the Athens Olympics, the World Series, the NCAA tournament and the NHL and NBA playoffs.