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Rams' offense lives up to low expectations in loss to Steelers

ST. LOUIS -- The biggest spark the St. Louis Rams' offense provided Sunday in a 12-6 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers came when the turf caught fire as they were being introduced before the game.

It was all downhill from there as the Rams' anemic offense that most feared would start the season was unable to come up with a big play -- any big play -- to help a defense that spent most of the day doing yeoman's work against Pittsburgh's mighty offense.

"Six points isn't going to win you a whole lot of games and I think we're averaging eight points a game the last two weeks, and that's not going to get it done," coach Jeff Fisher said. "That's my biggest area of concern. We played a good defense today. Nonetheless ... with all due respect to [kicker] Greg Zuerlein, I don't want to see him on the field as much. We need to put the ball in the end zone."

The problem here isn't that the Rams' offense struggled on Sunday -- and it did with just 258 yards, 12 first downs, a 2-for-10 third-down conversion rate and two field goals -- it's that this is exactly the concern that most outside observers had before the season began.

The defense looked like the playoff-ready group many thought it would be entering the season. The Rams held the Steelers' previously top-ranked offense to 259 yards and 2.8 yards per carry and came up with five sacks. It was a return to the form of Week 1 against Seattle after a painful hiccup last week in Washington.

But while the defense has been mostly as advertised, so too has the offense. After an offseason in which the Rams changed their offensive coordinator and quarterback, the running backs and three spots on the offensive line, it was reasonable to expect the offense to take time to coalesce even if time is precious in a short 16-game NFL season.

The hope was that the defense could hold the fort and the offense could squeeze out just enough to help the Rams get off to a fast start with the offense coming together after the Week 6 bye.

Over the past two weeks, facing solid if unspectacular defenses in Washington and Pittsburgh, the Rams have scored 16 points, gone 4-for-22 on third down and mustered just 23 first downs.

The run game, which was supposed to be the Rams' bread and butter and the easier transition for their two rookie offensive linemen, has been mostly nonexistent. The Rams running backs are averaging 2.7 yards per carry in three games and their leading rusher against the Steelers was receiver Chris Givens, who took a reverse 24 yards in the fourth quarter.

Overall, the Rams are averaging 3.75 yards per carry when you include receivers and quarterback scrambles, which is better but still not good enough. Receiver Tavon Austin is tied with Benny Cunningham for the team lead in rushing with just 57 yards.

"We have to be able to [run the ball]," quarterback Nick Foles said. "Once we get the run game going better, it's going to really open up a lot of things."

In the meantime, the Rams must find a way to hit on big plays when the opportunity arises. They did it against Seattle when they had eight plays of 20-plus yards. In the past two weeks combined, they have three. But they've also missed chances for more such as tight end Lance Kendricks' drop of a potential long touchdown in the third quarter Sunday.

For an offense with an already slim margin for error, such miscues can't happen.

"Our defense did a tremendous job today," Foles said. "They gave us an opportunity. We have to score more points than them in those situations.

"As an offense, that's something that we're learning. This is a tough situation. This is just part of it, and it's just: How do you learn from this? ... Don't let it get you down. I mean, it's early in the season. We're 1-2. The world's not ending. We will figure it out. We have a bunch of young guys that go to work every day and they want to get better, and that's what I see. That's why I’m optimistic, because of the guys we have. My goal is just to keep grinding forward, and by the end of the year, we'll be where we want to be."

Perhaps they will, but an offense that might be where it wants to be by the end of the year while the defense toils away for the first part of the season? Sounds like the recipe for another lost season.