Saturday, January 1, 2005

By Nick Wagoner
Staff Writer

Torry Holt has proven himself as one of the league’s best wide receivers over the course of his career. He has put up statistics in just about every season that would place him in the select company of some of the best ever to play his position.

On Sunday, Holt will have the opportunity to do something no player in the NFL has ever done. With 44 receiving yards, Holt will become the first player in league history to have 1,300 or more receiving yards in six straight seasons.

Along with that, Holt can move up in the ranks in Rams’ history in a number of other categories.

Holt said the record would mean something to him.

“Records are meant to be broke,” Holt said. “It feels good to be placed in NFL history. That’s a tremendous feeling. Just looking back at the things I have done, the records I have broken and the history that I’m making…it’s just funny to me, it’s mind-boggling thinking of what I have come from, what I’ve been through…it’s crazy.”

Holt has 87 catches on the season for 1,256 yards and eight touchdowns. He has caught a pass in 90 consecutive games, the longest streak in Rams’ history.

Martz said he is impressed by what Holt has accomplished, considering the injuries and difficulties he has faced in recent seasons.

“There’s so many good things about him, he’s so competitive,” Martz said. “He plays with such great speed, it just seems like he never tires. He is in there on every snap. He’s such a rare athlete. But the last part of it and probably the most significant part is he’s really tough.”

MIRROR IMAGES? When the Rams’ defense glances across the field in practice this week, it will get a good glimpse of what it will see when St. Louis takes on the New York Jets on Sunday.

More often than not, a future Hall of Famer will be gearing up to run the ball right at them. Occasionally, though, a young, more powerful back will take the snaps and attempt to bulldoze his way through the Rams’ defense.

However, on Sunday, the Rams won’t be facing Marshall Faulk (their own future Hall of Fame running back) and rookie Steven Jackson (their powerful young back). Instead, they will face New York’s Curtis Martin and Lamont Jordan.

St. Louis is used to it, but the question remains, can the Rams stop it? New York boasts one of the league’s most powerful rushing attacks. The Jets rank fourth in the league in rushing offense with 147.2 yards per game.

New York’s attack is led by a rejuvenated Martin, who has rushed for 1,544 yards and 12 touchdowns this season. Earlier this season, Martin became the second player in league history to rush for over 1,000 yards in his first 10 seasons, tying Barry Sanders.

Martin is just 47 yards away from passing Eric Dickerson for fifth place on the league’s rushing yards list. All of Martin’s accomplishments have essentially flown under the radar, making him one of the NFL’s most underrated backs.

“He’s a player that never really had a nickname,” Jets coach Herman Edwards said. “He’s not a ‘highlight’ player. He’s not going to break off a lot of big, long runs, but he’s very consistent. He does a lot of things without the ball that a lot of people don’t realize at times. But I think, through the test of time, and obviously, when he gets inducted into the Hall of Fame, people will be like, ‘oh, yeah, I heard about that guy.’ And when they put all of his stats out, they will say he was a heck of a football player.”

Jordan, on the other hand, provides the power as a complement to Martin’s slashing running style. Jordan has 456 yards on the season with an average of 5.3 yards per carry. That makes him a threat to break a big play at any time, a dangerous proposition for the Rams’ 27th ranked run defense.

In fairness to St. Louis’ defense, though, it has improved steadily in the past month. A group that was once in the bottom two in the league in run defense has moved up a few notches and has slowed opponents’ run games down consistently. Since the Dec. 5 game against San Francisco, the Rams have allowed opponents to rush 128 times for 394 yards, an average of about 3.2 yards per carry.

That improvement has been mostly due to improve play along the defensive line and defenders staying in their gaps with more frequency. The little errors that plagued the defense for most of the first part of the season seem to be going away and that has eliminated opponents’ opportunities for big plays.

Many of those errors came from adjusting to new defensive coordinator Larry Marmie’s scheme. That adjustment took some time, but it appears the defense is getting the hang of it, according to defensive tackle Ryan Pickett.

“It’s hard to explain, but it just took us awhile to catch on to things,” Pickett said. “I think we’re learning it now, now we’re starting to love it, and we’re growing in it.”

Coach Mike Martz said he is finally seeing the type of defense he has been waiting for from the team.

"I think after I watched the tapes, particularly on defense, we were swarming to the ball, like we’ve wanted to do all year,” Martz said. “It’s been a long process on defense. They’ve had to learn the defense. A lot of it was entirely different than what they’ve experienced in the past.”

That improvement will have to continue Sunday if the Rams want to beat the Jets and maintain an opportunity to make the playoffs.

GAME BALL: Martz earned a game ball from his team for his job against Philadelphia on Monday night.

After coming under some scrutiny from the national media in the past few weeks, Martz has the Rams in position to earn another playoff berth. St. Louis beat the Eagles 20-7 at the Edward Jones Dome on Monday night. The game ball came as show of faith for the team’s leader.

Martz said he was a little choked up by the team’s sentiment.

“Those are the moments as a football coach that you treasure more than anything else,” Martz said. “It’s hard for me to put into words what that means to me. It’s hard to talk about it without getting emotional. It means the world to me that they thought enough to do that, particularly at that moment.”

INJURY REPORT: There were no alterations to the Rams’ injury report Friday. With just one game left in the regular season, it appears everyone on the list will play Sunday, barring an unforeseen injury or aggravation to a current injury.

Running back Steven Jackson (knee), tight end Cameron Cleeland (concussion), defensive end Bryce Fisher (ankle), cornerback Travis Fisher (knee) and fullback Joey Goodspeed (shoulder) are probable.

Right guard Adam Timmerman (knee) and linebacker Drew Wahlroos (knee) are questionable.

All of those players practiced on Thursday and Friday, meaning they should be set to go Sunday.