Wednesday, October 27, 2004

By Nick Wagoner
Staff Writer

For a team that ranks toward the bottom of the NFL in total defense it certainly seems like the Rams defense has been pretty good most of this season.

Much like the other six games, though, the same problem plagued the defense against Miami on Sunday: Big plays. Every time it appeared the Rams had the Dolphins stopped and set to punt, they came up with something. Usually those plays weren’t simply move the chains plays, but rather score points type of plays.

Rams’ coach Mike Martz said the defense must improve in that area after watching Miami post some big numbers in key situations.

“We gave up three plays in the passing game worth 160 yards, which ends up being three touchdowns,” Martz said. “I think that is a significant number and obviously, it had an impact in the game.”

Those three plays actually add up to 161 yards, but regardless, they all hurt the Rams on the scoreboard and might have cost them a shot at their fifth win heading into the bye week.

Perhaps none of those plays was bigger than the one at the end of the first half. After Miami took over at the St. Louis 47, it seemed certain the Dolphins would score, but the defense as it has done many times this season with its back to the wall, got a pair of stops in Miami’s backfield and a penalty to push the Dolphins back to their 42. On third-and-28, quarterback Jay Fiedler picked up on a Rams’ blitz and hit tight end Randy McMichael for a 42-yard touchdown, giving Miami a 14-7 lead at halftime.

Martz said the play was his fault, as he tried to take the reins on a defensive play, calling for an all-out blitz on the play.

“That was the only defense I have called as a head coach,” Martz said. “And we gave up a touchdown.”

The Dolphins ended any hopes the Rams had of a comeback in the fourth quarter when cornerback Travis Fisher slipped and receiver Chris Chambers caught a slant pass in stride for a 71-yard touchdown. That touchdown gave Miami a 31-14 lead and put to rest St. Louis’ hopes of a Seattle-like comeback.

The other big play came right away in the first quarter on a reverse pass from receiver Marty Booker to Chambers for a 48-yard gain. That set up running back Sammy Morris’ 8-yard touchdown scamper and put Miami up 7-0. That play worked for the first time all year, as Miami coach Dave Wannstedt said after the game it hadn’t worked, even in practice a single time.

Safety Aeneas Williams and his teammates in the secondary struggled to make plays, being burned by a few trick plays and missing some opportunities to make interceptions. The unit did force a fumble, but it was overturned by a Miami challenge.

Williams said he and his teammates have to start coming up with the near misses.

“We have to go back and correct the mistakes,” Williams said. “Guys like myself have to play a whole lot better in order for us to keep improving as a team. I had my opportunity to intercept the ball. I believe making that play possibly turns the whole game around. So, I have to make that play. When guys that this team counts on to make a play like that and I don’t, I believe I put my team at a significant disadvantage.”

Things certainly weren’t all bleak for the Rams defense, though. The defensive line was especially strong, racking up six sacks and holding the Dolphins to 3.4 yards per carry.

In fact, the play of the front seven was probably the team’s brightest spot on a dreary day. Martz said he was proud of the way his defensive line battled.

“I was very pleased with the defensive line and their efforts,” Martz said. “I think it was one of their better performances.”

FISH AGAINST THE FISH: Fisher made his return to the lineup after breaking his forearm against Kansas City on Aug. 23 in the second preseason game. Fisher had some good moments, but also struggled in some situations.

In addition to slipping on Chambers’ touchdown catch, he missed a chance to tackle Morris on his touchdown run. Fisher said he thought he struggled, but was more worried about aggravating his injury.

“I did get some good reps out there,” Fisher said. “Some bad things happened to me, but I had some good plays too. It (the arm) pretty much bothered me the whole game.”

INJURY REPORT: The Rams didn’t escape leave without some bumps and bruises. The official injury report is not available because of their bye week, but Martz offered a small report after the game.

Quarterback Marc Bulger suffered a right shoulder injury after a somewhat controversial hit by defensive end Jason Taylor.

Martz said after the game that he thought the play wasn’t on the up and up.

“I know how he got hurt and it bothers me,” Martz said. “He got driven into the ground.”

There was no flag on the play, further infuriating Martz, Bulger and the Rams. Bulger said perhaps if he had been a perennial Pro Bowler, he would have gotten the flag.

“I had my name on the back of my jersey, maybe that's why," Bulger said.

Bulger wasn’t the only Ram banged up on Sunday. Linebacker Brandon Chillar pulled his hamstring near the beginning of the game. Trev Faulk replaced him in the middle.

Receiver Dane Looker hurt his ankle making a third-down conversion on the Rams’ first touchdown drive in the second quarter. Defensive end Bryce Fisher suffered a chest injury that kept him out after being on the wrong end of a crushing blow from Miami’s Tony Bua. Also hurt were right tackle Grant Williams (pinched nerve) and cornerback Dwight Anderson (shoulder).

Kicker Jeff Wilkins made the start after spraining his left ankle against Tampa B