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Buffalo's defense deserves high billing
Buffalo's defense deserves high billing
By Jim Thomas
Of the Post-Dispatch
One more Sunday, and the Rams are done running the gantlet. When the Rams offense takes the field at Ralph Wilson Stadium in Buffalo, it will be facing its fifth top-10 defense in six games.
The stretch began Oct. 10 in Seattle, when the Rams faced what was then the NFL's top-ranked defense in Grant Wistrom and the Seahawks.
Next came Derrick Brooks, Simeon Rice and fourth-ranked Tampa Bay.
Followed by Jason Taylor, Zach Thomas and third-ranked Miami.
Then, came a respite against 19th-ranked New England, the defending Super Bowl champion.
Last Sunday, it was a rematch with the Seahawks, still ranked eighth in total defense entering the game.
And now, the fifth-ranked Bills, featuring mammoth tackles Sam Adams and Pat Williams and speedy, aggressive linebackers London Fletcher and Takeo Spikes.
That's quite a stretch of defensive competition.
"I don't ever recall having that happen before," said Mike Martz, in his 13th season as an NFL assistant or head coach.
It certainly hasn't happened to the Rams lately. With all respect to quarterback Kurt Warner and his well-earned accomplishments with the Rams, he faced only eight top-10 defenses in the regular season during the "Greatest Show on Turf" period - 1999, 2000 and 2001.
Buffalo will be Marc Bulger's fifth top-10 defensive opponent in 42 days.
"We've never had a quarterback face defenses that are like this," Martz said. "We just haven't. That's why I think Marc's been remarkable."
And it probably helps explain why Martz said Monday that Bulger currently is playing the quarterback position "as well as anybody I've ever been around."
The Rams came closest to such a stretch in 2000, when they played five top-10 defenses in their final seven games of the season. That November, they faced the New York Giants (ranked seventh), Washington (No. 2) and New Orleans (No. 3) back-to-back-to-back. But Warner was out with a broken pinkie finger at that time, so Trent Green was the quarterback in those contests - which included a victory over the Giants and losses to the Redskins and Saints.
After facing second-tier defenses in Carolina (No. 25) and Minnesota (No. 18), the Rams closed out the 2000 regular season with Warner losing to Tampa Bay (No. 7) and defeating New Orleans (then No. 6).
For Martz, the quality of a top-10 defense is evident quickly when he puts on a tape.
"The first thing you look at is the line of scrimmage," he said. "Control of the line of scrimmage. And you notice right away how many big plays are made against a team. Like when we were playing Tampa, you never saw a big play against them (on tape). You just didn't. They never gave up the big run or pass."
Bulger sees some of the same things.
"When you're playing a team in the top five, you won't get a home run," Bulger said. "Or they don't miss tackles. You can throw a 20-yard route, and that's it. When you're playing a team that's ranked in the bottom third, sometimes you can break out of those for touchdowns."
The Rams haven't been lighting up the scoreboard against the elite defenses, but they're more than holding their own.
"We really don't care who we're playing," Bulger said. "Some teams, I think, have to worry - 'We're playing a top five defense. We're going to struggle. We need our defense to step up.' But our thinking is, we'll score on anyone. It's not overconfidence, it's just the reality that we feel like we can score on anybody."
Perhaps the most amazing thing about Sunday's victory over Seattle is that the Rams scored only 23 points despite piling up season-high figures in total offense (462 yards) and rushing offense (202 yards).
Rare lost fumbles by Marshall Faulk and Isaac Bruce slowed some of the team's offensive momentum. In 5 1/2 seasons with the Rams, Faulk had fumbled only nine times before the Seattle game. Bruce had fumbled only 11 times in his 10 1/2 NFL seasons before Sunday.
But when the Rams get good pass protection, avoid an excessive amount of turnovers and establish some form of a running game, they've shown flashes of Greatest Show potential this season.
Even during this run of games against top-flight defenses.
"Ultimately, it's going to make you better," Martz said. "It just is."
Buffalo's defense presents its own set of challenges for the Rams this week. First of all, it's a veteran unit, featuring six starters with at least 100 games of NFL experience. In comparison, the Rams have one such player - Aeneas Williams - and he has been reduced to nickel and dime back duty because of a nagging shoulder injury.
The Bills have held six of their nine opponents to fewer than 300 yards of offense, rank fourth in the league in red-zone defense, and at times, can be very effective zone blitzing.
"They're like a chameleon," Martz said. "They can be blitzing the heck out of you and then all of a sudden stop. But their defensive front is formidable. ... Their front seven can play with anybody. You're not going to find one that's a whole lot better than this one."
this really puts things in perspective.
Last edited by txramsfan; -11-19-2004 at 10:15 AM.
-11-19-2004 #2ebenezer Guest
Re: Buffalo's defense deserves high billingOriginally Posted by txramsfan
Re: Buffalo's defense deserves high billingAnd now, the fifth-ranked Bills, featuring mammoth tackles Sam Adams and Pat Williams and speedy, aggressive linebackers London Fletcher and Takeo Spikes.
If the Nov. 14th Williams/Pace show up, Bulger will be fine. The difference is being that the pressure will probably be coming from inside this week, instead of outside like we've normaly seen this year. So Marc, get your track shoes on and be prepared to get outside the pocket. If Manu & Goodspeed can tie up the LBs, our receivers should be able to get open against the good but not great secondary of the Bills.
Like every other week, it will come down to given Bulger ample time."Before the gates of excellence the high gods have placed sweat; long is the road thereto and rough and steep at first; but when the heights are reached, then there is ease, though grievously hard in the winning." --- Hesiod
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