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Crushing Loss Should Mold Rams Offseason
By Barry Waller
In many ways, other than actually having to sit and watch it happen of course, it may be better for the Rams to exit the playoffs by getting their asses kicked than battle to the end only to lose by two missed field goals, like the Jets did in Pittsburgh. When a team folds up like Mike Martz’ team did Saturday night in Atlanta, it can really shine a spotlight on the roster and coaching staff, and make it very clear what changes have to be made this off-season, if this organization is to return to its former glory.
Everyone thought the way the Rams got punked by Atlanta in week two was an aberration, and even the players were clear that this was a far different unit than it was in September. Once the game began however, it was a football version of “Teen Wolf Too”, a similar, but even feebler sequel to the original. At least one can leave a horrible movie after five minutes, though.
The Ram’s schedule will be softer in 2005, and the NFC West is looking so weak, with many changes expected in Seattle and San Francisco, that the Arizona Cardinals should be the pre-season favorite to win the division next year. However, the chances of sneaking into post season again next year by standing pat shouldn’t prevent the obvious additions and subtractions Rams president John Shaw must make soon.
Mike Martz certainly should accept his fair share of the blame for this star- crossed season, but in truth, Martz probably knew what the team lacked from training camp on, and maybe before that. It’s not his fault that free agency cost his defense its two most emotional players, tackle Brian Young and the “alpha male” of the defense, defensive end Grant Wistrom.
Losing those two on the heels of watching other emotional leaders like MLB London Fletcher, DE Kevin Carter, and cornerback Dre Bly leave in recent years, and others like Toby Wright and D’ Marco Farr retire too soon due to injury has been simply too difficult to overcome.
It seems like every time the Rams are raided for talent because of their cap issues, the targets are always the players who have brought a team lacking tough guys their backbone. It’s never been more evident than in 2004, and the final debacle topped it all off, or more correctly, bottomed it out.
Martz probably thought his team could get by with guys he brought in to add grit; tackle Kyle Turley, center Dave Wohlabaugh, and safety Aeneas Williams, plus the young guys he saw as future leaders, like Adam Archuleta and Pisa Tinoisamoa, added to his core of championship caliber stars.
However, when Williams turned out to be too hurt to play, let alone lead, Wohlabaugh and Turley couldn’t play, the Rams became as soft as the 2000 or 2002 clubs again. When Archuleta’s back turned him into a mediocre player, and Tinoisamoa joined Archuleta in that regard with a separated shoulder that will be surgically repaired soon, the 2004 team was doomed, especially the defense and special teams, units that absolutely run on emotion and courage.
On Saturday, the Falcons decided to basically run the option, as Michael Vick threw only 16 passes, few further than 10 yards downfield, and most at the line or just beyond, and gained more yards rushing, 119, than passing, 80. Halfback Warrick Dunn did his usual Barry Sanders imitation against the Rams with 142 yards on just 17 carries, with his running mate, T.J. Duckett adding 66 on 15 carries, mostly on short yardage situations.
The Falcons’ wide receivers became downfield blockers, since they knew the ball wasn’t coming their way, and they eliminated the speedier Rams cornerbacks from catching Vick and Dunn downfield. It was a good strategy, one the Rams could not adjust to at all, which brings serious questions about the future of Rams defensive coordinator, and Martz pal, Larry Marmie.
On many plays, however, it seemed that the defense had a good formation and execution by the defensive line to stop Vick and Dunn. Then the second group of defenders, the linebackers and safeties, would simply avoid contact or get blocked to the ground, and the result was a huge gain, as much as a long bomb pass.
The Rams defensive tackles seemed to do what they were coached to do, push the offensive linemen backward and stay in their lanes, but too many times their ends over pursued, allowing Vick and Dunn to get around them. When the linebacker and safety and corner on that backside became flat-footed pylons, it was all over. When Vick did throw, mostly to backs and the tight end, Alge Crumpler, the safeties and linebackers were helpless to cover the big pro-bowler.
The Rams tried hard to bring in veteran safeties all season, but one after one they either were injured or failed to fit. It’s no wonder the task was so tough though, because tough, fast safeties are a valuable asset, as are tough, fast linebackers, fullbacks, and tight ends. Ironically, those are the lowest paid positions and the positions rarely drafted high in round one, or in that round at all.
However, those are also the players on a roster who make or break special teams, and on Saturday, it became even more obvious that the Rams special teams will continue to be the main anchor to drag the team down, other than kicker Jeff Wilkins. Wilkins nailed a 55-yarder at the end of the half to give his team hope at 28-17, only to see the team go into their usual third quarter funk. Martz needs to examine his halftime routine, because this Rams club was pathetic in the third quarter all season.
Much of the time, the Rams appeared to be able to play through adversity in 2004, except for those times when the special teams went from mediocre to laughable, as they did against Buffalo, and again in the playoff disaster. To allow Allen Rossum to score on one long punt return of 68 yards, then go over 39 yards on two others, on top of kickoff coverage that again stunk means a complete rebuild is needed.
Added to the lowlights of the game was tight end Brandon Manumaleuna inexplicably trying an over the shoulder catch and almost running over kick returner Aveion Cason, and Kevin Garrett trying so hard to down a punt on the one inch line that he stepped on the goal line, as if touching the pigskin down on the one yard line wasn’t good enough. Cason again did nothing to help the Rams field position, nor did the Rams punt returner, though there were just two punts by the Falcons anyway.
Those are coaching issues, and without question, Mike Stock must be replaced as special teams coach. His replacement should be someone with youth and passion that relates to young players and can get them pumped up, or else Larry Marmie, if Martz just has to keep him around. If Marmie is really Martz friend, he should “fall on his sword” and retire, to prevent the dissention in the organization that will occur if he won’t.
The Rams were obviously a tired and beat up crew playing against a rested Falcons team, but that doesn’t excuse the way so many players quit on defense and special teams, which, cannot be tolerated. Some of the problem can be fixed in free agency and the draft, which should be strong in linebackers and safeties early, but without better coaching of the additions it won’t matter in 2005. There are some great defensive minds out there, and the Rams must bring one in now, as the Falcons did in bringing in Ed Donatell this season.
The Falcons defense was helped by the way the Rams unit and their special teams dug a deep hole for the team early, but they kept coming, and kept forcing Rams MVP Marc Bulger to absorb punishment. The Rams running game looked to be effective in the first half, but when they fell far behind it suffered, especially after Tom Nutten had to depart with a recurrence of his knee injury, and the passing game became tougher as a result.
Of all the positives to be gained from such a beating as this, the biggest is the heart, courage, and toughness shown by Bulger, who never gave up despite a bruised left hand and back. Bulger and Marshall Faulk played to the end, hopefully showing their young teammates what a winner is. The Rams final possession was reminiscent of a game in Dallas a few years ago, when Cowboy superstars Troy Aikman and Emmit Smith, both playing hurt, ran down a defensive back who had intercepted a last second pass, and could have scored a meaningless TD as time expired.
While rest of their teammates stood and watched, those two future Hall-of-Famers gave their last bit of effort to knock the opponent out of bounds short of the goalline, teaching anyone willing to know what exists in truly great players. The way Bulger and Faulk, who take more physical beatings than any player on the team, ended their season is inspirational, and in 2005, Marc Bulger should be rightly considered one of the top 5 quarterbacks in the league.
Bulger showed that even without blocking and without Ike Bruce, who didn’t play Saturday due to a stomach injury, he could still move the offense. The late emergence of Kevin Curtis, who led the Rams with seven catches for 128 yards and their first score, adds to the Rams NFL best receiving corps. Rookie Steven Jackson was very ineffective again Saturday, struggling from bruised ribs, but he certainly showed he is an NFL starting caliber back in 2004.
For Bulger to lead the team to his top level of play, the team must also rebuild the line with talent at least equal to that of Turley and Wohlabaugh. Whether that means drafting a tackle and guard on day one of the draft, or adding free agents, it is a must to protect Bulger, and open holes for Faulk and Steven Jackson. Doing that also means having a tight end that ranks at least in the top half of the league. Manumaleuna again failed to mature, and his bonehead assignment errors and special teams ineffectiveness should cost him his starting job.
The draft must concentrate on tough, fast, athletes who play linebacker and safety and cornerback, where the Rams young duo of Kevin Garrett and DeJuan Groce look like busts at this point. They must focus on physical, emotional leaders who play special teams and love doing it. Hopefully a top return specialist will be available as well for the new special teams assistant, and some severe toughness for a new defensive coordinator.
-01-18-2005 #2moklerman Guest
Re: Crushing Loss Should Mold Rams Offseasonadds to the Rams NFL best receiving corps.
and in 2005, Marc Bulger should be rightly considered one of the top 5 quarterbacks in the league.
Martz needs to examine his halftime routine, because this Rams club was pathetic in the third quarter all season.
If Marmie is really Martz friend, he should “fall on his sword” and retire, to prevent the dissention in the organization that will occur if he won’t.
-01-18-2005 #3DJRamFan Guest
Re: Crushing Loss Should Mold Rams Offseason
No, I saw keep NFL. Indy's receivers were more spread out, but I like the NFL tag better.
Marmie needs to go.
Arizona would be my early pick too if Denny can find a quarterback for more than 2 weeks.
Seattle and St. Louis are up in the air depending on coaches/free agency/draft.
Re: Crushing Loss Should Mold Rams OffseasonOriginally Posted by moklermanClanRam ModCast: Episode Four
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