For a change, Rams play a clean, smart, relentless game
BY JEFF GORDON
Post-Dispatch Online Sports Columnist
Sunday, Oct. 03 2004

OK, we can all get off Mike Martz's back – for a week anyway.

His Rams flew out to San Francisco and played clean, smart, relentless football
while handling the overmatched ***** 24-14.

After this team's disappointing 1-2 start, fans were clamoring for improvement
across the board. In Sunday night's nationally televised ESPN game, they got it.

Coach Martz produced a sensible offensive game plan, establishing a powerful
running game to set up a very efficient passing game. Not only did Marshall
Faulk (40th 100-yard game in his career) get plenty of work, but first-round
draft pick Steven Jackson stayed busy as well.

Quarterback Marc Bulger played pitch and catch with Isaac Bruce (fourth
straight 100-yard game!), Torry Holt, Kevin Curtis and Shaun McDonald as the
passing game diversified.

Defensive coordinator Larry Marmie's beleaguered unit scored two early
takeaways to help the Rams maintain control of the game. These guys were
overdue; those were the first two Rams takeaways this fall.

For the first time all season, the Rams' offense got some short fields to work
with. And they took good advantage of their opportunities.

Also, their kick coverage was fine for a change . . . the Rams avoided the
costly penalties that plagued them during the first three weeks . . . the
defense pursued hard and hit hard, breaking down the Niners offense . . . this
team pretty much checked everything off the checklist.

Meeting Martz's mandate to play "fast and furious," the Rams raced to a 24-0
halftime lead and sent ESPN viewers to bed early.

Now the Rams' schedule turns ugly, starting with the upcoming trip to Seattle.
But at least this team, unlike once-proud teams like the Buccaneers and
Dolphins, still has a chance to make a move this season.


THE GOOD


* It was nice to see linebacker Trev Faulk back from his hamstring tear. Back
on the kickoff return coverage team, he helped stop ***** return man Jamal
Robertson short of the 20-yard line. He continued to make notable plays on
subsequent kickoffs.


* Blitzing with abandon during the game's first series, the Rams defense
scored a quick sack with linebacker Pisa Tinoisamoa leading the charge. That
thwarted the Niners' first foray into scoring position.

That doesn't go into the book as a turnover, but the impact was about the same.


* On the Rams' first possession, Martz established the run with his two-back
"I" formation. Faulk advanced the ball with 4-, 8- and 12-yard runs on his
first three carries. That helped set up the play-action passing game and push
the offense into high gear.


* Bulger got off to a great start; his best play on the first possession saw
him buy some time with his feet, then find Bruce for 19 yards and a critical
first down.


* Continuing his hammer-it-on-the-ground approach in the first quarter, Martz
gambled on fourth-and-inches and punched the ball into the end zone with
fullback Joey Goodspeed taking a sneaky little handoff inside.

That 14-play, 80-yard scoring drive featured nine rushing plays. Any chance Mad
Mike will thank the media for advising him to load more runs into his play
script?


* Hey, the Rams defense forced a turnover! Linebacker Tommy Polley shook the
Tim Rattay tree, forcing the ball to fall out. Teammate Leonard Little
recovered the fumble and advanced it to the San Francisco 11.


* That led to a nifty Bulger-to-McDonald touchdown pass and a quick 14-0 lead.
This was the sort of strong early advantage the Rams had been incapable of
building all season.


* Hey, the Rams defense forced another turnover! Cornerback Jerametrius Butler
played a long toss to wide receiver Cedrick Wilson perfectly and scored the
pick.


* Martz went back to the ground, pounding Faulk and Jackson at the *****
defense. We saw them work together in a two-back set – and this ground success
set up a play-action screen pass to Faulk that went for 25 yards.

The Niners stiffened at the goal line, but the Rams banked a Jeff Wilkins field
goal to push the lead to 17-0.


* With former No. 1 picks Ryan Pickett and Damione Lewis wreaking havoc from
their defensive tackle posts, the Rams forced the ***** to surrender the ball
with another quick three-and-out sequence.


* Bulger was at his absolute best dancing away from a third-down blitz and
flinging a first-down pass to Bruce for 14 yards. That kept the Rams rolling
downfield for still another touchdown and a 24-0 halftime lead.


* Little sent the ***** offense packing midway through the third quarter with
a timely sack; he lined up at his normal speed rush spot at left defensive end,
but ran a twist to the inside and reached Rattay untouched.


* Safety Rich Coady separated Terry Jackson from the football with a crushing
hit, but the ***** recovered the ball. Then Coady attacked Rattay with a safety
blitz and swatted down his pass.


* Jackson flashed his foot quickness by cutting back and busting a 24-yard
gain in the fourth quarter. It's almost unfair to give this big fella carry
after carry after Faulk had already rushed for 112 yards in the game.


* How about that pursuit Lewis demonstrated by helping track down Jackson on a
fourth-and-goal safety-valve pass to Jackson on the left sideline? That came
after he batted down the third-down pass.

He certainly played like a first-round pick in this game.


THE BAD


* It would have been nice to see the Rams offense put some more points on the
board during the second half, but at least this unit ate up lots of clock while
avoiding the costly mistakes that hurt them earlier this season.


THE UGLY

* There was nothing ugly about this performance, either.