He's got it covered

Patriots' Samuel ready for Rams

By Joe Burris, Globe Staff | November 6, 2004

FOXBOROUGH -- To hear Patriots coach Bill Belichick tell it, the St. Louis Rams aren't necessarily prone to subscribe to the adage, "If at first you don't succeed, try, try again," when it comes to their offensive game plan. He said as far as play-calling is concerned, New England's opponent tomorrow won't run a particular formation on consecutive downs even if it does succeed.

"The Rams don't have many tendencies because they make it a point of never running the same play twice," Belichick said yesterday.

Therefore, regardless of how New England's secondary fared in a play where Torry Holt ran a slant pattern and Isaac Bruce went long, the Patriot defensive backs might as well forget about it as they move on to the next down. Belichick was asked if that meant St. Louis had as many as 70 formations in their playbook.

"It's more like 300," he said.

It will present quite a challenge for a Patriots secondary looking to bounce back from last Sunday's debacle in Pittsburgh, where All-Pro cornerback Ty Law suffered a broken bone in his left foot that will sideline him 4-7 weeks. That means the two starting cornerbacks are on the injured list, as Tyrone Poole is out with a knee injury.

After its troubles with Pittsburgh wideouts Plaxico Burress and Hines Ward, the New England defense must face an offense that ranks sixth in the NFL in total yards (375.4 per game). Led by Bruce (44 catches, 635 yards, 1 touchdown) and Holt (37 catches, 491 yards, 4 TDs), St. Louis ranks fifth in the league in passing offense (264.1 yards per game).

What's more, running back Marshall Faulk is a perennial pass-catching threat, placing third on the team with 28 receptions for 216 yards. Faulk leads the Rams in rushing with 111 carries for 465 yards and 3 touchdowns, and this season has been bolstered by the exceptional running of rookie Steven Jackson (46 carries, 260 yards, 1 TD).

Asante Samuel, who has been the Patriots' starting right cornerback since Poole's injury, said the Rams merely offer another challenge.

"You've got Isaac Bruce and Torry Holt, and all those guys are very fast and they run very good routes," said Samuel. "They've got good hands and they play real good ball. This is the NFL, you never know what you're going to get. You can get [particular plays] twice or you may not get them twice.

"Every game is a different kind of challenge, so you have to just approach it by watching film and figuring out what to do."

After starting for the first time this season Oct. 10 against Miami, Samuel had 3 tackles, 2 passes defensed, and a forced fumble in the Oct. 24 win over the Jets. He had three tackles and a forced fumble in last Sunday's loss in Pittsburgh.

"I think with each game I learn more and more," said Samuel, who has 18 tackles and five passes defensed this season. "Tendencies, you just pick up from being out there. And every game is getting more and more comfortable, so I feel really good about it."

Rookie cornerback Randall Gay, who subbed for Law last week, will likely receive plenty of attention from the Rams. On the second play following Law's injury last Sunday, Burress burned Gay for a 47-yard touchdown.

Gay finished with four tackles and a pass defensed in the game, and has eight stops and an interception this season.

"Here the coach expects that if someone goes down, someone else is supposed to come in and get the job done," said Samuel. "Those guys are to do it just as good, if not better. You just have to go out there and play."

Asked about Gay yesterday, Belichick said, "I am sure he will have some opportunities to play in the game, and hopefully he is well prepared for them. Then he can go out and execute the defense as it is called in game conditions. He has been doing that."

Belichick declined to say whether wide receiver Troy Brown, who played some cornerback during the exhibition season, would appear at the position tomorrow. "Troy is a good team player," Belichick said. "He has done whatever we asked him to do. I'm sure if we asked him to play tackle, he would go in there and play it the best he could." . . .
The Patriots' punt return team will undoubtedly be challenged by St. Louis's Sean Landeta, who at 42 continues to be one of the league's best punters. Landeta has punted 29 times for a 43.7-yard average, tops in the NFC. Not bad for a player whose first NFL season was 1985 with the Giants, when Belichick was the team's defensive coordinator. "I go way back with Sean, and if you told me in 1985 that Sean would be punting 20 years later, I would have never thought that," said Belichick. "I know punters have longer careers, especially the good ones, but Sean has really had a remarkable career." . . . The Patriots' injury report remained unchanged for the third consecutive day. Among those who are questionable are running back Corey Dillon (thigh), Brown (shoulder), linebacker Larry Izzo (knee), fullback Patrick Pass (thigh), and wide receiver David Givens (knee). Meanwhile, wide receiver Deion Branch, who is doubtful because of a knee injury, continues to progress. "You'll see me soon," he said . . . Asked how he felt the team would respond after its first loss in 22 games, Belichick said, "You try to get the team ready to play on Sunday, but you don't know what you are going to get [until] Sunday," he said. "How you set it up in practice may or may not be the way it unfolds."