Nothing Easy for Rams' Playoff Drive

Friday, December 3, 2004

By Nick Wagoner
Staff Writer

It doesn’t quite have the same feel as the usual 49er-Rams matchup, but that doesn’t make this week any less important for St. Louis.

The Rams are sitting squarely on the bubble for the NFC playoffs despite a 5-6 record. They have the best record in NFC West divisional play at 4-0 and have a chance to go undefeated and win the division again. With their biggest rival coming to town Rams coach Mike Martz said this game still has meaning.

“It’s 49er week,” Martz said. “It’s a big week. We are excited about being back in this division with this game… we’re ready to go.”

If only things were similar for the *****, Sunday’s meeting at the Edward Jones Dome would have meaning to both teams.

On the other hand, this season can pretty much be chalked up for San Francisco. Sitting at 1-10, the ***** have little to play for besides draft position. That record is the worst in the league and the injuries have continued to mount. Coach Dennis Erickson’s job might be in trouble and there could be plenty of changes to the offense in the offseason.

Tight end Eric Johnson said his team has to embrace the role of spoiler if it wants to have any kind of a finish to the season.

“We always want to beat the Rams,” Johnson said. “It’s a rival from years back. We wouldn’t mind taking them out of the playoff (race). It should be a good battle. We are looking to get our first win in a long time here.”

All of the problems San Francisco has had might make it a dangerous task for the Rams. With not much to play for except pride, the ***** have nothing to lose heading into Sunday’s game. They can let it all hang out and do whatever they want. Erickson probably will do just that with his job on the line. Playing the role of spoiler down the stretch would probably be the best way to stay employed.

None of that matters much to Martz, though. He is well aware of the dangers of any game in the league.
“I don’t think that ever has anything to do with anyone when you lineup,” Martz said. “Whoever it is, whether it’s the ***** or anyone else, when you coach or play in this league long enough, you understand that it’s hard every week no matter who you are.”

EDWARDS SET FREE: Free safety Antuan Edwards made his debut against Green Bay and played well, finishing with eight tackles. Edwards didn’t start in that game, but Martz said Thursday that he would get his first start against San Francisco.

“Antuan Edwards did a real nice job,” Martz said. “I was very pleased with him.”

Edwards is the third free safety to start this season, joining Aeneas Williams and Rich Coady. Coady started against the *****, but is better suited to strong safety.

SPECIAL TEAMS MAKES STRIDES: The Rams special teams units, coming off their worst performance of the season against Buffalo, had probably their best against the Packers.

Green Bay was limited to just 18 yards per kickoff return and had no returns on punts. The Rams punted twice and held the Packers inside their 20 on both.

The biggest reason for the improved special teams effort was the alterations made to the personnel. Admittedly, Martz traditionally doesn’t like to put starters on special teams, but he had some that volunteered to pick up the slack after the Bills ran all over them. That group included linebacker Pisa Tinoisamoa and defensive end Leonard Little.

Tinoisamoa set the tone early with a crushing blow on Green Bay kick returner Antonio Chatman on the second kick return of the game. Joining Tinoisamoa was recently promoted linebacker Drew Wahlroos. Wahlroos made a pair of stops in kickoff coverage.

INJURY REPORT: The Rams injury report had some big names on it Thursday afternoon. Receiver Isaac Bruce, who has battled hand problems this season, is on the report for the first time this season, listed as probable. He sat out Thursday’s practice.

Running back Marshall Faulk (knee) is questionable. Martz said Faulk would sit out practice all week because of the bruise on his knee and his status for Sunday’s game will probably be a game-time decision.

Tight end Brandon Manumaleuna (knee) and safety Adam Archuleta (back) are also probable. Both should play Sunday.

Safety Aeneas Williams is questionable with continued neck stinger problems. Cornerback DeJuan Groce is doubtful with a knee injury and guard Chris Dishman is out with a tear in his knee.