By Bernie Miklasz
ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
Sunday, Dec. 18 2005

Today's question:

How is it possible for a HOME team to be flagged for eight false-start
penalties?

On the road, the crowd noise is a factor. The roar from the stands can cause
visiting offensive linemen to lose their hearing, their concentration, their
timing. They flinch.

In the final days of 2005, The Ed in downtown St. Louis is one of the quietest
and lifeless among all NFL stadia. Noise isn't an issue, unless you're talking
about an irritating mix of Jumbotron commercials and samples of trite 1980s
hair-band rock music.

Those advertisements and classic rock aren't played after the home team breaks
the huddle, so I don't think Rams linemen are receiving subliminal messages
from the Van Halen song "Jump." I'd say it's more about lax concentration and
lapses in discipline, but I could be wrong.

And in the Rams' 17-16 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday, the home team
was penalized 15 times for 115 yards. Eight of the calls were false starts,
including three on rookie left guard Claude Terrell and two on left tackle
Orlando Pace.

"That's definitely on us," Rams guard Adam Timmerman said. "Whenever you have a
false start, that's on whoever moved. You've got to sit in there and hold your
water on that thing."

When a team can't do the most basic thing - line up without lurching or
convulsing before the snap - it's time to turn off the lights on the season.
It's time to go home.

The players gradually are tuning out interim coach Joe Vitt and his tough-guy
homilies. Vitt delivered another instant classic in his postgame address,
saying: "Let me tell you something. We're paid to play hard, we're paid to
coach hard. Anyone who doesn't play hard or coach hard is a fraud. Take a walk
or take a hike."

Vitt's Tony Soprano impersonation is a big hit with the media. When he pops off
like that, the TV sports anchors all but break into calisthenics, they're so
fired up.

But apparently Vitt's message gets lost in translation in the locker room.

A team that commits 15 penalties in a game has mentally moved on.

And the offseason can't get here soon enough.

With only a few days remaining until Christmas, Rams president John Shaw is
making his list of potential coaches, and he's checking it twice. Shaw is
preparing for a fresh start, and it begins by paying deposed head coach Mike
Martz to go away.

The upcoming Martz vs. Shaw negotiations over the final year of Martz's salary
could be more hard-hitting than anything we saw on the field this season.

This era of Rams football certainly has sputtered to a wheezing close. It must
be karmic payback for the entertaining Sundays we enjoyed when the "Greatest
Show" Rams averaged 32.6 points a game from the start of 1999 to the end of
2001. In the current three-game losing streak in which the Rams are
slip-sliding away at 5-9, they've averaged 12.6 points.

Sure, the Rams are starting an ineffective rookie quarterback, Ryan
Fitzpatrick. Sure, injuries have eroded the depth. But that's no excuse for
stupid penalties orbone-headed play calling.

The Rams did some things well Sunday. The STL defense gave up only 201 yards
and forced four turnovers. The Rams offense rushed for 178 yards overall. But
they had only 56 rushing yards in the second half, in part because offensive
coordinator Steve Fairchild never adjusted after the Eagles changed defensive
tactics.

And what was Vitt thinking late in the game?

With the Rams taking over on their final possession and needing to scoot down
the field to get into position for a try at a winning field goal, Vitt used
Arlen Harris instead of Marshall Faulk. (Starter Steven Jackson was out with a
hip pointer.)

Let's see ...

Harris hadn't carried the ball all season until Sunday, and he had a grand
total of 318 yards rushing in his career.

Faulk is one of the great running backs in NFL history, a first-ballot Hall of
Famer with more than 12,000 yards rushing, more than 6,800 yards receiving, and
136 touchdowns. And Faulk looked fabulous Sunday, averaging 5.4 yards on 18
rushes and catching three passes. Faulk delivered extended flashes of his old
greatness.

I'm no Bill Walsh, but it seems logical to have Faulk installed for the final
drive, because he can help you win by running, receiving, blocking and
knowledge.

So what's up?

"Arlen hard worked on (in practice) some of the (pass) protections that we were
sighting, and he also knows the one run that we call 'truck' that he felt
comfortable with," Vitt said. "So we just let him run it."

Huh? To co-opt the old saying: Faulk has forgotten more about football than
Harris will ever know. This was a peculiar decision by Jersey Joe Vitt.

Harris looks good in one practice so he gets the rock with the game on the line?

That's swell.

Except that Faulk has looked good in actual NFL games for 12 years.

Vitt's decision made as much sense as those eight false starts.