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  1. #1
    RamWraith's Avatar
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    Rams Have New Look, but Offense Is Still Biggest Threat

    By LYNN ZINSER

    Published: January 10, 2005


    hey have the same drama-king head coach, the same offense that relegates between-the-tackles runs to the same scrap heap as leather helmets, and the same two old-school receivers whom defensive backs struggle to cover.

    But a closer look at the St. Louis Rams reveals that little of the team that managed a 27-20 victory at Seattle on Saturday in the National Football Conference wild-card playoff game looks like the Rams of old.

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    "We are coming around," Rams Coach Mike Martz said with a satisfied smile after the game. "There are a lot of good young players here that played at a really high level. That's what is really thrilling. Who knows what this team can achieve from here on out."

    The victory over the Seahawks, which vaulted St. Louis into an N.F.C. divisional playoff game against Atlanta this Saturday, served as a coming-out party for players like the speedy receivers Kevin Curtis, who caught 4 passes for 107 yards, and Shaun McDonald, whose only catch was a crucial 31-yarder during the Rams' drive to the winning touchdown.

    "It's uplifting to see these guys," the 11-year veteran receiver Isaac Bruce said; he and Torry Holt still form the backbone of the Rams' offense. "Their confidence grows with every catch."

    Martz talked with pride about his young lineup, saying it was a group he saw coming together - despite a season full of struggles that required finishing with two straight victories just to reach the playoffs at 8-8. Of course, Martz often overshadowed his team with his histrionics, but he was more than happy to give his players all the credit for the playoff victory.

    Martz applauded the defense, the side of the team that even he rarely notices, the side that is almost unrecognizable without a roster and photo ID's. But it came together to hold the Seahawks' star running back, Shaun Alexander, to 40 yards rushing.

    The Rams' leading tackler, Pisa Tinoisamoa, is a second-year linebacker out of Hawaii. The defense has rising stars on its line, including the rookie end Tony Hargrove out of Georgia Tech; Martz singled him out for his relentlessness against Seattle.

    And Jimmy Kennedy, a second-year defensive tackle out of Penn State, is playing despite a broken foot and had a crucial sack of Seahawks quarterback Matt Hasselbeck with 46 seconds remaining to help thwart a potential game-winning drive.

    But the offense remains the heart of the Rams, and quarterback Marc Bulger, 27, may have had his most impressive game, winning his first playoff game in his second full season as a starter. More telling than his statistics - 18 of 32 passing for 313 yards and 2 touchdowns - was his handling of a difficult situation with poise.

    For much of the game, the communications system in Bulger's helmet faded in and out and he struggled to hear the plays being called by Martz. He used up the Rams' timeouts because of it, but he never lost his composure.

    As a result, Martz, notoriously finicky and demanding of his quarterbacks, lavished Bulger with compliments.

    "He is very calm, very cool," Martz said. "He never gets flustered. He understands exactly what happened. He gets angry about a couple of plays we could have made and didn't, but he has a short memory about all of that stuff. We have a real constructive conversation going on about what adjustments we want to do."

    Bulger still relies largely on Holt and Bruce, who together have 17 years of N.F.L. experience and combined for 183 catches and 1,664 yards receiving this season. But they are making room for Curtis and McDonald, whose speed can stretch defenses. Curtis caught a 50-yard pass against the Seahawks that set up a touchdown; he got a step on cornerback Marcus Trufant and caught a beautifully placed pass from Bulger. Later, he caught a 31-yarder.

    McDonald made one of the biggest plays, turning a short pass into a 31-yard gain and a first down on the drive that produced the winning touchdown.

    Curtis and McDonald give Bulger options when defenses manage to clamp down on Holt and Bruce.

    "You can't double everyone," Bulger said. "That is why I think the Rams, back with Az Hakim in 1999 and 2000, were so good because they had that third guy. It's nice not only to have Kevin but Shaun McDonald. What he can do after he gets the ball is impressive."

    Curtis may be the speediest and most deceptive of the Rams' receivers. He is generously listed at 5 feet 11 inches and 186 pounds. A second-year pro out of Utah State with a mop of hair covering his eyes, Curtis could easily pass for your average pizza delivery boy.

    That is, until he blazes through a secondary. He caught only 32 passes in the regular season, but he had 6 catches for 99 yards against the Jets in the season finale, when his speed started to open some eyes.

    Now that the playoffs have begun and the new-look Rams are still playing, a lot more eyes are watching.


  2. #2
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    Re: Rams Have New Look, but Offense Is Still Biggest Threat

    I hope the media don't make us out to be the "darlings" again. I like it that it's us against everyone else.

  3. #3
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    Re: Rams Have New Look, but Offense Is Still Biggest Threat

    Quote Originally Posted by txramsfan
    I hope the media don't make us out to be the "darlings" again. I like it that it's us against everyone else.
    For some reason, the more the Bermans, Youngs, Bradshaws, Salisbury's & Tom Jacksons of the world dog on us, the better I feel.

    Here's to hoping that Martz says something to the media this week that ticks them off. We tend to play better.
    "Before the gates of excellence the high gods have placed sweat; long is the road thereto and rough and steep at first; but when the heights are reached, then there is ease, though grievously hard in the winning." --- Hesiod

  4. #4
    AvengerRam's Avatar
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    Re: Rams Have New Look, but Offense Is Still Biggest Threat

    What's with the Kennedy playing "despite a broken foot" comment. His foot is healed.

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