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  1. #1
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    Rams produce too little too late (PD's Grades for the Season)

    Rams produce too little too late
    By Jim Thomas
    Of the Post-Dispatch
    Wednesday, Jan. 19 2005

    While the 2003 Rams overachieved by two or three games in fashioning a 12-4
    regular-season record, the 2004 edition underachieved by a like amount.

    Championship-caliber teams don't lose at home to New Orleans. Or lose to
    previously-winless Miami. Or lose at Arizona. Perhaps you stub your toes in one
    of those three games, but not in all three.

    Equally disturbing was the blowout nature of most defeats. Including the
    playoffs, the Rams lost nine times. In eight of those losses, the margin of
    defeat was at least 13 points.

    When blowouts happen that many times, it goes beyond strategy, play-calling, or
    injuries. It becomes a matter of mental toughness, poise, and discipline.

    The 2004 Rams season will be remembered for a surprising late-season surge that
    put the team two steps short of a third Super Bowl in six years. But it also
    will be remembered for terrible special teams, poor run defense, an amazing
    lack of takeaways on defense, and a good offense that had trouble finishing
    drives.


    QUARTERBACK -- Bulger becomes one of the top 10
    GRADE: B

    A year ago, Marc Bulger ranked somewhere in the No. 12 through No. 16 range
    among NFL starting quarterbacks. But he reached the top 10 this season and the
    arrow still is pointing up. After missing 2 3/4 games with a bruised throwing
    shoulder, Bulger was a key factor in the team's late-season surge, with a 106.3
    passer rating in the final four games.

    Bulger's game improved in two obvious areas. For one, he cut down on
    interceptions. Including playoffs, he threw 16 interceptions in 552 attempts
    this season, compared to 25 in 578 attempts a year ago. He makes better
    decisions and has a better knowledge of the offense. For another, Bulger's deep
    accuracy was noticeably better, even though he was bothered by shoulder
    problems at times. His yards per attempt increased a full yard to 8.2 this
    season compared to 2003.

    His toughness and quiet leadership skills came into full view this season.
    Bulger continues to win the close ones: He was 5-1 in games decided by seven
    points or fewer and is 13-3 in such games over his career.

    Bulger needs to improve on his throws in the red zone and throws that end up in
    the red zone. Ten of his 16 interceptions were on such attempts.

    Only the disastrous play of Chris Chandler, who had seven interceptions in five
    quarters against Carolina and Arizona, keeps the QBs grade out of the A range.


    RUNNING BACKS -- Faulk falls from elite status
    GRADE: B-

    From 1999-2001, Marshall Faulk treated St. Louis football fans to three seasons
    unlike any in NFL history in terms of rushing, receiving and scoring. But Faulk
    hasn't had 1,000 yards in a season since 2001, and his rushing total and yards
    per catch have dipped in each of the past three seasons.

    Faulk, who will be 32 next month, no longer can get the corner as he used to,
    or make people miss on a consistent basis. It's not that he's washed up. It's
    just that he's no longer an elite back.

    Rookie Steven Jackson showed flashes of being an elite back. At his best, he
    was an exciting blend of size, speed, and power. In the open field, his long
    stride gobbled up yards in bunches. In tight quarters, he was able to move the
    pile. Although he isn't in Faulk's class as a pass catcher, Jackson was better
    than average. And he showed a willingness to pick up the blitz.

    But in terms of being a feature back, Jackson remains a question mark because
    of his durability. It's obvious his right knee doesn't agree with the
    artificial surface at the Edward Jones Dome. He seemed a little wide-eyed at
    times in the playoffs.

    At fullback, Joey Goodspeed didn't pack the punch of James Hodgins at the point
    of attack. But he was a willing blocker and at least stabilized the position.



    RECEIVERS -- Holt's numbers fell but his play improved
    GRADE: B

    Although his numbers were down from 2003, the 2004 campaign may have been Torry
    Holt's best in the NFL. For the first time in his career, he faced a steady
    dose of extra attention from opposing secondaries, but he still found ways to
    get open. He markedly improved going for and getting passes thrown in traffic.

    After a very fast start, Isaac Bruce wore down at the end of the season. A
    nagging wrist injury contributed to late-season fumbles. Hip, stomach, and
    groin problems slowed him in the regular-season finale and in the playoffs,
    sidelining him for the Atlanta game. But Bruce remains as competitive as ever,
    and as good as they come in big-game situations.

    The story of the season at wide receiver was the development of second-year
    players Kevin Curtis and Shaun McDonald. Both made their share of big plays
    over the course of the season, with Curtis surpassing McDonald as the No. 3
    receiver late in the campaign. Curtis, who is fast, did his best to fill the
    void created by Bruce's limited work in the final three games, with 17 catches
    for 334 yards and a touchdown against the New York Jets, Seattle and Atlanta.

    Dane Looker began the season as the No. 3 receiver, but an ankle injury and
    some early drops pushed him down the depth chart. Other than special teams, he
    rarely played over the second half of the season.

    At tight end, Brandon Manumaleuna cut down on his mistakes from a year ago, but
    he still has brain cramps from time to time. He caught only 15 passes in the
    regular season, but some were critical grabs, none bigger than his 8-yard TD
    grab in traffic that began the Rams' big comeback in Seattle on Oct. 10. Backup
    tight end Cam Cleeland improved as a blocker, and he made a huge catch - the
    winning TD catch in the playoff game against Seattle.


    OFFENSIVE LINE -- The O-line allowed too many sacks
    GRADE: C-

    The Rams allowed 50 sacks, their most since the 1996 Rams, with rookie Tony
    Banks at quarterback, allowed 57. The 2004 sack total tied for the
    fifth-highest figure in the NFL this season.

    But given the injury situation at left guard and right tackle, it's difficult
    to come down too hard on this unit. One-fifth of the sack total came at the
    expense of running backs and tight ends, not offensive linemen.

    The Rams went through five left guards and three right tackles, assuming Andy
    McCollum was supposed to be the starting left guard and Kyle Turley was
    supposed to be the starting right tackle. All told, two offensive linemen had
    surgery during the season, and at least three more will need surgery in the
    offseason. Even with all of those bodies moving in and out of the lineup, the
    run blocking improved, with the team averaging 4.3 yards per carry on the
    ground, compared to 3.6 a year ago.

    Left tackle Orlando Pace, right guard Adam Timmerman, and McCollum (at center)
    were the only starting offensive linemen to make it through all 16
    regular-season games.

    While still good overall, Pace's play was too spotty for an elite tackle.

    Timmerman had some rough moments but fought through shoulder, knee, and
    assorted other ailments. McCollum gave up a sack here and there, but he was the
    team's most consistent lineman.

    Injured or not, Grant Williams yielded too many sacks at right tackle, roughly
    one per game in 11 starts. Blaine Saipaia was better but not spectacular after
    replacing Williams.


    DEFENSIVE LINE -- After a slow start, D-line showed improvement
    GRADE: C+

    The Atlanta debacle notwithstanding, one of the keys to the Rams' defensive
    improvement down the stretch was the play of the defensive line. The insertion
    of tackle Jimmy Kennedy into the starting lineup helped shore up the run
    defense.

    More often than not, he and Ryan Pickett proved tough to budge. Slowed most of
    the 2003 season with a high ankle sprain, Pickett bounced back this season and
    was an above-average performer.

    Similarly, the insertion of enthusiastic rookie Anthony Hargrove as the
    starting right end against Philadelphia on Dec. 27 seemed to revive the end
    play. Bryce Fisher was much more effective late in the season coming off the
    bench.

    Leonard Little struggled all season with the extra attention he received from
    opposing blockers. His sack total (seven) was his lowest since 2000, but his
    pursuit and effort remained unchanged, and he accounted for two of the Rams'
    three defensive TDs, both on fumble recoveries.

    After a slow start, defensive captain Tyoka Jackson was his productive self as
    an end-tackle swing player. Although he lost his starting job to Kennedy,
    Damione Lewis stayed healthy and made it through a full season for only the
    second time in his career. He quietly posted six sacks in the regular season
    and postseason.


    LINEBACKERS -- Tinoisamoa did it right, but the others . . .
    GRADE: D

    This group spent much of the season hiding from the media, and had a habit of
    disappearing on game day, too. The dropoff in production from the 2003 campaign
    was dramatic. In this case, statistics don't lie: In 2003, this unit combined
    for five sacks, eight interceptions, six forced fumbles, 26 pass breakups, and
    21 quarterback hurries. Despite having all three starters back, this group saw
    its numbers plummet this season, to 3 1/2 sacks, zero interceptions, one forced
    fumble, 13 breakups, and seven hurries.

    For starters, this group had way too much trouble shedding blocks. Pisa
    Tinoisamoa was the only starting linebacker who seemed willing to aggressively
    take on lead blockers, and did so despite suffering a dislocated shoulder in
    the season opener.

    Although Tommy Polley's play improved over the final one-third of the season,
    he wasn't nearly as effective in pass coverage as he had been in prior seasons,
    and at times seemed almost indifferent on the field.

    Middle linebacker Robert Thomas also regressed. After taking longer than
    coaches felt was necessary to return from an ankle injury, Thomas lost his
    starting job to Trev Faulk for three games in the middle of the season.


    SECONDARY -- A lack of pop plagued Rams defensive backs
    GRADE: C-

    The safety position was a disaster this season. At strong safety, Adam
    Archuleta's play suffered because of a bulging disc in his back. He didn't have
    his normal pop as a tackler, particularly in run support. He played through the
    pain, but it probably would have been better to rest him for a month or so
    during the season.

    At free safety, Aeneas Williams' great career was brought to a standstill by an
    arthritic condition in his neck and shoulder area. He turns 37 next week and
    retirement is beckoning. Midseason pickup Antuan Edwards brought hustle and
    range to the position, but he didn't make a lot of big plays, and missed some
    tackles in the playoffs. Rich Coady was fine in run support but a liability in
    coverage.

    At cornerback, Jerametrius Butler had the best season of anyone in the
    secondary, accounting for five of the team's six regular-season interceptions.
    His coverage skills continue to improve, but he still leaves something to be
    desired when it comes to physical play. Travis Fisher missed the first six
    games with a broken forearm, and toughed it out with painful tooth and jaw
    injuries. He is the most physical of the Rams corners, and has Pro Bowl
    potential provided he can stay healthy.

    The third cornerback spot was a problem area all season. DeJuan Groce showed
    potential, but had injury problems. Kevin Garrett had several chances to prove
    himself, but lacked aggressiveness.


    SPECIAL TEAMS -- Wilkins could tackle - and often had to
    GRADE: F

    For much of the season, this unit was an embarrassment. In the regular season,
    the Rams almost achieved a grand slam of ineptitude by finishing last in the
    four main special teams categories. In a 32-team league, the Rams finished 31st
    in punt returns, 31st in kickoff returns, 30th in punt coverage, and 32nd in
    kickoff coverage.

    The capper came in the playoffs, when Atlanta's Allen Rossum ran the Rams out
    of the postseason with 152 yards (and a TD) on three punt returns. To put that
    in perspective, Shaun McDonald of the Rams had 143 yards in punt returns all
    season. As was the case in 2003, Arlen Harris showed he has the toughness but
    lacks the burst to be a threat on kickoff returns. Late-season pickup Aveion
    Cason has the speed and deserves a serious look as the team's kickoff return
    man.

    At punter, veteran Sean Landeta was dumped the day after Thanksgiving. His
    replacement, Kevin Stemke, is a better directional kicker but distance was an
    issue.

    The only special team bright spots were the coverage work of Trev Faulk, and
    the place-kicking, and tackling, of Jeff Wilkins. Wilkins kicked a Rams
    postseason record 55-yard field goal Saturday in Atlanta. But part of the
    problems with kickoff coverage was that Wilkins' kickoffs were shorter this
    year.


    COACHING -- Martz would like some moments back
    GRADE: C-

    On the plus side, Mike Martz deserves credit for the way he brought along
    youngsters Curtis, McDonald, and S. Jackson, integrating them into a complex
    offense. And if there was any doubt before, there shouldn't be any now about
    Martz's commitment to Bulger as his quarterback.

    Martz was at his best when things looked bleakest for the team. At 6-8, and
    with controversy swirling all around (firing rumors, Kyle Turley blowout,
    Chandler meltdown, use of S. Jackson), Martz managed to keep the team focused
    and on track. Not only did the Rams make the playoffs, they reached the NFL
    version of the elite eight, advancing as far as the more highly-regarded 2003
    squad did a year earlier.

    But there were plenty of bumps in the road. During the first half of the
    season, Martz seemed overly preoccupied with everything but football, things
    such as dissemination of injury information and media access to practice.

    His Dec. 19 meltdown involving Chandler, both on the sidelines and in comments
    to the media afterwards, surely are moments he would like to have back. His
    comments about S. Jackson's failure to play in that game were bizarre, but it
    has since come to light that there were legitimate concerns about exposing
    Jackson's right knee to further injury.

    In addition, the problems on defense and special teams ultimately end up on
    Martz's lap because coordinator Larry Marmie and Mike Stock were Martz hires.
    Given the fact that Martz has hired three special teams coaches in five seasons
    without improving the situation, there are obviously deeper problems.


  2. #2
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    Re: Rams produce too little too late (PD's Grades for the Season)

    While the 2003 Rams overachieved by two or three games in fashioning a 12-4
    The Rams did not "overachieve" last year during the regular season. While they still had trouble against the run, their record was a direct result of have having more stability on the o-line and better performance from the defense in terms of overall hustle and creating turnovers.

    What they did do was underachieve in the playoffs.


    Faulk falls from elite status
    I'm not buying that until I can see him play behind a line that can actually open some running lanes and he gets more carries on a consistant basis (which, of course, with the developement of Jackson, will probably not happen). I saw enough flashes of the "old" Marshall enough times this season to not make a blanket statement that he has fallen out of the elite level.

    Let's not forget that another "old" running back (Curtis Martin) led the league in rushing this season.

    On the plus side, Mike Martz deserves credit for the way he brought along youngsters Curtis, McDonald, and S. Jackson, integrating them into a complex offense.
    I'm all for giving credit when due...but I'm not sure I would give Martz credit for "bringing along" Jackson, when he flat-out admitted to having no awareness of which running back is on the field at various times.
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    Re: Rams produce too little too late (PD's Grades for the Season)

    Quote Originally Posted by Yodude
    The Rams did not "overachieve" last year during the regular season. While they still had trouble against the run, their record was a direct result of have having more stability on the o-line and better performance from the defense in terms of overall hustle and creating turnovers.

    What they did do was underachieve in the playoffs.




    I'm not buying that until I can see him play behind a line that can actually open some running lanes and he gets more carries on a consistant basis (which, of course, with the developement of Jackson, will probably not happen). I saw enough flashes of the "old" Marshall enough times this season to not make a blanket statement that he has fallen out of the elite level.

    Let's not forget that another "old" running back (Curtis Martin) led the league in rushing this season.



    I'm all for giving credit when due...but I'm not sure I would give Martz credit for "bringing along" Jackson, when he flat-out admitted to having no awareness of which running back is on the field at various times.

    LOL, so you are saying that Mike Martz is not Steven Jackson's coach? I forgot, he must not see him on the practice field!

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    Re: Rams produce too little too late (PD's Grades for the Season)

    Quote Originally Posted by tanus
    LOL, so you are saying that Mike Martz is not Steven Jackson's coach? I forgot, he must not see him on the practice field!
    I'm saying exactly what I said. I'm not going to give someone credit for a player's development when said person admitted having no awareness of when said player is on the field or not. If Martz has no idea when Jackson is on the field during a game, why should I assume he pays any more attention during practice.
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    Re: Rams produce too little too late (PD's Grades for the Season)

    As with everything martz says, I think people read into too much, if martz didn't see what jackson was capable of, he wouldn't be with the rams, would not have wasted time putting him in the game when we have Marshall, If people can blame martz when bad personell decisions are made, I think its fair to praise when good ones are made. I think martz was just avoiding the subject, leaving his reasons to himself and the player, which I think is not a bad thing.

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