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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
QUARTERBACK -- Bulger becomes one of the top 10
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
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
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
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
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
DEFENSIVE LINE -- After a slow start, D-line showed improvement
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
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
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
LINEBACKERS -- Tinoisamoa did it right, but the others . . .
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
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
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
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
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
At punter, veteran Sean Landeta was dumped the day after Thanksgiving. His
replacement, Kevin Stemke, is a better directional kicker but distance was an
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
COACHING -- Martz would like some moments back
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.
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
What they did do was underachieve in the playoffs.
Faulk falls from elite status
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.Clannie Nominee for ClanRam's Thickest Poster
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Re: Rams produce too little too late (PD's Grades for the Season)Originally Posted by Yodude
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!
Re: Rams produce too little too late (PD's Grades for the Season)Originally Posted by tanusClannie Nominee for ClanRam's Thickest Poster
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.