By Bill Coats
Of the Post-Dispatch
09/19/2004
ATLANTA - Late in the third quarter Sunday, tailback Marshall Faulk skirted the left end for a 13-yard gain. And that was just about the extent of the Rams' running game in a 34-17 loss to the Falcons.

After shredding Arizona for 176 rushing yards - the highest total among the 16 NFC teams in Week 1 - the Rams were stopped cold by the Falcons. Faulk picked up only 7 yards on his 11 other carries, finishing with 20 yards on 12 tries on the heels of his season-opening 22-carry, 128-yard outburst.

In their 17-10 win over the Cardinals, the Rams generated 39.3 percent of their offense on the ground. But against the Falcons, a mere 10.7 percent (30 of 280 total yards) came via the rush.

Answers for such a dramatic downturn were hard to come by in the visitor's locker room.

"That was last week, and this is a new week. Week to week, different teams, sometimes things work, sometimes things don't," Faulk said.

Coach Mike Martz said, "I don't know. ... We'll just have to go back and look at" the game film.

Part of it might be that new Falcons coach Jim Mora, a former defensive coordinator in San Francisco, is developing a solid unit in Atlanta. In two games, the Falcons have yielded just 123 rushing yards on 38 carries, an average of 3.2 yards per attempt.

Another reason could be the minor knee injury that Faulk suffered in the second quarter. He said he "got a little dinged" but refused to elaborate. "I don't want to say what it is or what's going on, but it just bothered me a little bit after that," he said.

Still, Faulk missed only a few plays, and he scored on a 1-yard run on the same series.

Perhaps a major factor was the play of the offensive line. Although quarterback Marc Bulger passed for 285 yards, he was sacked five times; the Cardinals had none last week. Early in the fourth quarter, he was pressured in the end zone and stripped of the ball by defensive end Brady Smith for a touchdown that expanded the Falcons' lead to 31-17.

"They were bringing the corners off the edge, which certainly makes it hard to run outside," Rams right tackle Grant Williams said. "And they were running a lot of blitzes and stunts."

The Falcons didn't blitz as much as Mora's ***** defenses often did against the Rams. But they still got plenty of penetration, even beating All-Pro left tackle Orlando Pace. On the touchdown in the end zone, Smith bolted by Pace and batted the ball from Bulger's grasp.

"We wanted to get after Marshall because he's a big difference-maker," Smith said. "We were able to do that and contain him. It was a good defensive effort."