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Same old special teams prove costly in loss
By Bill Coats
St. Louis Post-Dispatch
SAN FRANCISCO -- When last seen in a game that counted, the Rams were being trampled by Atlanta and its speedy Allen Rossum.
While setting an NFL postseason record for return yardage, Rossum romped 68 yards with a punt for a touchdown as the Falcons blasted the Rams out of the playoffs.
The replay came eight months later, when San Francisco's Otis Amey hauled in a punt and dashed 75 yards through Rams defenders. His second-quarter sprint to the end zone was a critical play in the *****' 28-25 victory on the first Sunday of the regular season.
The Rams ran more than twice as many plays as the ***** (89-41) and also nearly doubled them in yards (405- 217) and time of possession (39:23-20:37). But an array of special-teams breakdowns - where have we heard that before? - short-circuited their hopes.
"That's not the start we were looking for," said first-year Rams staffer Bob Ligashesky, Mike Martz's fourth special-teams coach in six years. "I think it's fixable. We'll improve."
The Rams stumbled in virtually every phase of special teams. It started, fittingly, with the first play of the game. Newcomer Chris Johnson, installed just this week as the primary kick returner, fielded the opening boot near the sideline, and his momentum carried him out of bounds at the 1-yard line.
One second into the season, the Rams were holed up 99 yards from their end zone. The misery continued when:
* The *****' Maurice Hicks scampered 40 yards with Jeff Wilkins' first kickoff after the Rams had moved in front 3-0.
* Amey's touchdown, which put the ***** up 14-6, was followed by an onside kick that caught the Rams flat-footed. The *****' Terry Jackson recovered with little resistance.
* A 26-yard wounded-duck punt by rookie Reggie Hodges gave the ***** possession at the Rams' 41-yard line. "Just a mis-hit and a little wind," Hodges muttered. Five plays later, quarterback Tim Rattay hit wideout Arnaz Battle for a 6-yard TD, and San Francisco was cruising 21-6.
Overall, the ***** returned six kickoffs for an average of 24.6 yards, compared with the Rams' 13.8 average. San Francisco's Andy Lee averaged 41.4 yards on five punts, far superior to Hodges' 33.0 yards.
Those factors added up to a decided edge in field position for the *****, coming off an NFL-worst 2-14 season record in 2004.
"That's not a reflection on Coach 'Lig.' He's been busting his tail, doing a great job," said Trev Faulk, a busy special-teams performer. "Basically, it comes down to, we've got to make plays. It's very, very disappointing, very, very frustrating. Because ... you take away that, we win the ballgame."
Said teammate Mike Furrey: "We've just got to eliminate the big returns. . . . It was just a bad break. That's all you can say. We can't do anything about it right now, but we'll take care of it in the future."
Ligashesky declined to evaluate the failures. But with his jaw clenched, he vowed that better days were ahead for him and his charges.
Re: Same old special teams prove costly in loss
Coach Lig vowed that better days are ahead. Good for him. Just tell me exactly how it is possible that we could get any worse? We even had a defensive holding penalty on a missed extra point that really could have cost us.
ramming speed to all