Opponent Preview—St. Louis Rams
Opponent Preview—St. Louis Rams
2004 Record: 8-8 (second in NFC West)
Series Record vs. Cardinals: Rams lead series 22-15-2
Head Coach: Mike Martz, 54-34
Last Meeting: Cardinals 31, Rams 7—December 19, 2004—Sun Devil Stadium (40,070)
The Rams had an offense talented enough to rank sixth overall in the league last year, but the defense was able to corral just 15 turnovers—including a mere six pass interceptions—as the team finished minus 24 in the takeaway/giveaway department. Consequently, head coach Mike Martz revamped his defense with a score of free agent signings, highlighted by linebackers Chris Claiborne (Chicago/Minnesota) and Dexter Coakley (Dallas), and safety Michael Hawthorne (Green Bay). The basic offense returns intact, with the triple-threat of wide receivers Torry Holt and Isaac Bruce and versatile running back Marshall Faulk. Though the season is just one week old, the Rams rank fourth in overall defense, including third against the run, and on offense check in at an identical fourth-place mark.
LB Chris Claiborne, LB Dexter Coakley, DB Michael Hawthorne, T Rex Tucker, TE Roland Williams
DE Bryce Fisher, G Matt Lehr, T Kyle Turley, T Chris Terry
2005 NFL Draftees
Round, Player, Position, School
1, Alex Barron, T, Florida State
2, Ronald Bartell, DB, Howard
3a, Oshiomogho Atogwe, DB, Stanford
3b, Richie Incognito, G, Nebraska
4a, Jerome Carter, DB, Florida State
4b, Claude Terrell, G, New Mexico
5, Jerome Collins, TE, Notre Dame
6a, Dante Ridgeway, WR, Ball State
6b, Reggie Hodges, P, Ball State
7a, Ryan Fitzpatrick, QB, Harvard
7b, Madison Hedgecock, RB, North Carolina
2005 Leading Rushers
RB Steven Jackson: 19 att./60 yards/3.2 avg./0 TDs
RB Marshall Faulk: 3 att./12 yards/4.0 avg./0 TDs
2005 Leading Passer
Marc Bulger: 56 att./34 comp./362 yards/60.7 pct./2 TD/1 Ints./84.1 rating
2005 Leading Receivers
WR Torry Holt: 10 rec./125 yards/12.5 avg./0 TDs
WR Shaun McDonald: 7 rec./73 yards/10.0 avg./0 TDs
WR Kevin Curtis: 7 rec./63 yards/9.0 avg./0 TDs
2005 Leading Tacklers
DE Leonard Little: 5 solo tackles/4 assists/9 total tackles
DT Ryan Pickett: 6 solo tackles/1 assist/7 total tackles
LB Pisa Tinoisamoa: 4 solo tackles/2 assists/6 total tackles
2005 Leader QB Sacker
DE Leonard Little: 2.0
2005 NFL Rankings
Offense: 4th overall/21st rushing/3rd passing
Defense: 4th overall/3rd rushing/9th passing
Takeaway/Giveaway: 2 takeaways/1 giveaway/+1 net difference
Position-by Position Breakdown
Quarterback Marc Bulger is only in his fifth year in the NFL (third as a starter), but he’s already made a name for himself as one of the most accurate passers in the league. In addition to a career completion pct. of nearly 65 pct., he missed the 4,000-yard passing mark by just 36 yards last year (3,964) and only 155 in 2003 (3,845). Last week vs. San Francisco, Bulger threw a team-record 56 passes (34 completions) for 362 yards—most in the league’s opening weekend. And through his first 37 games, his 12 300-yard passing games ranks third in NFL history behind the Cards’ Kurt Warner (23) and Pro Football Hall of Famer Dan Marino (14).
The Rams sport an effective change-of-pace pair of running backs in Marshall Faulk and Steven Jackson. Acquired via trade with Indianapolis in 1999, Faulk needs just one yard to become the 12th player in NFL history with 12,000 rushing yards, pushing his total to 11,999 last week with 12 yards on the ground. In addition to being only the sixth player in NFL history with 100 career rushing touchdowns, Faulk also ranks 19th on the all-time pass receptions list with 724 catches and fourth on the league’s all-time combined yardage chart with 18,587 yards. Starting ahead of Faulk in the backfield is Jackson, an impressive package at 6-2 and 231 pounds. Jackson finished his 2004 rookie season as the Rams second-leading rusher with 673 yards on just 124 attempts for a head-turning 5.0 yards-per-attempt with four touchdowns. Last week he led the Rams with 19 attempts for 60 yards and added three pass receptions for 13 yards.
Few teams can boast of a one-two receiver tandem like the Rams’ Torry Holt and Isaac Bruce. Holt’s 125 receiving yards last week marked his 34th career 100-yard receiving game. Holt also ranks first among NFL receivers in receiving yardage since 2000 with 7,493 yards and is the NFL’s all-time leader (minimum 50 games played) with an average of 85.4 yards-per-game receiving, bettering the marks of Randy Moss (84.3), Marvin Harrison (80.4), Jerry Rice (75.6) and Lance Alworth (75.5). With the retirements of Jerry Rice and Tim Brown, Bruce is the NFL’s active leader (13th all-time) in receiving yards with 11,814 for his career, and is third among active players with 780 receptions. Also sure to see playing time are Kevin Curtis, who led the Rams last year during postseason play with 11 receptions for 235 yards, and former Arizona State Sun Devil Shaun McDonald, who, like Curtis, caught seven passes last week vs. San Francisco.
Six-time Pro Bowl left tackle Orlando Pace leads one of the most talented offensive lines in pro football. Both he and right guard Adam Timmerman started all 16 games last year and return once more. Andy McCollum, who did not miss a snap last year at left guard, returns to his customary center spot, while Tom Nutten returns at left guard. Free agent signee Rex Tucker (Chicago) lines up at right tackle. Waiting in the wings is 2005 first-round (19th overall) selection Alex Barron from Florida state, the Rams’ first offensive lineman picked in the opening round since Pace in 1997.
Leonard Little was outstanding last week vs. San Francisco with nine tackles, two quarterback sacks, and two forced fumbles. The eight-year veteran from Tennessee has collected 53 sacks since 2000, behind only Michael Strahan (67), Jason Taylor (65), and Simeon Rice (62) during that span. Opposite Little is second-year Anthony Hargrove, who posted 36 tackles and a sack last year while starting two games. On the interior, Ryan Pickett started all 16 games and both playoff contests last year and totaled 81 tackles, while 2001 first-round draft pick Jimmy Kennedy (Miami) returns with a stretch of 12 consecutive starts at defensive tackle dating back to his elevation to the starting lineup at midseason in 2004.
Though the offense has the star power, the Rams linebacking corps can match up against the best in the league. Pisa Tinoisamoa led the club for the second consecutive season with 145 tackles last year despite playing with a separated shoulder and returns to his strongside post. A pair of coveted free agents comprise the other two slots—middle linebacker Chris Claiborne (Minnesota) and weakside linebacker Dexter Coakley (Dallas). Claiborne collected 82 tackles as a 12-game starter for the Vikings in 2004. Coakley finished in Dallas’ top three in tackles each of his eight seasons with the Cowboys. Superb in pass coverage, Coakley has missed only one game in his pro career due to injury, has reached double-digit tackle totals 40 times in his 127 career contests, and was selected to the Pro Bowl following the 1999, 2001, and 2003 seasons.
Former Arizona State standout Adam Archuleta heads the St. Louis secondary from his strong safety spot. Last year Archuleta led all defensive backs and was second on the team with 123 tackles and also recorded 2 sacks, 3 pass deflections, and a 93-yard fumble return for a touchdown against Tampa Bay—third longest return in Rams’ history. At free safety is free agent Michael Hawthorne (Green Bay), a two-year member of the Packers after three seasons in New Orleans. The Rams are faced with replacing Jeremetrius Butler, who tied for third in the NFC last year with five interceptions, following a season-ending knee injury during the preseason. One cornerback spot is manned by Travis Fisher, who started the final 10 games and both playoff contests last year to finish with 42 tackles, one interception, and six pass deflections. Opposite Fisher is DeJuan Groce, who worked his way into the starting lineup with a fine preseason after making 34 tackles as a part-time starter last year. Look for a trio of first-day ’05 draft choices to see the field as well. Cornerback Ron Bartell (second round, Howard), safety Oshiomogho Atogwe (third round, Stanford), and safety Jerome Carter (fourth round, Florida State) all come to the Rams with impressive college credentials.
Kicker Jeff Wilkins has acquired the nickname “Money” and he’s earned it. Overall in his 12-year pro career, Wilkins owns 1,084 points and is the Rams’ franchise leader with 891 points. Included in that is a 13-point outing last week vs. San Francisco as he connected on field goals from 30, 41, 33, and 41 yards and added one extra point. In last year’s Divisional playoff game, his 55-yard field goal was the second-longest in NFL playoff history. Punter Reggie Hodges, a sixth-round draft pick from Ball State, stumbled out of the blocks last year with a 33-yard gross and 14.3-yard net averages on four punts in his first pro game, a nightmarish contest for the rookie who also saw one of his punts returned 75-yards for a score.
Cardinals Keys To The Game
1. Special Teams Coverage—Kick coverage units for both team suffered last week as the Cardinals (52-yard punt return for touchdown, 95-yard kickoff return for touchdown) and Rams (75-yard punt return for touchdown, 40-yard kickoff return) allowed big plays to contribute to their losses. The Cardinals allowed just two scores on special teams last year, so with a previously successful scheme in place, it’s up to the players to execute properly. The Cards’ Neil Rackers and Rams’ Jeff Wilkins are among the top kickers in the NFC, and while Card punter Scott Player is a former Pro Bowl pick, the Rams are relying on rookie Reggie Hodges, who last week averaged just 33 yards on four punts with a net average of 14.3.
2. Establish Some Threat of a Running Game—Last week the Cardinals gained just 31 yards and two first downs on the ground with a meager average of 1.5 yards-per-attempt, partly due to playing from a substantial deficit the entire second half. Center Alex Stepanovich, a 16-game starter last year, returns to the starting lineup following a hand injury, but he and his linemen face a Rams’ run defense which allowed just 34 yards and one rushing first down in last week’s loss to San Francisco.
3. Make Necessary Adjustments—The Cardinals had a 13-7 halftime lead last week, but the Giants scored touchdowns the first three times they touched the ball in the third quarter en route to 35 second-half points to win going away 42-19. Statistically, the Cardinals held an overall advantage in first downs (20-14), yardage (318-275), and time of possession (35:45-24:15), but an inability to rebound from the pair of kick return scores and a second-half rushing total of eight attempts for just six yards contributed mightily to the loss.
4. Cut Down on Penalties—"We made a lot of penalties that hurt us,” stated Cardinal Head Coach Dennis Green. “It makes a difference.” Two penalties that made HUGE differences occurred after the Cardinals had cut the Giants’ lead to 21-19 midway through the third quarter. The ensuing kickoff return by the Giants managed to reach just outside the 20-yard line, but the Cardinals were called for offsides. The ensuing kickoff was returned 95 yards for a touchdown to push the Giants ahead 28-19. Later in the fourth quarter, a penalty on a punt return pinned the Cardinals at their own three-yard line, and a punt three plays later from the six was returned 52 yards for another score.
Re: Opponent Preview—St. Louis Rams
It's good to know that the Cardinals special team unit had a bad game also and it seems that they have not figured out their running game either.
Two positives in my eyes.