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  • Sports Illustrated's NFL Preview: St. Louis Rams

    Sports Illustrated's NFL Preview: St. Louis Rams
    2nd in NFC West, Dr. Z's Rank: 5th overall

    He has a swagger that comes with the starting quarterback job and a huge new contract. But can Marc Bulger get the offense cranked up again?

    He was a reckless pirate in a sea of colorless navigators, the one NFL coach who could be counted on to put his conservative peers to shame. Then last January, in the NFC divisional playoffs, Mike Martz chose to play it safe, and that may have cost the Rams a chance to reach their third Super Bowl in five years.

    Trailing the Panthers by three points with 42 seconds to go at the Edward Jones Dome, St. Louis was 15 yards from a potential winning touchdown. But Martz, fearful that a turnover would derail a furious comeback that had included a successful onside kick, instructed quarterback Marc Bulger to run down the clock, setting up Jeff Wilkins's tying 38-yard field goal as time expired.

    The move was widely viewed as a sign that Martz lacked confidence in Bulger, who had thrown 22 interceptions as a first-year starter. As if to confirm that opinion, with 13:48 gone in overtime Panthers cornerback Ricky Manning picked off a Bulger pass at the Carolina 38-yard line. Three plays later Jake Delhomme connected with Steve Smith on a 69-yard touchdown pass for a 29-23 Panthers victory.

    Despite the ensuing outcry from incensed fans and the St. Louis media, Martz and Bulger kept their jobs. With the off-season release of two-time league MVP Kurt Warner (now with the Giants) and the signing of his successor to a four-year, $19.1 million contract, the Rams are Bulger's team. Martz's legacy now rests on the performance of a 27-year-old passer and his patchwork offensive line, which will be without tackle Kyle Turley for the season (back injury).

    "What I did in that game was interpreted as my not having confidence in Marc, but we threw the ball eight out of 11 plays in overtime, so that obviously wasn't the case," Martz says. "Going into that game, if I'd been given that hypothetical situation, I definitely would've gone for the win. But the feel of the game and the way we'd struggled in the red zone changed my thinking. Had we been playing better offensively, like we had the first three years I was here, it would've been a no-brainer."

    That three-year run by the Greatest Show on Turf -- Martz was the Rams' first-year offensive coordinator in 1999 and took over as coach when Dick Vermeil resigned following St. Louis's victory in Super Bowl XXXIV -- featured offensive pyrotechnics, with Warner delivering the ball to future Hall of Fame halfback Marshall Faulk and breakaway receiving threats Isaac Bruce, Torry Holt and Az-Zahir Hakim. Bruce and Holt, a 2003 Pro Bowl selection, remain in St. Louis's lineup, with the 31-year-old Faulk trying to hold off first-round draft pick Steven Jackson from Oregon State.

    The key to it all is Bulger, whose accuracy, toughness and ability to grasp Martz's scheme have convinced the coach that he's up to the task. A revelation in 2002, when he led the Rams to a 5-0 record after Warner broke the pinkie on his throwing hand, Bulger became the starter after Warner's shaky outing in the '03 opener. Bulger's numbers (he was sacked 37 times, fifth most in the league) reflected his inexperience. "Last year Marc struggled with protections," Martz says. "He knew what to do, but he didn't know why we were doing it -- and a lot of that was because, as Kurt's backup, he hadn't had the preparation."

    Bulger's teammates noticed his new-found swagger in training camp, but there's little danger he'll carry that confidence too far. "One thing I love about Marc is that he doesn't indulge in his own success," Faulk says. "He's too nice to be true."

    When Bulger needs a dose of perspective, all he has to do is think back to 2000. Out of football after being cut by three teams, including the Rams that summer, Bulger went home to Pittsburgh and, he says, "turned into a fan again." In late October he was attending a Steelers game at Three Rivers Stadium when he received a call on his cellphone informing him that Warner had broken his finger and St. Louis wanted to sign him.

    "That experience made me more appreciative of being here," Bulger says. "I remember thinking, Can I even play with those guys?"

    This year, finally, we're going to find out.


    Schedule Strength
    -NFL rank: T-7
    -Opponents' 2003 winning percentage: .512
    -Games against playoff teams: 7

    Player on the Rise
    A rookie third-round pick from Georgia Tech who had to sit out last season because he was academically ineligible, defensive end ANTHONY HARGROVE has wowed the Rams, who think he can be an immediate threat off the edge. "He has size [6'4", 269], speed, quickness and intelligence," says general manager Charley Armey, "and he's nasty."

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  • Nick
    Rams aren't flying high behind Bulger
    by Nick
    Rams aren't flying high behind Bulger
    By Roger Phillips, STAFF WRITER

    In recent years, the high-flying St. Louis Rams came to be known as the "Greatest Show on Turf," powered by a flashy offensive arsenal that included quarterback Kurt Warner, running back Marshall Faulk and star receiver Isaac Bruce.
    The Rams won the Super Bowl following the 1999 season, and have been an offensive force most of the time since then.

    But Warner now is the New York Giants' backup quarterback, Faulk and Bruce are still productive but reaching the latter stages of their careers, and the Rams are a disappointing 5-6 entering Sunday's home game against the San Francisco ***** (1-10). In fact, Faulk may not play against the ***** because of a bruised left knee.

    Still, despite the Rams' explosive past and the team's sub-.500 record this season, coach Mike Martz is bullish about his offense. In fact, this week, he had remarkably high praise for his starting quarterback, Marc Bulger.


    "The quarterback," Martz said, "right now is playing as well as anybody we have ever had here."

    The statistics do not quite bear out Martz's praise of Bulger.

    In 1999, Warner had a 109.2 passer rating, among the highest in NFL history. He passed for

    4,353 yards, threw 41 touchdown passes, and was intercepted only 13 times. Warner also had a passer rating of 101.4 in 2001, and 98.3 in 2000.

    By contrast, this season Bulger has a passer rating of 90.5, with only 17 touchdowns and 12 interceptions.

    Passing yardage is the only area in which Bulger's statistics compare to those of Warner in his best season. Bulger has thrown for 3,267 yards, including an eye-popping 448 in a 45-17 loss at Green Bay five nights ago.

    At his current pace, Bulger will throw for 4,752 yards this season -- and there is no telling what sort of numbers he might put up Sunday against the *****' battered secondary.

    Bulger, in his second full season as a starter, said his improved understanding of the Rams' offense has made him a better quarterback this year.

    "It is just knowing the difference between being real aggressive and being stupid," said Bulger, who threw an equal number of touchdowns and interceptions last season and had an 81.4 rating.

    "Last year, I would ... try to hit the home runs. This year, it's more of a game management style. If it is not going to be there, I'm willing to take a 3-yard check-down rather than going for the home run every time."

    Perhaps the most impressive aspect of Bulger's performance this season is that it has come with little help from his offensive line. Bulger has been sacked 35 times; only four teams -- including the ***** -- have allowed more sacks. In 1999, Warner was sacked only 29 times the entire...
    -12-04-2004, 01:01 PM
  • RamDez
    Bulger is QB of choice in St. Louis
    by RamDez
    Bulger is QB of choice in St. Louis
    Low-key personality belies determination to lead Rams
    COMMENTARY
    By Dan O'Neill
    NBCSports.com contributor
    Aug. 10, 2004

    He is a Marc-ed man now. The St. Louis Rams, at least those grazing on the offensive side of the ball, officially will come under his care and direction this winter. Lock, stock, and Bulger.

    “I really don’t think things have changed,” Marc Bulger said. “It is challenging sometimes; you get opportunities that you want to do. But you have to stick to who you are and what will make you happy.”

    The Rams have done their part to make Bulger happy. In April, coach Mike Martz declared Bulger would be his starting quarterback this season. Shortly thereafter, the organization made it crystal clear, giving Bulger a four-year, $19.1 million contract and releasing former league MVP Kurt Warner. Warner resides in New York now, trying turn the pumpkin back into a coach, keeping the seat warm while The Apprentice, Eli Manning, gets his feet wet.

    Undisputed No. 1 this season
    For the first time since he came off the bench and played surprisingly well for an injured Warner in 2002, Bulger will enter a season as the Rams’ undisputed heavyweight quarterback, no controversy, no questions asked. He will call his signals without Warner — literally and figuratively — looking over his shoulder. Or as offensive lineman Andy McCollum put it: “We’re here to protect Marc. He’s the man now.”

    In turn, “the man” has looked the part. Bulger is throwing short, intermediate, and long passes with precision and purpose, he is making the right reads, choosing the right receivers. He threw for an NFC-leading 3,845 yards and completed 63 percent of his passes last season. He was named the Pro Bowl MVP when the season was over. All that was before he officially had the job. Now that he is entitled, he is infuego.

    “I’ve very pleased with him,” Martz said. “He’s been consistently very good. He is markedly improved from a year ago, no question about it, in terms of just getting the speed of seeing things and getting the ball to the right guy.”

    Bulger will tell you the presence of Warner wasn't negative. At 27 years of age, Bulger is modest and respectful, qualities that endear him to his teammates. He insists he appreciated Warner, tried to emulate him, learn from him, lean on him. But the absence of Warner World should make for a significantly less stressful environment. The new second-in-command at the quarterback position in St. Louis is 38-year old Chris Chandler, an experienced hand who has no delusions at this stage of his career. Chandler won't be standing on the sideline with a helmet in hand and a hankering to prove he can still pilot the ship. He is a walking insurance policy, and the deductible will only be exceeded on an emergency basis.

    Outside distractions avoided
    There is no media...
    -08-10-2004, 03:39 PM
  • RamWraith
    The ball's in Bulger's court
    by RamWraith
    BY JIM THOMAS
    Of the Post-Dispatch
    Friday, Aug. 27 2004

    For a split second, it had the nightmare feel of Rodney Harrison crashing into
    the knee of Trent Green five Augusts ago in the Dome.

    This time, Marc Bulger was writhing in pain on the practice field at Western
    Illinois University, holding his right (throwing) arm after getting the worst
    of a collision that also involved offensive tackle Greg Randall and defensive
    end Leonard Little.

    Within minutes, it was apparent that Bulger was OK. But at first, no one knew
    for sure. The lasting memory of that incident wasn't the collision, or the
    apparent injury. It was of how quiet it got on the practice field. The anxious
    glances toward Bulger as he was examined by the medical staff. The nervous
    shuffling by teammates.

    The silence was immediate, and total. Except, that is, for wide receiver Torry
    Holt.

    "Who did it? Who did it?" he said. And you couldn't really tell if Holt was
    joking. The entire scene was a telling indicator of how the Rams feel about
    their starting quarterback.

    "I think they have a great deal of respect for him," coach Mike Martz said. "I
    think his humility is something that is noticeable for them. And then, of
    course, the other part of it is performance. In really difficult situations, he
    has come in and performed very well."

    Perhaps the most difficult situation is about to unfold for Bulger. For the
    first time since 1998, the Rams are beginning a football season without Kurt
    Warner as their starting quarterback. The same Kurt Warner who won two
    regular-season MVP awards, as well as being named the most valuable player of
    Super Bowl XXXIV against Tennessee five seasons ago. The same Warner who still
    has the highest career passer rating in league history (97.2), despite
    struggling the past two seasons.

    It's a tough act to follow. No one has ever put up the kind of numbers Warner
    posted over a three-year period between 1999-2001.

    It would be understandable if a part of Bulger always felt pressured to measure
    up to Warner. Understandable, but not necessary.

    "I'd be disappointed in Marc if he ever felt that way," Martz said. "He
    certainly doesn't need to do that. He's Marc. He needs to have his own respect
    for who he is, and what he's capable of doing for this football team. Nobody's
    going to ask him to be an MVP. All he's got to do is come out and move this
    team and win like he's done in the past."

    Win he has. Bulger's 18-4 regular-season record makes him the most successful
    active quarterback in the NFL (with a minimum of 10 starts), with...
    -08-29-2004, 11:58 AM
  • Nick
    Battered Bulger needs Martz to revise game plan
    by Nick
    Battered Bulger needs Martz to revise game plan
    By Bernie Miklasz
    Of the Post-Dispatch
    09/26/2004

    After answering questions in the Rams' locker room, quarterback Marc Bulger grimaced as he took his first step toward the door. Bulger had an ice pack taped to his right elbow, and the post-game soreness was already spreading to other parts of his body.

    "Ouch," Bulger said to no one in particular, after getting zinged again by a little jolt of pain. Bulger was on the way home, presumably to devour an extra-large bottle of Tylenol for dinner.

    The Rams reached a new low Sunday in losing 28-25 to the New Orleans Saints in overtime. The defense was soft. The special teams were incompetent. The coaching was incoherent. And the running game was virtually nonexistent.

    All the Rams had going for them on this day was Bulger setting up to pass with a target on his chest. With Rams coach Mike Martz stubbornly refusing to run the football against the NFL's 31st-ranked rushing defense, Bulger was turned into a sparring partner for Saints pass rushers who punished him with body blows.

    Bulger is a tough guy from Pittsburgh, so he'll take the abuse and keep firing away, knowing that he'll be smacked after choosing to steal the extra second he needs to locate Isaac Bruce or Torry Holt downfield. And against the Saints, Bulger won many of the skirmishes, completing 65 percent of his 49 passing attempts for 358 yards. He engineered a thrilling go-ahead touchdown drive in the final minute of the fourth quarter, scoring himself on a 19-yard dash.

    But at the end of the afternoon, all Bulger had was the gaudy statistics to go with the bumps and the welts. He had no win to show for his bruises. The baffling coaching decisions (a squib kick???) and a mush defense gave New Orleans this victory. Bulger and the offense, pushed off-stride by two penalties, failed to score in their only OT chance.

    Martz is in the process of damaging another quarterback's career. After getting hit repeatedly in Martz's wide-open offense, Kurt Warner turned into a panicky, burned-out, beaten-down quarterback in his final two years in St. Louis. The New York Giants have put Warner in a safer, more quarterback-friendly offense. And with the added protection, No. 13 seems to be reviving his confidence, having performed impressively in consecutive wins over Washington and Cleveland.

    And Bulger? With a QB rating in the mid-90s, Bulger clearly has played better in his losses than Warner did during his long losing streak at the end of his run here. But more on point, Bulger will be the next victim to suffer from the Battered Quarterback Syndrome. In the last two games, both losses, Bulger has dropped back to throw the ball 90 times. That figure is actually closer to 100 if you cite the plays that didn't officially count because of penalties. Bulger has...
    -09-27-2004, 05:30 PM
  • RamWraith
    Rams’ Martz knew Bulger would be special
    by RamWraith
    From Charlotte Gazette

    June 06, 2004
    Mitch Vingle

    Rams’ Martz knew Bulger would be special


    ST. LOUIS RAMS head coach Mike Martz flew into Charleston Friday for a good cause.

    In order to help the Blanchette Rockefeller Neurosciences Institute, he attended a black-tie gala at the Civic Center.

    But even before putting on his tux, Martz had a tie to West Virginia. A strong one, in fact, in Rams quarterback Marc Bulger, the former WVU standout. And it didn’t take but a few minutes after landing at Yeager Airport for the subject to be broached.


    Which brought a smile to Martz’s face.

    “We just love the guy,’’ said the coach. “He’s like the players’ little brother. He’s just so humble. You can’t help but like him.’’

    Martz and the Rams more than like Bulger, though. They signed him to a four-year, $19.1 million contract in April — and released two-time NFL MVP Kurt Warner, who led the team to two Super Bowls.

    Of course, there’s little to dislike about Bulger. The guy is 18-4 as the Rams’ regular-season starter. But even Martz admits the rise of the QB is storybook. Bulger was cut by the New Orleans Saints before being plucked by the Rams from the Atlanta Falcons’ roster.

    “I remember the first time I saw ,’’ Martz said. “I was breaking down tape. I was watching him and he didn’t have a real good senior year , but the guy who was running our college scouting at the time — John Becker — said, ‘I really like this guy.’ He said, ‘Don’t look at his senior tape. Go back and look at his junior season.’ ’’

    So the coach did.

    “I went back and looked at his junior tape — and was just astounded,’’ Martz said. “I’d never seen anybody with that quick of a delivery before. I mean, he was like Marino. He had that Marino quickness of getting the ball out of there.



    “He was accurate and had plenty of arm strength, but he was injured and in a new system his senior year so things didn’t go well.

    “We were fine, obviously,’’ the coach continued. “We had Kurt and didn’t feel our quarterback situation was a real big need. So we did what we call a ‘red tag.’ We put a ‘tag’ on him. We decided to follow him through his career, and if he would come up again, then we’d decide if we wanted to bring him in.’’

    Now, he’s a Rams team captain along with stars Marshall Faulk and Aeneas Williams. Sure, Bulger threw 22 interceptions last season, but he finished second in the NFL in completions. He also earned a Pro Bowl berth and was named the game’s MVP.

    Martz claims it didn’t take long to realize Bulger was special.

    “First series in his very first start in 2002,’’ said the coach. “We were playing the Oakland Raiders. We were coming off the Super Bowl loss and were 0-5. Kurt was struggling, then he broke his...
    -06-07-2004, 07:55 AM
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