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NFL 2004: This could be the year the Rams start to fade

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  • NFL 2004: This could be the year the Rams start to fade

    DAVE GOLDBERG, AP Football Writer

    In the last five seasons, the St. Louis Rams have won three NFC West titles, two NFC championships and one Super Bowl, and their 56-24 regular-season record is tied with Tennessee for best in the NFL over that span.

    The emergence of the Seattle Seahawks and some pressing problems in St. Louis threaten to make the Rams just another team this season.

    The problem is not the departure of Kurt Warner. The Rams didn't win a game he started the past two seasons and Marc Bulger is more than a capable successor, although he'll probably never reach the MVP level Warner did in his prime. It's more injuries and the erosion of talent that's so prevalent in the salary-cap era.

    "It gets more difficult as you win to keep your free agents because it seems like you win, everybody wants your guys," says guard Adam Timmerman. "We've kept a core group of guys and we've kept the guys we need."

    Except that this year, the core is smaller than ever and injuries could cause a chain reaction.

    The Rams enter the season with serious questions on the offensive line. Andy McCollum, newly switched back to center, and Timmerman are the only sure things. Left tackle Orlando Pace has been staging his annual holdout; right tackle Kyle Turley is lost for the year with back problems; and center Dave Wohlabaugh was released after flunking a physical.

    Those woes are compounded by the fact Warner no longer is around as a security blanket for Bulger. Warner was released for salary cap reasons and landed with the Giants. So the backup quarterback is 38-year-old Chris Chandler, who could rarely stay healthy when he was young.

    The line problems also could cause trouble for star RB Marshall Faulk, who is 31 and hasn't played a full season in any of the past four years. First-round pick Steven Jackson has been very good in preseason.

    So the Rams are in the unusual position of underdogs in their division to Seattle, which last season finally exhibited the explosive offense expected when Mike Holmgren took over in 1999.

    St. Louis remains at least a wild-card contender because the other two teams in the division -- San Francisco and Arizona -- are rebuilding. The ***** are on the way down, the Cardinals, perhaps, finally on the way up under new coach Dennis Green, who got the Vikings to the playoffs in eight of his 10 seasons in Minnesota.

    But injuries to Anquan Boldin and Marcel Shipp, two of their offensive stars, could hinder Arizona.

    The Rams will still be fun to watch.

    Torry Holt has emerged as the star of "the greatest show on turf" -- his 117 catches led the league last season and were 48 more than fellow receiver Isaac Bruce had. Not only did Bruce slip a little but so did Faulk, who had his second consecutive season with less than 1,000 yards rushing and also averaged 3.9 yards per carry. That was his lowest average since 1996 with the Colts and miles from the 5.5, 5.4 and 5.3 he had from 1999-2001.

    In fact, the Rams will probably have to rely even more on defense, led by safeties Adam Archuleta and Aeneas Williams and second-year linebacker Pisa Tinoisamoa, a coming star. They've been hurt there by injuries, too: cornerback Travis Fisher broke his arm in preseason.

    Seattle also has injury problems, particularly veteran linebacker Chad Brown, who'll miss at least four games with a broken leg. Defense will be the key -- it improved last season under new coordinator Ray Rhodes, but still ranked in the middle of the pack.

    The secondary is young and good, but Brown's injury only compounds the problems at linebacker. Holmgren has been searching for a man in the middle the entire offseason. Niko Koutavides, a fourth-round draft pick, could be the starter and has been competing for the job with Orlando Huff and Solomon Bates.

    There are few questions on offense, although left tackle Walter Jones, like the Rams' Pace, is staging his annual holdout. Both are franchise players who never sign their one-year deal until late in camp.

    Matt Hasselbeck emerged as one of the NFL's top quarterbacks last season, throwing for nearly 4,000 yards and 26 touchdowns. Shaun Alexander rushed for 1,435 yards and 14 TDs. The receiving corps of Koren Robinson, Darrell Jackson and Bobby Engram could be outstanding and Alexander had 42 catches in 2003.

    What's needed is more success away from Seattle. The Seahawks were 8-0 at home, 2-6 on the road, although the second win, which came the final week in San Francisco, got them into the playoffs.

    And, like everyone else, they must avoid injuries.

    "Every day you pick up a newspaper there is someone on some team and something that happened," Holmgren said after Brown went down. "You worry about it, but it can't paralyze you. It's just the nature of the beast. You just keep your fingers crossed that it doesn't happen too much to you."

    The other two NFC West teams are probably afterthoughts.

    The ***** finished 7-9, then got rid of quarterback Jeff Garcia and wide receiver Terrell Owens, who didn't get along. They are left with Tim Rattay and Ken Dorsey at quarterback. Rattay will start, but he is coming back from groin surgery and Dorsey has back problems.

    Two standouts: linebacker Julian Peterson, another franchise player holdout who just reported to camp, and running back Kevan Barlow, who has the job to himself with Garrison Hearst now in Denver.

    Green's problems in rebuilding what has been the NFL's sorriest franchise for 50 years has been compounded by injuries.

    He thought Larry Fitzgerald, the third overall pick in the draft, would give the Cardinals one of the NFL's best receiving corps. So he bypassed drafting a quarterback because he had confidence in Josh McCown, who has all of three starts in two NFL seasons.

    But Boldin, who set a rookie record last season with 105 catches, has a knee injury that will keep him out at least through mid-October. And Shipp, the team's leading rusher last season, is gone at least that long with a broken leg, leaving 35-year-old Emmitt Smith, the NFL's career rushing leader, as the starter by default.

    Predictions: Seattle 11-5; St. Louis 9-7; Arizona 5-11; San Francisco 4-12.

  • #2
    Re: NFL 2004: This could be the year the Rams start to fade

    Another preseason prognostication that means jack. Who on the AP picked the Panthers in the Super Bowl? The Rams will definitely have a difficult road, but we shall see.


    • #3
      Re: NFL 2004: This could be the year the Rams start to fade

      Yeah, this guy Goldberg typifies lame sports writing. "This could be the year..." Gee, this could be the year i win the lottery, this could be the year the Islamic terrorists convert to Judaism, this could be the year that we don't have to pay taxes, this could be the year the Rams will 20, or 10 games, or 9 games... this could....

      And the "start to fade" ... my goodness, a couple years ago it seemed like we were fading, didn't it? Have a losing season and are you fading?

      Most sports writers are not bastions of intellectual analysis, fact sifting, laboring to get the bottom line. They are just hacks trying to make a living. Their gift isn't supposed to be knowledge or accuracy, it's supposed to be delivery. A sharp quip here, a humorous observation there, a historical reference thrown in, and if we're lucky, we get a great one, one who is intelligent, logical, and willing to go the extra mile to write something of value. I'd like to find a guy who could do sports writing like Cosell could do announcing. i.e. someone who brings more to the table besides the gift of gab, and obvious jock knowledge. Someone who has command of the English language and can order his metaphors, and drive his similies like Patton driving his soldiers through the Germans.


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      • RamWraith
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        by RamWraith
        By Ira Miller
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        (With the NFL regular season set to kick off on Thursday, Sept. 9, has put together an eight-part series previewing each team division by division. Here is the NFC West.)


        Realignment has not been kind to the NFC West. The division produced eight Super Bowl teams in 21 seasons prior to realignment, but in two years since the league went to its eight-division format, the NFC West has failed to even advance a team to the NFC Championship Game.

        St. Louis finished in first place last season with a 12-4 record, and Seattle also reached the playoffs as a wild-card team at 10-6. The Seahawks had a better record within the division -- 5-1 compared to the Rams' 4-2 -- but their poor record outside the division (5-5) and their poor record on the road (2-6) kept them from finishing first. Neither team advanced after their first playoff game.

        The Seahawks lost an overtime thriller at Green Bay, and the Rams, who had won 14 consecutive home games, lost a double-overtime game at home against Carolina.

        Once more, these appear to be the only true playoff contenders in the division. The ***** are in a total rebuilding mode, tearing apart their offense after a 7-9 season. And the Cardinals are starting over with new coach Dennis Green after going 4-12.

        Seattle, which has built a strong offense and is showing signs of improvement on defense, is considered the division favorite. History also favors the Seahawks. No team has repeated as NFC West champion since the ***** won the last of four consecutive titles in 1995.

        Arizona is the only team with a new coach. The ***** will have a new starting quarterback -- Tim Rattay if he is healthy, Ken Dorsey if Rattay is not. The Cards also have a quasi-new starter because Josh McCown started only three games last season.

        Cardinals receiver Larry Fitzgerald and Rams running back Steven Jackson appear to be the two most eagerly anticipated rookies in the division. Fitzgerald was the third overall pick in the draft and Jackson was 24th. The *****, having dispatched Terrell Owens in the purge of their offense, are hoping that first-round pick Rashaun Woods can pick up the slack. Seattle expects its top two draft picks -- defensive tackle Marcus Tubbs and strong safety Michael Boulware -- to play significant roles in improving its defense.

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        Green took his Minnesota teams to the playoffs eight times in 10 years with seven different starting quarterbacks. It would be hard to find a coach more qualified to wade into a long-time chaotic situation. With a new stadium under construction, the Cards are perfectly positioned to begin the kind of turnaround that Tampa Bay made under Tony Dungy about a decade ago.

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        -08-27-2004, 11:08 AM
      • RamWraith
        Rams are the best pick among a weak west
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        The fashionable pick in the NFC West these days seems to be Arizona.
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        And an 8-8 record could sneak off with this weak division, where only
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        Seattle seems too fragile and must prove it can beat the Rams, who
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        These are not quite the Rams who dominated the early decade with a
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        Bulger long ago took over for Kurt Warner, who is now with the

        "When he has that adrenaline going, he's tough to bring down," Bulger
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        of a crease, his legs are so big and he's so strong that he's tough to
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        The receiving corps remains dynamic as long as Torry Holt and Isaac
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        For St. Louis to do better than the 8-8 that got it into the playoffs
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        That prompted a bunch of moves, particularly at linebacker (Dexter
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        Watch for DT Jimmy Kennedy and end Anthony Hargrove to support Little,
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        "We played pretty well on the defensive line last year and I felt like
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        The Rams have had a nice five-year run. Since 1999, St. Louis has won 70 percent of its games making the playoffs four times while reaching the Super Bowl twice and winning once.

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        The great Marshall Faulk is 31. That’s old for a running back. He’s slowing down and becoming injury-prone. Isaac Bruce also is 31 and isn’t as dangerous as he once was. Faulk has missed at least two games each of the past four years. If he goes down again, the Rams are in trouble because backup Lamar Gordon is out after ankle surgery and rookie Steven Jackson is too raw.

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        Maybe it’s time to place a call to Jackie Slater. He did finally retire, didn’t he?

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      • Nick
        2004 NFL PREVIEW: Team Forecasts & Early Predictions - NFC West
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        2004 NFL PREVIEW: Team Forecasts & Early Predictions - Part II – NFC West
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        Part I of our 2004 NFL Preview covered the NFC East & in Part II we will breakdown the NFC West. Upcoming articles will feature the remaining divisions. Again, our team forecasts are designed to provide insight on predicting total teams wins, so that you can take advantage of the value found in wagering on the Total Team Wins futures propositions.

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        The defense made some serious progress in 2003, but could have trouble due to the departure of several players - (DT) John Randle, (LB) Randall Godfrey, (SS) Reggie Tongue, and (CB) Shawn Springs. However, in their place the Seahawks have brought in (DE) Grant Wistrom from division rival St. Louis and (CB) Bobby Taylor from Philadelphia and drafted Marcus Tubbs from Texas in the first-round. Taylor and second-year CB Marcus Trufant will make up a formidable duo in the secondary, which could should give receivers all they can handle.

        With Mike Holmgren & Ray Rhodes having all these tools at their disposal, Seattle should once again be a serious force in the NFC West. Look for the Seahawks to improve on their (2-6) road record and surpass the 9 win mark in 2004.

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      • RamDez
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        The offense has been known as “The Greatest Show on Turf” since the 1999 season (the franchise’s first and only Super Bowl title), but the offense began to show signs of slowing down toward the end of 2003 and many think Martz and his offensive coaches will look more to a ground game that features a sure Hall-of-Famer in Marshall Faulk and first-round selection RB Stephen Jackson.

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        Martz still focuses on the offense and he has plenty of talent at his disposal. However, some key parts have left and those that remain are getting older and aren’t the players they once were.

        Offense: The Ram offense will still be high-flying and very explosive, but look for Martz and offensive coordinator Steve Fairchild to use more of a power-running game to help out new starter QB Marc Bulger.

        Saying Bulger is a “new” starter is sort of a misnomer. Bulger has started 22 games over the last two seasons due to injuries and ineffective play by former starter Kurt Warner. Warner was an icon in the Gateway City and Bulger will have lots of pressure on him to perform at a high level.

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