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  • Hawks ready to take Rams

    By John Clayton

    ESPN.com



    Editor's note: ESPN senior NFL writer John Clayton's weekly "First And 10" column takes you around the league with a look at the best game of the week followed by primers for 10 other games. Here's his look at Week 5.

    First St. Louis Rams at Seattle Seahawks: Even in this era of parity in which franchises can go from worst to first, division takeovers don't always happen overnight.

    The Eagles have ruled the NFC East the past three years. Despite the Vikings being the favorites to win the NFC North this year, the Packers have won the past two division titles. And the Patriots seemingly now have the AFC East by the throat. But the longest divisional success story is the St. Louis Rams, who have either won or tied for the divisional title four of the past five years.

    Since joining the division in 2002, the Seahawks have set the Rams in their sights and structured their team in preparation for Sunday's game against St. Louis. If the Seahawks win at Qwest Field, they take control of the division with a 2-game lead. If they lose, the Rams would hold an edge because the Seahawks have a tough road trip to New England next week. Back-to-back losses by Seattle could give the Rams a half-game lead and the confidence of knowing the Seahawks would have to come to St. Louis on Nov. 14.

    On paper, the Seahawks have done all the right things to overtake the Rams. They've built an offense that can annually rank in the top seven in various statistics and play high-scoring games to counter the Rams' high-powered offense. They might have made the single biggest offseason move to weaken the Rams and strengthen themselves by signing former St. Louis defensive end Grant Wistrom.


    One player doesn't make a defense, but Wistrom is a player who makes this defense work. For one, he's a hustling player who creates a lot of energy. Second, he's a leader. Third, he gives the team a pass-rushing threat on the other side of Chike Okeafor to put pressure on quarterbacks.

    His absence has caused adjustments on the Rams defensive line, which also lost defensive tackle Brian Young and is missing injured defensive tackle Jimmy Kennedy. Defensive end Leonard Little is being moved around to avoid the double-team blocking -- a strategy that worked well last week against the *****. In past years, Little drove right tackles crazy by rushing from the left side while Wistrom got his usual eight sacks from the right.

    In the past three years, the Rams haven't finished lower than 16th in defense. This year, they are 27th and are giving up 137.3 yards a game rushing. They are also giving up 21.5 points a game.

    While Arizona and San Francisco are in rebuilding mode, the NFC West is a two-team race. Sunday will determine which team has the edge.


    And 10. New York Giants at Dallas Cowboys: Who would have thought this would be a big game, but it is. With the Redskins underachieving, this is a battle to determine the second-best team in the NFC East. What the game comes down to is which team did the best job of picking the quarterback to lead them. Vinny Testaverde and Kurt Warner have been the comeback stories of 2004. Testaverde, at the age of 40, is carrying the Cowboys offense, and with the running game not being a factor, he has to do things few quarterbacks his age have been asked to do. He's averaging 38 pass attempts and almost 300 yards passing a game. The loss of tight end Dan Campbell, who is a mauling type of blocker, ended Bill Parcells' faith in being a running team, wondering why keep running the ball if you are only going to get three and out? So he's letting Testaverde handle the pressure. The Warner story is another feel-good adventure. He signed with the Giants knowing he was a transition into the Eli Manning era. A 3-1 start along with his calm leadership under pressure could push Manning's debut as a starter into next season. Warner's road victory over the Packers last week kills any chance of a quarterback change during the bye week that follows. Unlike Testaverde, Warner gets to work in a more balanced offense. Tiki Barber leads the NFC with 455 yards and he hasn't fumbled once. It should be a hardnosed game because Giants coach Tom Coughlin is going against his NFL mentor, Parcells.

    9. Baltimore Ravens at Washington Redskins (8:30 ET p.m., ESPN): Both teams enter this Sunday night's game with shaky confidence. There is plenty of uncertainty surrounding the Ravens. First, they don't know how many more weeks they will have halfback Jamal Lewis, who faces a likely suspension once he enters a plea bargain to a drug-related charge. Lewis is okay for this week's game. Their defense can't shake the disappointment of being pounded physically by the Chiefs on Monday night. The Ravens couldn't contain Priest Holmes, but the Chiefs offensive line so dominated the game that the retired Christian Okoye could have gained more than 100 yards. Expect an angry Ravens defense. At the moment, the Redskins don't look like a Joe Gibbs-coached team. They aren't defined enough on offense and the confidence isn't there for the moment. Last Sunday against the Browns, Gibbs used some no-huddle to get the offense going and that didn't work. Clinton Portis isn't excelling after his first-game success at the featured halfback. An impatient runner, Portis has 305 yards on his last 91 rushes. That's an Eddie George-like average, and he's among the league leaders in being trapped in his backfield.


    8. Carolina Panthers at Denver Broncos: It's becoming a scary trend for the Panthers. For the second time this season, they have to go on the road against a good AFC West team to rebound from a disappointing home loss. The Panthers rebounded from their season-opening loss to the Packers by beating the Chiefs. Last week's home loss to the Falcons hurt even more, so this game against the Broncos is critical. Carolina coach John Fox is looking for better play from the league's best defensive front four. The Panthers as a team only have five sacks in three games -- four of them by defensive linemen -- and the defense hasn't been as dominating in the second halves of game. Opponents are running at Julius Peppers, a strategy the Patriots used in the Super Bowl. Overall, teams are running more on the Panthers and averaging 3.9 yards per carry. Because the defensive line is thin at the backup spots, opposing offenses tend to have more success in the second halves. Though the Panthers know they don't have much explosiveness on offense while Steve Smith is out with a broken leg, they face a much tougher defense than Kansas City's. The Broncos have a shutdown cornerback in Champ Bailey and a defense with two great, mobile linebackers in veteran Al Wilson and rookie D.J. Williams. Expect this to be a low-scoring game with both teams trying to establish their running offenses.

    7. Minnesota Vikings at Houston Texans: Vikings coach Mike Tice knows this could be a trap game for the Vikings. The Texans are tough at home where the crowd noise has caused 17 disrupted offensive plays in two games, including 12 false-start penalties. A lot will be put on the shoulders of quarterback Daunte Culpepper. First, he's working with his fourth-string halfback, fourth-round choice Mewelde Moore, as his starter because of injuries. A second rookie, Nat Dorsey, starts at right tackle for the injured Mike Rosenthal. Putting a rookie at tackle in that noise almost invites the likelihood of two false-start penalties. If Culpepper can handle the noise issue, he will try to work big plays against a Texans secondary that has allowed eight touchdown passes. Though the Texans expect to give up some yards to the Vikings, they hope to hold down one of the league's most potent offenses once they get in the red zone. Quarterback David Carr is gaining more confidence running the Texans offense, and he will try to exploit the height advantage receiver Andre Johnson has on the Vikings' relatively short cornerbacks.

    6. Miami Dolphins at New England Patriots: The Patriots are trying to break an NFL record with their 19th consecutive win. The Dolphins are just glad they aren't evacuating families because of hurricanes. Jay Fiedler continues as the team's quarterback for an offense that has been nonexistent all season. Even though this would appear to be a one-sided game featuring a winless team versus an undefeated one, the game expects to be low-scoring. Despite having the league's worst offense, the Dolphins are allowing only 250.5 yards a game and 15.8 points a game. What's killing the Dolphins is the offensive turnovers. Even though the Dolphins' defense is forcing a turnover a game, the Dolphins are minus-10 in turnover ratio. What might slow down the Patriots is three of their best wide receivers are banged up. That makes them a little more reliant on the running of halfback Corey Dillon along with the leadership of quarterback Tom Brady.

    5. Oakland Raiders at Indianapolis Colts: The Raiders are being like too many Raiders teams in the past. They are killing themselves with mental mistakes. Last week, they had eight false starts against the Texans. They lead the league with 39 penalties. Because they are breaking in so many young players at receiver and don't have a pure featured running back, the Raiders offense isn't good enough right now to overcome their many blunders. Quarterback Kerry Collins knows the crowd may actually be louder in the RCA Dome. This is a dangerous game for the Raiders defense because their cornerbacks -- Charles Woodson and Phillip Buchanon -- love to be aggressive and go for interceptions. Such plays in a game like this could result in defensive or offensive touchdowns. The Raiders put in some longer pass plays late in the week for Collins prior to the Texans game, but the timing wasn't down. Expect them to have some better timing and try more deep passes. The Raiders are giving up 21 points a game, the Colts 23 points. This doesn't figure to be a 6-3 defensive tussle.

    4. Cleveland Browns at Pittsburgh Steelers: Cleveland coach Butch Davis knows this game is important. The Browns-Steelers rivalry is one of the best in football. Browns fans judge coaches by how they do against the Steelers. For Davis, it's important to win. He's 1-6 against the Steelers and the Steelers have won 12 of their last 15 meetings against the Browns. Why this game is more important than ever against the Steelers is the offense is at its most vulnerable position. This is Ben Roethlisberger's third game as a starter, and he's 2-0. Roethlisberger is only going to get better so if the Browns are going to do their best against him, it will be now. Davis' defense may have to gamble and take chances to force Roethlisberger into making turnovers. Even though the Browns have the 31st-ranked offense, averaging only 254 yards and 14.8 points a game, they have a plus-2 number in give-away/take-away. Duce Staley is carrying the offense with his powerful running, and the Browns have to do everything to stop him.

    3. Tampa Bay Buccaneers at New Orleans Saints: The Chris Simms era begins in the worst of times for the Bucs. Though it's a little bit of a surprise the Bucs made this move, coach Jon Gruden is in the midst of a youth movement. Over the past two weeks, they have made starting lineup chances that made the offense younger at quarterback, tight end, wide receiver and along the offensive line. Something was needed because the Bucs are averaging only 12.3 points and 81 rushing yards a game. The Saints have had major problems stopping the run, so figure Gruden to use Michael Pittman more as a running back to test that problem. The Saints are allowing 159.5 yards a game on the ground and a 4.8 yard average. For a defensive line that has five first-round choices available, those are unacceptable numbers. At least the Saints can get motivated a little more than their first four games, which were played in the NFC West. This is their first division game and it's at home.

    2. Detroit Lions at Atlanta Falcons: The Falcons established themselves as one of the league's most improved teams after winning their first three against 1-8 teams, but their victory over the Panthers last week made it official. The Falcons are a legitimate playoff contender. Now the Lions will try to do to the Falcons what the Falcons did to the Panthers. Unfortunately, the bye week didn't help their offense. They don't have wide receiver Charles Rogers for the season and they've lost halfback Kevin Jones for a couple of weeks with an ankle injury. Artose Pinner is a big back with speed. So far, though, his longest run has only been eight yards, and that's not going to be good enough against the Falcons. Though the Falcons are only averaging 11.8 completions a week, they are moving the football because of Michael Vick. Falcons defensive end Patrick Kerney will try to harass Lions quarterback Joey Harrington all day. At 2-1, the Lions are trying to show that they are legit. This would be the type of win that gives them a chance to win a few believers.

    1. Jacksonville Jaguars at San Diego Chargers: The Jaguars continue to gain respectability even though they lost last Sunday's home game against the Colts. They hung in there until the fourth quarter and had a couple chances to tie the score a second time and maybe take the game into overtime. Holding the Colts to 24 points isn't bad now. The Chargers surprised everyone last week blowing out the Titans, 38-17, and showing they are getting better stopping the run. Chargers defensive coordinator Wade Phillips' 3-4 scheme is starting to take shape. They've allowed 85.3 yards a game rushing. Still teams can exploit the Chargers by hitting them with passes. Quarterbacks are completing 70.9 percent of their passes on the Chargers, but the Jaguars don't have much of a passing offense yet. Even though Jaguars quarterback Byron Leftwich is lining up more and more in shotgun formation, he's averaging fewer than 30 pass attempts a game. Jaguars games are weird. In the first three quarters of four games, the Jaguars have been outscored, 36-26. That's the equivalent of playing 10-9 games for three quarters. In the fourth quarter, they've outscored teams, 26-16. Their best offense is the two-minute offense. Unfortunately, little else is done offensively over the first 58 minutes.

    John Clayton is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com.

    __________________________________________________________
    Keeping the Rams Nation Talking

  • #2
    Re: Hawks ready to take Rams

    Sunday will determine which team has the edge. --J. Clayton
    Let's get it on! :angryram:

    FYI: Weather here in the Northwest ... past few days have been cool and, at times, rainy. Forecast for tomorrow, Sunday, is partly sunny, low 60s for a high so it shouldn't be a factor either way.

    I hope we have a football day like last year against the Steelers in Pittsburgh. ;)
    Last edited by RealRam; -10-09-2004, 08:32 PM.

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    • RamDez
      Quarterback questions dominate NFC West
      by RamDez
      Quarterback questions dominate NFC West

      By Vic Carucci
      National Editor, NFL.com

      (With NFL training camps due to open later this month, Vic Carucci has put together an eight-part series highlighting how each division shapes up in the aftermath of offseason personnel moves and organized workouts).

      (July 22, 2004) -- Here's a look at the NFC West.

      Most influential offseason moves


      The Rams remain explosive and always will be as long as Mike Martz is the one designing their offensive philosophy and putting together their playbook. But are these the same Rams that won a Super Bowl and appeared in a second not long ago? Are they the same Rams that seemingly could score at will? Those are tough questions to answer until the season opens and we see how Marc Bulger is going to handle the starting quarterback job without Kurt Warner, who is now a New York Giant, looking over his shoulder pad. After becoming the starter in '03, Bulger showed signs of regression late in the season and into the playoffs. Just as in offseason drills, the Rams will devote a good portion of training camp to helping Bulger improve his accuracy on deep passes and stop forcing as many throws into coverage. The Rams' defensive line took a couple of significant hits with the free-agent departures of end Grant Wistrom and tackle Brian Young, and it remains to be seen how well those spots can be filled.

      After beefing up their pass rush, the Seahawks' primary offseason goal was improving the NFL's 27th-ranked pass defense. They opened the vault particularly wide to acquire free-agent end Grant Wistrom. He doesn't consistently put up impressive numbers (see his 7 sacks last year), but he is a difference-maker in so many other areas such as matching his considerable strength against the run and providing excellent spirit and leadership. First-round draft pick Marcus Tubbs should help fill the athleticism void in the middle of the Seahawks' defensive line after John Randle's retirement and pick up the run-plugging slack created by Norman Hand's departure. Second-round pick Michael Boulware was a linebacker at Florida State but has the speed and athletic ability to make an impact as a strong safety in the NFL. He started off slowly with the adjustment in early offseason workouts, but has made dramatic progress since. Seattle's secondary should receive a powerful shakeup with the addition of free-agent cornerback Bobby Taylor. Taylor can still shutdown some of the top quarterbacks in the game, or at the very least, put himself consistently in a position to make plays. Taylor has the size (6-foot-3 and 216 pounds) and long arms to hold his own against the larger and more physical receivers he will regularly see in this division. Another huge move was the decision to re-sign Darrell Jackson, the team's leading receiver last season and a hot commodity in the free-agent market, to a big contract.
      ...
      -07-22-2004, 11:01 AM
    • psycho9985
      Notes about the Game today.
      by psycho9985
      Inside Slant | Notes and Quotes | Strategy and Personnel
      Coach Mike Martz is adamant that the club's special teams will improve, despite the numerous problems that occurred in San Francisco in the season opener.

      "Oh, I'm very confident. This is going to work fine," he said. "This guy that is coaching the special teams (Bob Ligashesky) is outstanding. He is very superior, and I really, truly mean that. This guy is special. We have some young guys that need to step up that haven't. We trusted them in a vital role and they didn't play well. We will replace them with some veterans if we have to. But that is their role. That is their job. I don't care who is coaching or what team they are on. They have to step up and make plays."
      Asked about rookies adjusting to regular-season intensity, Martz said, "They get sunburned on the roof of their mouth. Even for guys that have been playing in the league for a long time, when you get out of the preseason and you play that first game, especially a division game, that has a lot of chemistry to it, there is a lot of electricity in the air. It's fast, it's really fast, and they have to get used to it."
      PLAYER/PERSONNEL NOTES
      --RT Rex Tucker injured his calf against San Francisco and will be out an undetermined amount of time. Tucker was wearing a boot in practice Wednesday, and could miss a few weeks.
      --OL Blaine Saipaia is expected to be the starter Sunday at right tackle against Arizona, replacing an injured Rex Tucker. Saipaia started seven games at the position last season (including two playoff games).
      --G Claude Terrell was inactive for his first NFL game Sunday, but could be in uniform this week because of the injury suffered by OT Rex Tucker.
      --CB Terry Fair has been running and is getting closer to playing as he recovers from a neck injury.
      --CB Chris Johnson is expected to remain as the team's kickoff returner, despite averaging only 13.8 yards a return in the opener against the ***** and stepping out of bounds at the 1-yard line on the first play of the game.
      GAME PLAN: Offensively, the Rams will try to run the ball better than they did against San Francisco and build a lead so they don't have to call 65 pass plays.
      On defense, after stopping the ***** ground game, the Rams will try to do the same against Arizona, which struggled running in the opener against the Giants
      MATCHUPS TO WATCH
      Rams DLE Leonard Little vs. Cardinals RT Oliver Ross - Little had two sacks and a forced fumble against the ***** and is looking to keep those happening after a statistically subpar year in 2004.
      Rams RT Blaine Saipaia vs. Cardinals DLE Chike Okeafor - Assuming Saipaia gets the start at right tackle, he will have to handle the non-stop motor of Okeafor. That's a matchup the ornery Saipaia should be OK with. However, the Cardinals could flip-flop their ends and have Bertrand Berry play some...
      -09-18-2005, 10:03 AM
    • Clan-Robot
      [Fox-NFL]- St. Louis Rams Strategy and Personnel
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      The Rams signed safety Deandre' Eiland, who spent time on the Dolphins' and *****' practice squads this season.
      UNIT-BY-UNIT ANALYSIS
      QUARTERBACKS: Starter - Marc Bulger. Backups - Jamie Martin, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Jeff Smoker.
      Bulger played just eight games because of a shoulder injury yet passed for 2,297 yards with a rating of 94.4. He'll be adjusting to a new coach, but he is developing into an excellent player. The Rams just have to find a way to keep him healthy.

      Link To Original Article
      -02-11-2006, 09:00 PM
    • RamDez
      TSN Rams Report
      by RamDez
      TSN Rams Report
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      PLUS FACTORS: The receiving unit remains one of the league's best. The skills of Isaac Bruce, 31, don't appear to be diminishing, and Torry Holt has reached the elite level. But the real news is the depth that has developed in the form of Dane Looker, Shaun McDonald, Kevin Curtis and Mike Furrey. McDonald, in particular, had a strong preseason. The young linebackers appear poised to break out. MLB Robert Thomas and OLB Pisa Tinoisamoa have superior speed and instincts but must stay healthy and play smarter. OLB Tommy Polley has been in the doghouse much of the preseason but remains an asset in coverage. Not only is Leonard Little a premier pass rusher, he's also among the top all-around ends and can change a game single-handedly. No lineman in the league has better pursuit skills. Even if RB Marshall Faulk has trouble staying healthy, rookie Steven Jackson has showed he can be an exciting replacement.




      MINUS SIDE: The offensive line is a mess.

      LT Orlando Pace missed all of camp for the second straight year in a contract squabble; C Dave Wohlabaugh (hip) was released after failing a physical; and RT Kyle Turley (back) is out for the season. Grant Williams, Turley's likely replacement, isn't physically gifted but should be solid. Andy McCollum, the starter at left guard last year, will play center. The left guard is Chris Dishman, who was talked out of retirement and needs time to round into shape. The defensive line is thin after the loss RE Grant Wistrom and DT Brian Young as free agents and the loss of reserve DT Jimmy Kennedy (foot) for much of the season. Fullback and tight end were problem areas a year ago, and little has changed. FB Joey Goodspeed and TE Brandon Manumaleuna had good camps but remain unproven. The loss of CB Travis Fisher (arm) for most of the year puts pressure on a young corner (DeJuan Groce or Kevin Garrett) to come through. The team may have to consider moving FS Aeneas Williams to corner.

      THOMAS' BOTTOM LINE: At the start of training camp, this team had fewer questions than the 2003 squad that finished 12-4. But injuries at key positions have changed that outlook. Without a healthy, proven line, the team won't score as it did last season. As a result, the Rams are looking at a 9-7 or 10-6 record and will be scrambling to make the playoffs.
      -09-05-2004, 04:58 AM
    • Keenum
      Steven Jackson 2007 Rushing Champ - Pat Kirwan
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      (July 17, 2007) -- It is the time of year when speculation rules the roost. It's the quiet before the storm, and there's nothing to really do but guess what might happen. I took a look at the history of eight critical areas of a football season and took a few educated guesses about what the outcome might be in 2007.

      NEW LEADERS EVERY YEAR ... SO WHO WILL IT BE IN 2007?

      Over the past four seasons there has only been one player to win back-to-back titles in the following major statistical categories. Shaun Alexander won the title of most touchdowns scored in a season in 2004 (20) and 2005 (28). When it came to passing yards, passing touchdowns, rushing yards, receiving yards, receiving touchdowns, sacks and interceptions, every season there has been a different leader from the year before. I think it's safe to say it is next to impossible for a player to repeat. With that in mind, I'm going to take a chance on naming the next player to win each one of those important categories.

      For example it might surprise the average fan to think that four different quarterbacks have led the NFL in passing yards in the last four years. Drew Brees did it in 2006, Carson Palmer in '05, Daunte Culpepper in '04 and Peyton Manning in '03. Over the past four years, the leading passer has averaged 4,378 yards, and since no one has done it twice, a new name is required here -- I'll go with Jon Kitna. He is in his second year under Mike Martz, he has terrific weapons in Roy Williams, Calvin Johnson and Mike Furrey, and the Lions should play from behind just enough to keep on throwing the ball.

      As for passing touchdowns, Manning has done it twice in '06 and '04. Tom Brady led the league in '05, and Brett Favre did it in '04. It should take 36 touchdown passes to lead the NFL, and I'll say the addition of Randy Moss to an already strong receiver/tight end group will give Brady the nod.

      I was surprised to see that LaDainian Tomlinson has only led the league in rushing once in the past four years (last year). In 2005 it was Alexander, in 2004 Curtis Martin and in 2003 Jamal Lewis. The leader should be someone new, and based on averages will gain 1,860 yards. The title has a good chance of going to Steven Jackson as he continues to show signs of being a great player.

      The leading scorer in the NFL, excluding kickers, traditionally is a running back, not a wide receiver or tight end. LaDainian Tomlinson looked unstoppable in 2006 with 31 TDs and could very easily repeat. But since I committed to new faces at every category, I will go with Larry Johnson. Johnson is looking for a new contract bigger than Tomlinson's, and there's only one way to do that in this business: Hit the "pay dirt" more times than L.T.

      When it came to receiving yards, I would have guessed Marvin Harrison had won that title at least once in the last four years, but discovered he hasn't. In order...
      -07-17-2007, 04:42 PM
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