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Deep Thoughts: Rams never stopped looking long

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  • Deep Thoughts: Rams never stopped looking long

    Deep Thoughts: Rams never stopped looking long
    By Jim Thomas

    Of the Post-Dispatch

    Things haven't reached 2000 levels, when the Rams dialed long distance at epic levels and every game was a track meet. They completed 13 passes of 50 yards or more that season, and averaged almost a first down (9.36 yards) on every passing attempt.

    But the deep ball is creeping back into the St. Louis offense. Shaun McDonald caught a 52-yard touchdown pass to defeat Seattle 33-27 in overtime on Oct. 10.

    Torry Holt opened the scoring Monday night against Tampa Bay with another 52-yarder, and then closed things out with a 36-yard TD catch in a 28-21 victory.

    Through six games this season, the Rams have connected on eight pass plays of 30 or more yards, which is twice as many as they had at this point in '03. Quarterback Marc Bulger is averaging 8.01 yards per passing attempt, nearly 1 yard higher than the team average in both the '02 and '03 campaigns.

    "Marc's throwing the deep ball like he had in the past," coach Mike Martz said. "For a while there, he wasn't throwing it as well. I think he is just very confident right now about throwing the deep ball. Very confident."

    Martz has regarded Trent Green, the former Ram now with Kansas City, as one of the best deep passers around. Martz felt Bulger displayed a similar touch in 2002, when he got seven starts in place of an injured Kurt Warner.

    But that touch wasn't always there in 2003, when Bulger started from Week 2 through the rest of the season. "He was a little tentative with the deep ball," Martz said. "You get a guy running down the field, and he didn't want to miss him."

    As a result, Martz said the Rams placed extra emphasis on throwing deep in practice during minicamps and training camp. Getting a full offseason and preseason to throw with the top receivers didn't hurt, either, in terms of timing and chemistry. Bulger didn't do that entering the '03 season because Warner was the starter.

    Is Bulger throwing the long ball better this season?

    "Maybe," Bulger said. "For me, I haven't done anything different. But we're hitting them. That's all that matters, I guess."

    As to why that's the case, it could be the extra practice repetitions. Or greater familiarity with his receivers. Or simply the kinds of coverages the Rams are seeing in games. It's probably all of the above.

    "We have a lot of deep balls called throughout a game," Bulger said. "But you only get that certain look you want maybe once out of every five times you call a deep ball. We've been fortunate with some of the coverages we've (gotten), and that's probably just a good job of game planning."

    Bulger also points out that there's a lot more to throwing long distance than just dropping back five steps and heaving it 50 yards.

    "Because on a lot of our deep balls, we have so many options where they can come out," Bulger said.

    Often times, Bulger is releasing a deep ball before the intended receiver even makes his cut. He's almost throwing to a spot, trusting that his receiver will be there when the ball comes down.

    "Right now, he has a better feel for the speed and when he needs to get rid of the ball," Martz said.

    Isaac Bruce, for one, doesn't think the deep ball ever left the Rams' offense. "I just think that sometimes defenses dictate that they don't want to get beat deep, and they take it away," he said.

    But by doing that, defenses open up other avenues for the Rams' offense.

    "They give up the deep crossing (patterns), or that helps our run game with them playing Cover 2 and we're able to run the ball even more," Bruce said. "So I don't think it ever left, I just think we kind of take what the defense gives us."

    Lately, the Rams have been seeing more mixed coverages instead of the Cover 2 zone - a scheme that plays the safeties deep and is designed to prevent the big play. An improved running game may be one reason the Rams are seeing less Cover 2. Teams want at least one safety near the line of scrimmage to help in run support.

    No matter what the defensive scheme, teams around the league know that the Rams like to go long whenever possible. It's been their m.o. since Martz returned to the franchise in 1999 as Dick Vermeil's offensive coordinator.

    "They get big plays down field - long passing yardage," Tampa Bay linebacker Derrick Brooks said last week. "I think now, with the addition of (Steven) Jackson in the backfield, you have another serious threat at running back besides Marshall Faulk. I think that's another element that's been added. ... But the passing game still comes down to big plays. And Marc has been doing a good job of finding open receivers."

    Miami coach Dave Wannstedt, whose Dolphins play the Rams on Sunday at Pro Player Stadium, knows this better than most. "Most of their routes are deep routes," Wannstedt said. "So they're a little bit different than some teams that way. If you're going to give them the deep ball, they're going to take chances with it. And take some shots at it."

    So far the Dolphins have been very good at preventing the deep ball. The Dolphins (0-6) may be winless, but they have the NFL's top-ranked passing defense. They are yielding a league-low 5.61 yards per passing attempt, and have one of the league's better cornerback tandems in Sam Madison and Patrick Surtain.

    Keeping the Rams Nation Talking

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  • RamWraith
    Bulger finding ways to hit his mark
    by RamWraith
    Posted on Fri, Oct. 22, 2004

    [email protected]

    ST. LOUIS - The bomb is back in the St. Louis Rams' offense.

    Rams quarterback Marc Bulger, often criticized over the past year for his inability to connect with his receivers on the long pass, has thrown eight passes of 30 or more yards in six games this season.

    He threw only two passes of 30 or more yards in the final five games of the 2003 season, including the Rams' overtime playoff loss to the Carolina Panthers.

    "For a while, he wasn't throwing it as well," Rams coach Mike Martz said of Bulger being able to go deep. "I think he is very confident right now about throwing the deep ball, very confident. He started out that way, and then he got to the point where -- and this is Coach Martz's interpretation of what had happened, I'm sure not Marc's -- he was a little tentative with the deep ball.

    "You get a guy running down the field, and he didn't want to miss him. He's very confident right now, and he's putting that ball right where he wants to."

    Bulger has thrown three passes of 40 or more yards over the last two games after throwing only six passes of 40 or more yards all of last season. He had a 52-yard game-winning touchdown pass to Shaun McDonald in overtime in a 33-27 win over the Seattle Seahawks two weeks ago and a 52-yard touchdown pass to Torry Holt in a 28-21 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Monday night.

    "I haven't done anything different, but we're hitting them, and that's all that matters," Bulger said. "So I'll keep winging it."

    Bulger said that completing a deep pass is actually much more difficult than just winging it.

    "People think throwing the deep ball is just taking five steps and throwing it 50 yards down the field, but it's not that easy," Bulger said. "I'm throwing it way before they cut, and it's all depending on the coverage. It's a different landing point every time."

    Bulger said the Rams also have several different kinds of deep balls in their playbook that call for him to throw the ball at different trajectories.

    Martz said Bulger was one of the most accurate deep passers he'd seen when the former West Virginia standout first stepped into a starting role during the 2002 season.

    "Initially, his first year in '02, he was very good on the deep ball," Martz said. "He was like Trent Green in that respect, and I thought Trent was as good as there was throwing the deep ball. He was like that."

    Martz said Bulger's struggles with the deep pass last season prompted extra attention on that aspect of his game during training camp.

    "Throughout camp and the preseason there were days where that is what we did," Martz said. "We took part of our...
    -10-22-2004, 02:05 PM
  • RamWraith
    Losses obscure Bulger's success
    by RamWraith
    By Jim Thomas
    Of the Post-Dispatch

    With 36 seconds to play, the Rams faced a third and four from the New Orleans 19, trailing 22-17. The Saints dropped seven defenders in coverage. Four spread out across the 14, just behind the first-down line, with three more stationed deep.

    After the ball was snapped, quarterback Marc Bulger looked right. He saw Torry Holt running a deep corner route into double coverage. Shaun McDonald ran a sideline route underneath and was in front of his defender at the 13. But there was no throwing lane, particularly with Saints defensive end Charles Grant pushing offensive tackle Grant Williams back into the pocket. Bulger pumped once, then took off running.

    "I didn't specifically come up to the line looking to run," Bulger said. "The middle of the field opened up, and they had Torry covered, and they had the second guy (McDonald) covered."

    So off he went. Grant dived at Bulger's heels, missing, at the 15. As Bulger closed in on the goal line, trailing Rams offensive linemen knew what was about to happen. Left tackle Orlando Pace raised his right arm in celebration. Then center Andy McCollum signaled touchdown.

    Just to make sure, wide receiver Isaac Bruce peeled back and plastered pursuing Saints cornerback Fred Thomas at the two. An instant later, Bulger was in the end zone, giving the Rams the lead in dramatic fashion.

    "Marc played like a champion," wide receiver Dane Looker said afterward. "It just shows you what he's made of on that run to get in the end zone. A lot of quarterbacks might've taken a slide, but he wanted to win this game and he made a great play."

    Had the Rams been able to protect a 25-22 lead in the final 28 seconds of regulation, Bulger's dramatic dash might have dominated the town's football talk this week and added to his credentials as a starter.

    "Marc's always had the moniker, if you will, of being a guy that will do whatever it takes to win that game in the end," coach Mike Martz said. "Making a great throw, moving around, scrambling. ... Having the presence of mind to do that is very important. He's very quiet, but he's very, very competitive and tough. A lot like Isaac."

    Of course, this time, the Rams didn't hold the lead. The Saints won in overtime 28-25 and Bulger's TD run quickly became an afterthought. In a sense, it was a microcosm of his season. Because lost in the disappointment of a 1-2 start for the Rams has been impressive play by Bulger at quarterback.

    Bulger ranks first in the NFL in completions (79), third in passing yards (915), fourth in completion percentage (69.3), and seventh in passer rating (94.7).

    "He's playing exceptionally well," Martz said. "I think he really did a great job in terms of responding to the...
    -10-01-2004, 05:27 AM
  • RamWraith
    Bulger's Big Day Lost in the Shuffle
    by RamWraith
    Monday, September 26, 2005

    By Nick Wagoner
    Senior Writer

    It isn’t often that a quarterback’s performance will get lost in the shuffle of a football game considering that no player on the field has as much impact on a game as the signal caller. It’s even more rare for the quarterback to be overlooked when he has a really good game or a really bad game.

    But leave it to the quiet, unassuming Marc Bulger to have a tough, excellent performance and have it go pretty much unnoticed. After a tough start that left Bulger with a 20.8 quarterback rating at the end of the first quarter and more bumps and bruises than passing yards after being sacked twice and hit countless other times, Bulger rebounded to have one of his best games as a pro.

    Coach Mike Martz said you can attribute that effort to Bulger’s toughness.

    “Here’s what you have to consider about his performance, how we started, first of all,” Martz said. “He’s getting sacked and drilled back there to begin with. That normally would rattle any quarterback. I don’t care how good you are. Then, all of a sudden, you are behind by 10 points and you can’t get back to put your foot in the ground to throw, or they’re all over you. So, that can be disillusioning to any quarterback, and then to come back and do what he did the way he did it, I thought was outstanding.”

    By the end of the day Bulger had 292 yards on 21-of-28 passing and three touchdowns for a rating of 128.9. It was amazing that Bulger was even able to stand upright by the end of the game, let alone posting those kind of numbers.

    Bulger took so many hits that there were a number of occasions where it appeared he might not get up.

    “I never go there, I don’t think about that,” Martz said.

    But Bulger thinks about it, usually when he is hobbling his way back to the huddle after a particularly vicious hit.

    Take, for example, the obvious forearm to the throat delivered by Titans’ safety Tank Williams that led to a Rams’ timeout. Or the dive at the knees from defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch that resulted in a roughing the passer penalty.

    Those types of hits have become almost routine for Bulger.

    “It seems like Murphy’s Law, get hit in the same spots that you don’t want to get hit in,” Bulger said. “That’s the NFL, everyone feels the same. It feels a lot better when you win.”

    And Bulger was a big reason for that win. When the offensive line settled in during the third quarter, the offense began to click. Bulger rang up a perfect rating of 158.3 in the second half, going 13-of-15 for 203 yards and a pair of touchdowns with no interceptions.

    “I don’t know what to tell you about Marc, he’s just an outstanding competitor,” Martz said.

    REPLAY REVISITED: Judging by Martz’s reaction to the replace challenge of the “lateral,”...
    -09-27-2005, 04:56 AM
  • 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, 12:01 PM
  • RamWraith
    The ball's in Bulger's court
    by RamWraith
    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

    "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, 10:58 AM