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Nothing Easy for Rams' Playoff Drive

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  • Nothing Easy for Rams' Playoff Drive

    Nothing Easy for Rams' Playoff Drive

    Friday, December 3, 2004

    By Nick Wagoner
    Staff Writer

    It doesn’t quite have the same feel as the usual 49er-Rams matchup, but that doesn’t make this week any less important for St. Louis.

    The Rams are sitting squarely on the bubble for the NFC playoffs despite a 5-6 record. They have the best record in NFC West divisional play at 4-0 and have a chance to go undefeated and win the division again. With their biggest rival coming to town Rams coach Mike Martz said this game still has meaning.

    “It’s 49er week,” Martz said. “It’s a big week. We are excited about being back in this division with this game… we’re ready to go.”

    If only things were similar for the *****, Sunday’s meeting at the Edward Jones Dome would have meaning to both teams.

    On the other hand, this season can pretty much be chalked up for San Francisco. Sitting at 1-10, the ***** have little to play for besides draft position. That record is the worst in the league and the injuries have continued to mount. Coach Dennis Erickson’s job might be in trouble and there could be plenty of changes to the offense in the offseason.

    Tight end Eric Johnson said his team has to embrace the role of spoiler if it wants to have any kind of a finish to the season.

    “We always want to beat the Rams,” Johnson said. “It’s a rival from years back. We wouldn’t mind taking them out of the playoff (race). It should be a good battle. We are looking to get our first win in a long time here.”

    All of the problems San Francisco has had might make it a dangerous task for the Rams. With not much to play for except pride, the ***** have nothing to lose heading into Sunday’s game. They can let it all hang out and do whatever they want. Erickson probably will do just that with his job on the line. Playing the role of spoiler down the stretch would probably be the best way to stay employed.

    None of that matters much to Martz, though. He is well aware of the dangers of any game in the league.
    “I don’t think that ever has anything to do with anyone when you lineup,” Martz said. “Whoever it is, whether it’s the ***** or anyone else, when you coach or play in this league long enough, you understand that it’s hard every week no matter who you are.”

    EDWARDS SET FREE: Free safety Antuan Edwards made his debut against Green Bay and played well, finishing with eight tackles. Edwards didn’t start in that game, but Martz said Thursday that he would get his first start against San Francisco.

    “Antuan Edwards did a real nice job,” Martz said. “I was very pleased with him.”

    Edwards is the third free safety to start this season, joining Aeneas Williams and Rich Coady. Coady started against the *****, but is better suited to strong safety.

    SPECIAL TEAMS MAKES STRIDES: The Rams special teams units, coming off their worst performance of the season against Buffalo, had probably their best against the Packers.

    Green Bay was limited to just 18 yards per kickoff return and had no returns on punts. The Rams punted twice and held the Packers inside their 20 on both.

    The biggest reason for the improved special teams effort was the alterations made to the personnel. Admittedly, Martz traditionally doesn’t like to put starters on special teams, but he had some that volunteered to pick up the slack after the Bills ran all over them. That group included linebacker Pisa Tinoisamoa and defensive end Leonard Little.

    Tinoisamoa set the tone early with a crushing blow on Green Bay kick returner Antonio Chatman on the second kick return of the game. Joining Tinoisamoa was recently promoted linebacker Drew Wahlroos. Wahlroos made a pair of stops in kickoff coverage.

    INJURY REPORT: The Rams injury report had some big names on it Thursday afternoon. Receiver Isaac Bruce, who has battled hand problems this season, is on the report for the first time this season, listed as probable. He sat out Thursday’s practice.

    Running back Marshall Faulk (knee) is questionable. Martz said Faulk would sit out practice all week because of the bruise on his knee and his status for Sunday’s game will probably be a game-time decision.

    Tight end Brandon Manumaleuna (knee) and safety Adam Archuleta (back) are also probable. Both should play Sunday.

    Safety Aeneas Williams is questionable with continued neck stinger problems. Cornerback DeJuan Groce is doubtful with a knee injury and guard Chris Dishman is out with a tear in his knee.

    Keeping the Rams Nation Talking

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  • RamWraith
    Rams, Bucs No Strangers to Monday Night
    by RamWraith
    By Nick Wagoner
    Staff Writer

    In a season that thus far has seemed to reunite the Rams with former players and coaches, there has also been a rekindling of many popular rivalries. Aside from the usual division rivals, St. Louis has played former division rivals Atlanta and New Orleans.

    Now, the Rams are set to square off against another of their (former) rivals. Tampa Bay cruises into town for Monday Night Football at the Edward Jones Dome. This game might not have the history of the rivalry with San Francisco or the pure angst of the New Orleans’ battles, but it certainly has enough ingredients to make it a big game for both sides.

    St. Louis is riding an emotional high after an astonishing comeback against Seattle on Sunday. That win improved the Rams to 3-2 and put them in a good position to make it to the bye week with a three-game winning streak.

    Rams’ coach Mike Martz said the team can’t let an emotional win affect it any more than it could if the comeback had happened to the Rams.

    “It goes both ways,” Martz said. “This thing you put to bed, it’s over with,” Martz said. “We’re moving on. (It’s) just like a heartbreaking loss, you have got to really focus on this week, otherwise you won’t be at your best.”

    Tampa Bay is coming off its first win of the season, beating New Orleans on Sunday to go to 1-4 on the year.

    The Buccaneers and Rams don’t have a long history, but in recent years, it has been a matchup of two elite teams usually squaring off in an important game.

    St. Louis holds the overall edge, with an 8-6 record against Tampa Bay, but the Buccaneers have won the past four regular season meetings. Despite all of that, the Rams won the teams’ biggest matchup in 1999. That game was for the NFC Championship and St. Louis prevailed 11-6 on receiver Ricky Proehl’s late touchdown catch. This is the fourth game between the teams on Monday Night Football since 2000.

    Martz said he loves games like this.

    “This is kind of why you coach and why you play, for games like this,” Martz said. “It’s good for the National Football League; I look forward to it.”

    INJURY REPORT: Cornerback Travis Fisher and defensive tackle Jimmy Kennedy are one step closer to making their return from injury. Fisher broke his forearm against Kansas City in the second preseason game on Aug. 23 and Kennedy broke his foot on Aug. 8.

    Both players began practicing again Thursday after spending the past few weeks starting to run again. Martz said they will be limited in activities and kept from contact, but will participate in some drills. Fisher and Kennedy are listed as out for the Tampa Bay game.

    Defensive end Tyoka Jackson, who injured his hamstring against Seattle on Sunday, is listed as doubtful, but could play Monday.

    Guard Chris Dishman (knee) linebacker Trev Faulk...
    -10-15-2004, 06:18 AM
  • Guest's Avatar
    Martz keeps team working
    by Guest
    Martz keeps team working
    The Associated Press

    ST. LOUIS (AP) - Even with an extra day to prepare for their next game, the St. Louis Rams won't be relaxing at home on Thanksgiving.

    Extra practice time also will be devoted to horrid special teams, the end result of a frustrating, up-and-down season and 5-5 record for coach Mike Martz, even if the Rams don't play until Monday at Green Bay.

    "If this wasn't a Monday night game, obviously we'd practice," Martz said Wednesday. "If we had a veteran team that was playing really well ..."

    But Martz doesn't. The Rams have 17 players with two or fewer years experience, players he's counting on to come through on special teams. He's still trying to get them used to the realities of life in the NFL.

    "What's irritating is their role primarily is special teams and it's almost as if they feel they shouldn't have to do that," Martz said. "But they'll learn because they'll either do it or they won't be here." Martz is reluctant to use too many starters on special teams for fear of wearing them out for regular duty.

    "You get all these other guys that should be doing a better job that don't, and you can't put them in there because they're going to beat you because they've demonstrated it," Martz said. "That's what I'm angry about."

    Players didn't seem to mind practicing on Thanksgiving. They also worked out on the holiday last year, although that was on a regular work week.

    "This is our job, this is the time of year we practice and play during the holidays," tight end Cam Cleeland said. "You've got to do it."

    Plus, Martz also is worried players might not retain everything that was installed in practice on Wednesday.

    "We practiced Thanksgiving last year and we were rolling, and we've practiced in years past, too," quarterback Marc Bulger said. "It's an extra day to prepare and to give us a whole day off, you forget everything you put in and come back a little rusty on Friday.

    "So I think it's a good idea to keep things going."

    Special teams rank 30th in the NFL in punt returns and 31st in kickoffs, kickoff returns and punt coverage. Sean Landeta is 31st out of 33 rated punters in the NFL.

    This week, there'll be an additional special teams walkthrough.

    "You can't really do special teams full go because that's a little dangerous," punt returner Sean McDonald said. "We've just got to know what we're doing more and be confident in what we're doing."

    Definitely, there will be changes in the lineup. Middle linebacker Robert Thomas, a first-round pick in 2002, will be restored to his job after five games, and Grant Williams will start at right tackle after missing...
    -11-26-2004, 06:35 AM
  • RamWraith
    Adjustments Could Improve Special Teams
    by RamWraith
    Friday, November 26, 2004

    By Nick Wagoner
    Staff Writer

    In any dire situation desperate means eventually become necessary. For the Rams’ special teams, the predicament has gotten so difficult that coach Mike Martz has reached his boiling point and changes are set to be made for Monday night’s matchup at Green Bay.

    Amidst speculation for various changes on each special teams unit this week, most alterations won’t be evident until the teams take the field Monday night.

    After a brisk Thanksgiving Day practice at Rams Park on Thursday, defensive end Leonard Little hinted at one important addition to the kickoff coverage units.

    “You might see me on kickoff coverage,” Little said with a wink and a nudge. “I used to do that a long time ago. I might have to come out of retirement. Be on call, be on watch for that, and see me on kickoff coverage on Monday.”

    Little is probably the Rams most valuable defensive player, but was a special teams dynamo when he first arrived in St. Louis. In 1998, Little’s rookie season, he made eight special teams stops, but he became that group’s most consistent performer soon after.

    In just six games in 1999, Little made nine tackles on special teams, but 2000 was his best season on the special units. He made 18 special teams tackles that season before making 11 in 2001. He made enough of an impression with his nonstop motor and speed during that season to start taking more snaps with the defense.

    Seemingly out of nowhere, Little racked up 14.5 sacks that season and established himself as one of the league’s best defensive ends. The following season was his first as a full-time starter.

    Now, Little is likely going to get back to his roots on the special teams. His addition certainly can’t hurt, but Martz said earlier this week that he would prefer not to have his starting defensive players pull double duty.

    Martz said his biggest problem with the special teams struggles is just that, seeing the starters forced to help in areas they normally wouldn’t.

    “Not only is it hard, it’s unfair,” Martz said. “There are guys who should be doing a better job. That’s what I am angry about. That’s really disturbing.”

    A prime example of a player who has struggled doing both is middle linebacker Trev Faulk. By all accounts, Faulk is the Rams most consistent performer on special teams, but when he took over the job from Robert Thomas, he was forced into doubling his output.

    His performance on both units has suffered because of the extra workload. Not that Faulk has been bad; it’s more a matter of being able to keep his energy level up, according to Martz.

    “He’s been on special teams, but he’s also started, (so) he’s exhausted,” Martz said.

    That physical wear and tear attributed to Thomas getting his job back this...
    -11-27-2004, 05:45 AM
  • RamWraith
    Martz laughs off question about job
    by RamWraith
    By Jim Thomas
    Of the Post-Dispatch
    San Francisco reporters got Mike Martz laughing during a conference call Wednesday, but not because of a good joke.

    "For your own future there, do you have to go deep into the playoffs?" was one of the last questions posed to Martz during the call. He responded by laughing heartily.

    Then came his answer: "I could care less about that stuff. Are you kidding me? The last thing in the world I worry about is my job security. ... I'm financially secure. I think I can get another job if I have to, don't you think?

    "I'm not going to worry about that. I don't coach out of fear. I never had and never will anymore. I did at one time, but the last thing in the world I'm worried about is losing my job.

    "I love what I do. Should the day come when I'm not wanted here, then you just move on. ... This organization has been extremely good to me. I'm sure there will be a day eventually when maybe that is not the case. But for right now, it is just not a topic, really."

    A. Williams is listed as questionable

    Safety Aeneas Williams is listed as questionable for the San Francisco game after aggravating a pinched nerve in his neck and shoulder area. The injury has bothered Williams since training camp. He had an MRI exam Tuesday.

    After Williams started in the base defense Monday against Green Bay, it's likely that his role will be limited to nickel and dime package duty against the *****, if he plays at all.

    Safety Adam Archuleta (back), WR Isaac Bruce (wrist), RB Marshall Faulk (knee) and TE Brandon Manumaleuna (knee) were listed as probable. All could be limited today when the players return to practice after an off-day Wednesday.

    A bulging disc in the lower back has bothered Archuleta all season. He had an injection Tuesday. Faulk has experienced some knee soreness lately and that could lead to more playing time Sunday for rookie Steven Jackson, who basically has been splitting repetitions with Faulk the past two games.

    Although listed as doubtful, CB DeJuan Groce (knee) is a week or two from being able to play.

    Martz says fake FG was a call he made

    Jeff Wilkins ran for a first down on a fake field goal last season in Cleveland. But on Monday in Green Bay, the Rams tried it again and Wilkins was dropped for a 5-yard loss on fourth and 7. The Rams trailed 21-10 at the time, with Wilkins lining up for what would have been a 42-yard attempt with 3 minutes 50 seconds remaining in the third quarter.

    "The decision to go for the fake field goal was my decision," Martz said. "Kind of at the last second, really. I just felt like at that point we needed to try to make something happen. We talked about it during the week, and we felt like we had a pretty good opportunity...
    -12-02-2004, 06:27 AM
  • RamDez
    Kickoff coverage improves for Rams
    by RamDez
    Kickoff coverage improves for Rams
    By Bill Coats
    Of the Post-Dispatch
    Thursday, Dec. 02 2004

    If there was a positive to be gleaned from the Rams' 45-17 shellacking Monday
    night in Green Bay, it was a marked improvement in kick coverage. After a
    shake-up in personnel, the Rams yielded an average of 18 yards on four kickoffs
    - their best showing of the season.

    "Field position is a real important part of the game, and that's what special
    teams is all about," said linebacker Drew Wahlroos, who had two tackles on
    kickoffs. "It was good to be able to make some stops. But there's always room
    for improvement."

    Only twice in the previous 10 games had Rams opponents averaged fewer than 20
    yards per kickoff return: 19.2 by San Francisco on Oct. 3 and 18.8 by Seattle a
    week later. In the five games since then, the Rams had surrendered an average
    of 28.1 yards per kickoff.

    In addition, the Packers had zero yards on punt returns. That's because
    newcomer Kevin Stemke, though he averaged only 30 yards on two punts, had good
    hang time and both boots resulted in fair catches inside Green Bay's 20-yard
    line. "That's very important, and that's why he's here," coach Mike Martz said.

    The week before, the Rams were shredded by Buffalo's returns. The Bills took
    one punt 86 yards to the end zone and returned another 53 yards, setting up a
    touchdown in a 37-17 victory.

    "I really felt terrible personally about the Buffalo game and the way that we
    performed on special teams," said linebacker Trev Faulk, who also had two
    special-teams tackles vs. the Packers. "We definitely are the unit that brings
    the offense and defense together, so we've got to hold up our end of the

    Still, the Rams lag badly in league special-teams statistics. Defensively, they
    rank 31st in kickoff coverage (24.1 yards) and are tied for 31st in punt
    coverage (15.5). Offensively, they're No. 31 in both kickoff returns (18.6
    yards) and punt returns (4.0).

    Faulk, Bruce get a break from practice

    Martz has eliminated - for now, anyway - the midweek live tackling sessions he
    instituted last month in an effort to add a physical edge to his team's
    attitude. On Thursday, in fact, the Rams practiced without full pads after an
    off-day for the first time in four weeks.

    "I think they're focused," Martz said. "I don't see the physical aspect of it
    being an issue right now. Now, we're kind of getting back to the regular-season

    Martz kept running back Marshall Faulk and wide receiver Isaac Bruce on the
    sideline. Faulk has a bruised knee, and Martz wants Bruce, an 11-year veteran...
    -12-04-2004, 02:03 AM