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To Beat Cards, Rams Must Run, Run, Run

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  • To Beat Cards, Rams Must Run, Run, Run

    By Barry Waller

    Gridiron Gateway

    Last week, there were those who felt the Rams didn’t run the ball enough against the Carolina Panthers, as fans and many media members always believe after losses. In reality, with only little used Arlen Harris and Avian Cason available to tote the pigskin, there would be little change in the final outcome had Martz tried to grind it out last week. The Panthers weakness is allowing deep passes, not stopping the run, but Chandler wasn’t given enough time to throw the ball deep, and was quickly rattled into mistakes.

    Chandler will again be at the helm this week, after Martz decided late in the week to keep Marc Bulger on the sidelines another week to allow his shoulder to heal better for the Monday night home game against the Eagles two days after Xmas.

    However, this week the game plan is expected to be far different than the Panthers affair. The Cardinals defense is third worst against the run in the NFL, and Martz now has the duo of Marshall Faulk and Steven Jackson back in his arsenal.

    Unless the Cardinals are forced to bring seven or eight players close to the line to stop the run, there won’t be many long bombs on Sunday, especially not with the league’s second leading pass rusher, former Ram Bert Berry, who has 12 sacks in 2004, lining up for Arizona. The insertion of rookie Larry Turner at left guard due to Tom Nutten’s knee problem is just one more reason to keep the game plan simple and physical, and on the ground. Turner, an unknown, but talented seventh rounder last April, will be seeing his first action of his NFL career.

    With right tackle Blaine Saipaia making just his second NFL start ever, and right guard Adam Timmerman nursing a shoulder injury serious enough to require off-season surgery next year, and only journeyman Darnell Alford as backup help on the sidelines Sunday, it may be up to the two backs and the Rams improving defense to bring home a crucial victory Sunday. At least the temperatures in the desert won’t make a thin roster an impossible task, but that’s little consolation

    For the Rams, who simply MUST win this division road game, period.

    It won’t be easy, because Dennis Green’s club is far improved from the meeting with the Rams in the opener, a game the Rams barely won at home. Green still has a quarterback problem, but he still has Emmitt Smith, who has played inspired football all season. At age 35, few backs have ever put up the numbers the future Hall-of-Famer is in 2004. Smith has scored nine times, and gained 732 yards on the ground thus far, as well as 70 more on ten receptions.

    The Cardinals offense has also seen their 2003 MVP Anquan Bolden, come back after missing over half the season with a knee injury. After two less than stellar performances upon his return, Bolden exploded with a nine catch 109 yard game against the Forty-Niners. His return gives the Cardinals two major receiving weapons in Bolden and rookie Larry Fitzgerald. Look for the Cardinals to use Smith runs to set up play action passes deep against the Rams secondary. They will double and triple team Rams pass rush stud Leonard Little, and keep their fullback in to block any blitzing Rams.

    It will be up to the other Rams linemen to foil the Cardinals plans, and there will be lots of pressure on the Rams cornerbacks and safeties in this game. If the Rams try to give Travis Fisher and Jerametrius Butler too much help on the talented young Cardinals receiving duo, they leave themselves open to getting burned by tight end Freddie Jones, still one of the better receiving tight ends in the game, as well as screens and flat passes to Smith. Those type plays will no doubt be a red zone staple for the Cardinals.

    Arizona sports a huge offensive line that can be effective against a smallish Rams line, and their kicker, Illinois grad Neil Rackers, is having a Pro-Bowl year.

    The two opposing defenses will take the field with the same goal Sunday, and the offenses will both be concentrating on stopping the other’s big time pass rusher. Whichever defense gets the job done will win this game for their team, especially creating turnovers. Both defensive units will be seeking to shut down the run, and then force the guy behind center to beat them in difficult third and long situations.

    It could end up being a game where special teams can make a huge difference as well. For the Rams to win, they have to hit on all cylinders, at least the ones still operating. They must not suffer through early game ineptitude on defense, as they did last week before recovering to play OK. They must not waste red zone chances by turning the ball over on offense, or throw away possessions by bobbling punts. They must reverse the third quarter malaise that has plagued this club all year, instead taking charge early in the second half with long scoring drives. They must not stop drives with penalties, by putting Chandler in long yardage situations.

    In other words, they mustn’t do the things that have gotten them to the 6-7 mark they carry to Arizona, things they have especially had problems with in road games. If they can make Cardinals quarterback Josh McCown run around and throw into double coverages to beat them, they should win the game, especially if Jackson and Faulk can get it done for 75-100 yards each.

    If the Cardinals stop the run, or the Rams penalty themselves into having to pass too often, and Smith eats up yardage to open up the pass for McCown, the 2004 season hopes for the Rams will probably be dead, barring a sweep of the final two home games against the Eagles and Jets, both already headed for the playoffs.

    Keeping the Rams Nation Talking

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  • RamDez
    Shorthanded Rams Fall 20-7 In Carolina
    by RamDez
    By Barry Waller

    Gridiron Gateway

    It came as no shock that the Rams lost to the Carolina Panthers Sunday, because no one picked the Rams to come out of hostile territory with a victory over a very hot team without their MVP, Marc Bulger, or either of their talented halfbacks, Marshall Faulk or Steven Jackson. After watching the 20-7 loss, it was especially clear that Jackson could have gained big yardage against a defense that was dropping its linebackers and safeties deep into coverage at the snap.

    Instead the Rams, who have not had much success in Carolina since 1996, were forced to put the offense on the shoulders of backup quarterback Chris Chandler. The results were all too reminiscent of past failures there, such as the 45-13 drubbing in 1996, the 20-13 loss in 1998, Kurt Warner’s worst game until his last start, a 16-3 loss in 2000. Even in the Rams best year, Carolina was a tough nut to crack on the road, as the 1999 championship club squeaked by their then division rival 34-21, and the 14-2 team of 2001 barely eked out a 38-32 nail-biter over the eventual 1-15 Panthers. Marshall Faulk gained over 200 yards in that win.

    Without a top running threat, Chris Chandler found the holes in the pass defense to be very small, and quick to close. Even with a lot of time to set up, a passer would have to really be on his game to succeed against Carolina, or any NFL defense able to set up against a one dimensional offense. When the front four can apply pressure on almost every play without having to blitz, or using late blitzing free players as a weapon, an immobile quarterback has no chance.

    That’s what happened to Chandler Sunday, as he had his worst game as a pro, and threw the second most interceptions ever in a game by a Rams quarterback. Nothing went right for Chandler or the Rams offense Sunday, as two of the six picks were tipped balls, and his best play, a 54-yard highlight film touchdown pass to Isaac Bruce after escaping the rush, was called back because of a holding penalty on Adam Timmerman. The call was borderline, and as the Rams guard explained after the game, “ If they wanted, they could call holding on every play.”

    From the get go, everyone should have known that the only way the Rams could win would be to keep defensive ends Mike Rucker and Julius Peppers out of the backfield, and in the end, they just didn’t get it done. If they had, then there is a good chance more plays like the 75-yard touchdown catch and run by Torry Holt on the last play of the first quarter could have been duplicated, just as the negated Bruce catch had done. Holt starred for the second straight week with a six catch 151 yard day.

    The Rams had two blockers on Peppers, but without a running threat, the Panthers were free to use more line stunts and zone blitzes, and Peppers created...
    -12-14-2004, 10:56 AM
  • RamDez
    Rams Seek To “Return Favor”, End Panthers Hopes
    by RamDez
    By Barry Waller

    Gridiron Gateway

    The Rams hit the road this week to play the Carolina Panthers, and the situation is much like it was when the Rams traveled to Green Bay in late November. Hopefully, the result will be different. Just as the Packers rose from the dead to real off a month of victories heading into a meeting with the Rams, the Panthers, their coffin ready to be nailed shut, have rebounded with four straight wins after a 1-7 start.

    The fact that the Rams have the misfortune to be scheduled against two teams who are on a hot streak, illustrates how in the NFL, it’s not only who one plays, it’s also when. Though the apparent level of play of the Rams opponent at game time is the same however, this game is far different in terms of predicting an outcome.

    Like Green Bay, the Panthers have made a 4-0 run by beating some bad teams playing their worst when they played them, but in the case of Carolina, the winning streak is more about “winning ugly” again, like they had in their Cinderella 2003 run. This year, injuries and a very tough early schedule put the Panthers in a seemingly insurmountable hole. Sitting at 1-7, with some of their biggest stars out for the year, offensive keystones such as running backs Steven Davis and DeShaun Foster, and wide receiver Steve Smith, and defensive tackle stud Kris Jenkins on defense.

    Those are just the big names the team has lost for the season, in a year that has been very unlucky for the defending NFC Champions. They are still only 2-4 at home, the same as the Rams road record. Fortunately for the Panthers, head coach John Fox did not panic when things were at low ebb, and his team has responded the last month, with young players stepping up to make contributions to what’s been a string of real team victories.

    Quarterback Jake Delhomme hasn’t had a great season thus far, throwing 13 interceptions, and 20 touchdown passes, ten to favorite target Muhsin Muhammed, former Rams quarterback Tony Banks’ college roommate at Michigan State. Despite only adequate protection, Delhomme has been able to escape and throw the ball away rather than taking sacks. The Panthers rank 6th best in the NFL in sack percentage as a result, and the Rams must contain Delhomme to win this key game Sunday.

    Delhomme spreads the ball around more with Smith out, and the situation has been helped dramatically with the emergence of rookie Keary Colbert. The rookie out of USC, who played in the shadow of Mike Williams in 2003, has caught 38 passes, including four touchdowns, and has averaged 16.4 yards per catch. Muhammed’s average is 15.3, indicating that the Panthers plan is to run the ball effectively, and then take shots deep. IN other words, the same as it has been for a couple years.

    The Rams defense must...
    -12-11-2004, 02:50 AM
  • RamDez
    Debunking An NFL Myth
    by RamDez
    Debunking An NFL Myth

    By Barry Waller

    Gridiron Gateway

    It’s something NFL fans hear constantly. Right now it seems to be on the lips of every Rams fan and those who cover the NFL. In fact, in may be the “first commandment” of the football bible. One even hears head football coaches reciting the age-old adage when discussing football strategy. Wouldn’t it seem like someone, at some time, should actually take a bit of time to prove that “Running the football helps your defense by keeping them off the field, and running the clock.”

    I guess, like all too many long held beliefs, people simply believe because so many people say it over and over and over. One thing I love most about writing my opinions on NFL football is that I have the burning desire to hold such tenets up to the light. This one falls flat on its face.

    The NFL has changed drastically in the last 35 years, since the AFL-NFL merger brought the idea of high scoring offenses into a league that stubbornly clinged to their old ways, and that old imperative about the ground game.

    Sid Gillman and his San Diego Chargers were employing an offensive machine in 1968 that was years ahead of its time, one that has flowed through Bill Walsh, Don Coryell, and Dick Vermeil; to Sam Wyche, Hank Stram, Ernie Zampese, Norv Turner, and Joe Gibbs; and finally to Steve Marriucci, Mike Martz, Mike Shanahan, Mike Holmgren, and Andy Reid, as well as hundreds of other college and professional coaches.

    Gillman’s scheme has mutated many different ways as it branches off the trunk of his coaching “family tree”, but the pass patterns, and the philosophy that accurate short passing is better than a running attack, are alive and well. Once old school coaches like Vince Lombardi, George Halas, George Allen, and the rest of their peers were history, unable to win against the new pass-happy NFL offenses, all the NFL organizations upgraded their playbooks to the modern game.

    The NFL helped the change by amending rule after rule to make the passing game a better option, even a far more advantageous one. The advent of a national TV deal now worth billions made for a good reason for the league to ignore the caterwauling of NFL “purists” whining about messing up the game, and remake their game. It was commissioner Pete Rozelle’s vision, and that Chargers team that Rozelle, then Rams GM, saw plenty of when they were in Los Angeles, influenced it greatly.

    Yet, now, so many years later, NFL fans and analysts are still not convinced that teams should not return to the days of Lombardi to win consistently, even with the rule changes that include when the game clock starts and stops.

    Players no longer play both ways, or even every play on one side...
    -09-30-2004, 07:54 AM
  • RamDez
    Crushing Loss Should Mold Rams Offseason
    by RamDez
    By Barry Waller

    Gridiron Gateway

    In many ways, other than actually having to sit and watch it happen of course, it may be better for the Rams to exit the playoffs by getting their asses kicked than battle to the end only to lose by two missed field goals, like the Jets did in Pittsburgh. When a team folds up like Mike Martz’ team did Saturday night in Atlanta, it can really shine a spotlight on the roster and coaching staff, and make it very clear what changes have to be made this off-season, if this organization is to return to its former glory.

    Everyone thought the way the Rams got punked by Atlanta in week two was an aberration, and even the players were clear that this was a far different unit than it was in September. Once the game began however, it was a football version of “Teen Wolf Too”, a similar, but even feebler sequel to the original. At least one can leave a horrible movie after five minutes, though.

    The Ram’s schedule will be softer in 2005, and the NFC West is looking so weak, with many changes expected in Seattle and San Francisco, that the Arizona Cardinals should be the pre-season favorite to win the division next year. However, the chances of sneaking into post season again next year by standing pat shouldn’t prevent the obvious additions and subtractions Rams president John Shaw must make soon.

    Mike Martz certainly should accept his fair share of the blame for this star- crossed season, but in truth, Martz probably knew what the team lacked from training camp on, and maybe before that. It’s not his fault that free agency cost his defense its two most emotional players, tackle Brian Young and the “alpha male” of the defense, defensive end Grant Wistrom.

    Losing those two on the heels of watching other emotional leaders like MLB London Fletcher, DE Kevin Carter, and cornerback Dre Bly leave in recent years, and others like Toby Wright and D’ Marco Farr retire too soon due to injury has been simply too difficult to overcome.

    It seems like every time the Rams are raided for talent because of their cap issues, the targets are always the players who have brought a team lacking tough guys their backbone. It’s never been more evident than in 2004, and the final debacle topped it all off, or more correctly, bottomed it out.

    Martz probably thought his team could get by with guys he brought in to add grit; tackle Kyle Turley, center Dave Wohlabaugh, and safety Aeneas Williams, plus the young guys he saw as future leaders, like Adam Archuleta and Pisa Tinoisamoa, added to his core of championship caliber stars.

    However, when Williams turned out to be too hurt to play, let alone lead, Wohlabaugh and Turley couldn’t play, the Rams became as soft as the 2000 or 2002 clubs again. When...
    -01-18-2005, 03:41 PM
  • RamDez
    Fearless “Non-Predictions” For The 2004 Season
    by RamDez
    By Barry Waller

    Gridiron Gateway

    I hate predictions, especially concerning the final records of NFL teams, since injuries and luck play such a huge part of the way things play out each season. The media will be full of such nonsense this week, as always, in the quest to hold their readers’ and listeners’ attention for what has become a 12 month obsession for so many.

    The major football publications and networks try to withhold their guesses as to which teams will rise, which will fall, and which will remain where they were in 2003, as long as possible, so the last couple weeks have really been loaded with the final standings imagined five months early in the minds of modern day Nostradamuses. Since dozens of so-called “experts” have wildly differing opinions on which club will hold the Lombardi Trophy aloft in February, with the same factors available for all to examine, does it mean that many of those pundits have no clue?

    A look back would prove that in past seasons, even the most respected analysts, with direct information pipelines from organizations, have been way off in their pre-season prognostications. In fact, they are way wrong far more often than they are on the money. However, when it is all said and done, no one is searching for those six month old issues of all those publications that were so sure they had “handle” on the season. That is very fortunate for the writers who would have very serious doubts arise as to their competence, were this the case.

    The guys on ESPN occasionally joke about one another’s pre-season picks, but mostly the guys who put their opinions out there in August for all too see, often in print, are in no hurry to compare their vision to the final reality. In that way, the media is very much like the politicians they seek to discredit these days.

    Of course, just like whatever administration is trying to hold onto their jobs in Washington, each and every media person that put out their predictions, and sold the value of their picks over others like the guys selling “tip sheets” at the track, would have good excuses for the failure of their crystal balls. The thing is, in the NFL it is not just a possibility that teams will get hit by devastating injuries, bad weather, bad breaks, or other things that turn 11-5 into 8-8 or worse; it’s EXPECTED, or at least should be.

    Since no one knows which teams will be hit the worst, or when it will happen, these predicted final standings things are really nothing more than something draftniks can use to do 2005 mock drafts eight months early. That’s not to say there are not teams that appear to have better ability to persevere when the bad stuff hits, as it already has to some clubs, including the Rams. The haves and have-nots in the league appear to be fairly well defined, though...
    -09-05-2004, 05:53 AM