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  • Rams need answers to Falcons' pass rush

    By Jim Thomas
    Of the Post-Dispatch
    Wednesday, Jan. 12 2005

    By noon Tuesday, Blaine Saipaia already had watched two Atlanta Falcons game
    tapes, and he was going back for more after a lunch break.

    Some offensive linemen can rely on experience in preparing for an opponent. But
    as Saipaia says: "I don't have any past experience."

    Saturday's NFC divisional playoff game against Atlanta marks just his sixth NFL
    start and 11th game overall. Saipaia was on the sidelines but didn't dress when
    the Falcons shellacked St. Louis 34-17 on Sept. 19. He was one of seven pregame
    inactives for the Rams.

    So he has no personal experience to go on against Atlanta - just game tape. And
    what he's seen on tape this week is an eyeful.

    "I'd say that their defense is relentless," Saipaia said. "I think they just
    rely on their tenacity."

    If the dazzling play of quarterback Michael Vick was the No. 1 reason the
    Falcons won on Sept. 19, the play of Atlanta's defensive line was reason No.
    1A.

    "They've got good people up front," Rams coach Mike Martz said. "They're big,
    physical guys who get off the ball quickly. They do a great job of penetrating,
    bull rushing, and changing things up."

    Last September in the Georgia Dome, just about every member of the Rams
    offensive line had some rough moments. Chris Dishman, then the Rams' starting
    left guard, got beat by underrated Falcons defensive tackle Ed Jasper for a
    sack. Grant Williams, then the Rams' starting right tackle, had a tough time
    against Pro Bowl defensive end Patrick Kerney.

    Late in the third quarter, Jasper got behind right guard Adam Timmerman on a
    key third-and-1 play, dropping Marshall Faulk for a 2-yard loss.

    The Rams had the momentum at that point, but were forced to kick a field goal,
    tying the game at 17-17 after Jasper's stop. The Falcons proceeded to score the
    game's final 17 points.

    All told, the Rams managed only 30 yards rushing in the game, their
    second-lowest total of the season.

    In one of the key plays of the game, Falcons defensive end Brady Smith went
    wide around left tackle Orlando Pace and stripped the ball from Marc Bulger in
    the end zone for an Atlanta touchdown. In the blink of an eye, that turned a
    24-17 Falcons lead into a 31-17 advantage with 11 minutes 48 seconds to play in
    the fourth quarter.

    "I didn't even realize until I watched the film that (Smith) came from the left
    side," Bulger recalled Wednesday. "Because usually, when the ball gets taken
    from you, it's from the front side. I didn't know he wrapped all the way
    around. We were going for the home run from our own end zone, and that's the
    risk you take when you have to hold on to the ball that long for a home run."

    Bulger wanted to throw deep for Isaac Bruce on a second and 19 from the Rams' 1
    before Mr. Smith showed up. The sack-fumble-TD play illustrated two things:

    Pace, less than two weeks after signing his franchise tender, wasn't quite up
    to game speed.

    The Falcons' front four is all about hustle, hustle, and more hustle.

    "They go hard every play," Bulger said. "They're 'downhill' players - they go
    straight up the field. They have linebackers that come downhill. That's what
    they bank on - that you're not going to be able to hold the ball long enough."

    Schematically, the Falcons aren't that complicated up front. They don't do a
    ton of blitzing or stunting.

    "You see Philly and New England, it gets confusing sometimes," Bulger said.
    "But they (the Falcons) won't confuse you. They pretty much line up and say
    these four guys are going to beat your five blockers."

    That formula has worked against many teams, not just the Rams. The Falcons led
    the NFL with 48 sacks this season, and 32 1/2 came from the four defensive line
    starters. Kerney finished fourth in the NFL with 13 sacks.

    "He just seems like a really big motor guy," Saipaia said. "A strong guy that
    keeps coming. So I've really got to be staying on him and staying with him
    until the whistle blows."

    The Rams will give Saipaia some help, but not a lot. That's simply not how
    their offense operates. Besides, he already has faced some of the league's best
    defensive ends in his brief tenure as a starter, including Carolina's Julius
    Peppers, Arizona's Bertrand Berry and the New York Jets' Shaun Ellis.

    And if you spend too much time worrying about Kerney, defensive tackle Rod
    Coleman will make you pay. The addition of Coleman as an unrestricted free
    agent this season (from Oakland) has put the Falcons' line over the top as one
    of the NFL's best units. Don't be fooled by Coleman's modest dimensions - 6-2,
    285 pounds. He has a strong upper body and routinely beats double teams.

    He had 11 1/2 sacks in the regular season, a huge number for a defensive
    tackle. In fact, only Minnesota's Kevin Williams (12) had more sacks among NFL
    defensive tackles this season.

    Smith suffers in comparison with Kerney, and doesn't get a lot of sacks, his
    effort against Pace notwithstanding. But he is good against the run. So is
    Jasper, who's smallish for a nose tackle (6-2, 293), but quick.

    The Rams will send out two new starters on the offensive line against the
    Falcons in Saturday's rematch: Saipaia at right tackle and Tom Nutten at left
    guard. The Rams can only hope things go better this time around than they did
    in September.

    "They lined up and whipped us, and whipped us good," Martz said.

Related Topics

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  • RamWraith
    Rams need answers to Falcons' pass rush
    by RamWraith
    By Jim Thomas
    Of the Post-Dispatch
    01/12/2005

    By noon Tuesday, Blaine Saipaia already had watched two Atlanta Falcons game tapes, and he was going back for more after a lunch break.

    Some offensive linemen can rely on experience in preparing for an opponent. But as Saipaia says: "I don't have any past experience."

    Saturday's NFC divisional playoff game against Atlanta marks just his sixth NFL start and 11th game overall. Saipaia was on the sidelines but didn't dress when the Falcons shellacked St. Louis 34-17 on Sept. 19. He was one of seven pregame inactives for the Rams.

    So he has no personal experience to go on against Atlanta - just game tape. And what he's seen on tape this week is an eyeful.

    "I'd say that their defense is relentless," Saipaia said. "I think they just rely on their tenacity."

    If the dazzling play of quarterback Michael Vick was the No. 1 reason the Falcons won on Sept. 19, the play of Atlanta's defensive line was reason No. 1A.

    "They've got good people up front," Rams coach Mike Martz said. "They're big, physical guys who get off the ball quickly. They do a great job of penetrating, bull rushing, and changing things up."

    Last September in the Georgia Dome, just about every member of the Rams offensive line had some rough moments. Chris Dishman, then the Rams' starting left guard, got beat by underrated Falcons defensive tackle Ed Jasper for a sack. Grant Williams, then the Rams' starting right tackle, had a tough time against Pro Bowl defensive end Patrick Kerney.

    Late in the third quarter, Jasper got behind right guard Adam Timmerman on a key third-and-1 play, dropping Marshall Faulk for a 2-yard loss.

    The Rams had the momentum at that point, but were forced to kick a field goal, tying the game at 17-17 after Jasper's stop. The Falcons proceeded to score the game's final 17 points.

    All told, the Rams managed only 30 yards rushing in the game, their second-lowest total of the season.

    In one of the key plays of the game, Falcons defensive end Brady Smith went wide around left tackle Orlando Pace and stripped the ball from Marc Bulger in the end zone for an Atlanta touchdown. In the blink of an eye, that turned a 24-17 Falcons lead into a 31-17 advantage with 11 minutes 48 seconds to play in the fourth quarter.

    "I didn't even realize until I watched the film that (Smith) came from the left side," Bulger recalled Wednesday. "Because usually, when the ball gets taken from you, it's from the front side. I didn't know he wrapped all the way around. We were going for the home run from our own end zone, and that's the risk you take when you have to hold on to the ball that long for a home run."

    Bulger wanted to throw deep for Isaac Bruce on a second...
    -01-13-2005, 01:59 PM
  • RamWraith
    Rams storm back, but lose 34-17
    by RamWraith
    By Jim Thomas
    Of the Post-Dispatch
    Sunday, Sep. 19 2004

    ATLANTA - The Rams had spent the better part of the first half watching Michael
    Vick run circles around them. Surprisingly, they watched the normally
    accommodating Falcons run defense put the clamps on Marshall Faulk.

    They stared at 14-0 and 17-7 deficits on the Georgia Dome scoreboard. But after
    a 46-yard field goal by Jeff Wilkins late in the third quarter, suddenly it was
    17-17 and the momentum was all Rams.

    But momentum can be a fleeting thing, especially when you're playing on the
    road in the NFL. Just when it looked like St. Louis had gained control of
    Sunday's game with Atlanta, things went south for the Rams in the Heart of
    Dixie.

    The result was a 34-17 loss to Atlanta, a loss that left glaring questions
    about the Rams' run defense, run offense, pass blocking, takeaway-giveaway
    ratio, play calling. ... Well, you get the point. It's a long list.

    "We just didn't do much of anything, really, in any phase of the game," coach
    Mike Martz said. "It's hard to identify. They just wanted it more than we did.
    They played harder than we did. They were more physical. We got outplayed and
    outcoached."

    Apparently, effort, attitude and physical play were at the crux of Falcons
    coach Jim Mora's pregame speech to his team. According to Falcons wide receiver
    Peerless Price, Mora told his team: "Just close the gate, lock 'em in here, and
    don't let 'em out until you kick their (butts)."

    The Falcons pretty much played that way in front of an enthusiastic sellout
    crowd, and the Rams couldn't match their energy level - particularly in the
    fourth quarter when the Rams were outscored 17-0.

    "That's the life of playing on the road in the NFL," Rams wide receiver Isaac
    Bruce said. "We've got to make sure that when we're on the road, that we treat
    it like we're at home. And try to make sure that we have as (few) mistakes as
    we possibly can, and put the ball in the end zone."

    But there were a lot of mistakes, including 10 penalties and two turnovers.

    Only two touchdowns, despite 100-yard receiving games by Bruce and Torry Holt,
    and an impressive 102.2 passer rating by Marc Bulger.

    And several close plays down the stretch that went the Falcons' way.

    None was bigger than Brady Smith's strip and fumble recovery against Bulger in
    the end zone that resulted in an instant Atlanta touchdown and a 31-17 Falcons
    lead.

    Martz generally takes a high-risk, high-reward approach to offensive football,
    and this time that approach backfired as the Rams attempted a deep pass...
    -09-20-2004, 04:13 AM
  • RamDez
    Confident Rams try different approach
    by RamDez
    Confident Rams try different approach
    By Jim Thomas
    Of the Post-Dispatch
    Friday, Jan. 14 2005

    ATLANTA - In September, the Rams took the field in the Georgia Dome secure in
    the knowledge that they hadn't lost to Atlanta since 1998. Arthur Blank didn't
    own the Falcons; the Rams did.

    "We beat them seven in a row, and some of those were 30, 40 points plus," Rams
    offensive guard Adam Timmerman said.

    Actually, the Rams scored 30-plus points in all seven of those games. The
    "closest" game in that streak was a 16-point St. Louis victory in 2000. The
    average score of those seven contests: Rams 38, Falcons 13.

    So why should anything have been different on Sept. 19?

    "It looked like the same guys on paper," Timmerman said. "I think it was hard
    to get ready for that game mentally."

    Well, the Falcons were ready. And so were their fans. Atlanta jumped to a 14-0
    lead, withstood a third-quarter rally by St. Louis that briefly tied the score,
    and then left the Rams in the dust in the fourth quarter.

    That 34-17 Atlanta victory in Game 2 helped jump-start the Falcons to an 11-5
    record and the NFC South championship.

    "I think (the Falcons) were still trying to figure out how good they were,"
    Timmerman said. "I don't think anybody knew what kind of season they were going
    to have. They put together a real nice season."

    No doubt. On the other hand, the Rams were searching for their identity - a
    process that ended up taking most of the season.

    But a different-looking Rams team will take the field in tonight's NFC
    semifinal in Atlanta. And the Rams will tell you, they're a much better team
    than the one that lost to the Falcons in September.

    "We look like a completely different team," defensive tackle Ryan Pickett said.
    "It's like a night and day difference in how we played then and how we're
    playing now."

    The Rams will have seven different starters on the field tonight than they did
    in September. (Compared to three new starters for Atlanta.)

    Travis Fisher is at cornerback after missing the first six games of the season
    with a broken arm. Jimmy Kennedy is making his mark at defensive tackle after
    missing the first seven games of the season with a broken foot.

    Energetic rookie Anthony Hargrove has moved into the starting lineup at right
    defensive end. Linebacker Tommy Polley didn't play in September, partly because
    of a rib injury and partly because rookie Brandon Chillar had beaten him out in
    training camp.

    At free safety, Antuan Edwards has stabilized the position after a season of
    injury problems for Aeneas...
    -01-15-2005, 02:46 AM
  • RamWraith
    Rams' rushers find little room to move against Falcons' "D"
    by RamWraith
    By Bill Coats
    Of the Post-Dispatch
    09/19/2004
    ATLANTA - Late in the third quarter Sunday, tailback Marshall Faulk skirted the left end for a 13-yard gain. And that was just about the extent of the Rams' running game in a 34-17 loss to the Falcons.

    After shredding Arizona for 176 rushing yards - the highest total among the 16 NFC teams in Week 1 - the Rams were stopped cold by the Falcons. Faulk picked up only 7 yards on his 11 other carries, finishing with 20 yards on 12 tries on the heels of his season-opening 22-carry, 128-yard outburst.

    In their 17-10 win over the Cardinals, the Rams generated 39.3 percent of their offense on the ground. But against the Falcons, a mere 10.7 percent (30 of 280 total yards) came via the rush.

    Answers for such a dramatic downturn were hard to come by in the visitor's locker room.

    "That was last week, and this is a new week. Week to week, different teams, sometimes things work, sometimes things don't," Faulk said.

    Coach Mike Martz said, "I don't know. ... We'll just have to go back and look at" the game film.

    Part of it might be that new Falcons coach Jim Mora, a former defensive coordinator in San Francisco, is developing a solid unit in Atlanta. In two games, the Falcons have yielded just 123 rushing yards on 38 carries, an average of 3.2 yards per attempt.

    Another reason could be the minor knee injury that Faulk suffered in the second quarter. He said he "got a little dinged" but refused to elaborate. "I don't want to say what it is or what's going on, but it just bothered me a little bit after that," he said.

    Still, Faulk missed only a few plays, and he scored on a 1-yard run on the same series.

    Perhaps a major factor was the play of the offensive line. Although quarterback Marc Bulger passed for 285 yards, he was sacked five times; the Cardinals had none last week. Early in the fourth quarter, he was pressured in the end zone and stripped of the ball by defensive end Brady Smith for a touchdown that expanded the Falcons' lead to 31-17.

    "They were bringing the corners off the edge, which certainly makes it hard to run outside," Rams right tackle Grant Williams said. "And they were running a lot of blitzes and stunts."

    The Falcons didn't blitz as much as Mora's ***** defenses often did against the Rams. But they still got plenty of penetration, even beating All-Pro left tackle Orlando Pace. On the touchdown in the end zone, Smith bolted by Pace and batted the ball from Bulger's grasp.

    "We wanted to get after Marshall because he's a big difference-maker," Smith said. "We were able to do that and contain him. It was a good defensive effort."
    -09-20-2004, 04:13 AM
  • RamWraith
    Rams outdo themselves against Falcons
    by RamWraith
    By Jim Thomas
    Of the Post-Dispatch
    Sunday, Jan. 16 2005

    One of the story lines leading into Saturday's NFC semifinal game in Atlanta
    was that this was a different Rams team, the inference being that things would
    be different in the rematch of the meeting Sept. 19 in the Georgia Dome.

    Well, things were different all right ... different as in worse. Not different
    as in better:

    In September, the Rams yielded 242 yards rushing to the Falcons, the
    second-worst total since the franchise moved to St. Louis in 1995.

    On Saturday, the Falcons rushed for 327 yards against the Rams. In the 74-year
    history of Rams football, that's the fifth-worst performance in either a
    regular-season or postseason game.

    Think about that for a moment. Nearly three-quarters of a century of Rams
    football, encompassing nearly 1,000 regular-season and postseason contests -
    970, to be exact. And on only four previous occasions was a Rams football team
    more porous against the run.

    "We just couldn't stop it," defensive end Leonard Little said. "With (Michael)
    Vick, it really gets you back on your heels because you just don't know if he's
    going to run or throw. They really had their thing going."

    In September against Atlanta, special teams were a problem for the Rams. The
    unit committed two costly penalties and got fooled on an onside kick.

    On Saturday, special teams were a disaster. Allen Rossum's 152 yards on three
    punt returns set an NFL postseason record.

    "There is no excuse for anything that we allowed him to do," Rams special
    teamer Mike Furrey said. "He succeeded, and we didn't."

    That's for sure. And after Atlanta's 47-17 drubbing of the Rams, Falcons coach
    Jim Mora made sure everyone was aware of that fact.

    "We just don't pay lip service to special teams," Mora said. "I think with the
    attention we pay to it, and they don't, that was a big difference. We live it,
    and they don't."

    Despite more embarrassing moments by left tackle Orlando Pace against Falcons
    defensive end Brady Smith - among them a fourth-quarter sack for a safety - the
    offensive line actually performed better this time around. So did the offense,
    even without wide receiver Isaac Bruce, a pregame scratch with a stomach-groin
    muscle injury.

    But that wasn't nearly enough to overcome the largesse on special teams and
    rush defense. In hindsight, the play of the Rams' defensive line wasn't all
    that bad Saturday.

    Defensive tackle Jimmy Kennedy didn't play as much as normal because of
    soreness in the foot that was fractured in training...
    -01-17-2005, 04:53 AM
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