By Rams Nation's Barry Waller
August 23rd, 2002
Rams head coach is not a big fan of pre-season football, and he particularly hates a 2002 Rams exhibition slate that included three teams he must face when it counts this year. A coach who loves to confuse defenses every Sunday is not going to show anyone his hand in August, and last night Martz’ Rams certainly didn’t show the visiting San Diego Chargers anything at all, as they were shut out at the half and lost 31-10 when the scrubs graciously handed turnover after turnover to their guests in the Edward Jones Dome.
While the starters were in the game, other than Marshall Faulk, who’s 2002 debut consisted of there “touches”, the Rams great offense played vanilla football, and like any team that does that against a very good defense like Marty Schottenheimer has in San Diego, they failed to score, though Kurt Warner, in his one quarter of action, did get the offense close enough for Jeff Wilkins to miss a 42 yard field goal wide right.
Warner went 5-10 on the night, with just 56 yards, but Torry Holt and Ike Bruce hardly even saw the field, playing about the same amount as Faulk. Holt did not catch a ball and Bruce caught just one 6 yarder in the contest. The Rams could not run the ball against a tough Charger defense either, with only 60 yards the entire game. Both Trung Canidate and Lamar Gordon were ineffective, as Gordon screwed up one short yardage play to end a drive and Canidate averaging only 3.5 yards a carry, not to mention another costly fumble that was returned by Charger rookie CB Antuan Simmons for a late third quarter touchdown.
Backup QB Marc Bulger had a rough night as well, with two picks leading to 10 Charger points, though he did complete 19 of 27 passes for his late evening effort.. The leading receiver for the Rams was Chris Taylor, who caught 7 passes for 85 yards and did a fine job on punt returns as well with a 16.3 average on three returns filling in for the injured Terrance Wilkins. His performance may keep him on the squad another week at least.
The lack of offense did give Mitch Berger a good chance to get limbered up, as the veteran Rams punter averaged 40.4 yards on 5 punts, with three kicks downed inside the 20. Once again the punt coverage was not very good, along with the kick coverage, but those things should improve, as the roster is trimmed Sunday or Monday. Still, until that long time problem is proven solved, it remains a big question mark concerning the 2002 season.
The other big question mark, right tackle John St. Clair had a decent night, far better than his previous efforts, as he again played the whole game in Martz’ crash course for the possible starting tackle. The Rams seldom let Warner hold the ball long enough to risk a big sack however, and Bulger’s mobility helped avoid some other pass pressure later in the game. New Ram Grant Williams saw plenty of action after taking over for Pro-Bowl left tackle Orlando Pace in the second half.
The brightest spot for the Rams, who were missing quite a few regulars with mostly minor injuries, were the defensive end tandem of Grant Wistrom and Leonard Little, who continue to shine every game in pressuring the passer. They appear to be headed for a 30 plus sack season between the two talented and intense performers, especially when the tackles all get healthy to make double-teams difficult. Strong Safety Adam Archuleta had a very good game as well, as he caused a Drew Brees fumble with a sack on the Charger starting QB and had four unassisted tackles on the night.
The Rams leading tackler was Jerametrius Butler, who returned to action after missing the Bears game. Butler finished with eight tackles and overall showed that he is a valuable “dime” cornerback who is holding off rookie Travis Fisher for the position on the depth chart, though Fisher has been fairly good overall so far in 2002. New MLB Jamie Duncan also performed well in the nearly all-defense first half.
Those fans who decry the rise of explosive, wide open offenses like the Rams “Greatest Show on Turf”, and long for the return to hard hitting, defensive ball should have had to spend three and a half hours in the Jones Dome Thursday evening. The 8 PM nationally televised start, an hour later than usual in St. Louis, presumably to allow the San Diego fans time to get home to watch, made for a very early exit from the boring proceedings by weary fans, who probably got home and watched their tape of the game to make sure they got to sleep quickly.
While Martz was upset at the performance of his young backs, and also in Bulger’s first turnovers of his pre-season, he doesn’t seem worried at all about the ability of his offense to start playing when it counts just as they have the last three years, scoring over 500 points each campaign. The fans, however, are always worried; especially those who know that traditionally, third exhibition games are the “tune up” game for the first team.
Martz does things his own way, and with so many starters and top backups already dinged up, his plan appeared the same as it has been the other three losses this August. Whether he is right won’t be known until the Rams meet Denver to open the regular season in a couple weeks. Even with his cautious attitude, the one Rams starter who did play well into the second half, fullback James Hodgins, broke his foot and will miss at least six weeks after undergoing surgery to repair the bone.
Who knows, maybe the clean living nature of Rams players is a detriment in a game starting Thursday at 8. After all, many of the Rams athletes, especially Warner, are usually in bed by the time the second half of this torturous game started. For whatever reason, the team was flat as a pancake Thursday night.
The Rams meet the Chiefs and Rams ex-coach Dick Vermeil next week, and chances are going up against his old boss won’t change Martz’ tactics a bit, as far as going for a win over just looking at some young guys trying to make the final cut. The Rams also play the Chiefs in the regular season, so even though Vermeil is well aware of what the Rams offense is all about, Martz won’t show him or his team any new wrinkles in Arrowhead Stadium.
Since February, Martz and his players have pointed to nothing but the Denver game when it comes to what has mostly occupied their minds. That’s when they have said they start toward their goal of winning the NFC again and this time taking the Super Bowl in San Diego as well.