By Rams Nation's Mike Franke
Position by position:
* RB: Another game ball for Marshall Faulk’s trophy case. Marshall rolled up 236 total yards, (27-178 rushing, 6.6 per rush) and rolled over the Big Dead. Faulk keyed the Rams’ first TD drive with a 40-yard catch. The next drive, he broke 2-3 sloppy arm tackles on a 14-yard run. (That’s the Big Dead we know and love.) A great 14-yard cutback run right after Kim Herring’s INT keyed a Ram FG drive. Marshall got the 2:00 drive clicking with a 12-yard quick reception to beat a Big Dead blitz. Then his blitz pickup gave Marc Bulger time to hit Troy Edwards for a big 48-yard play to set up a TD. Running, catching, blocking – Marshall Faulk continues to do it all. He had a stunning 12 plays over 9 yards, capped by a game-sealing 13-yard TD. Sweeping right, Marshall comes to all but a dead stop before cutting back and ripping back up the middle for the clinching score. And Marshall did all this despite a game-long bout with leg cramps. Trung Canidate got Marshall some downtime, but seemed to lose yardage on just about every run. But Trung’s not the lead horse; that’s Faulk’s role, and he is pulling the Rams bandwagon with authority.
* QB: Marc Bulger came roaring out of the gates to lead the offense to a TD on its first drive, 90 yards, 7 plays in 4 ½ minutes. Marc was cool and confident and throwing passes that appeared to be laser-guided. A good read and a good pass to hit Faulk behind the LB’s in the Cover-2 for 40, then a second sweet pass between two DBs to Rickey Proehl for a 31-yard TD to put the Rams on the board first. The first-half 2:00 drive was stellar, with Bulger taking the offense 82 yards in about 1:30 to put the Rams up 17-7. Marc had a 125 QB rating in the first half, with 207 yards and 2 TDs. But the desert heat appeared to give Bulger some brain cramps at times. The Rams could not cash in on the Big Dead’s 2nd-quarter fumbled snap; Bulger killed that drive with an unwise sideline throw picked off by Duane Starks. He really seemed to lose it in the 4th quarter. After a wild sideline pass well over Torry Holt’s head, Bulger threw another horrible pass, this one intercepted by David Barrett and converted into a TD to bring the Big Dead within 17-14. Bulger’s biggest, most idiotic mistake this year. Luckily the QB in just his third career start had Faulk to take command in a 2nd half where he was just 5-10 for 38 yards and that costly pick. Marc still deserves praise, though, for getting the team off to a great start again this week and making as many big throws as he did.
* Receivers: A belated and hearty welcome to Troy Edwards, who had a break-out game, with 4 catches for 64 yards. He had the key play of the 2:00 drive, a 48-yard catch-and-run on 3rd-and-5 to put the Rams at the Big Dead’s 7. Rickey Proehl’s 31-yard 1st-quarter TD came on 3rd-and-11. Ernie Conwell was INTO this game. He broke 3-4 tackles on a 15-yard inside run during the opening TD drive. The next drive he had a 12-yard catch where he bulled a tackler for 5-6 yards. And he had one of the game’s biggest catches, a 5-yard catch on 3rd-and-2 immediately following the Big Dead’s INT TD. I don’t want to think about what would have happened if the Rams had followed that INT TD with a 3-and-out. Great clutch play today from the supporting cast. Isaac Bruce caught just 3-31, and Torry Holt was only 1-7, a TD pass to put the Rams up 17-7, finishing off a drive where he had dropped two other passes, one in the end zone the play before.
* Offensive line: The Rams controlled the line of scrimmage despite another dizzying array of injuries. Tom Nutten and Orlando Pace missed some time with concussions, and for a stretch, it was Nutten at RT, Heath Irwin at RG and John St. Clair at LT. But these fellows have become good at musical chairs. Most of the day, Bulger had time in the pocket that Warner could only dream about the first five weeks of the season. There were just two sacks, both by LB Raynoch Thompson on blitzes, but those weren’t really the line’s fault. In the 1st, Thompson came in too hard and fast for Canidate to get a good chip on him. Bulger walked right into a Thompson sack in the 3rd, a blitz that Brandon Manumaleuna did a lousy job of blocking. Run blocking was usually dominant. Pace and St. Clair sealed the corner airtight many times for Faulk to run around. Adam Timmerman, Conwell and the returning James “The Hammer” Hodgins all blew open their share of big blocks for Faulk. Despite some penalty problems, a complete and completely successful effort.
* Defensive line/LB: A key of the game was the defensive line’s dominance against the run. Big Dead RBs got just 40 yards total, 2.7 per rush. They stopped the Big Dead’s opening drive in 3 plays, highlighted by Ryan Pickett’s 2nd-and-5 stuff of Thomas Jones. The next drive, Don Davis made a nice play to stop a TE screen for 2, Pickett stopped Jones for 2, then Kim Herring picked off Jake Plummer on 3rd-and-6. The Big Dead looked had something going in the 2nd, but Tommy Polley recovered a fumbled snap to stop the drive. The Big Dead did convert Bulger’s 1st INT into a TD. Lack of any straight-up pass rush, and a roughing penalty on Leonard Little, were very hurtful on a 69-yard drive that closed the Rams’ lead to 10-7. But they were up 17-7 at halftime, and the defense shut down the next two Big Dead possessions. The secondary shut down the first one and blitzing shut down the 2nd one. Wistrom got Jones for no gain on a James Whitley blitz, then pursued Plummer out of the pocket, holding him to 3 on a 2nd-down scramble. Then a Whitley and Polley blitz on 3rd-and-7 forced a throwaway. The line had trouble getting straight-up rush against the Big Dead’s mountainous offensive line, and Plummer got away for too many scrambles, but that dominance against the run along with the big plays were more than enough for a win.
* Secondary: The secondary is stepping up in a big way in Aeneas Williams’ absence, starting with the much-maligned Kim Herring. His tight 3rd-and-5 coverage on the TE forced an incompletion to kill the Big Dead’s 1st drive, and he notched a big 3rd-down INT to kill their 2nd drive, returning it 35 yards to set up a FG. James Whitley had a big game, with 7 tackles and a 2nd-quarter sack. Dre Bly’s sack killed the Big Dead’s last drive of the 1st half. The secondary forced a 123-out right out of halftime. Bly’s hit on David Boston (who had ONLY ONE CATCH) forced an incomplete. Herring’s shoestring tackle of Thomas Jones prevented a long run, then Whitley’s good coverage of Frank Sanders held him to 3 on 3rd-and-4. Way to go! After the defense gives up a lamentable 25-yard catch to one Jason McAddley, ON 3RD AND 20, they stiffened. Adam Archuleta stuffed Jones for -5, and after a Leonard Little sack, Whitley limited Jones to just 6 on 3rd-and-long. Just when you feared the Rams’ 20-14 lead wouldn’t be enough, the secondary shut the Big Dead down again. A near pick by Bly on 1st down. A poor throw by Plummer on 2nd, then a nice tackle of Marcel Shipp by Archuleta forced a 4th-and-4 where Plummer threw too low for Sanders. Travis Fisher was beaten for a TD, but excelled again against the run. These guys all had terrific games.
* Special teams: Kickoff coverage was miles better than it was 2 weeks ago. Jeff Wilkins’ kickoffs were deep, often into the end zone, and the Big Dead were stopped inside the 25 at least 3 times. Chad Cota stood out on kickoffs. Punting and punt coverage were also excellent. They pinned the Big Dead at their 14 and 12 thanks to well-placed Mitch Berger punts and excellent coverage. Leonard Little chipped in with a tackle on the second punt. Wilkins missed an early 47-yard attempt off the right upright. That seems to be out of his range these days. He did hit kicks from 24 and 41.
* Coaching/discipline: A pretty complete effort from the coaching staff. Offensively the Rams did a great job of running away from the overloaded side of the Big Dead defensive front. Mike Martz got Faulk 32 touches. But Martz got a lot of people involved: Edwards, Conwell, Proehl and Canidate. Martz will probably want to keep more guys involved so as not to wear the workhorse Faulk down. Now, for a lot of complaining on Martz, considering this was a win. Bruce and Holt weren’t involved enough. Holt didn’t get a ball thrown his way until very late in the first half. Martz gambled and failed a couple of times with trickery. In the 2nd, 3rd-and-5 from the Big Dead 10, Bulger splits right and Faulk gets the direct snap, but just for 4. The Big Dead weren’t fooled into thinking that was anything other than a run for Faulk. In the 4th, Martz runs a reverse to Bruce out of a funky formation on 3rd-and-2 at the Big Dead 22. Way too cute. The Big Dead were all over it, and the Rams had to settle for a consolation FG to go up a mere 6 points ahead of a team characterized this year by late comebacks. The Rams didn’t maximize their offensive chances well, keeping the Big Dead in the game a lot longer than they deserved to be. Quite questionable call to throw long for Holt on 3rd-and-19 from the Big Dead 37 late in the 3rd. Let’s get 10 or 12 there and try to set Wilkins up for a FG. Wouldn’t have been a sure thing, but still a higher-percentage way to go in a game that was still close at the time. Lovie Smith has learned from Super Bowl 36. With the Big Dead trying to drive at the end of the first half, he threw a couple of blitzes at them instead of laying back, and the Bly blitz paid off big time. The Rams committed dumb penalties in all phases of the game. Let’s hope that is just bye week rust and gets fixed in time for next week.
* Upon further review: The Ron Blum crew didn’t exactly shine today, although they got the key call of the game right, the 4th-and-4 incompletion to Sanders. Head linesman was right there and had a perfect view of the ball touching the ground. Blum kept the call correct after review. Another big call was the holding call on Duane Starks defending Bruce on a 3rd-and-6 shortly after the INT TD, but that was an iffy-looking call, especially because the flag came in well after the play. I don’t know how much the Big Dead can complain, though. They had almost no penalties the first 3 quarters. Ronald MacKinnon lifted Faulk and slammed him to the ground after the whistle on a 2nd quarter run, while Robert Thomas drew 15 for putting a little baby shot on a Big Dead special teamer after a kick return. Guy couldn’t have even felt that.
* Cheers: Sounded like at least half the crowd of about 48,000 in 70,000-seat Sun Devil Stadium were Rams fans. Great showing. Steve Savard reported on radio that there was some kind of huge fight in the stands - sounds like it hasn’t taken too long to get this rivalry going. I did not go with Fox audio; they were annoying enough on video with many instances of reporting that the Big Dead had the ball in “STL” territory, when they were in their own territory. St. Rams. Arizona. Big Dead. Keep it straight, huh?.
* Who’s next?: The Rams are doing some good things at the right time considering the San Diego Chargers are up next. Stiff run defense will be a must with stud RB LaDainian Tomlinson in the opposing backfield. Both teams that have beaten the Chargers this year have done it by taking Tomlinson out of the game and forcing Drew Brees to throw. Every time I watch Chargers highlights, I see Brees locking in on one receiver ala Tony Banks constantly and getting away with it. To the Rams’ secondary next Sunday I say, stay on top of Curtis Conway (by far Brees’ favorite receiver) and watch the QB’s eyes. The Jets whipped the Chargers in San Diego today 44-13, and the Chargers were the team coming off the bye. They didn’t look able to cope with the Jets’ speed at all, more good news for the Rams. The Jets took Tomlinson out of the game by jumping out to a big lead early, a great example for the Rams to follow. World-class dirtbag Rodney Harrison returns from a 1-week suspension; he may make a difference. Wonder if Martz will repeat his 2000 strategy of opening with 20 straight passes. That was to keep Junior Seau (another dirtbag) honest; this season you also have to watch out for Donnie Edwards, a super playmaker. But Martz certainly can afford to be more balanced than that, witnessing the Jets’ running success today. The Chargers will be an angry team, coming off the Jets loss and remembering the 57 the Rams hung on them two years ago. Marty Schottenheimer teams classically capitalize on other teams’ mistakes. The Rams need to keep from getting caught up in the emotion of this game, Bulger in particular needs to keep mistakes down, and they have to stop Tomlinson one way or the other, if they’re to keep this roll going.