Beware the Wounded Rams

IRVING, TX. - Cowboys expect St. Louis to present formidable challenge.

These are not the St. Louis Rams of a few years ago. No longer are the rams putting up points and offensive statistics at a rate that requires a master's degree to tabulate. Former MVP quarterback Kurt Warner is now languishing in the Siberia of the NFL with the Arizona Cardinals. Running back Marshall Faulk, while still a capable player, has bequeathed his former title of the most versatile and dangerous back in the league to LaDainian Tomlinson, Shaun Alexander and Edgerrin James. One-time offensive "genius" Mike Martz has relinquished his head coaching duties (to former linebackers coach Joe Vitt) because of medical issues, and is considered unlikely to return next year. The Rams, who used to eschew any hint of defense because they could simply outscore every opponent they faced, have gone through three quarterbacks this season and limp into Sunday's regular-season finale at Texas Stadium with a pedestrian 5-10 record.

As expected, Dallas head coach Bill Parcells talks about the Rams like they're this year's Indianapolis Colts. He points out that Faulk is still very effective, starting running back Steven Jackson is better, Torry Holt -- he of the NFL-high 98 receptions -- remains one of the NFLs most dangerous receivers and reminds anyone who will listen that the Rams can line up with four wide receivers, each of whom can be dangerous.

Of course, coaches do this every week. Lou Holtz used to look at the media with a straight face and insist that poor little ol' Notre Dame was in for all kinds of trouble against the likes of Navy or William & Mary.

But when the players express similar concerns, the nervous rhetoric carries a little more weight. While not the juggernaut of the Dick Vermeil era, the Rams -- who have split 26 previous meetings with the Cowboys -- still boast the ninth-ranked offense in the NFL.

"Points, points, points," defensive tackle Jason Ferguson said when asked what he thinks of when he thinks about Sunday's opponents. "It's the same since (Vermeil) left and went to Kansas City. They've still got Marshall Faulk, and they've still got those receivers. They still run the same offense, and they still want to score a lot of points."

Holt's 98 grabs are the most in the entire league. Jackson's 10 touchdowns this season give him 60 points, the fifth-highest total in the NFC. Speedster Kevin Curtis has come out of nowhere to snatch 57 receptions, while fellow wide receiver Shaun McDonald has 44 and Isaac Bruce has 35.

With nothing to play for, the Rams should be similarly aggressive on defense, according to Dallas center Al Johnson.

"They're going to take a lot of chances," Johnson said. "What have they got to lose? They'll take a lot of chances, use a lot of stunts. I expect them to blitz all over the place. They do most of they're blitzing with their linebackers, but they also like to bring (safety) Adam Archuleta. They do a lot of things to try to create one-on-one blocks."

Safety Mike Furrey leads the St. Louis defense with four interceptions, one of which he returned 67 yards for a touchdown. Linebacker Pisa Tinoisamoa has a team-high 80 tackles, far exceeding the total posted by the Rams' second-leading tackler, defensive tackle Ryan Pickett, who has 48. Pickett and fellow defensive tackle Damione Lewis, Johnson said, can cause significant challenges for the Cowboys' offensive line.

"They're young," Johnson said of the Rams' inside duo. "But they're both very strong, very quick and very active. They move around a lot. They're not just run stoppers -- they'll get after the quarterback. We need to play well (on the offensive line) to be successful Sunday."

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