Rams-Bills - Random Thoughts

<B>Marshall, Marshall, Marshall</b> <br><br> Marshall Faulk worked hard this spring to get his body ready for the 2003 season, harder than he has ever has in his career, because he is too smart not to realize that those ungodly talents he possesses in such abundance may not be enough to get the Rams back to the promised land.

However, one thing #28 hasn't done much of since the season ended is run plays from scrimmage. His workload has been extremely light all off-season, when it comes to practice reps or game action. One practice per day maximum and watching in dress clothes the first two pre-season games was his prescription.

Faulk hit the field so seldom that the rumors of physical problems began to circulate in NFL circles. When Faulk had what amounted to a regular checkup in Los Angeles with Dr. Frank Jobe following the Raider contest in Oakland, the rumors hit a fever pitch. On Saturday, playing on brand new turf in Ralph Wilson Stadium that seemed to be a problem for many Rams players, Faulk showed why Mike Martz lets him write his own schedule.

They used to say Ted Williams, or maybe it was Mickey Mantle, or Ty Cobb, was so good that he could be awakened in the middle of the night in January, out at whatever cabin he was hunting out of, then suddenly handed a bat and stood at a plate, facing a major league fastball the first pitch, and would smack a line drive in mid-season form.

Ramsnation may not really appreciate what they get to see when Faulk is in the backfield. Maybe it's just too hard to believe that any player could be so good that practice became almost unnecessary. It goes against everything we are taught about excelling at sports, but Marshall Faulk is not the norm, to say the least, just like those legends of baseball.

Faulk's totals rushing were not all that impressive on the surface, with just over forty yards on the ground in his 11 carries. However, Faulk contributed one big run after another, and with help from fellow former MVP Kurt Warner, brought the Rams back from a shockingly ineffective beginning defensively. Faulk scored on a run in very typical fashion, bouncing outside and scoring untouched, to get the Rams going, then tied the game on a fantastic deep post pattern from Warner, beating a ferocious blitz on the play.

Just when it looked like the Rams short work week following tough game against the Bucs Monday night, and having to travel and play on new and possibly slick turf, would make for a lackluster effort in a game the Rams really needed to get things ready for the season opener in two weeks, Faulk and Warner put the team on their shoulders, just as they have in the past when things would look like they were coming apart.

Warner finished 13-15, despite taking a beating from a constantly blitzing Bills defense. Warner will probably not play much against the Chiefs in five days, because he may still be in the ice or hot tubs after the bruising he absorbed behind a make shift line. Marc Bulger and Kirk Farmer will probably handle the passing workload in the Governors Cup match back home Thursday. Bulger was splendid again against the Bills, including the bomb to a wide-open Kevin Curtis, who seems to have nailed down the #3 WR spot. That ball to Curtis was actually under thrown but Curtis was so wide-open it didn't matter. The impressive third rounder this year left with a calf strain, but he is expected to play Thursday.

Troy Edwards had three catches, in his battle to keep Mike Furrey from beating him out for a job. Furrey had a 15 yard catch of acrobatic proportions near the end of the game to help his chances, and 4th round draft pick Shaun McDonald added his first big catch. Dane Looker had the night off from holding, as Jeff Wilkins was rested and Steve Bellisari handled the duty for the left footed kicker, who made all of his extra point tries and a short field goal. Looker did end up with one catch on the night. Ike Bruce and Torry Holt didn't play a huge amount, calling it a night with Faulk and Warner at halftime.

The defense, already beaten up after the Bucs game, lost Kim Herring right at the start, when he broke his left forearm after apparently slipping on the turf, the same stuff the Rams have in their practice facility, but not broken in, which makes a huge difference on that surface that contains shredded rubber. Many Rams, including Faulk and Grant Wistrom, were seen having the recycled tire filler removed from their eyes. It appears that Herring will be out 6-8 weeks, if all goes normally.

A little while later, the defense, already missing starting defensive tackle Ryan Pickett, Safety Aeneas Williams, and MLB Robert Thomas, lost rookie linebacker Pisa "Hawaii 5-0" Tinoisamoa to an ankle injury that is not considered serious. He could still be held out of the Chiefs game however, so he will be 100% by the Giants game. Jamie Duncan, who again was a huge disappointment filling in for Thomas but not filling any rushing lanes, left with an injury as well, not expected to be serious.

The offensive line was horrific again, as John St. Clair had as bad a debut at his "natural" center position as he did last season at tackle. The only player brought to the ground Saturday by #70 was Faulk, when St. Clair fell into him on a run. The Rams were driving for a possible win when St. Clair drew a penalty for tearing a defenders helmet off on a play that reached the Bills 10 with time left to win. The guy who replaced St. Clair at tackle, veteran Grant Williams, also in his first action of the pre-season following a problem with two bulging back discs, had a nightmare evening, as he was beaten cleanly over and over by defensive end Aaron Schobel, a guy the Rams almost drafted in 2001, taking Pickett instead with their last of three #1 picks. Orlando Pace better be ready to play Thursday if he comes in tomorrow as is being reported locally.

One bright spot on defense in a spotty performance came from safety/cornerback Nick "Sunshine" Sorenson, who got lots of playing time with Aeneas Williams, Jason Sehorn, and then Herring all unavailable. Sorenson has always shown a real big play potential because of his height and wingspan, and he was very good Saturday, as he stepped up and led the team with seven tackles, and added an interception.

Until a late series of breakdowns with the scrubs in the game, the special teams did pretty well, with some decent returns and a nice 42.5 yard average by the busiest Ram, punter Sean Landeta, who punted nine times on the evening, as the Rams won the turnover battle, a perfect night ruined only by a sack / fumble that was sickeningly reminiscent of the last offensive play of the Redskin loss last year.

Like that game, a linebacker came through unblocked by the right tackle, in this case soon to be ex-Ram Robert Haws. This roster filler was no Lavar Arrington, but the result is the same as it was that disappointing fall day, 2002, in Washington D.C.

The Rams lost the game, but losing with guys who won't make the team late in the game is nothing more than annoying. The Rams went on the road with little practice, and got back in the game against the first string Bills team with a lot of key players out for the visitors. By the time the scrubs came on, the Rams were dominating Buffalo in all aspects.

Besides, seeing Marshall do his thing, like he has done over and over again to our delight and amazement, and seeing Warner again effective under heavy fire, makes all other stories coming out of Buffalo pale in comparison. The Rams need the 53 players who make the final roster to all give their very best for the team to be good in 2003. However, to be great, to be champions once again, they need brilliance from #13 and #28 most of all.

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