Behind Enemy Lines – Regular season winding down

With only one game left the Rams are still fighting for their playoff lives and the Cardinals and 49ers are preparing for free agency and the draft.

St. Louis – The Rams playoff hopes are on the line these final two weeks. The Rams face the suddenly injury-riddled Philadelphia Eagles on Monday Night Football, in the Edward Jones Dome and they will have to win their final game against a hungry New York Jets team on the final Sunday of the regular season.

Head coach Mike Martz may have burned some bridges by going with young QB Marc Bulger over veteran Kurt Warner, but he is likely to be walking the sidelines in St. Louis for at least one more season.

Rumors had swirled around the league that he might resign, but Martz adamantly pledged allegiance to the team the day after one of its worst performances ever under his direction a 31-7 blowout loss to Arizona.

Later that same day, Rams president John Shaw said the team remained committed to Martz, who has two years left on a contract that will pay him approximately $3.5 million in both 2005 and 2006. Team insiders are reporting that if the Rams continue struggling next season, and Martz continues to make the kinds of mistakes that he admitted making in the loss to Arizona, he could have a tough time finishing out his contract.

Word out of Rams Park is that QB Jamie Martin, despite his two year layoff, has impressed coaches enough with his performance in place of an injured Bulger and ineffective backup Chris Chandler that he is likely to be signed to battle rookie Jeff Smoker for the backup job behind Bulger for the 2005 season.

No matter what happens during the final two weeks, the Rams have become aware of several positions in need of attention during the offseason.

Even with the best left tackle in the league on one side, the Rams have struggled in protecting their quarterback. Orlando Pace, who missed most of one game with a suspension, has been his normal outstanding self, but with RT Kyle Turley's injured back still not fully recovered the Rams must look at alternate plans. Free agency may be the way to go, but several line prospects will be available in the middle of the first round in the draft this coming April.

Another need area is a playmaking linebacker.

MLB Robert Thomas has been adequate but has been neutralized too often and he has a tough time disengaging from blockers. OLBs Tommy Polley and Pisa Tinoisamoa are both solid, but neither is much of a playmaker.

Rams fans can expect to see a totally revamped linebacking unit in 2005 if thing work out the way the team hopes it will.

Next Game: vs. New York Jets, January 2nd

San Francisco – The 49ers have all but wrapped up the first selection in the 2005 NFL Draft coming up in April and while they have some holes to fill, QB may not be their number one priority.

Tim Rattay has struggled with injuries, but has had a solid season when healthy. His 60.9% completion percentage is low, but that can be attributed to poor blocking, little to no running threat and a young wide receiver corps. He lacks athleticism but he has a decent arm and he is smart.

Rookie Cody Pickett showcased his talent against Buffalo on Sunday and some of the throws he made were very impressive.

"I wish it could have been a little better. I threw some interceptions and forced some balls, but it felt good to get out and get some action," Pickett said.

On the day Pickett completed 4 of 10 passes for 55 yards with no touchdowns and two interceptions, but two completions raised some eyebrows.

He led the 49ers on their only scoring drive of the day, a 14-play, 73-yard effort that was capped by a one-yard touchdown run from RB Kevan Barlow. Pickett completed three-of-five passes on the drive, including a 17-yard strike to Rashaun Woods and an 18-yard bullet to Cedrick Wilson on fourth-and-17.

"I learned a lot today," Pickett said. "I learned you can't force balls no matter what the score is. I tried to force that first curl in and a guy got his hand on it and it resulted in a bad play for us, so I just have to slow down and be more patient next time."

It is widely rumored that if USC QB Matt Leinhart and/or Cal QB Aaron Rogers, both juniors, were to declare for the draft that they would likely be the first two players off the board. With Rattay having knowledge of the system and Pickett showing talent and athleticism, look for the 49ers to trade down for more selections on the first day of the draft.

In the works for the Niners could be a RB, several offensive line prospects, and defensive line help. With Barlow underachieving and the lack of a solid offensive line both positions will be addressed early and often in the draft.

Next Game: @ New England, January 2nd

Arizona – With the loss to the Seahawks on Sunday, the Cardinals were officially eliminated from playoff contention. It was the latest the team has been in the playoff hunt in six seasons.

"There is no question we should have won this ballgame," said frustrated QB Josh McCown. "We jumped out on them early, and had an opportunity to push the lead even more.

"We just got out of rhythm. I am proud of the way offensively we fought our way out of it but we can't have that happen. You have to be consistent all four quarters and we weren't today."

McCown will most likely be the starter heading into training camp in August and it will be up to him to grow as a signal-caller. He has impressive athleticism, above-average arm strength and good leadership skills. He must improve on his decision-making (he holds the ball too long, leading to needless sacks and drive-killing fumbles) and he must continue to work at reading defenses.

Late in the third quarter McCown and the Cardinals had the chance to pull to within three points of the Seahawks with a touchdown drive, but McCown was flushed to his right and tried to throw a ball across his body. The ball, intended for rookie WR Larry Fitzgerald, was intercepted by Seahawks CB Marcus Trufant and the Seahawks went on score another touchdown putting themselves up 24-7 early in the fourth quarter.

"Turning the ball over, that was very, very crucial and I put that on me," said McCown. "You can't do that. That is one thing I've prided myself on the whole season, being smart with the football and not turning it over. I was trying to get outside and make a play on 3rd and long."

Head coach Dennis Green has several areas that need attention during the offseason. Defensive line help is a priority for this team, as the only consistent players along the line have been Pro Bowl DE Bertrand Berry and rookie DT Darnell Dockett. DE Calvin Pace has been inconsistent after a fast start and his status with the team is up in the air heading into the offseason.

Another area that is in need of attention is the offensive line. Rookie C Alex Stepanovich has been solid this season, but aside from him and LT Leonard Davis all of the players along the line are replaceable.

Veteran RB Emmitt Smith has had a solid season, but it has become painfully obvious that his best days are behind him. RB Marcel Shipp, who broke and dislocated his ankle during training camp, should be back in time for training camp, but if they have the chance to get a gamebreaker like Texas RB Cedric Benson or Auburn RB Carnell Williams they may jump at the chance.

Next Game: vs. Tampa Bay, January 2nd

.NET Reporter Scott Eklund writes for Seahawks.NET every week. Feel free to contact him at sctthawk@yahoo.com.


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