Rival Report: Rams

Rams coach Mike Martz hasn't always completely supported quarterback Marc Bulger, but his public stance is changing. Plus, plenty of Rams notes.

As the Rams prepare to play the Vikings at home Sunday, this could be a watershed game. They are playing a team in first place in its division and a team only one game behind in the battle for possible post-season seeding. The Rams are 8-3, Minnesota 7-4.

Plus, they are playing a team that believes it matches up well against the Rams, despite the fact the Rams have won 11 consecutive games at home.

In their first six games, all wins, the Vikings had 18 takeaways, of which 16 were interceptions. In their next four games, all losses, the number was only four, two of which were interceptions.

Last Sunday, the Vikings snapped that losing streak with four takeaways against the Lions, and all were interceptions, giving them a league-leading 22 picks after 11 games. Two of the interceptions against Detroit were returned for touchdowns, as the Vikings broke open a close game with 17 points in the final 2:45.

"It is a key that we first stop the run," Minnesota coach Mike Tice said, "and secondly, get after the quarterback because I think he will throw us some things. The one thing about our secondary ... is that they catch about everything that is thrown to them. That is good, that when you are afforded an opportunity to make an interception, we are making those plays."

Meanwhile, Rams quarterback Marc Bulger has certainly had a propensity to throw it to the opponent. He was intercepted four times last week against Arizona, and currently has been picked off 17 times. Only Detroit's Joey Harrington has thrown more in the entire NFL with 19, and Bulger has played in 10 of the Rams' 11 games. Ten of his interceptions have come in the last four games.

As a team, the Rams lead the NFL with 32 turnovers.

"We're leading the league in something I guess," said coach Mike Martz, who has been steadfast in his support of Bulger this week. "I'm very concerned about it. Obviously, the sack fumbles are something we can't do. He (Bulger) has got to protect the ball better I think with some of the things we're doing in the passing game. We've got to eliminate those errors."

Still, Martz made it clear he is sticking with Bulger, who replaced Kurt Warner after the first game of the season. Martz nearly replaced Bulger with Warner during close wins over Baltimore and Chicago, but said he never considered it in the game against the Cardinals.

Further explaining his stance, Martz said it's all about showing consistency to the team.

"If I vacillate with that quarterback, which I did recently, it's the wrong thing to do," Martz said. "I know that. The rest of the players are looking at this, too. We like to think that what we have going here is built on trust. And if I trust that he's going to fight his way out of it, then I don't just bail and throw the other guy in there.

"(If I was to make a change) then what's that say about me, and my leadership abilities as a head coach? What's the message I'm sending to the rest of this football team? The way Marc came back against Chicago, in my mind solidified him as our quarterback. That's the way I feel. That's why it was never an issue for me in this (last) game."

Bulger can put to rest any thoughts of a quarterback controversy, which currently is more in the minds of the fans than Martz or the team, with a strong performance against Minnesota. If he doesn't, the chants for Warner, as were heard at home and even in Arizona where thousands of Rams fans watched, will only intensify.

SERIES HISTORY: 31st regular-season meeting. Vikings lead, 16-12-2, and they have also defeated the Rams in five of seven playoff games. However, the last two games have been won by the Rams in St. Louis, one in the 1999 season playoffs, and the other the next season by a combined score of 89-66. Throw in Minnesota's 38-31 victory in St. Louis in 1998 and the last three games have generated 224 points.

  • QB Kurt Warner understands coach Mike Martz's decision to back Marc Bulger as the starting quarterback.

    "I like the fact he's standing behind Marc and pushing through these things," Warner said. "You go through struggles, you go through growing pains, and the fact is we're still winning football games and that's the bottom line.'

    Bulger doesn't underestimate the value of having Warner remaining positive and helping him throughout the difficult times.

    "Kurt's been there all year for me, and certainly when times are tough he's going to be there," Bulger said.

    During the team's Nov. 16 game against Chicago, when Martz asked if he was ready to play, Warner said he was, but suggested the coach should stay with his starter.

    Said Warner, "It's exactly what I would have wanted somebody else to do for me, and that's the bottom line. If it hurts me, it hurts me."

  • He struggled with mechanics and confidence last season, but that's now a distant memory for PK Jeff Wilkins.

    As defensive end Grant Wistrom said, "If any of you, and that includes fans, see Jeff walking around, just call out, ‘Hey, Money, what's up?' He's been "Money" and he loves it."

    Wilkins leads the NFL in scoring with 111 points and field goals with 27. That's two points more than Colts PK Mike Vanderjagt and one field goal more than Vanderjagt. Wilkins has hit 13 consecutive field goals, including two straight last-minute game-winners against Chicago and Arizona. In the last three games, he has seven field goals in the fourth quarter and one in overtime.

    Wilkins says he's just doing his job.

    "They battle day in and day out, and I'm just fortunate enough to help out," Wilkins said. "I just go out there and try to put the same stroke on each kick."

    Said tackle Orlando Pace, "Every time he does it he's money, man. He just keeps it going and keeps making field goals."

    On a wall near the team's locker room, many photos are displayed, and each week after a win, someone is featured as player of the week. This week, club photographer Bill Stover had Wilkins' photo superimposed inside a $100 bill. That's Money.

  • The Rams have gone through a long list of fullbacks since James Hodgins was released last February, but it now appears Joey Goodspeed could be the answer.

    "We've found our fullback," coach Mike Martz said after the team's win over Arizona.

    Goodspeed had a big block on Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher two games ago, that helped spring RB Marshall Faulk for a 52-yard run on a critical 4th-and-1 play. Against Arizona, Martz said Goodspeed was "outstanding."

    Goodspeed wasn't signed until Oct. 28, and then was released the following week before the Rams' game against Baltimore. He was re-signed Nov. 11, and has impressed Martz ever since. It hasn't hurt Goodspeed to have previously played in San Diego in a similar offense to what the Rams run.

    Said Martz, "He's played in this offense with the Chargers when he was down there. Everything is kind of the same when Norv (Turner) was there. They were using the same terminology down there. He's played, his body type — all of the things are just natural there. He's very smooth and picks things up, does not make mistakes. He's really kind of what we're looking for in a lot of respects."

    BY THE NUMBERS: 6-1 — QB Marc Bulger's record as a starter in games decided by seven points or less. The team's overall record with Bulger behind center is 14-3 and that includes a loss at Seattle last season where he was injured and left a scoreless game in the first quarter.

    QUOTE TO NOTE: "You can't tell a rookie anything, just like you can't tell a vet anything. You just got to see and do whatever works. I see guys like Aeneas Williams who have been in this league for a long time and I'm just trying to do what he does." — Rookie LB Pisa Tinoisamoa on avoiding hitting the rookie wall late in the season.


  • S James Whitley returned to practice after resting his injured foot for two weeks. Whitley, who worked Wednesday with both the scout team and regular defense "moved around pretty well," according to coach Mike Martz.

  • LB Courtland Bullard did not practice Wednesday because of an ankle injury suffered against Arizona and is considered questionable for Sunday.

  • LB Scott Shanle, who suffered a hamstring injury against Arizona, did not practice Wednesday and is unlikely to play Sunday against the Vikings.

  • S Rich Coady remains sidelined by a groin injury and it's doubtful whether he'll be able to play Sunday. Coady did not practice Wednesday.

  • WR Kevin Curtis is giving his leg a rest after soreness set in following his return from a broken leg suffered on Aug. 23.

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