I finally sat down and watched the Rams last two games, the loss against the 49ers, and the pounding they took at Tampa Bay.
A couple things jump our at me: First, they appear to have the number of necessary weapons to allow Marc Bulger to put up 300+ yards if he is only given time. Bruce and Holt still get open routinely for big yards down the field. But, the offensive line is in such a chaotic state that there is little chance for Bulger to get comfy back in the pocket before he is hit again on his broken ribs.
So, they run sideline outs over and over. If you thought Grossman and Berrian ran that a lot on Sunday, you haven’t seen anything yet. Holt and Bruce will take that 10 yard cushion all night. So, does Wade Phillips have the CBs up tight and hope that the rush gets to Bulger before Holt gets behind Anthony Henry? We shall see…
But, I must remind my Cowboys readers of one thing. Yes, they have no offensive line, and yes, Steven Jackson is gone. But, do you remember Kitna and the Lions putting up 39 points last season in Week 17? Well, the Rams have the same weapons and the same type of QB, so beware that you don’t make mistakes and get into a shootout with these guys. They may be 0-3, but they still have tools to beat you on Sunday.
On Defense, they are pretty unremarkable. They bring a fair amount of secondary blitzes, but can be run upon with regularity. Watching SF and TB play them, I don’t really know what sort of pass defense they have (They are ranked #1 against the pass so far, but is that because of who they have played?), but I can assure you they have not seen the likes of Romo, Owens, and Witten. Leonard Little is not Strahan in his prime, but he will give Mark Columbo another difficult challenge.
I guess overall, I am saying that all of this talk this week like the Cowboys are playing the worst team ever is silly. The Rams had playoff talent before the injuries to Pace, Jackson, etc, but they can still win on any given Sunday. The Cowbys better be ready to play at noon on Sunday.
USA Today cover story on Bulger …
A campaign that began with bright playoff expectations is suddenly on the ropes, along with a battered quarterback. The season-ending loss of perennial Pro Bowl left tackle Orlando Pace to a shoulder injury in Week 1 was compounded by preseason injuries to two other offensive linemen, veteran reserve tackle Todd Steussie and starting right guard Richie Incognito. Starting left guard Mark Setterstrom is also gone for the year after tearing a knee ligament during the Rams' 24-3 defeat in Tampa last Sunday. The injuries have forced Linehan to continually reconfigure the line.
When protected and given time, Bulger is as accurate and productive as any quarterback not named Peyton Manning, Tom Brady or Carson Palmer. Bulger, 36-27 as a starter in his career, threw for 4,301 yards, 24 touchdowns and just eight interceptions in 2006.
But as the 2007 season nears the quarter-pole, Bulger has just two touchdown passes, three interceptions and a 69.8 rating.
Hall of Fame quarterback Jim Kelly -- who, like Bulger, hails from western Pennsylvania -- admires Bulger's dogged resolve, nicely illustrated by his completion of a two-handed chest pass to running back Steven Jackson a beat before the 49ers pass rush converged yet again on the quarterback two weeks ago.
"The thing I always see from Marc is his toughness and the way he goes through his progressions," Kelly says. "I've seen Marc get battered. But I don't ever hear him complaining.
"I see how he stands in and looks for a big play. He has every intangible you want to be a top-notch quarterback."
What Bulger doesn't have is the prototypical measurables of a franchise field general. He's a lean, 6-3, 212 pounds. In public, he might be mistaken for a weekend warrior rather than one of the NFL's elite passers.
"If you looked at him without his pads on, you'd go, 'This guy's a bad-ass quarterback?' " Rams receiver Drew Bennett says, smiling. "Yeah, he is.
"Marc's not on the TV commercials or on the Times Square billboards like some other quarterbacks. He's more of a homebody. But he does things just as well as those other top quarterbacks."
"Marc would rather be behind the camera than in front of one," he says. "He's not dating any supermodels. He doesn't have any big national television commercials. But the guy's a quiet assassin. When he smiles, you half expect to see two fangs sticking out like a vampire ready to suck some blood.
"He's a competitor."
Former NFL quarterback and CBS analyst Boomer Esiason calls Bulger, "the most under-appreciated player in the league."
The player most under siege is more like it.
The plan was for St. Louis to run a balanced, ball-control offense keyed by the pounding running of Jackson, a Pro Bowler who's shown steady improvement each year since entering the league in 2004. That figured to open opportunities for Bulger to spread the ball to age-defying receivers Isaac Bruce, 34, and Torry Holt, 31, who received new complements in the offseason with Bennett and tight end Randy McMichael joining the team.
But playing behind a tattered line, Jackson is averaging 50 fewer total yards per game than he did last year when he paced the league with 2,334 yards from scrimmage. Worse, he'll miss St. Louis' next game and perhaps more after partially tearing a groin muscle in the loss to the Buccaneers.
The Rams run the prevent offense …prevent Bulger from getting killed…
Monday, I wrote a blog on STLtoday.com about Linehan's "prevent" offense. I simply do not understand an offensive approach that has Marc Bulger throwing mostly quick-hitch sideline passes to the wideouts. Those wimpy plays achieve little except create the impression that Linehan and offensive coordinator Greg Olson are playing scared with their obsession to prevent sacks, hits and turnovers.
What they're preventing is big plays.
Think I'm exaggerating? The Rams have attempted 109 passes so far, and 22 have been caught behind the line of scrimmage. Another 51 have traveled 10 yards or less. That means 67 percent of the Rams' passes so far have been dinks. If you're petrified of throwing the ball downfield, then why have so many expensive wide receivers? Why sign Drew Bennett and tight end Randy McMichael? If Bulger's ribs prevent him from making longer passes, then play Gus Frerotte. That's why you gave him a three-year, $6.3 million deal.
The coaches did the smart thing in establishing the running game at Tampa Bay, but then failed to follow up by stinging the Bucs with downfield throws. Bulger always has thrived on those intermediate throws; this season when he attempts passes that are airborne for 11 to 20 yards, Bulger has completed 18 of 27 and has a QB rating of 114. I'd like to see the coaches play to their players' strengths for a change.
Linehan has lost Jackson to injury, and the offensive line is scrambled. The situation is tough, and unfair. But the Rams can't go to Dallas and turtle. They have to at least earn respect by putting up a fight. Linehan's job may be safe, but that's no reason to play it so safe.
Owens wants to stay …
Terrell Owens told reporters in Irving today he wants to finish his career with the Cowboys.
He also said he sees himself playing another three or five years.
"I definitely would like to retire here and go into the Hall of Fame as a Cowboy,"
said Owens, who turns 34 in December. "It's a lot of fun right now. Throughout training camp, we knew we had something special."
Owens suggested he owes his newfound happiness in large part to the addition of Jason Garrett as offensive coordinator.
"They're giving me those opportunities," T.O. said. "That's all I ever wanted last year. I think I mentioned that when I said, 'Why did you bring me here?"
In other news out of Valley Ranch:
• Wade Phillips said Greg Ellis has "an outside shot" at playing in Sunday's game against the St. Louis Rams.
• Bobby Carpenter missed practice with a quad strain.
• Phillips said he thinks it will be "real difficult" for safety Keith Davis to play this week after injuring his right shoulder in Chicago.
Its Thursday? Time for Jimmy Burch Gold …
Fast forward to Saturday, when No. 7 Texas (4-0) meets Kansas State (2-1) in a Big 12 opener for both teams. McCoy is pain-free and coming off a 333-yard passing performance against Rice that, in the words of coach Mack Brown, evoked memories of "the Colt of old."
Reinforcing that notion against K-State is important to McCoy, who bulked up by 15 pounds in the off-season to improve his durability. Now, he gets to address some unfinished business against the Wildcats.
"Last year, it was tough for all of us. We had something special going, but we didn't finish the game," McCoy said. "We felt like we had a good handle on them. We've just got to come out and do the same thing again this year and finish. That's the big thing for us."
In some ways, McCoy said last year's injury taught him a valuable lesson.
"That motivated me to put on the weight, to get stronger, to be a little bit more durable because it's a long season," McCoy said. "The more you can withstand, the better your team is going to be."
This time around, McCoy plans to withstand four quarters against Kansas State. If he does, that will dramatically increase Texas' chances of carrying an undefeated record into next week's showdown against No. 3 Oklahoma.
Progress up front: After struggling to run the ball for three weeks, Baylor (3-1) ground out 229 yards in last week's 34-21 victory against Buffalo. That figure represents 56.4 percent of the Bears' season rushing total (406 yards) and, in the estimation of coach Guy Morriss, suggests the Baylor offensive line is making "quite a bit" of improvement heading into this week's start of Big 12 play. "You have to give those [backs] a seam, and we did that," said Morriss, who likes the elusiveness of freshman tailback Jay Finley (15 carries, 80 yards against Buffalo). "With Finley back there, he gets through that hole in a hurry. There were a couple of runs where he was just a hair away from breaking it for that big run."
Counting on Crabtree: Texas Tech coaches and players expressed no concerns about a confidence crisis for receiver Michael Crabtree, who leads the nation in touchdown catches (11) but let the potential game-winner bounce off his hands in the Oklahoma State end zone during the final minute of last week's 49-45 loss. "He's got a lot of personal assurance and confidence. He's not an excuse guy. Crabtree... believes in himself," coach Mike Leach said. Tech quarterback Graham Harrell said: "It was a tough loss for him... but he's ready to get back on the field and play."
BIG 12 PICKS
Matchup of the week
Kansas State at Texas: The Wildcats feature a big-play offense and a hard-nosed defense, the same two elements they used to spring an upset in last year's matchup. This time, the Longhorns have an answer. They keep QB Colt McCoy healthy for four quarters.
Pick: Texas 28, Kansas State 24
Texas A&M 35, Baylor 24: The Aggies bounce back from their meltdown in Miami with a hard-earned victory at Kyle Field.
Oklahoma 31, Colorado 10: The Sooners tune up for next week's Red River Rivalry by winning in their first trip outside the state of Oklahoma.
Texas Tech 63, Northwestern State 13: Pity the visiting Demons, who feel the backlash of coach Mike Leach's midseason makeover.
Oklahoma State 42, Sam Houston State 24: The Cowboys won't let visiting QB Rhett Bomar engineer another victory on Oklahoma soil.
Nebraska 45, Iowa State 20: Rest easy, Huskers fans. Iowa State really is a step down in competition from Ball State.
Burch looks at the Big 12 so far …
Kansas is the national co-leader in scoring defense (5.8 points per game) after ranking 81st in that department last season (25.5).
Oklahoma, which entered the season without an established quarterback, leads the nation in scoring offense (61.5 average).
Iowa State coach Gene Chizik, who had a history of improving teams' turnover margins while serving as a defensive coordinator, is staring at the league's worst turnover ratio (minus-7) after four games with the Cyclones.
Texas has had more players on the local police blotter (7) than victories (4) since June 1.
Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy used his postgame interview session after last week's 49-45 victory over Texas Tech to berate a columnist from The Oklahoman rather than to answer questions or praise his team for its comeback victory.
Texas Tech defensive coordinator Lyle Setencich resigned after the team's loss to OSU, in part to spend more time with his wife, Kathy, who has battled recurring health issues since 2005.
Kansas, which finished minus-5 in turnover margin last season, is plus-4 through four games.
Missouri QB Chase Daniel, a Southlake Carroll graduate, has built on last year's breakthrough season. Daniel, a junior, ranks seventh nationally in total offense (356.8 yards per game), with 13 TD passes and 4 INTs.
Texas K Ryan Bailey, who attempted only one field goal longer than 29 yards last season, has connected on 4-of-5 from 40-plus yards this season, including a 52-yarder.
After a rough opener, Baylor QB Blake Szymanski has thrown 14 TD passes and 2 INTs during the Bears' three-game winning streak.
In a season marked by challenging road trips, Texas A&M showed little spark while falling behind Miami 31-0 during a 34-17 drubbing in the Aggies' first game away from Kyle Field.
Nebraska ranks 99th in the nation, and last among Big 12 teams, in rushing defense (203.5 yards per game).
Kansas State QB Josh Freeman, who struggled with turnovers last season, has more interceptions (4) than TD passes (2) this season.
Texas TB Jamaal Charles, the Big 12's leading rusher, has lost three fumbles in the team's last two games.
Primary title contenders
No. 3 Oklahoma (4-0): The league's most dominant team on both sides of the ball, until proven otherwise.
No. 7 Texas (4-0): Not as dominant as recent editions (2004-06), by admission of coach Mack Brown.
No. 20 Missouri (4-0): Great offense, suspect defense. Don't expect that to change.
No. 25 Nebraska (3-1): Defending champs in North Division must play better run defense, improve the pass rush (league-low 3 sacks).
Dark horse contenders
Kansas (4-0): Don't laugh. The statistics are impressive, the confidence level is high and the schedule is favorable (it doesn't play Texas or Oklahoma).
Kansas State (2-1): Strong defense, electric quarterback. But the Wildcats must cut back on self-inflicted wounds.
Texas A&M (3-1): A&M qualifies only if coach Dennis Franchione truly can flip a switch and elevate his team's play now that the "exhibition season" (his term) is over.
Coaches on the hot seat
Dennis Franchione, Texas A&M: The league's runaway leader in this department, after last week's meltdown in Miami.
Guy Morriss, Baylor: Listed here only because school administrators chose not to extend his contract after a 2006 season when the Bears posted their best conference record (3-5) of the Big 12 era.
Mike Gundy, Oklahoma State: The loss to Troy got the naysayers busy, and a porous pass defense compounds the challenge in this league.
Michael Young’s nice accomplishment …
The Texas Rangers' Michael Young reached 200 hits for the fifth consecutive season, joining Wade Boggs and Ichiro Suzuki as the only players since 1940 achieve the the feat.
Young's 200th hit was an RBI single in the seventh inning of the Rangers' game against the Los Angeles Angels on Wednesday. It was his third hit of the game and pushed his season average to .314.
Boggs and Suzuki both had seven straight 200-hit seasons, including this year for Suzuki. Boggs had at least 200 hits from 1983-89. Young matched Hall of Fame second baseman Charlie Gehringer (1933-37) for the most consecutive 200-hit seasons by a middle infielder.
Young, who during spring training signed an $80 million contract extension through 2013, got off to a miserable start. He was hitting only .192 (23-of-120) on May 3 after he went 0-for-13 in the Rangers' three-game sweep at home by the by New York Yankees.
But Young's average started to steadily climb after that, and he hit .361 in June to earn his fourth straight All-Star nod. In 51 games since Aug. 1, Young is hitting .349.
Yankees are in, AL is set …
The Yankees became the fourth and final postseason qualifier for the American League on Wednesday. All that's left to do is sort out the playoff matchups.
At this point, the most likely first-round scenario is Yankees-Indians and Red Sox-Angels. This quartet will play out the regular season with varying objectives to get ready for next week's action.
The Angels must get a few things fixed. They've slumped since clinching the AL West and figure to go as far as John Lackey and Kelvim Escobar can carry them.
The Red Sox have gotten their big bats healthy. Now, Boston just needs to make sure it doesn't fall off in the final days and lose its season-long hold on first place.
The Indians have their two aces ready and hot at the right time. They need to get over the mental hump and avoid being intimidated by facing the Yankees.
New York simply wants to maintain its status as baseball's hottest team.
Ken Burns is my leader …The War is a wonderful view…
Burns, in his relentless promotional trumpeting of "The War," has repeatedly emphasized that a thousand WWII veterans are dying every day. We can't vouch for the accuracy of that figure, but his point is clear: There's a need -- an urgency -- to cozy up to our elders and ply them for their stories.
That's exactly what Burns and his team do for 15 astonishing hours of a film that ushers us through "the greatest cataclysm in history." Dispensing with egg-headed historians and windy military experts, they establish a riveting dialogue with "ordinary" servicemen who experienced the hell of war up close and personal, and with loved ones who anxiously paced their living-room floors back home.
Their stirring accounts help to make "The War" Burns' most intimate and deeply felt film to date -- a work of insightful intelligence and emotional oomph, of brutality and beauty, universal truths and boldness of spirit. Quite simply, it's the must-see program of the fall.
All the typical (some would say, overdone) Burns trademarks are on display: The talking-head interviews, the modulated narration (by Keith David), the celebrity voiceovers (Tom Hanks is wonderfully affecting as a small-town newspaper editor), the moody soundtrack (arranged by Wynton Marsalis) and the pan-and-zoom camera technique that brings still photos to life.
But two things help to distinguish this production: An abundance of rarely seen battle footage, much of it incredibly harrowing, and a narrative device that sets up four American communities -- Waterbury, Conn.; Mobile, Ala.; Luverne, Minn.; and Sacramento -- as windows into the WWII experience.
The four-town approach proves to be problematic, coming off as stilted and limiting at times. On the other hand, it does plop us onto the doorsteps of several intriguing people. Among them: Quentin Aanenson, a fighter pilot from Luverne who flirted with a fiery death during a mission over Europe; and Sascha Weinzheimer, a Sacramento native who now lives in Vacaville and who was with her family in the Philippines when the Japanese invaded, and spent the war in a prison camp. Then there's the gut-wrenching story of Alabama native Glen Frazier, who was only 17 when life as he knew it ceased to be. Distraught over a breakup with his girlfriend, he enlisted in the Army and chose to be posted in the Philippines, figuring that if war did break out, it would be with Germany. Instead, he endured the torturous Bataan death march and was a POW for the remainder of the conflict. As the film's poignant testimony accumulates, it becomes painfully apparent to the viewer -- especially to those of us who know war only as a video game -- that this so-called "Greatest Generation" made the kind of personal sacrifices that are almost beyond comprehension, and came face-to-face with horrors that defy the imagination.
To his credit, Burns doesn't want you to stand outside this war at a safe distance. He wants to draw you in, no matter how many times you find yourself gasping for breath or wiping tears on your sleeve. Like any great filmmaker, he doesn't spare our feelings, he intensifies them.
As you would expect in a 15-hour opus, there are bumps along the way. A few scenes play on for way too long. Some points are hammered home to the point of tedium. The background music is jarring and distracting at times. And the segments Burns added to appease Latino groups wind up feeling like he said they wouldn't -- grafted on. Still, these flaws can't diminish the powerful you-are-there sensibility that makes "The War" so extraordinary. More than any documentary or fictional film I can recall, it lets the audience know what it's like to be stuffed in ball-turret on a B-17, or to nearly freeze to death in the Battle of the Bulge or land in the calamitous chaos of Omaha Beach, or be exposed for the first time to the gruesome atrocity of the Holocaust.
A Few Good Monkeys
I wish Steven Jackson was playing Sunday. He is fun.