Rams' show of arms
Bulger looks sharper, but Martz had to name Warner starting QB
Posted: Friday August 22, 2003 6:01PM
Let's go right to the questions. Here's a good one to start off with, because it's been on my mind ever since I watched the recent Rams-Bucs Monday nighter.
Scott of Marietta, Ga., wants my take on the Warner-Bulger thing, plus the Rams D. There is no question in my mind that right now Bulger is the better quarterback. This is what I saw against the Bucs:
Warner went 7 for 7 against a defense that was going through the motions, playing a vanilla setup and not coming very hard. His throws were mostly of the safe variety, i.e., underneath. His timing was impeccable, but it looked like a basic short-pass drill. Bulger came in and got a little work with the firsts, but most of his action was in that great thrashing exhibition-season mishmosh seconds against seconds, seconds and thirds against their counterparts, unknown people flying around, trying to make the team, etc.
He was bold with his throws, often putting them into very small areas. At least twice his receiver broke wrong. He had a long pass dropped. His passes were on the money, and they were not easy throws. His arm seemed a lot more live than Warner's. In short, I thought Bulger looked terrific.
I don't like to second-guess Mike Martz, who certainly doesn't need any help from yours truly in the offensive football department -- in fact, he once got very mad at me for precisely this reason -- but here's what I think his problem is. He's pinned. He has to start Warner at the beginning of the season. Then if Warner goes down or struggles, he can come in with Bulger. But if he works it the other way around and names Bulger as his QB, there is a big danger that Warner will go in the tank on him. I don't mean to imply any cowardice -- perish the thought -- I just think that, emotionally, Warner would have a hard time handling a benching. Bulger, on the other hand, doesn't like being on the bench, but he's used to it.
Early last year, I wrote many times that Warner wasn't right, physically. How could a ball flutter that much? Now I'm beginning to have second thoughts. Maybe it was the rush that got to him. He was working behind one of the worst offensive lines in the NFL, and I didn't see any major coaching adjustments during the course of the season to make it better. The line has picked up some good people this year, but I'm still not sure it's all the way there. With Dave Wohlabaugh hurt and Orlando Pace holding out, and probably off on his timing when he comes back, who knows what kind of protection it'll provide?
Meanwhile, Bulger sits and waits his turn. If I were a quarterback-strapped team I would trade anything the Rams want for Bulger. He's young, only 26, and has Pro Bowl written all over him. If I were, say, Carolina, I'd give the Rams any of my defensive stars, plus draft choices, you name it. Martz seems a little defense-happy. Why else would he draft another DT, this time Jimmy Kennedy, in the first round? The pick didn't make a whole lot of sense to me.
But you know something, I think this is all academic, and Martz is way ahead of me and others like me. And a personnel guy I talked to, one of my deep throat sources, who's wired to the Rams front office, says there's no way in hell that they'd let Bulger go. But maybe, if he gets bitter enough while he's waiting around for his turn to come, he'll just go free-agenting off somewhere else.
Say, you did ask me about the defense, didn't you? Looked good, real good. Based on how active it was, I'd pick the Rams as my NFC Super Bowl team, if I didn't feel that the QB situation and O-line situation were so unsettled.
Brad of Fort Lauderdale wants to know if the Falcons can reach the playoffs without a functional Michael Vick for part of the season. Well, a few days ago I did my big prediction column for Sports Illustrated's annual NFL Preview Issue. I don't want to jump the gun and give you my picks now, especially when I'll be explaining them in next week's SI.com column, so let me say that ... oh, hell, I'll tell you how I ranked the Falcons, but that's ALL I'm telling you, see. I don't want to get in trouble. Before the Vick injury, I had them 10-6 and in the playoffs as the top-seeded wild card. After he got hurt, I changed the record in their first six games from 4-2 to 3-3, giving them a 9-7 mark on the season and edging them out of the wild-card spot. Sorry. It could be worse. Probably will be. I'm figuring on him being out no more than six games.
Andy of San Diego sees rosy days ahead for the Lions, like two years from now, and he gives me around five good reasons why this will happen. I'd like to agree with you. If I see some signs of life I will agree with you. But first I have to to see signs of life.
A rip from Tim of Portsmouth, N.H.: Art Monk, based on a long and dedicated career, plus his off-the-field life as a solid citizen, certainly deserves Hall of Fame consideration over Michael Irvin, he argues. "Stop the anti-Redskin bias, fool!!!" is the way he ends his diatribe. Why is it that one exclamation point gets the emphasis across much better than three of them, which merely appear as a kind of punctuation aberration? See what I'm up against, folks? First I get ripped to a fare-thee-well for hesitating about Irvin. Then when I mention that I'll give him a further look, I get jumped by Portsmouth Tim. You can't win. Then when I say, OK, Irvin makes it and Monk makes it, I'll get ambushed by Louie in Costa Rica who'll mention someone who never even figured in the discussion. Then some guy on a yacht in the Pacific will nail me. Then ... OK, you get it. I will say one thing, though. All the off-the-field Irvin stuff is not to influence our consideration of him as a candidate, according to the official rules. Monk was a really solid citizen who caught a lot of short passes, and that's where I'll leave it until the enemy launches another counter-offensive.
Some football questions and then a wine suggestion from Matt of Portland, Maine: Ted Washington to the Patriots. A shocking trade, because he is really not a Scott Pioli-type of player. Grossly overweight, old and on the downside, coming off an injury. I guess the Patriots are desperate for a big body on the nose, but I don't like this selection. The Patriots traded Tebucky Jones because they couldn't afford to pay him what he got from the Saints, who will use him as a replacement for Sammy Knight, who is making the Dolphins very happy as a new recruit. See how this thing goes around? You mention Bully Hill Vineyards in the Finger Lakes. Oh boy, does this bring back memories. I need a new paragraph for this one.
About 25 years ago, maybe it was farther back, I was writing the wine column for the New York Post, and I went up to the Finger Lakes for a three-part series on Dr. Konstantin Frank, Bully Hill and Gold Seal. One of the more colorful wine trips of my life. First Dr. Frank, who was about 90, threw me out of his winery because I admitted that I would allow my wife to drink a wine made from French-American hybrid grapes (when he asked me the question, I guessed wrong). Then, during a lunch at Gold Seal, I nearly got into a fistfight with Guy Davaux, the noted Champagne maker who had just arrived from the old country. ("We know how to handle people like you in France." "Oh yeah? Well, why don't you try now?" That kind of thing). Then I visited Bully Hill, owned by one of the great characters in the business, the late Walter Taylor, who put me up for two nights. The highlight of Night No. 1 was meeting his "housekeeper," who was his current tootsie, a young woman from Florida who explained to me how she had picked up the knack of speaking to insects. ("I tell the ants the exterminators are coming, and next day they're all gone.") I loved Walter's wines, particularly his red-hybrid reserves, such as Foch and Baco Noir, that had gone through serious oak aging. I haven't tasted any Bully Hill wines since his death.
To Evan Kavesh from L.A., and I use his last name because he has found me out, he has flushed out a phony. He was the only one, of many football people I talked to, who noted that, in last week's column, I cleverly focused on the top 11 individual runners, 10 of whom played on a team that failed to make the postseason, and not on the strength of a team's overall running game (five of the top 11 rushing teams were playoff bound). Yes, I went for the flashy statistic, at the expense of the more conservative cumulative one. I'm ashamed. I feel like an Enron executive. And then when you explained that the same number of top passing teams as top running clubs made the playoffs, you took it a step further than I did. Which means that a team must balance its attack, at least I think that's what it means. You are a good statistician, Evan, and you have put me to shame.
Did you know that statistics show that every three minutes a man gets hit by a taxicab in New York? They'd better get that guy off the street before he gets hurt.
Part two from Evan: Wines of the Santa Barbara/Ventura area. Lots of them from Santa Barbara County. Byron is good. Morgan, too. It's a big list. They seem to be made in a broad, fleshy style. Santa Cruz isn't too far away, right? Give Bonny Doon a call and ask them to send you a few of their odder entries. One word -- if you're into the mainstream wines, Chardonnays, Cabernets, etc., Bonny Doon isn't the place for you. They shun them.
To Ace Lightning in Buffalo. Josh Reed compared to the departed Peerless Price? Reed is more of a shorter range, possession receiver. He'll be OK as such. He doesn't thrill me. Check my scouting report in the upcoming issue of SI for the answer to the rest of your questions. It'll give you what you want.
To Chris of Kansas City, Mo.: The praise you bestowed practically reduced the Flaming Redhead to tears. Sincere thanks. Last year, in picking my all-pro team for the magazine, I had the tight ends rated on productivity as follows: No. 1, Todd Heap; No. 2, Jeremy Shockey; No. 3, Tony Gonzalez. Then I went over the names again and I realized I had blown it. Shockey was clearly the top guy. I called the magazine. Too late to fix it. But not too late to make the correction for my all-pro team that appeared on SI.com, which was why I had a different selection on the Web. This year, Shockey's game bothers me. He's dropping too many balls. There's no other way to put it. He's turned into a dropper. This is curable, I guess. How important is a tight end in the offense? Very important if he's a really good one. He can give a team a million different schemes to run, if he's someone defenses truly must account for. Shockey did that for the Giants' offense last year.
To Dave of Minneapolis: Again, thanks for the kind words. No one can compare to Mark Twain when it comes to wit. My favorite Twain one-liner, actually one-worder ... when he was around 40, some genius got the bright idea of sending questionnaires to all the leading intellectuals of the day, asking them deep questions about life. The scheme broke down after he read Twain's entries. In answer to, "What is your favorite object in nature?" Twain replied, "Pie."
On to your question: Is it harder to get more sacks these days? The answer is yes, because of the rules. No head slap. More legal holding by the O-line. More protection of the QB by the officials.
Multiple questions from Mike of Charlotte, N.C. How good can Julius Peppers be? As good as Simeon Rice. He'll never be a complete DE, because he runs around blocks, but I don't think the Panthers want him to be one. He'll just keep working on his pass rush moves, which are pretty good right now, and later in life he'll pick up the run on the go, as Rice has. Should the 49ers spend big dough to keep Terrell Owens? Depends on how much trouble he causes this year. Depends on how big the big dough is. Off the top of my head, I would say sayonara. Why not play a three-penny defense, also known as the 4-7, with seven DBs, to combat the multiple wideout sets? Because offenses will run like crazy on it.
What is my opinion on plastic corks? The same as screwtops, which essentially do the same thing -- keep the air out. To get a true reading you need to see how the wine ages with them, and I know of only one place that's done a fairly long-range study, Kumeu River in New Zealand. The Redhead and I went through a cork vs. screwtop tasting last year at Kumeu. I felt that young wines tasted a little fresher with screwtops, or stelvens, as they're called there, but they aged better with the old-fashioned corks.
"Have you ever tried a wine from Hafner Vineyards in Alexander Valley (a private, mailing-list only label), and if not, what is your shipping address?" Nope, I've never tried it. Nope, I can't let you send me any. Wouldn't be professional. I can't be bought. Besides, if I'm going to lose my virginity, it'll be over a '45 Lafite. But, if I'm ever in Charlotte, I'd be glad to take you up on your offer and raise a glass or two with you. Send Jimmy, c/o the Web, all the particulars, and tell him you're the guy I gave security clearance to in the column, and tell him to please forward name, address, serial number, pedigree papers, etc. to old Z. Note to other e-mailers -- you, too, can get in on this deal. Anyone who needs rare wines tasted, exotic roasts sampled, etc., I know someone who's available. Actually two people, counting the Flamer.
To Gary of Philly: Thanks for agreeing with me about someone whose name I won't mention. What do I think of the Seahawks and Chargers as sleepers? Like the Chargers better than the 'Hawks, who still must show me they can play defense. San Diego seems more balanced.
Zak of Chicago feels that the game has been taken over by pop stars and commercials and all manner of promotional crap, and wonders where's it gonna end? I wrote this many years ago, when the proliferation of commercials and sideline sweeties, etc. threatened to swallow up pro football. I did a column for the Post headlined What Have They Done to My Game? Since then, it's gotten worse, so much so that to stay sane, you just have to pretend it does not exist, and figure out something else to do, like bringing your statistics up to date during those breaks or dopey interviews. As far as entertainers and football? Well, many years ago I covered a Jets game in Shea Stadium, and who was waiting outside the locker room afterward, along with us press folks? Lee Remick, escorted by Henry Kissinger. Looked absolutely stunning in a frilly white gown ... that's Lee, not Henry. Gorgeous. I was just getting up the nerve to tell her that I thought her performance in The Wild River, with Montgomery Clift, was one of the finest acting jobs I'd ever seen, when, in response to someone who had asked her what she thought of the game, she replied, flashing one of those promotional smiles, "Smashing. Oh, just smashing." So I backed off and never said what I was going to say. I felt like smashing something.
Thanks, Zachary B. of Florence, Mass., for similar thoughts about you know who. A much easier topic than that QB mishmosh involving Brunell, Leftwich, Garrard and Gray in Jacksonville. One will start. One will be mad he's not starting. One will be the third QB, the emergency QB. One will play for the Frankfurt Weisswursts, or whatever.
Now, to assign a name to each role, um, Brunell will start until it seems that the season is hopeless, then Leftwich will get valuable, it says here, experience. I don't think the rookie will beat Brunell out, straight up, on pure ability, because that would send a message that holding out is OK, and camp ain't all it's cracked up to be. Garrard will be the No. 3 QB because he was drafted last year and has game experience. Gray will go to Frankfurt, or if he's lucky, swingin' Barcelona.
Thanks, Cosgrove of Brooklyn, for your encouraging words. In answer to your question, am I related to Bob Dylan, nee Zimmerman? The answer is that we are first cousins. Did you know that he was an outstanding tight end who would have been drafted, had he not opted for a different career? The Redhead is looking at her watch and shaking her head. "11 p.m." she says. "Time for Silly Hour to begin." Gosh, it really wasn't that funny, was it? No, we are not related. No, as far as I know he never played anything but the guitar.
Sports Illustrated senior writer Paul Zimmerman covers the NFL for the magazine and SI.com. His "Inside Football" column and Mailbag appear weekly on SI.com. To send a question to Dr. Z, click here.