Nevertheless, if Warner stays healthy, the Rams remain the team to beat. After taking a month to rest a right knee bruise, Marshall Faulk is expected back when St. Louis returns from its bye week on Nov. 11 against Carolina. You want physical? Faulk had a brilliant 220-yard rushing game against the Saints in the playoff-clinching win at the Superdome last Christmas Eve. Martz is certain to use Faulk to eat up the clock as the season winds down.
Let's face it: Although on occasion they'll need to stand toe-to-toe with the Tysons of the league, the 6-1 Rams still have the fewest weaknesses of any team in the NFL. Plus, seven of their final nine games are against teams that are at or below .500. Haslett, whether he meant it or not, was right when he told Martz after the game, "You've got the best team in football."
St. Louis is the best team for football too. The game needs more mad scientists and fewer grind-it-out coaches. In the first half on Sunday, shortly before Warner stepped under center to start another in a series of anything-is-possible drives, the crowd murmured excitedly. What's next? An inside handoff to the tight end? A hook-and-lateral sprint-out by Az Hakim? The Rams would be foolish to do anything more than tinker with what got them this far. If this is finesse football, keep it coming.
Leaf a Changed Man in Dallas?
Ryan Leaf has been in Dallas only since Oct. 6, but the former Chargers problem child has been preparing for his trial by fire with the moribund Cowboys in a hardworking, very un-Leaf-like way. Leaf, the second pick in the 1998 draft, has come in on his Tuesday off days and has worked an extra two hours almost every other day. "I don't think people change their spots," says cautiously optimistic Dallas coach Dave Campo, "but I think their spots can get smaller."
Leaf, a head case disliked by his Chargers teammates because of his lackadaisical approach, was disastrous with San Diego (48% passer, 13 touchdowns, 33 interceptions), and Tampa Bay cut him loose this summer, in part because of an injured throwing wrist. Rest has helped—he's been rifling the ball accurately in practice—but Leaf still may need postseason surgery. Meanwhile he's been practicing a series of plays called the Ryan Package. His debut could come as early as this Sunday against the Giants.
"The knock on this team is that it's no good," Leaf said last week, "and the knock on me is that I'm a bust. You're going to have people saying that until you can play your way out of it."
Ravens' Defensive Woes
Lewis: I Need to Pack More Punch
Baltimore is surrendering a touchdown more per game this season than last (170 points per game through seven games, compared with 10.3 for all of last season), and everyone's trying to explain why. The line hasn't been as imposing, which means top cornerbacks Chris McAlister and Duane Starks have been burned more than they were last year. (On Sunday, Jacksonville wide-outs Keenan McCardell and Jimmy Smith combined for 17 catches and 237 yards.)
But another odd thing is happening: Teams are running right at middle linebacker Ray Lewis. "That's what I see watching tape," a scout for one team says. "It seems like teams would rather not let Ray get a head of steam and run at them."