It isn't just Kurt Warner. The Rams' offense is in trouble in a lot of ways. Most important, the springboard that launched the great precision offenses of the Super Bowl teams, the offensive line, fell apart against the Giants on Sunday, just as it had most of last season.
Well, St. Louis went shopping for Kyle Turley and Dave Wohla-baugh to take over at right tackle and center, respectively. Turley is a player, the best O-lineman the team has. Wohlabaugh? Who knows? He played with a monster cast to protect a broken left thumb, and New York couldn't wait to test him with stunts and blitzes up the middle. And that's where the Rams got killed, because flanking their injured center were a pair of guards, Andy McCollum and Adam Timmerman, who are in their early 30s and on the downside.
The multiple blitzes, a new toy for Giants defensive coordinator Johnnie Lynn, who never would have gone to such extremes if he hadn't smelled blood, wreaked havoc. St. Louis will see nothing but exotic pass-rush schemes from the 49ers this Sunday, and every opponent thereafter, until it can handle them.
Put aside Warner's six fumbles, which were so bizarre that they need no further comment here, because there are so many other concerns. The screen pass to running back Marshall Faulk, once such a formidable weapon, was a disaster on Sunday because quarterback, receiver and O-line didn't click. Not once did St. Louis line up Faulk in the slot and try to get him downfield, another favorite play of the past. The line couldn't create any running lanes. There is no one to replace the great blocking back, 270-pound James Hodgins. The Rams also miss pass-catching tight end Ernie Conwell, a key outlet receiver when they would go big, with a fullback and one or two tight ends.
When Warner had time to pass against the Giants, it seemed as if the only success he had was going to his wideouts on crossing patterns and turn-ins, the kind of throws over the middle that are easier on the arm. O.K., his touchdown pass to wide receiver Torry Holt was a corner route, but it was also a ball that never should have been thrown, because there was a defensive back locked in coverage.
Warner, who suffered a concussion against the Giants, will sit out the game against San Francisco. Marc Bulger offers the Rams a live arm and a clear head, but the problems still exist around him. The 49ers will blitz Bulger like crazy. They weren't bashful in that regard against the Bears. San Francisco wins in an upset.
I like the Giants over Dallas in the Monday nighter, unless the Cowboys can find a way to exploit a shaky New York offensive line. Here's a minor upset: the Browns over the Ravens and their rookie quarterback, Kyle Boiler. And here's another: the Titans to keep their furious pass rush going and knock off Indianapolis.
I'll give the Falcons the nod over Washington, only because the game is in the Georgia Dome, and the Bills, minus all the emotion of last week's game against New England but still sturdy enough on defense, will win at Jacksonville. The Chiefs, who held San Diego to 232 total yards, will keep it going against Pittsburgh. The Jets traditionally have Miami's number, but not this time. The Dolphins are the pick. The Eagles will add to the Patriots' miseries, and the Chargers will give us a fourth upset with a home win over the Broncos.