THE BELIEF While
the Rams retain much of the arsenal from the pass-crazy offense of former coach
Mike Martz, rookie head man Scott Linehan will balance the attack, clearing the
lanes for talented tailback Steven Jackson. The bigger change, however, will
come on defense, where St. Louis hired former Saints coach Jim Haslett as
coordinator and spent most of its $100 million in off-season acquisitions. It
is potentially the Rams' best defense since the 2001 season-the last time they
reached the Super Bowl.
Though Linehan doesn't have an alliterative moniker like Mad Mike
Martz-"I'm too boring a guy to have a nickname," he says-he has
overseen explosive, pass-oriented systems in Miami and Minnesota as an
offensive coordinator. Guiding the attack for the fifth season is the NFL's
most underappreciated quarterback, Marc Bulger, whose career passer rating of
90.6 is sixth best in NFL history. Problem is, he has injured his throwing
shoulder three times since 2004-an occupational hazard when you throw as many
as 62 times in a game, as Bulger did against the Giants last year.
Now Bulger will
lean heavily on Jackson, who has a dazzling blend of speed and power. Plus,
Linehan's emphasis on short, quick passes should help. And for a backup, St.
Louis acquired 13-year vet Gus Frerotte, who won nine of 15 starts last season
in Miami and also played for Linehan in Minnesota. The No. 1 wideout is still
Torry Holt, who last year became the first player in NFL history to have six
straight seasons of 1,300 or more receiving yards.
Before the Rams
challenge for a wild-card berth, however, they have to remake a defense that
ranked 30th in the league. They did that in a single season once before: In
2000 they allowed a franchise-worst 29.4 points per game, then hired Lovie
Smith to be the coordinator and gave up only 17.0 a year later. ( Smith is now
the Bears' coach.) Haslett, a former linebacker who brings aggressive schemes,
will have at least six new starters to engineer similar improvement. The key
addition will be Will Witherspoon, an athletic linebacker who is strong against
the run and pass. He was overshadowed in Carolina by linebacker Dan Morgan and
defensive end Julius Peppers, but he has an opportunity to draw attention while
making the transition from the weakside to the middle.
La'Roi Glover, who went to his sixth Pro Bowl last season, with the Cowboys,
will bolster the run defense and complement Leonard Little (9 1/2 sacks) on the
pass rush. The secondary, which yielded the third-most passing touchdowns in
the league, also has to tighten the screws. Free-agent signee Corey Chavous, a
cerebral safety with the Vikings, should be better on pass coverage than
heavy-hitting Adam Archuleta, who left for the Redskins.
"We're not going to be guys who say, 'Hey, we know the offense is going to
score 50, so as long as we hold [the other side] to 48, we're good.'"
The attack under
Linehan won't get close to 50 as often as it used to, which perhaps makes him
Martz Lite. It's not much of a moniker, but that doesn't matter. It's the
defense that must make a name for itself if the Rams are to return to the