Fading Rams pay visit to one-win Texans

Sunday, November 27, 2005

St. Louis will try to end its two-game slide.

HOUSTON -- The St. Louis Rams have lost their coach and their starting quarterback. Now they're on the cusp of losing all hopes of a playoff berth.

As the injury-plagued team prepares to meet the Houston Texans (1-9) for the first time on Sunday, interim coach Joe Vitt doesn't want anyone to feel sorry for them.

"I don't know if we can even suit 45 players, but the fact of the matter is we're still going to play the game on Sunday, it's still going to count and they're still going to keep score," Vitt said. "We have to prepare and do whatever we have to do to compete."

Vitt is 2-3 since taking over for coach Mike Martz, who stepped down for the season while recovering from a heart ailment.

The Rams (4-6) will have to win all six of their games for even an outside shot at a wild card.

They'll have to do it without quarterback Marc Bulger, who is out indefinitely with a shoulder injury. Career backup Jamie Martin is 2-0 as a starter this year and today will mark the first time the 35-year-old has started more than two games in a season.

"Martin has been around this league for a long time," said Rams offensive tackle Orlando Pace. "He's comfortable with our offense, and it's a situation where we just have to protect and he'll have a good go."

He didn't have too good of a go last week when he took over for Bulger late in third quarter of the Rams embarrassing 38-28 loss to Arizona. He was sacked twice, with the second one resulting in a fumble that led to an Arizona touchdown.

Houston is trying to rebound from another embarrassing loss in this nightmare season after Larry Johnson piled up a Kansas City-best 211 yards rushing in a 45-17 victory.

The loss to Kansas City put a magnifying glass on Houston's league-worst rushing defense, which is allowing 160.6 yards per game. The unit has allowed seven 100-yard rushers this season.

"Most important is stopping the run," said Texans linebacker Antwan Peek. "That's what we've been having the most difficult problem with this season and it's not going to stop now. We know they're going to run the ball and we've got to stop it."

If they don't, history indicates that it will be a good day for St. Louis. Since the Rams moved to St. Louis in 1995, they are 37-0 when having a 100-yard rusher.

With Bulger out, it will be even more important for Steven Jackson to recover from last week's performance of 12 carries for just 6 yards. He has 167 carries for 735 yards this year.

"He's one of those rare backs, the more carries you give him, the stronger he gets as the game goes on," Vitt said. "(He's) a big guy and if you give him a crease, he can take it all the way."

While the Rams' fourth-ranked offense will have to depend on its running game, Houston's sputtering passing attack, ranked next to the bottom, might finally get a break.

A banged up secondary

St. Louis is among the league's worst teams against the pass and it could further deteriorate today after the injury-riddled secondary took another blow. Strong safety Adam Archuleta will miss the game with a concussion and starting cornerbacks Travis Fisher and DeJuan Groce are both listed as doubtful.

The Rams' secondary has two inexperienced starters: rookie cornerback Ron Bartell and converted wide receiver Mike Furrey at safety.

Texans quarterback David Carr, who's been sacked a league-high 47 times, got his best protection of the season last week and was trapped just once. It didn't help much though as he threw no touchdown passes and had an interception Kansas City returned for a score.

He's concerned with the lack of big plays by the Texans. Houston has only one play from scrimmage of more than 40 yards this season.

"I wish we could make the big plays," he said. "We just haven't had those opportunities this year."

That stat would certainly change with a breakout game by Pro Bowl receiver Andre Johnson, who's had a disappointing season with just 29 catches for 259 yards.

One area where Houston hasn't lacked in big plays is kick returns, where rookie Jerome Mathis has given the team the NFL's best average. He has gained an NFL-best 32 yards per return and is the only player in the league to return two kickoffs for touchdowns this season.

Mathis could also return punts for Houston this week after punt returner and cornerback Phillip Buchanon was put on injured reserve.

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