Two Rams coming off big games

Friday, December 26, 2003

ST. LOUIS -- Pro Bowl invitations have a way of inspiring those who were left out.

That might have been the case with St. Louis Rams defensive end Grant Wistrom and safety Adam Archuleta, two players who had big games three days after five of their teammates were honored. Wistrom matched his career high with 2 1-2 sacks and Archuleta picked up his first interception of the season to help the Rams (12-3) take over the race for home-field advantage in the NFC playoffs with a victory over the Bengals.

Wistrom was the Rams' first-round pick, and the sixth overall selection, in the 1998 draft. But he's been overshadowed this season by Leonard Little, a third-rounder that same year and a Pro Bowler for the first time this season.

Little is among the league leaders with 12 1-2 sacks. Wistrom, even after his big day, has 6 1-2 sacks.

"I don't think I've played very bad this year," Wistrom said. "Obviously, my numbers aren't what I'd like them to be, but I go out there and play hard every week just like everybody in this locker room does.

"It's been a long time coming because it's been a frustrating couple of years for me."

Wistrom picked up the slack against the Bengals for a flu-weakened Little, dominating offensive tackle Levi Jones with speed moves.

"Oh man, he was wild out there," Archuleta said. "It seems like every week somebody on the defense goes wild and today was his day."

Crowd a big help

Jones might have been at less than his peak, coming off arthroscopic knee surgery less than two weeks before that game. Wistrom also gives a big assist to the usual noisy crowd in the Edward Jones Dome that threw off the Bengals' offense.

"He was obviously hindered, but (Jones) played pretty good last week against the 49ers," Wistrom said. "Honestly, most of it has to do with the crowd noise out there.

"The offensive line has to look in and look at the football, they can't hear the snap count and we're looking at the football too and we're able to get off pretty good."

Archuleta was one of three first-round picks in 2001 and is one of coach Mike Martz' favorite players. He's still making a name for himself and developing as an untraditional strong safety.

He's a hard-hitting tackler in the mold of John Lynch, the Bucs' longtime Pro Bowl safety. But he's not often sitting deep in the secondary.

"A lot of teams, their safeties play back and they get a lot of overthrows, a lot of tipped balls," Archuleta said. "I've been the guy down underneath doing all the dirty work and that's the nature of what we're trying to do on defense.

"When they blitz me I've got to try and come up with a sack or get some pressures that causes havoc."

Archuleta admitted to being motivated by being left out of the Pro Bowl picture.

"I was kind of disappointed, but I can't let that get in the way of what we're trying to do," Archuleta said. "Hopefully, I'll have the last laugh in the end."

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