Rams confident offense won't be problem

Sunday, September 15, 2002

ST. LOUIS (AP) -- The last two games, counting their Super Bowl loss, the St. Louis Rams' prolific offense has been curiously quiet.

The New York Giants will try to make it three in a row on Sunday, not that they're at all confident the NFL has finally figured out how to stop Mike Martz's mad schemes.

"I don't think there is a blueprint," defensive end Michael Strahan said. "The biggest thing is you almost go out there and hope the Rams hurt themselves, because I don't think you're ever going to completely stop them."

The Rams (0-1) averaged 32 points during their 14-2 regular-season last year, their third straight 500-point season, but have totaled 33 points their last two games. The Patriots stifled them in the Super Bowl by laying back and daring them to run, a dare the Rams did not accept, even though they totaled 427 yards in that game. New England also mugged them whenever possible.

In the season opener, the Denver Broncos took advantage of exceptional speed in their linebacking corps, allowing them to stay in basic alignments for the most part, and a cover-2 philosophy that limited long plays in a 23-16 win over St. Louis.

The Giants (0-1) stuffed the Rams in a one-point loss in St. Louis last year, holding them to 15 points by punishing them with physical play and a pass rush that didn't need any blitzing help.

The Rams say there's no trend, no master plan, that's holding them back. After all, the season opener and the Super Bowl were seven months apart.

"That's what practice is for, that's why we have 16 games," wide receiver Torry Holt said. "I don't think you can judge us off the first game and what we did in the preseason and what we did in the Super Bowl, I think everybody now is just looking for something."

Players agree, though, that Martz needs to keep reinventing the offense to stay one step ahead.

"A lot of teams are familiar with what it is we like to do, and they're starting to read some of our routes and different things," Holt said. "But Mike is doing a great job schematically putting us in situations where we can still be successful, and we just have to go out and execute."

Martz has been as quiet as the offense in the early going, although he's still taking chances, as witnessed by his failed fourth-and-2 play last week. He has closed practice the first three weeks of the season, and in news conferences it's clear his goal is to be as vanilla and unrevealing as possible. He even apologized for a war of words last year with Giants defensive back Jason Sehorn.

Back then, Sehorn labeled Martz an "impatient" coach and Martz fired back, "All we do is run by Jason Sehorn." This year, it's all complimentary.

"He makes that comment, which is a shot at me, my first reaction is to swing back, and that's what I did," Martz said. "And as a head coach you can't do those things. I regret doing that. That was not professional."

Job one for the Rams on Sunday will be controlling the NFL's best pass rusher. Strahan took advantage of an ailing Ryan Tucker for four sacks last year en route to a league record 22 1/2. This year John St. Clair, making his second career start, will try to stop him.

"He must be better than the last two guys or they would be there," Strahan said. "From what I see, he looks like a good player.

"Everybody says he's having a rough time, but it looks like he's doing pretty doggone good to me."

At times during the preseason, St. Clair was a major question mark, but he made big progress the last two games and played acceptably against the Broncos' Trevor Pryce. St. Clair never dressed his first two NFL seasons, but Strahan discounted the experience factor.

"Well, he has 10 years worth of tape to watch on me, and I have one game," Strahan said. "I'm just going to try to do what I do, and hopefully what I do works against him."

The most important task for the Rams defense is getting into the face of quarterback Kerry Collins, who might be under more pressure with Tiki Barber banged up with a pulled hamstring and sprained toe on his right foot. Barber had 29 yards on 15 carries in the Giants' 16-13 opening loss to the 49ers.

"We need him," coach Jim Fassel said. "Tiki's been our MVP the last couple of years and you can't take your MVP out and not feel it. But I'm optimistic he will play."

The Rams need to get more out of their rushing attack, dead last in the NFL after gaining only 32 yards in the opener. Marshall Faulk caught 14 passes for 91 yards, but was held to 19 yards rushing on 10 carries.

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