Hurting Warner could have painful Sunday against blitz

Saturday, January 26th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

ST. LOUIS (AP) _ Sorry, Kurt, but this is going to hurt.

As if Kurt Warner's ribs aren't sore enough _ cramps in the area forced him out of one practice this week _ he has to expose them, under a flak jacket, to the wide-eyed blitzes of the Philadelphia Eagles.

How well the St. Louis Rams quarterback and league MVP withstands what could be a heavy toll in Sunday's NFC championship game might determine who goes to the Super Bowl.

The Eagles, with one of the most physical and quick defenses in the NFL, won't be backing off at this stage. Defensive coordinator Jim Johnson will call for blitzes from the first snap, and probably won't stop all game.

``Yes, we'll let it go Sunday,'' said Pro Bowl cornerback Troy Vincent, who has practiced despite a groin injury and, like Warner, plans to start. ``That's no secret. It doesn't matter if we play the Rams, the Cowboys, the Redskins. What we do is what we do.

``Coach Johnson has brought his bag of tricks, and we will bring it on Sunday.''

They will bring it from everywhere. Fifteen Eagles had sacks this season, led by end Hugh Douglas (9.5). Each of the starting defensive backs trapped a quarterback. So did each of the first-string linebackers.

The Rams know what will be coming. Warner said he is prepared for the onslaught of pass-rushers. His blockers better be well-prepared, too.

``I think it is a great scheme to go with their personnel,'' said Warner, who practiced Friday, but admitted he will have some pain in the ribs to deal with when he takes the field Sunday. ``The guys on the back end, those four guys _ two safeties and their corners _ are very smart and really understand the system they run and the blitzes that they have.

``I think those four guys really make it tough when they come in with all the blitzes. I think they've just got great players within a very good system and utilizing them together is what makes them so effective.''

Of course, the Rams have the most effective offense the league has seen in years. They've led the league in nearly every passing category for three successive seasons, sparked by a quick, versatile receiving corps. In Orlando Pace, they have an All-Pro tackle, and the rest of the offensive line is substantial.

And in Marshall Faulk, they have the best all-around offensive weapon in football. St. Louis will not back off.

``We set a high level,'' Faulk said. ``We have a high precedent for people to make plays and to go out and understand that in football games, there's going to be a lot of man-to-man battles, individual battles. If we win those battles most of the time, you will win the war. So we go out there and expect to win those.''

Beginning with negating the blitz.

``The Rams are a great offense, but we are a great defense,'' Douglas said. ``I feel we are a great team and we didn't come here to lose.

``This defense is very fun. We have a lot of great cover cornerbacks and the type of defense that allows you to hit the quarterback.''

And that's going to hurt, Kurt.