Why Is Everyone Ignoring the Rams?


Friday, September 8th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6


The scene said everything about the St. Louis Rams - this year's version as well as last year's.

There was Az-Zahir Hakim racing unchallenged toward the end zone. There was Torry Holt alongside, as if he were racing Hakim in their own personal 70-yard dash.

"Speed kills," went the anti-drug slogan a quarter-century ago.

Well the Rams have more speed than any team in the NFL _ a lot more. Which is why they have as good a chance as any team in the NFC, including the vaunted $100 million-plus Redskins, to reach the Super Bowl again.

For some reason, St. Louis seems to be the least respected champion in recent memory, maybe because it stood relatively pat (except at coach) while Washington and, to a lesser extent, Tampa Bay were stocking up on future Hall of Famers.

"I feel a lot of disrespect," says coach Mike Martz, who took over when Dick Vermeil retired after the Super Bowl victory.

"I think some of it is aimed at me. I think some of it comes from people who think Kurt Warner was a flash in the pan. It's fair to question me because I haven't won anything yet. But Kurt's not going away."

Off Monday night, he's certainly not.

The most impressive thing about Warner on Monday night was not the 441 yards passing nor the three touchdown passes. It was the 75-yard drive he orchestrated after his interception that Terrell Buckley returned for a touchdown, giving Denver, down 35-20 late in the third quarter, a 36-35 lead.

It was shades of Montana-Marino-Elway.

"In a situation like that, I think I should be able to get us a touchdown every time we have the ball," Warner said. "I made a mistake. It was my job to atone for it."

There was actually a difference of opinion on that.

"It was my call," Martz said of the pass that was intercepted. "It was a bad call. We had scored on that play twice, and they were sitting on it."

That may be why the Rams have a good chance to repeat this season.

Coaches and players sometimes squabble over credit. Did Bill Walsh make Joe Montana or vice versa?

They rarely fight over blame.

___

SOARING:@ (For a Week) ... The Eagles' 41-14 rout of the Cowboys Sunday illustrated how easy it can be for a team to right itself.

Granted, Philadelphia might not be Super Bowl material yet.

But given what Andy Reid inherited a year ago, particularly on offense, the turnaround seems remarkable.

It's not.

All it needed was drafting Donovan McNabb with the second pick in 1999 and signing Jon Runyan as a free agent. McNabb should be the long-term quarterback that every team needs and Runyan stabilizes what for years has been one of the NFL's worst offensive lines.

So Duce Staley, who unnoticed ran for 1,273 yards last season, now has better blocking that helped him to 201 yards last week. The defense, pretty good all along, now has more time to rest and ...

Voila!

Maybe the playoffs.

___

QB or not QB:@ Wonder if the quarterback position is changing?

Ponder this: The five second-year quarterbacks who started last week ran for a total of 244 yards on 34 carries, or 7.1 yards per. Add 60 yards in six carries for Buffalo's Rob Johnson, another of the NFL's young starters.

Then look at the rushing leaders: Chicago's Cade McNown is sixth in the NFC with 87 yards and Minnesota's Daunte Culpepper is 11th. Johnson is ninth in the AFC.

Yes, things will change _ both ways.

Tennessee, which is experimenting with keeping Steve McNair in the pocket, will have to unleash him at some point _ his scrambling is what got the Titans to the Super Bowl and almost won it. McNown, on the other hand, is not going to run for 87 yards every week.

But clearly the era of the mobile quarterback is upon us.

Ask any personnel director or scout to identify the best quarterback in college, and the name is Michael Vick, a dazzling runner and passer, not Drew Brees or Chris Wienke, more classic passers. Yes, there are still classic young passers, like Peyton Manning, Tim Couch in the pros and Chris Simms _ Phil's son _ at Texas.

But the future is mobile.

___

DIRTY DOZEN@ These are the top and bottom six teams in the NFL, based on last year's form and preseason development.

1. St. Louis (1-0) Who said Kurt Warner was a one-year wonder?

2. Washington (1-0) Opener wasn't impressive, but talent is.

3. Indianapolis (1-0) A defensive TD looks good and so does a win in Kansas City.

4. Tampa Bay (1-0). Not always pretty, but W's count.

5. Baltimore (1-0). A lot like the Bucs.

6. Philadelphia (1-0). Give the Eagles their week or so in the sun.

___

26. New Orleans (0-1). Jeff Blake looks like the Billy Joes.

27. Arizona (0-1). Running for 43 yards and allowing 223 on the ground doesn't cut it.

28. Dallas (0-1) Forget the injuries. This is a bad team.

29. Cincinnati (0-0). Moves up a spot by not playing.

30. Pittsburgh (0-1). It keeps getting worse.

31. Cleveland (0-1). Like old-time expansion teams (see Tampa Bay).