Nobody Stops Rams But Rams
In a 37-17 defeat at Buffalo, the Rams beat the Rams again last Sunday. After a 17-all half, they came out running in the third quarter, calling mostly ineffective power runs and difficult third-down passes (and a punt) on each of four consecutive series, by which time the Bills had parlayed some ordinary pass plays and an 86-yard punt return into the 20 winning points.
When the Rams were playing more aggressively in the first half — though not aggressively enough — they opened leads of 10-0 in the first quarter (as quarterback Marc Bulger threw nine passes on their first 13 snaps) and 17-14 in the second quarter. But their signal-caller, Coach Mike Martz, was growing more conservative by the minute. For the last points Martz was to make in Buffalo, it was third and 11 when Bulger hit wide receiver Torry Holt in the end zone in the fading moments of the half — throwing with unbelievable accuracy through a minuscule hole between two defensive backs, a hole that didn't look six inches wide.
Still, against today's NFL defenses, no passer can succeed consistently throwing on third and 11; and, in the second half, third-and-long passing was the undoing of Bulger in Buffalo. The Rams, to win these days, have to keep attacking with first-down passes and other early-down pass plays in order to outscore their nearly-hopeless defense and special teams, whose inadequacies are legion and legend-making. Martz knows how to throw but not how to attack.
Steeler Foes Focus on Rookie, Let Bettis Run
THE PITTSBURGH STEELERS, bare 19-14 winners over Cincinnati Sunday, are another team trying to win conservatively this season with third-down passes (after often futile early-down runs). And so far, they've made a 9-1 record with their phenomenal rookie passer, Ben Roethlisberger.
The NFL's defensive coaches are, however, beginning to catch up to Pittsburgh's simple offense, even though, clearly, they don't mind that Pittsburgh's old running back Jerome Bettis is still piling up 100-yard games.
Defenses let Bettis go on having his fun on first- and second-down plays, knowing he can't do any real harm, while concentrating their strategic planning almost wholly on ways to handle Roethlisberger on third down.
If it's true that he won't have so much to beat this week when 3-7 Washington comes to town, it's also a fact that the 4-6 Bengals made all kinds of trouble for Roethlisberger Sunday, fooling him with a variety of third-down blitzing schemes that would have troubled any passer trying to make a living on third down. It was good experience for Roethlisberger, who will doubtless see more of the same from the Redskins and five more defensive teams this year.
Bengal quarterback Carson Palmer, who threw two big touchdown passes in the first half, was going to win the Pittsburgh game until Roethlisberger made two plays — two only — in the second half, both on one series. First, from the Bengal 41, he threw a 26-yard pass to tight end Jerame Tuman at the Bengal 15. Then after Bettis got the obligatory handoffs on first and second down, Roethlisberger fired a third-down touchdown pass eight yards to a fullback, Dan Kreider. If Roethlisberger doesn't make the Tuman and Kreider plays, Pittsburgh is a goner and Roethlisberger's unprecedented undefeated career start ends at seven. It doesn't take 20-20 vision to see that it won't last much past eight or nine unless his coaches open up their offense.