Stewart Makes Impact on Rams' Defense : Pro football: His attacking style against the Falcons impressed coaches. His next challenge will be the Steelers' Eric Green, a 275-pound tight end.


He was a hit man with no targets, a brawler without a bout.

Michael Stewart, a linebacker in a 195-pound safety's frame, had to wait his turn as the Rams tried other safeties in the first five games of the season, after he missed training camp because of a contract dispute.

But when he finally had his chance to start last Sunday, in the Rams' 44-24 victory over the Atlanta Falcons at Anaheim Stadium, opponents started hitting the ground with far greater frequency than in previous weeks. Michael Stewart isn't going to wait any longer.

Monday night, Stewart will have a big target to hit--275-pound rookie tight end Eric Green of the Pittsburgh Steelers.

"We've been anxious to get him in, and he'll play an awful lot now," Coach John Robinson said of Stewart, who started 15 games last season. "He's an attacking type of football player."

On a defense that had previously lacked sound or fury, Stewart provided both Sunday. Inserted into the lineup frequently as a passing-downs linebacker, Stewart made three tackles, knocked away a pass, recovered a fumble and generally was a menacing presence around the ball.

And although the Rams weren't overjoyed by the late-hit penalty he drew for belting Falcon receiver Andre Rison about 10 yards past the goal line, they weren't teary-eyed about it either. Intimidation is not a word you would have pinned on the Rams' defense as they limped to a 1-4 start.

Stewart does those things.

"That's what he is, he's a physical player, he's got a linebacker mentality, is what he's got," defensive coordinator Fritz Shurmur said before partially explaining why it took so long for Stewart to find his way into this season's lineup.

"Once in a while, it gets him in a little trouble playing pass defense," Shurmur said, "because at times you've got to exercise some caution back there. But he plays with a physical kind of abandon that you associate with a linebacker mentality.

"When the receiver comes across the middle to catch the ball, he's going to hit him. He may have a little trouble catching (receivers) once in a while, but he'll hit them."

Stewart said he was ready to play almost immediately after reporting in the week before the season opener but he understood that the Rams have a lot of talent at safety, including Anthony Newman, who started at Stewart's spot the first five weeks. And Newman still will see a lot of time in the nickel defense, with Stewart moving to linebacker in place of Mike Wilcher.

"He's very much at home there," Shurmur said of Stewart at the linebacker position. "I think if you were to pick a position in the nickel defense where his abilities suited the defense more, it would be at the linebacker spot, up in there closer."

Up where he can hit more people, harder.

"We want to be physical," Stewart said. "We figure if we can outphysical the other team, we have a few more chances of getting turnovers, creating turnovers, and hopefully get some guys to drop some balls here and there."

So, was that late hit on Rison merely a show of force to intimidate him for later meetings?

"People don't believe it, but I really didn't honestly know he was that far in the end zone," Stewart said. "First game back, you just kind of want to do something extra sometimes. But it's not something I go out and work on, getting 15-yard penalties.

"I think sometimes if you try to play aggressively, every now and then you'll get a few of those."

Against Atlanta, Stewart was chasing around little receivers. At Three Rivers Stadium Monday night, the Rams will be facing a bulkier, more methodical team with the huge and mobile Green as one of its most dangerous weapons.

After his 54-day holdout kept him out of the Steelers' first three games, Green has caught 10 passes for 87 yards, including five of quarterback Bubby Brister's seven touchdown throws.

In fact, the Steelers' offense didn't score a touchdown until Green began getting significant playing time in the fourth week, when he scored twice. The next week, he scored three times.

"He's a big, giant target to start with," Brister said. "He's about 6 feet 5, 275 pounds, and he runs real good for a big guy.

"In (new offensive coordinator) Joe Walton's offense, we do a lot of things with the tight end. So when he came in, we put a few packages in that he could help us with early.

"It's a big plus for me because I'm used to throwing the ball down to the two or the three (yard lines) in past years, then we'd run it in. We get down there now, we've been doing some play-action passing and hitting him in the end zone, or when he's catching the ball on the two or the three, he'll go ahead and run over somebody and go in for a touchdown.

"I like it because it's making the quarterback look pretty good. He's a pretty smart guy, and we're able to do a lot of things with him because I think Joe Walton's offense usually is based around tight ends."

Apparently then, if you shut down Green, you can shut down the Steelers' offense--exactly the kind of offense, Shurmur said, that Stewart can excel against. And accelerate into.

"When a team is a physical kind of team that runs the football a lot, he's the guy that you'd like to have in there," Shurmur said of Stewart.

"And with a big, physical tight end, he's the kind of guy you'd like to have playing over him."

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