Jim Thomas of the St Louis Post-Dispatch has penned a series of essential reads on Marshall Faulk, the keystone of the Greatest Show on Turf, who prepares for potential first-ballot Hall of Fame induction this Saturday. Here’s a set of testimonials and quotes, culled from Thomas and from the indispensible SI Vault, that illustrate this brilliant player and complicated man.
On the woeful state of the Rams’ offense, before Faulk arrived...
Late in the '98 season, in an otherwise empty locker room at Rams Park, Carter and Farr desperately pleaded for playmakers on offense if the team was going to end its string of nine straight losing seasons. The infusion of offensive talent from the '96 draft (Lawrence Phillips, Tony Banks, Eddie Kennison) had turned out to be a disaster.
The only positive to come out of this group was that John Shaw was able to deal Kennison away for a second-round draft pick; or nine tenths of the draft value it would cost to acquire Faulk.
The Colts' Marshall Faulk is having one of the greatest seasons a running back has ever had—yet it has gone virtually unnoticed.... Unfortunately for Faulk, the Colts are 3-11, the focus in Indianapolis is on Peyton Manning, and the Broncos' Terrell Davis is having a runaway season.
-- Peter King, SI
Faulk’s 1998 totaled 2,227 total yards from scrimmage -- two more than Terrell Davis; however, Davis’ 23 touchdowns far eclipsed Faulk’s scoring in an underpowered Colts offense.
The stats say the offense and defense both improved dramatically in 2010. So why does WPA favor the D?
2010 saw the Rams take a huge leap forward in respectability on both side of the ball, jumping from one win to seven and immediate contention in the weak NFC West. While rookie Sam Bradford won accolades (and endorsement deals) for revitalizing the franchise, several statistical measures of the Rams are telling us to look elsewhere for the source of the Rams' improvement.
The offense improved by 114 points with Bradford at the helm, and little else changed. The defense improved by 108 points after a reshuffling of the defensive line. Seemingly, both sides of the ball should be credited relatively equally in the improvement of the team's fortunes. However, Win Probability analysis by Brian Burke of Advanced NFL Stats says differently.
By his metrics, Bradford's exploits over 16 complete games started amounted to 0.09 win probability added, 25th among quarterbacks.
Seem unbelievable? Consider the Football Outsiders' quarterback stats a form of corroboration, if not a complete explanation. By their measure, Sam Bradford rated 34th among NFL quarterbacks in their leading metric -- DYAR, or "defense-adjusted yards over replacement." (Dan at Falcoholic.com offers a nice explanation of DYAR, including its inherent weakness, understanding what constitutes a "replacement player.")
The offense as a whole totaled only 1.19 WPA. The driving force behind the Rams' six-win improvement, according to Burke's WPA, was the defense. The players listed by the metric totaled 13.89 WPA.
Yes, I realize that 1.19 + 13.89 doesn't add up neatly to 7 wins. And no, I'm not sure why. But the important thing for us to notice is the staggering difference between the two units. Why is the defense getting so much credit in this stat? Because that's exactly the way Spagnuolo played it.
This game hardly needs introduction: it is as revered in Rams history as any single moment or achievement of the franchise's history. This game crowned the miraculous worst-to-first rise of the team colored royal blue and corn yellow, befitting its mix of world-class talent (Marshall Faulk, Isaac Bruce, Torry Holt, Orlando Pace) and products of more humble origins (Kurt Warner, London Fletcher, most of the offensive line).
Very few of the players on this tape are still playing today. Some, like Faulk, are long retired and already eligible for Hall of Fame induction, and others will follow soon. Others have fallen out of the game and have been all but forgotten. And one, the tragic case of Steve McNair, is no longer on this earth.
This time capsule also contains a good share of melancholy as we consider the dynasty that could have been, perhaps should have been, contained in the core of this team, but was frittered away by equal parts ego and incompetence.
Origins of the team:
Dick Vermeil was a protege of Sid Gilman's vertical passing offense -- the offensive system that influenced Don Coryell, Al Davis and Bill Walsh alike. When he arrived in St Louis, though, he didn't have anything close to the right fit of coaching and talent, inheriting Tony Banks and drafting Lawrence Phillips, and trying to lead them with a cadre of old men that included assistant coach Mike White, offensive coordinator Jerry Rhome, and offensive line coach Jim Hanifan. The hope was to bring an old-school toughness back to St Louis; the result was an old-school disaster.
After two years of failure, Vermeil was urged to start over, and he did by reaching back into the Redskins (where Rhome was plucked from) for a student of Norv Turner's branch of the Gilman offense: a little-known quarterbacks coach named Mike Martz.
So little did Martz know of Warner that when the quarterback went to Martz's office to introduce himself, Martz first thought Warner was a tight end.
The Rams spent the offseason aggressively assembling talent: QB Trent Green was signed, RB Marshall Faulk was dealt for, WR Torry Holt was drafted. And Martz began drawing up a phone book of plays designed to stretch the mostly zone-based defenses of the time beyond their breaking points. The result -- though it was Warner and not Green who led it -- was known as the Greatest Show on Turf.
Jeff Fisher's Titans had been emerging as a force in the AFC South, behind the steady Steve McNair and powerful rock of a running back, Eddie George, but the heart of the Titans' dominance lay in their ferocious defense, which had been taken to the next level by a "freak" defensive end, Florida's Jevon Kearse.
The Titans, like the Rams, were recent arrivals in their new digs; after two seasons spent playing in west Tennessee, '99 was the first year spent in their shiny new stadium in Nashville, and their home field advantage was every bit as raucous and imposing as that of the domed Rams. The crowd in Atlanta's Georgia Dome leaned strongly toward their brethren of the South.
This Super Bowl appearance stands as the only one of the franchise's history, and they came one yard short of perhaps turning it into a championship trophy.
For Mike Jones and the Rams, that one yard makes all the difference in the world.
Apparently winning RamsHerd's first annual "Most Necessary Rookie Performance" award didn't exactly mean that Rodger Saffold would start getting the star treatment. According to a nicely revealing feature in the Cleveland Plain Dealer, Saffold is still plenty comfortable blending into the shadows.
In a recent appearance at his alma mater in Bedford, Saffold wore a plain, unadorned, gray sweatsuit. A St. Louis Cardinals baseball cap. Nothing flashy. That's it. If he hadn't towered over the high school students who came to listen to him speak and to see what an NFL player looks like, he would have never drawn anyone's attention.
That's the way it's always been for Saffold -- no one's ever really noticed how good the offensive tackle is. Until now.
The full article is a nice read on a player that is part of a wave of new NFC tackles -- including Seattle's Russell Okung, both of whom were pegged by ESPN's Mike Sando as potential Pro Bowlers for years to come.
What's really exciting for Rams fans to consider is if Saffold can take as big a leap forward in his second year with the team, working with offensive line guru Steve Loney, as his linemate Jason Smith did.
While some may be disappinted that Smith (a #2 overall pick) is still ensconced at right tackle, Loney and the Rams believe simply in putting the player in the best position to succeed, draft position be damned. For Smith, he was able to use his quick feet and powerful base more effectively on the right side, particularly as a run blocker, and in his second season started to show flashes of excellence, and enough game-to-game consistency to escape 2009's rotation with Adam Goldberg, and earn full-time playing status out of the gate.
If Saffold shows the same quantum leap in performance -- particularly in his ability to seal off the interior gap -- from year one to year two, he could enter the Pro Bowl conversation a lot quicker than anyone anticipated.
With the help from Football Outsiders' Aaron Schatz, Hulu is reliving the ten greatest Super Bowls of all time. The Rams show up on this list three times. First up? Super Bowl XIV, Rams vs Steelers in Pasadena. You can enjoy a 22-minute flashback, courtesy of NFL films.
"Super Bowl XIV took its shape just as much from the team that lost as the team that won. The Los Angeles Rams earned a dignity in defeat which they had never earned in victory."
-- NFL Films
Full disclosure: I hated the 1979 Rams. I was six years old, and we crowded around a tiny black and white TV as Vince Ferragamo's Rams strangled my father's Buccaneers 9-0 in the NFC Conference Championship game, spoiling their first-ever winning season. Our quarterback, Doug Williams, completed only 2 of 13 passes before being pulled from the game, and with his loss all hope for a miraculous finish was gone.
It was an eminently flawed NFC field, obviously, if the Championship came down to these two historic underdogs; with two playoff wins, the 9-7 Rams became the losingest team ever to play in a Super Bowl, and they faced Terry Bradshaw and the three-time champion Steelers.
The Rams went to battle without any of the iconic names associated with the franchise. This was a "tweener" lineup past the era of Rosey Grier, Deacon Jones, Merlin Olsen, and Lamar Lundy -- the fearsome foursome -- and before the era of Eric Dickerson and coach John Robinson's one-back system that enabled his greatness. Their only Pro Bowlers, indeed their only players of note, were the two Youngbloods: linebacker Jim, and hall of fame DE Jack. Their eventual starting quarterback, Vince Ferragamo, completed only 49% of his passes that season. Their running back, Wendell Tyler, was known more for his fumbling than his rushing.
This was a fractured team marked by bickering and dissent at the top of the franchise as Georgia Frontiere wrested the team away from the children of her late husband, Carroll Rosenbloom. They were galvanized by one thing -- winning.
They very nearly won this game too, holding a tenuous 19-17 lead at the start of the fourth quarter, and driving for the game-winning points down 24-19 with just a few minutes left in the game.
The score changed hands six times before it ended Pittsburgh 31, Los Angeles 19, but only the guys who laid the 11 points with the bookies read it as a 12-point Steeler win. The Rams made it that close. They stayed in it because of a sustained intensity that brought them great honor, because of an unexpectedly brilliant performance by young Quarterback Vince Ferragamo, and because of a tackle-to-tackle ferocity that had the Steeler defense on its heels much of the afternoon.
James Hall and the Rams' rebuilt defensive line increased their sack total from 25 to 43 in one season. Mission accomplished? Or just beginning?
Despite a seemingly annual procession of high draft picks, the Rams' defensive line always played as less than the sum of its parts, until 2010. The transformation, led by coach Spagnuolo, started by letting go of one high draft pick (underperforming DT Adam Carriker) and not working very hard to entice its best pass rusher (DE Leonard Little) out of retirement. The only additions to the line were a 33-year-old defensive tackle (Fred Robbins) and a pair of third-day draft picks (Eugene Sims and George Selvie). However, these minimal changes had a hugely positive effect on the overall play of the line.
The Rams' defensive line improved radically from 2009 to 2010 by a number of measureable metrics, however, it failed to improve by one key stat:
Sacks: 29th in the NFL (25 total) in 2009 .... 7th in the NFL (43 total) in 2010.
Opponent's passer rating: 31st in the NFL (96.9) in 2009 .... 9th in the NFL (80.4) in 2010
Opponent's yards per rush: 20th in the NFL (4.4) in 2009 .... 22nd in the NFL (4.5) in 2010
While moving James Hall (right side) and Chris Long (left side) to their natural positions helped the team take a quantum leap against the pass, the weakness of their interior line couldn't generate any improvement versus the run. Moreover, while most teams utilize rotations with their defensive front four, the constant cycling of players in and out of the lineup at some spots suggests more desperation than plan.
To illustrate this, here is what the Rams' left side of the defense looked like, on a per-snap basis. (Stats via ProFootballFocus.com)
One week remains until the Super Bowl, and the representatives for the players and owners have this time to sit down and come together and figure out how to salvage the 2011 season. All of it. Not just the games in September (or August, if an 18-game schedule is rammed down our throats), but the FULL season.
We have the regular season. The Playoffs. The draft. Undrafted free agents. Big time free agents. Mini camps, where we start to hear about schemes and personnel and workouts. More free agency activity, and big-ticket trades. Training camp, when our teams come to town and Rams fans are lucky enough to be invited to watch. Juggling fantasy football boards, and getting together for our fantasy drafts. And before you know it, the season begins again.
The NFL is year-round, as you can tell from blogs like mine, like Turf Show Times, like RamsGab. And we don't stop writing, as you can tell from our archives. Why do we write year-round? Because of you. Because you fans love football -- love the Rams -- that damn much. And because we're fans too, and we can't stop feeding the beast. So this message is from more than just the players to the owners, its from all of us to all of you in suits, at the negotiating table.
Let us play. All of us.
Do your part. Go to NFLLockout.com and sign their petition. It isn't about taking sides... we're all on the same side here. We all want a 2011 season. We all want to play.