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Faulk felt out of 'touch' with Rams' plan
By Len Pasquarelli

NEW ORLEANS -- The old adage insists that numbers, cold and hard and absolute, don't lie.

That wasn't the case for Super Bowl XXXVI, however, and more specifically for St. Louis Rams tailback Marshall Faulk, the league's premier offensive playmaker.

Look at the stat sheet and it shows that Faulk got 21 "touches," 17 rushes and four receptions in St. Louis' stunning 20-17 loss to the New England Patriots. The "touches" were just 3½ less than Faulk averaged in his 14 regular-season appearances and only 1.4 less than the mean for his three seasons with the Rams.

But when Rams head coach and resident offensive guru Mike Martz reviews the videotape of the galling defeat, he is apt to conclude that Faulk didn't get the ball nearly enough.

And, unlike his game plan for attacking the Patriots' defensive scheme, Martz will be right.

"I don't want to get into it," said Faulk, his shield quickly going up, minutes after the loss. "You do what they tell you to do. You run the plays they call. That's how it is and that's how it will be. I don't want to get into second-guessing now."

True enough, revisiting the Rams' approach will do nothing now to mollify the hard feelings they will carry for at least six months, until training camp commences in July at Macomb, Ill., and the quest begins again. But the fact Martz got the ball so infrequently to Faulk, particularly with the running game, only serves to fuel the contentions of the critics who suggest the Rams head coach too often outthinks himself.

In a brilliant but potentially volatile game plan, New England coach Bill Belichick dared Martz to run the ball, with the Patriots using "nickel" or "dime" personnel on 54 of 69 snaps. The scheme cried out for the Rams to run at the smallish Patriots' front, to muscle up and pound the football inside the tackles, to take another step toward expunging their "finesse" reputation. But the Rams never tried hard enough to run at the Patriots and, in essence, made New England's job easier in covering explosive wide receivers Isaac Bruce and Torry Holt.

The New England defense never really had to commit strong safety Lawyer Milloy to stopping the run and he and free safety Tebucky Jones were able to roam the deep zones and make big hits on the St. Louis receivers as they ran across the hashes or up the seams.

This is a line who loves it when (Mike Martz) runs it. We like to show people we aren't just (pass) protection guys, you know? We kind of blew it in that regard.
Upset Rams player

Said cornerback Otis Smith who, along with partner Ty Law, played a brilliant cover game: "We like to think we support the run pretty good, but they never made us come up and play it, because they didn't run all that much."

Only twice, in fact, did the Rams run the ball on more than two successive plays. The initial time was late in the first quarter, when Faulk carried for seven, two and six yards. But on the next play quarterback Kurt Warner was sacked by defensive end Bobby Hamilton for a five-yard loss and the negative play killed the promising drive.

Halfway through the third period, Faulk carried on four straight plays -- for 12, six, 12 and zero yards -- but two plays later, Smith intercepted Warner and the Patriots converted the takeaway into a 37-yard field goal by Adam Vinatieri.

The abandonment of the running game came only a week after Martz went to the ground at the outset of the second half of last week's NFC championship game. In that contest, he called seven straight rushing plays for Faulk, and the Rams' offensive line responded by dominating the Philadelphia Eagles' defensive front. There was no such commitment on Sunday night, and there were several St. Louis players privately puzzled by the absence of a running game.

"This is a line," said one player, "who loves it when (Martz) runs it. We like to show people we aren't just (pass) protection guys, you know? We kind of blew it in that regard."

Len Pasquarelli is a senior writer for