Less Faulk translates to fewer victories for Rams


In St. Louis, speculation over the Rams' 0-2 start has focused on Kurt Warner's right thumb, the departure of London Fletcher and a fresh batch of turnovers.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers know what's wrong with the Rams, though. They are not giving the ball enough to running back Marshall Faulk.

"He's their key," said Bucs defensive tackle Warren Sapp. "I don't get why they're not giving [the ball] to him. They are doing some crazy things with him. If you have the greatest weapon in the game, you need to get it to him and put the ball in his hands."

The Rams insist Warner's thumb, injured a year ago, is fine, even though the 2001 Most Valuable Player has thrown three interceptions and only one touchdown. The loss of Fletcher at middle linebacker to the Buffalo Bills may help account for the defense giving up more pass plays of 20-plus yards (nine) than coach Mike Martz's prolific offense has produced (seven). And the Rams' six turnovers represent a pace (48) that would exceed last season's staggering count of 44.

But Sapp is right. The Rams haven't given the ball enough to Faulk. That probably is the reason the Rams are the most disappointing team in the NFL after two weeks.

In the first two games a year ago - both wins - Faulk ran the ball 38 times and caught it 16 more for a total of 304 yards on 54 touches. This year, he has run the ball 24 times and caught 21 passes for 233 yards on 45 touches.

That's nine fewer touches, 14 fewer rushes and 71 fewer yards. The Rams lost, 23-16, to the Denver Broncos and lost, 26-21, to the New York Giants. Maybe 71 extra yards wouldn't have won both games, but it should've won one of them.

Sapp may see first hand if it makes a difference. The Bucs play host to the Rams Monday night, and he can expect a big dose of Faulk.

Here is a rundown of six other disappointments two weeks into the season:

Pittsburgh (0-2)

The Steelers had the league's best defense a season ago. This year, they are 27th. That's because they've given up 807 yards, including 697 through the air. The no-huddle, spread offense employed by the New England Patriots and Oakland Raiders destroyed the Steelers.

But they have another problem. It's an offense that has turned the ball over a league-high 10 times. The Raiders ran 35 more plays than the Steelers and nearly doubled their time of possession. Jerome Bettis' two-game rushing total of 18 carries for 76 yards would have been a bad game a year ago.

Green Bay (1-1)

The Packers barely survived the Atlanta Falcons in overtime at home in the opener, then got drilled by the New Orleans Saints. It's not hard to finger the culprit. That would be a defense that has given up 69 points.

The Packers thought they fixed the defense with the offseason additions of defensive end Joe Johnson and middle linebacker Hardy Nickerson, but neither has made an impact. Green Bay's defense ranks 30th in third-down conversions. That's a lot to ask quarterback Brett Favre to make up.

Seattle (0-2)

Mike Holmgren's fourth season as coach/czar of the Seahawks already needs a lifeline. He got his starting quarterback, Trent Dilfer, back from injury in Week 2. Dilfer threw for 352 yards but lost to the Arizona Cardinals, of all teams.

The Seahawks are last in the league in rush defense, and running back Shaun Alexander is averaging 2.4 yards a carry. The year won't get better for Holmgren until both those trends turn around.

Cincinnati (0-2)

You might argue the Bengals aren't a disappointment; they always play this way. But the fact is, they talked openly about making the playoffs this season. Still, for the seventh time in 12 seasons, they've started 0-2. Offense is why.

New quarterback Gus Frerotte hasn't picked up the scheme yet and doesn't throw left-handed particularly well, as seen by his ill-advised pick in Week 2 against the Cleveland Browns. Of course, it doesn't help that his left tackle, Richmond Webb, allowed three sacks, either.

San Francisco (1-1)

In the suddenly tepid NFC West, the 49ers are still tied for first place. But that says nothing of the fact that a simple two-deep zone defense has defused one of the league's best vertical passing games the past two weeks.

Perhaps teams have caught on to quarterback Jeff Garcia, who has thrown for more than 235 yards once in his past 10 games. The 49ers also have been guilty of 15 penalties in two games.

Detroit (0-2)

A bad team keeps getting worse under president Matt Millen and coach Marty Mornhinweg. A 31-7 loss to the Carolina Panthers may not be the bottom, either. In an act of desperation, Mornhinweg will feed rookie quarterback Joey Harrington to the Packers on Sunday. Harrington earned the start by completing seven of 18 passes for 52 yards and an interception in his two relief roles.

Here's the shocker, though: The Lions aren't just bad, they're old. They are tied with Oakland as the second-oldest team in the league behind the Kansas City Chiefs. That says it all.

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