Insider | Notes
The last Bulger to get this much attention played the Scarecrow in The Wizard of Oz.
Marc Bulger's play has set off a frenzy of sorts in the media, with most saying or writing that Bulger should keep the job even when Warner is ready to return to action.
|After winning two MVPs in three season, Kurt Warner shouldn't lose his job after an injury. (AP)|
Maybe Warner didn't look that good before breaking his pinky finger in the fifth game, but there were reasons. The offensive line was awful, and he simply didn't have time to throw.
The guy took a beating, yet kept on firing inside the pocket, never once complaining about what was happening in front of him. Any quarterback will tell you, though, that once the protection starts to fail at a dangerous level, the eyes begin to drop.
Downfield is replaced by simply looking down at the pressure coming in front. That's what happened to Warner. All the conspiracy theorists contend his throws didn't have the same velocity or accuracy because he had to be hurt. Warner, they said, had to be hiding some ailment, although he said otherwise.
Ever try to throw with bodies at your legs? That'll make any quarterback become Bobby Douglass on the accuracy meter.
Since Bulger took over, the line has played better, Marshall Faulk has run much better and more often and the receivers, especially Isaac Bruce, came out of an early season slump.
That isn't to say Bulger doesn't deserve his share of the credit. He has played way beyond a player who opened the season third on the team's depth chart.
Here's a guy making $308,000 suddenly the hottest passer in a league full of passing stars. The Rams will retain his rights as an exclusive-rights free agent after the season, which means they have a year to decide what to do with him.
For now, what they should do is to put him back on the bench.
If Warner is healthy enough to play, he should be the Rams starter. It won't happen this Monday against the Bears, which is a dangerous situation for Warner. The Bears aren't good against the pass, which means that Bulger should again put up some big numbers Monday night.
That will be the last image Rams fans and players will have of him if Warner takes over the following week.
That next game is against the Redskins on the road, opening a three-game trip that will define the St. Louis season. After Washington, it's at Philadelphia and then at Kansas City. All play their games outside, and all could be games in inclement weather.
Many think the St. Louis offense isn't the same when it has to leave the cozy confines of the Edward Jones Dome. And it isn't, which is why Warner will be getting back into the lineup in a tough spot.
It's almost as if he's being set up to fail, when the reality is that Bulger had to win one road game in his starts, and that was in the warmth of Arizona against a not-so-good Arizona pass defense.
The talk is coach Mike Martz can't sit down a hot hand. You can when the NFL's hottest hand ever -- Warner has the highest passer rating in league history -- is ready to return.
For the Rams, it's nice to know that they can turn to Bulger in a time of need. But if this team is really going to be a playoff team, Warner has to be the guy taking the snaps.
Around the league
- With several coaching jobs expected to come open after the season, the question everyone wants to ask is who the hot coaching commodities will be come January. In the college ranks, the top candidates will be Notre Dame's Tyrone Willingham, Iowa's Kirk Ferentz -- a guy pushed here for a long time -- and LSU's Nick Saban. The NFL ranks appear to be thin in terms of coordinators ready to move up. Several hot coaches from a few years back, such as Giants offensive coordinator Sean Payton, have seen their stock plummet, although Payton is still considered a good offensive mind in this space. So who will emerge? Denver offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak will be in the mix somewhere, as will Washington defensive coordinator Marvin Lewis. Miami offensive coordinator Norv Turner could get a look, but Pittsburgh's Mike Mularkey and New Orleans Mike McCarthy, two rising offensive coordinators, might be a year away. Atlanta defensive coordinator Wade Phillips, who coached the Bills and Broncos, could get a sniff somewhere. As a whole, though, the coordinator ranks aren't filled with an abundance of sexy names. That's why we keep coming back to Ferentz. He has NFL experience and is considered one of the best teachers in the profession.
- The Giants are set at corner for years to come if they want to be. Their second-year duo of William Peterson and Will Allen has become one of the league's best tandems. Allen has especially become an outstanding man-cover player. Those guys are tough to find. Jason Sehorn may want to return to the starting lineup, but he has no business in there if Allen and Peterson are healthy.
- The Arizona Cardinals are facing two tough decisions in the offseason. What do they do about their marquee free agents, quarterback Jake Plummer and wide receiver David Boston. The Cardinals have been telling other teams they will likely push hard to re-sign one of them before they hit the open market and tag the other with a franchise label. Since neither has lived up to expectations this year, they might opt to let both test the market. Boston, who went on the injured-reserve list this week with a knee injury, has been the league's biggest flop. He had just one touchdown and was held back by the injury. Boston has a reputation around the league for being a different type of player -- he likes the nightlife, too -- which could turn off some teams. Cardinals coach Dave McGinnis is a strong supporter of Boston, so he will likely be re-signed. They would then place the franchise tag on Plummer. While his play this year hasn't warranted that designation, the Cardinals can't afford to start all over at the position. This young team needs a veteran passer and can't look to rookie Josh McCown as they try to mature into a playoff contender. So look for Plummer to be back.
- This is a huge week for Browns running back William Green. He will return to the starting lineup Sunday because of an injury to Jamel White. Green, who has been ineffective after being the 16th player taken in the draft, has been hesitant hitting the hole, which has led some to label him as a bust. But the thinking around the league is once the Cleveland offensive line plays better, Green will, too. What makes the Browns pick of Green ever more questionable is that coach Butch Davis took him over Clinton Portis, who he coached at Miami. Portis is the leading rookie rusher in the league playing for the Denver Broncos, who took him in the second round. Green is too good a back to be held down for an entire season. Don't be shocked if he has his breakout game Sunday.
- Philadelphia quarterback Donovan McNabb looks to be a much less accurate lately than he was early in the season. McNabb's passes have been high and low, especially last week against the Colts. A handful of league personnel who have studied McNabb closely say when he's kept in the pocket, his accuracy really falls off. This year, he hasn't been as accurate outside the pocket, either. Over the past four games, he is hitting less than 50 percent of his passes. Is he pressing because of the $112 million contract he signed before the season? In fairness to McNabb, he isn't getting a lot of help from his receivers, a group that scares nobody down the field. The Colts played a lot of man coverage last week, daring McNabb to beat them with his receivers. They didn't, and now the 6-3 Eagles are trying to figure out ways to get the passing game back on track.
- The Lions are thrilled with the progress of rookie quarterback Joey Harrington, but what's even more impressive is that he has done it behind an offensive line that some personnel men have said is really bad. There is a thinking around the league that left tackle Jeff Backus is among the better players at his position and center Dominic Raiola is on his way to being considered among the best, but the reality is neither player is as good as his reputation, according to some personnel directors. Detroit has invested high draft picks the past four years to make this a good line, but it hasn't worked out that way. Backus was a first-round pick, as was right tackle Stockar McDougle. Raiola was taken in the second round. They should be getting better bang for their buck.
- The Colts made a strong move when they traded for safety David Gibson just before the season. Gibson, who coach Tony Dungy had in Tampa, is emerging as a solid player against the run and is improving against the pass. His hit on Duce Staley in the hole on a third-and-1 play Sunday against the Eagles was textbook. Gibson and fellow safety Idrees Bashir should give the Colts one of the better young tandems in the next few years.
Odds and ends
- The Giants lost all kinds of speed when Tim Carter and Ron Dixon went down with injuries and instead replaced them with veteran Herman Moore, who was never fast even in his prime. That was a strange move by the Giants, because it's speed they need, not a veteran with a big name who can't run.
- Is there anything worse than a star player being kept in during a blowout? The Eagles had McNabb in the game late in their loss to the Colts last week. Andy Reid defended that decision by saying McNabb and the starters wanted a chance to right their wrongs. If McNabb had gone down with a serious injury, Reid would have been ripped to shreds by the Philly media and fans.
- If there's anything to be learned about the impressive rushing day by James Mungro last week for the Colts, it's this: Backs have been running with the ball since they were kids, so it shouldn't be a surprise when an unknown has a big day. Mungro has the pop to make things happen, which is why he had a successful first start. That type of thing happens a lot. Scouts insist running with the ball is the easiest transition for any player coming from college to the pros. The tricky part is blocking and pass-catching for young backs. Running straight ahead hard isn't something that takes a lot of learning.
- They keep saying in Tampa that right tackle Kenyatta Walker will get better. So far, it hasn't happened. Walker continues to be a major disappointment after being a first-round pick in 2001.
- Cowboys owner Jerry Jones gave Dave Campo a sort-of vote of confidence this week, but he wouldn't commit to Campo being his coach next season. But the fact Jones came out in his defense says how he feels about Campo. Campo is a nice man who got caught in a bad situation because he didn't have a quarterback. Jones thought Quincy Carter was the answer, but that hasn't played out. That isn't to say that Jones hasn't made some good moves lately. The team's draft was outstanding this year, with as many as four of those players someday going to the Pro Bowl: safety Roy Williams, center/guard Andre Gurode, receiver Antonio Bryant and corner Derek Ross. The Cowboys also like seventh-round pick Tyson Walter, who has started some at center.
- Despite the optimism entering the season that Arizona running back Thomas Jones would live up to his first-round billing, he is quickly becoming a bust. Jones does not pop through the hole like backup Marcel Shipp does, which is why Shipp will handle more of the rushing load. Coach Dave McGinnis had high hopes for Jones before the season, but it's becoming clear that he can't be the featured back the team had hoped. He just doesn't bang through the hole with the power that's needed to be a 1,200-yard rusher.
- We hate to say we told you so, but we told you so about the Lions' signings of Bill Schroeder and Az-Zahir Hakim last spring. That dynamic duo received big contracts to be the team's starting receivers, but the Lions have gotten little bang for their buck. Schroeder, who the Packers loved to let go because of his inconsistency, was benched this week in favor of Germane Crowell. Both Schroeder and Hakim have had trouble with drops. To think the Lions allocated $22 million in salary to these two in the offseason is reason enough there should be someone new making personnel decisions other than Matt Millen. The Lions let Johnnie Morton leave via free agency, but he hasn't done much with the Chiefs, getting just 16 catches and one touchdown in a pass-happy offense.