Titans need to use speed to keep up with Faulk

Versatility, quickness will pose tough challenge

Matchup

January 27, 2000|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,SUN STAFF

Marshall Faulk's position is running back, but that's a loose definition of his value to the St. Louis Rams' offense.

He is, more accurately, a play-maker out of the backfield, whether it's running to daylight or catching passes.

The Rams like to send Faulk in motion to isolate him against a slower, less agile linebacker. And they like to get the ball to him in space -- away from those burly defensive bodies -- where he can utilize his speed and quickness.

If the Rams can do that in Super Bowl XXXIV against the Tennessee Titans, they will have little difficulty moving the ball. Faulk is the second and sometimes knockout punch in the Rams' free-swinging offense, complementing quarterback Kurt Warner's prolific passing game.

Faulk did not become the NFL's Offensive Player of the Year for his work between the tackles. He gained 1,381 yards rushing and 1,048 receiving on 87 catches. He caught one pass for roughly every three rushes, which best demonstrates how the Rams like to play him.

While the Rams had the fifth-best rushing offense in the league in the regular season, it's been less than productive in the postseason. In games against the Minnesota Vikings (poor defense) and Tampa Bay Buccaneers (great defense), they totaled 82 rushing yards and gained just 2.2 yards a carry.

Faulk's postseason numbers are 65 and 2.3. He had 49 all-purpose yards against the Bucs, and eight of his 20 touches were for no gain or negative yards.

How did the Bucs do it? All-Pro linebacker Derrick Brooks -- who's not slower or less agile -- made five stops on Faulk, including two for losses.

When the Titans beat the Rams in Week 8, they often assigned a defensive back to spy on him, matching speed with speed. Faulk still had 90 yards rushing and 94 yards receiving.

The Titans ranked 10th against the run this season, giving up 96.9 yards a game and 4.0 a carry. The only running backs who rushed for 100 yards against them were the Ravens' Priest Holmes in the regular season and the Jacksonville Jaguars' Fred Taylor in the AFC title game.

Tennessee's rush defense has been spotty in the playoffs, though.

The Titans gave up 123 ground yards to the Buffalo Bills and 144 to the Jaguars, but held the Indianapolis Colts' Edgerrin James, the NFL rushing champion, to 56 yards on 20 carries.

James, like Faulk, is a play-maker out of the backfield.

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