ST. LOUIS — The Rams are honoring Hall of Fame running back Marshall Faulk in Sunday’s game against the Bengals (1 p.m.-Cincinnati’s Local 12), the man Cincinnati could have had at the top of the 1994 draft instead of defensive tackle Dan Wilkinson.
The Bengals honored the concept of Faulk 10 years later when they opted for Chris Perry instead of Steven Jackson at running back in the first round of the 2004 draft. Perry wasn’t Faulk, of course, but they felt he would be a more versatile player than Jackson that could split out and cause matchup problems for defenses that only had to be concerned about wide receiver Chad Johnson’s speed.
(This was before the emergence of T.J. Houshmandzadeh and drafting of Chris Henry at wide receiver.)
But Perry was healthy only one year while Jackson became one of the top backs in the league year after year. Perry has been out of the league three years while on Sunday, Jackson can add another line to the Pro Bowl resume with 105 yards that would make him the seventh man to have seven straight 1,000-yard seasons.
It’s not exactly a grocery shop list with the names Emmitt Smith, Barry Sanders, Thurman Thomas, Eric Dickerson, Curtis Martin and LaDainian Tomlinson. At some point, all are going to be in Canton.
Jackson has piled up a steel-belted career 4.3 yards per carry on some brutal clubs and has pounded 4.4 per this season behind a patchwork offensive line that has won just two games. It makes you wonder what Jackson could have done with the Bengals running game enhanced by Carson Palmer and his receivers. Heading into Sunday’s game, Rudi Johnson and Cedric Benson have 3.8 per carry since ’04.
Faulk made his Rams debut in the ’99 opener against, of all people, Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis when Lewis was the Ravens defensive coordinator. Lewis remembers it as Rams quarterback Kurt Warner’s coming out with 309 yards passing and three TDs rather than a Marshall Plan. Still, the versatility was on display in the Rams 27-10 win. Faulk had seven catches for 72 yards with 54 yards rushing on 19 carries.
“He was an awesome player. His versatility not only to run the ball but to catch the football out of the backfield or flanked out right. He caused you some adjustment issues,” Lewis said last week. “We were a pretty good defense but the thing you have a hard time replicating was the speed of that offense, the angles and cuts and how precise they are. We got a lot of pressure on Warner but he made a lot of big throws and we lost the game. That was the genesis of that offense. We played well on defense but not well enough to win.”
It was Faulk that was the X-factor, just the way the Bengals had hoped Perry would be.
“He gave them that third element that now you had to make sure the linebacker could win that matchup if you got put on him on the screens,” Lewis said.
TAYLOR MADE: Safety Taylor Mays took his most snaps as a Bengal last Sunday, his most encouraging day since he came over in the August trade with the 49ers. He took 23, almost as many as he took the week before in Pittsburgh, but they were pretty much in different situations.
Against the Steelers he played mainly in running downs while against the Texans he worked against tight end Owen Daniels in coverage and he can’t remember Daniels catching a ball on the six snaps he went against him during his100-yard day. The Bengals made the switch after Daniels had his way with the linebackers and some felt the 6-3, 230-pound Mays was the only defender that effectively got his hands on Daniels.
Mays is only listening to defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer and secondary coaches Kevin Coyle and Paul Guenther these days. He thinks he can be an all-round safety and not just a physical presence in the box.
“If Zim says I’m all right, then I know I’m all right,” Mays said last week. “We’ve been working on stuff like that the last couple of weeks. Playing downhill as well as working in coverage. I’m not singling anything out because I want to be the best and I’m working on everything. It was good to get out there and finally get it on film to show the coaches.”
As Mays says, “Daniels is a beast,” and gave him a lot to work on.
“He moved well off the line of scrimmage. He’s got quick feet and he uses his hands well,” he said. “He’s like a big wide receiver.”
Coyle is playing it cautiously. He calls Mays “a work in progress,” and says “he’s got some real potential.” Mays has been getting a lot of work in practice with starter Chris Crocker getting held out on at least Wednesdays and he got even more last week prepping for the Rams with Gibril Wilson also sitting out with a nick. But both are expected to play and Mays is primed again for special teams, where he’s got seven tackles.
But Coyle doesn’t look at just Mays, a 23-year-old second-year player. There is Jeromy Miles, 24, another second-year safety second in special teams tackles with 10 and fifth-rounder Robert Sands, who turned 22 last month and has been active for only one game.
“These young safeties have a lot of upside,” Coyle said.
And that’s one of the things to hammer out in the offseason. How much do you pay the other starting safety, Reggie Nelson, as he heads into free agency when balancing it against the youth?
Tags: Cedric Benson, Chris Perry, Kevin Coyle, Kurt Warner, Marshall Faulk, Marvin Lewis, Mike Zimmer, Paul Guenther, Rudi Johnson, Steven Jackson, Taylor Mays
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