Monday, August 18, 2008

Bulger's rough start is cause for concern

ST. LOUIS — I don't want to pile on Marc Bulger. Really. He's already been taken down on too many sacks and beaten down by too many hits to the body.

The San Diego Chargers thumped Bulger pretty good a few times Saturday night. Look at it this way: At least the St. Louis Rams are in midseason form. If Bulger is getting rag-dolled, then it must be football season.

Bulger's performance in the first two exhibitions has been alarming: 10 completions in 23 attempts, three interceptions and a passer rating of 14.3. He did connect on some solid throws against the Chargers in the second quarter, so perhaps that will get him going. But the interceptions on the first two series were disturbing. His body language continued to be troubling.

Bulger offered no excuses after the latest dud.

"Nights like this are not acceptable for whatever reason," Bulger told reporters late Saturday. "There are a million reasons that I could tell you for why things happened, but this is a bottom line business.

"They made some plays, but with a little more game planning, things might not have gone like that. What I learned in trying to get through these little ruts is to keep throwing. I promise you, if I came out in the second half, I would have kept throwing. I might have had 10 picks, but I would have kept throwing it down the field."

As a gesture of peace to the Rams-Bulger apologists, please allow me to contribute a few lines to the defense argument:

—It's only the preseason.

—The Rams are running a scaled-down offense.

—Bulger is getting acclimated to the Al Saunders system and his timing is way off.

— Torry Holt and Steven Jackson didn't play Saturday.

—The offensive line ain't exactly the Great Wall of China.

—The receivers dropped some passes again Saturday. Or ran the wrong routes. Or something.

Every point has merit.

But here's the deal for NFL quarterbacks: You complete passes, or you don't. You direct successful drives, or you don't. And it doesn't take long for the wolfpack to form.

It isn't always fair, but then again, that's why Bulger and his QB pals demand, and receive, the big money. Bulger cashed in for a six-year, $65 million deal before the 2007 season, then regressed terribly. With defensive linemen and blitzers zeroing in on his torso, the life soon disappeared from Bulger's game. By the end of the season, the dude was a silhouette of a quarterback a police chalk line.

We're into a new cycle, a fresh start, but does Bulger look right to you? There's a reason the Rams aggressively pursued Trent Green to be a relief pitcher. It isn't just because Green is a respected pro, or that he functioned successfully with Saunders in Kansas City. It's natural to have concerns about Bulger.

Since the start of the 2003 season, Bulger has been sacked 190 times, more than any other NFL quarterback. And that doesn't begin to account for the battering he received while in the act of releasing a throw.

If you've followed the NFL long enough, you've seen quarterbacks take a whipping and really suffer for it. Los Angeles Rams fans will tell you all about Jim Everett. I saw it happen to a faded Danny White in Dallas.

And I've seen this twice before in St. Louis. It took Neil Lomax more than a year to recover from getting sacked 61 times in 1985; he didn't really bounce back until 1987. Kurt Warner, who bravely stood exposed in the pocket to make connections for the "Greatest Show" Rams, absorbed vicious body blows that ultimately reduced his effectiveness. Warner wasn't the same QB for a few years. It took him a long time to heal.

That's why I worry about Bulger. Right now, it's the preseason, and some will insist that we can't truly judge his form until the real games begin. I do not disagree. We'll know soon enough.

And I can only imagine the diabolical blitzes being concocted by antagonistic Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Johnson in anticipation of the Rams' opener Sept. 7 in Philadelphia.

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