Faulk in the Birds' road


ST. LOUIS - To Marshall Faulk, it is simple. The key to being versatile begins with being unselfish. "I'd have to say that has a lot to do with it," says Faulk, the St. Louis Rams' running back who this week was named league MVP for the second season in a row by the Pro Football Writers Association and Pro Football Weekly. "A lot of players, if you take a receiver, he might not want to run block. Or you take a running back and he might not want to pass block. He might not want to flex out, because the option of running the ball is not good when you're lined up as a receiver. "But within this scheme, at least to me, those are the types of things I am asked to do to fulfill my part and my role in giving up certain things to help make this team what it is." No one can accuse Faulk, 28, of not fulfilling his part for the 15-2 Rams. He has surpassed 2,000 total yards from scrimmage for an NFL-record four straight seasons. This season, he had 1,382 rushing and 765 receiving yards despite missing two games in October with a bruised knee. "I think the thing that makes this entire team special is that we are unselfish," he continues. "There are guys who are willing to sacrifice and put it on the line for each other, regardless of who gets the success or who gets the glory or who gets the touchdown, makes the sack or makes the tackle.

“We celebrate each other's success."
Some running backs are great runners. Some are great receivers. Some are great blockers. Faulk is in that rare category of being great at all three. And when his willingness to fulfill any of those roles at any point of a game is factored in, it's not hard to understand that he is the linchpin to everything the Rams do. No disrespect to quarterback Kurt Warner and his cadre of super-talented receivers, but the guy with whom the Eagles' defense has to be most concerned in Sunday's NFC Championship Game is Faulk. Just as quarterback Donovan McNabb is the unpredictable X-factor for the Birds, Faulk is that X-factor for the Rams. When a player can do as many things as Faulk, he's always a threat to hurt you in one capacity or another. Because of Faulk's commitment to team-first philosophy, that backbreaking play can come early, in the middle or late in the game. If Warner and the Rams' receivers are clicking, Faulk knows he might disappear from the game plan for stretches at a time. But when his number is called, he's always ready. "Marshall is smart enough to know that eventually it's going to be his turn, and it'll be thrown on his shoulders," Rams coach Mike Martz says. "He's ready for that whenever that may come." But the truth of the situation is that Faulk is never really out of the play. Like Eagles running back Duce Staley, Faulk is called on to do much more in the offense than the visible things like running or receiving. Of course, since Faulk is regarded by many as the best player in football, it's a little more noticeable when he is playing the role of a decoy or being asked to stay in to block.

That Faulk does things like that without complaining is one of the reasons the Rams are one victory away from their second Super Bowl in three seasons - which would be in Faulk's hometown of New Orleans, to boot. It holds a lot more weight when the superstar running back makes the commitment to play unselfishly than if the fourth-string right tackle makes that same commitment. When a guy who led the league with 21 touchdowns can accept getting just 22 touches in the Divisional Playoff Game because the Rams crushed the Green Bay Packers, 45-17, it's easy for the other players to fall in behind. "We all sacrifice in some how or some way," says Faulk, who this season averaged 5.3 yards on 260 carries and 9.2 yards on 83 receptions. "Every player that either starts or fills in just services the offense or defense." Given his explosiveness, the odds are that Faulk is going to make a few big plays against the Eagles, either running the ball or catching it out of the backfield. Yet, his greatest contribution to the Rams on Sunday could come in the form of his ability to pick off blitzing defenders and stop them from jumping on Warner's head. It's no secret that the Eagles' defense is going to blitz, blitz and blitz Warner. The quarterback who went down four times against the Eagles in the season opener knows that Faulk's ability to recognize a blitz could be as important to him as his own. "Marshall's very valuable because we ask him sometimes to check three guys before he gets out on a route - to make sure they're not blitzing," Warner says. "I've never been part of a scheme that puts so much responsibility on a back to find certain blitzers and to pick them up so we can hold the ball a little bit longer and throw the ball downfield." In the Marshall Plan doctrine, versatility is just about being willing to do whatever it takes. *

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