NEW ORLEANS – The Marshall Plan in St. Louis has been in effect for three years now. Get the ball in Marshall Faulk's hands as often as possible and let him lead the team to victory.
Arguably the most dangerous weapon in football, Faulk became the first player in NFL history to gain 2,000 yards from scrimmage for four consecutive seasons after 1,382 rushing yards and 765 receiving yards this year. He ran for 12 touchdowns and caught nine touchdown passes, easily the highest touchdown total for any player this season. Seattle's Shaun Alexander and San Francisco's Terrell Owens were second with 16 apiece. Just imagine what Faulk could have done had he not missed two games with a knee injury.
Faulk is a perfect fit for the St. Louis offense. He has always been a top rusher out of the backfield, but his ability to catch the football makes him nearly impossible to shut down. He led the team in receptions with 83, creating all kinds of match-up problems for opposing defenses that have to account for the likes of Isaac Bruce and Torry Holt.
"With the things I can do and the things expected of a back in this offense, it is a perfect fit because there are so many things going on out there," Faulk said. "My knowledge and understanding of the game helps. The fact that I can play not just first and second down, but also on third downs helps. I can run inside and outside, and all of that puts the defense on its heels because they never know whether we are in running mode or passing mode."
But what is it that gives Faulk such a major edge. In 1999 he was traded from Indianapolis to St. Louis after several successful seasons. Now he is simply a dominant offensive player.
"During our preparation through the week Marshall always does a great deal of film study," Head Coach Mike Martz said. "He always has a thought about some of the things that we do, and we will tweak or bend them. He takes a coaches perspective of it and takes in the whole picture.
"When you get into a game, the biggest thing about Marshall is that he is a great problem solver. Things will always happen in games that can never fully show your players during the course of the week in practice, and he is a guy who respond to that and solve your problems because he understands the philosophy of what you are trying to accomplish with each play."
All through life Faulk has made a point of being a student of the game. He wasn't content to let his natural talent earn him a spot on the field. He wanted to understand every aspect of the sport, using his knowledge and mental capacities just as much as his physical attributes.
"The ability to see the big picture comes from understanding the game," Faulk said. "Growing up watching football I not only watched as a fan, but as a student. I always asked the question, 'Why,' just to try to learn more. 'Why did that play work? Why are they doing this?' At times that got on people's nerves, but for the most part I was educating myself."
It may have bugged some people through his younger years, but Faulk's approach to the game has garnered the respect of his teammates.
"Marshall, in my eyes, is the MVP in life," wide receiver Az-Zahir Hakim said. "I definitely try to take things he does and learn from him. Being around him and coming from San Diego State like he did, I have learned so much about him. He is very much his own man. He makes his own decisions and has his priorities right. It is a blessing to watch him and see him work the way he does."
Far from being finished with his playing days, Faulk said he has not thought about what life after football holds for him. As far as Martz can tell, life without football doesn't seem a possibility. He sees Faulk getting into coaching or becoming a general manager down the road.
"There are just no limitations to what this guy is," Martz said. "You can't put any parameters on what Marshall can do, because I don't think he does that with himself. He's a very intelligent guy. One of the things that would make him an appropriate candidate [for a GM position] is that he is such a great communicator with people, whether it is players, coaches or whoever.
"Years from now, who knows what he is going to do in this league. I can't see him getting very far from football. He's just too passionate about the game."