BY JEFF GORDON
Post-Dispatch Online Sports Columnist
Monday, Oct. 11 2004

NFL defensive coordinators aren’t feeling so good today.

The Rams offense has officially reloaded. Air Martz flew again Sunday in
Seattle, blitzing the previously stringent Seahawks defense with a 23-point
outburst.

Rookie running back Steven Jackson has given this team a power running element
to complement all the speed – and he can bust some big plays of his own.

Young receivers Shaun McDonald and Kevin Curtis have finally arrived, albeit a
year later than hoped because of injuries.

Tight end Brandon Manumaleuna had a special Kellen Winslow Moment in Seattle,
suggesting he could earn a bigger role. Receiver Isaac Bruce has turned back
the clock to ’99, playing at a Pro Bowl level.

Quarterback Marc Bulger beat the Seahawks with an accurate deep throw –
something we haven’t seen much of – and receiver Torry Holt is the third- or
fourth-best player in the league at his position.

Many positives emerged from Sunday’s comeback victory, including a sturdy
second half from a battered defense and a rare big play from the special teams.

But the most encouraging development was the big-play arrival of McDonald,
Curtis and Jackson. McDonald and Curtis provide explosiveness the Rams have
sought since losing slot receiver Az Zahir-Hakim to free agency.

When did Mike realize these kids were ready for more heavy lifting?

“You don’t know, really, until you put them on the field in key situations like
this where they have to make a play to win a game,” Martz said at his Monday
news conference. “They can kind of blend in and make a play during the game,
but when they make plays that are a major reason why you win games, then you
know they are at that point where everybody gets excited.”

With the NFL cracking down on the clutching and grabbing of receivers coming
out of their break, the Rams can create serious match-up problems for most
teams.

The Seahawks believed they had the secondary depth to match up against the
Rams. And Bulger strafed them during the frantic rally, spreading the ball to
various targets.

The Rams mounted that historic rally without getting much from running back
Marshall Faulk, who ran ineffectively and dropped a couple of key passes late.
But as we’ve seen earlier this season, Faulk still has plenty to give.

Think of the possibilities. The Rams can attack with their four-receiver set,
with six guys (including reliable Dane Looker) to choose from. They can throw
to tight ends, since Manumaleuna and Cam Cleeland can both catch the ball.

The two-back set is a possibility too, with Faulk and Jackson playing at once.
Personally, I’d like to see Faulk deployed in the slot more often so Jackson
can pound away between the tackles.

If the Rams offensive line continues to hold up – and keeping defenses from
beating the confidence out of Bulger – Martz will be able to turn these guys
lose.

We all know how Mad Mike wants to coach this team. We all know that he wants to
attack, attack and attack some more.

And now Martz can.