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Defense has struggled under Rams' Marmie
By Jim Thomas
Of the Post-Dispatch
Saturday, Dec. 18 2004
The first time Larry Marmie faced his old team, there was no cause for alarm.
Little reason for disappointment.
Back on Sept. 12, the Arizona Cardinals were limited to 10 points, managed a
modest 14 first downs and gained only 260 yards. But a lot has happened to the
Rams' defense since their season-opening 17-10 victory over the Big Red - and
most of it not good:
They have been ranked as low as 30th in total defense in the NFL, or
third to last.
They currently have just 13 takeaways, ahead of only Green Bay and
Oakland (with 12 each).
In eight of their 13 games this season, the Rams have allowed a
"Certainly, it hasn't gone like I envisioned it would go," said Marmie, the
Rams' first-year defensive coordinator. "I thought that it would be smoother.
That we would be more productive defensively. That we would have continued to
do a lot of the things that they had done here in the past. ... I didn't
envision it being like it is right now."
Some things have been out of Marmie's control. Such as the broken forearm that
sidelined cornerback Travis Fisher for nearly half the season. Or the bad back
that has taken much of the pop out of Adam Archuleta at strong safety.
Or the fact that age and injury have conspired against eight- time Pro Bowler
Aeneas Williams. Or the five lineup combinations at linebacker in the team's
first 10 games.
"There were some key (injuries)," Marmie said. "But people really don't want to
hear about that. People really don't care who's out there. They just assume
that who ever's out there ought to all play the same way."
Without a doubt, the most confounding thing about this season for Marmie has
been the dearth of turnovers. Last season, the Rams' defense led the league
with 46 takeaways. Since the franchise moved to St. Louis in 1995, only the
2000 season Super Bowl-champion Baltimore Ravens have had more (49). This
season, the Rams are on pace for just 16.
"I know it's been disappointing to our players, because they took great pride
in the turnovers that they created last year," Marmie said. "We've got the same
players, and I think we're coaching it the same way. Because Bill (Kollar) was
here and Perry (Fewell) was here - and they were a part of the emphasis that
was put on it last year."
Kollar is the Rams' defensive line coach; Fewell coaches the secondary.
"So if you're not careful, you look at it and say, 'What's the difference?' "
Marmie said. "Well, it looks like I'm the only different thing here. Maybe
The ASU connection
Some Marmie critics have come to that conclusion. But coach Mike Martz
continues to stand by Marmie, a longtime friend. Martz was on Marmie's staff at
Arizona State in the late 1980s and early '90s.
For his part, Marmie says he doesn't feel more pressure to succeed just because
Martz is a good friend.
"No. I honestly can say that I do not," Marmie said. "Because while we were
friends, I also knew that Mike wasn't hiring me because I was his friend. I had
strong feelings of that. I felt that he was hiring me because he thought I was
a good football coach, and a hard-working guy. And a guy that would be loyal to
the head coach and to the program and to the players."
The man Marmie replaced as defensive coordinator in St. Louis - Lovie Smith -
also is a close friend of Martz's. And Marmie's. In fact, Marmie coached Smith
as an assistant at Tulsa in the 1970s. Smith was on Marmie's Arizona State
staff from 1988-91.
Smith was well-liked by his Rams players - practically beloved. Knowing Smith
like he does, Marmie didn't worry about having a tough act to follow. He knew
that coming it.
"I think so highly of him, and have such great respect for him as a person, I
knew how (Rams players) were going to feel about him," Marmie said. "I
understood that. I feel the same way.
"I told them that the first time I met with the whole defense. We talked about
that a little bit. What I wanted to do was come in and fit, and hopefully help
us continue to get better. Obviously, we haven't done that."
Marmie said he isn't disillusioned or discouraged by what has transpired so far
this season. Nor does he feel the personnel he basically inherited is of lesser
skill than anticipated.
"I like the personnel that we have," Marmie said. "I like the character that we
have. ... Do we need some help? Do you want to upgrade your roster? You're
always looking for that. But I think we've got personnel that you can win big
Change of philosophy
If there's one thing Marmie and Martz would approach differently, it's the way
they installed the Rams' new defensive scheme. Simply stated, the Rams have
evolved from the Cover 2 scheme used under Smith.
They are more multiple in coverage, mixing in man with a variety of zone
packages. They are blitzing more than Smith did. They are moving people around
more in their front seven, and playing Archuleta more in the "box" (up close to
Perhaps Carolina quarterback Jake Delhomme, with the benefit of outside
perspective, best summed up the changes.
"They're a different team defensively in scheme from what they were last year,"
Delhomme said. "Last year, it was more of the Tampa Bay Cover 2 type stuff.
Whereas now, they're eight in the box, and they're going (to) pressure you and
things of that nature. It's almost like they're playing like their offense. You
know, they're attacking on defense."
Instead of installing the new defense right away in minicamp and training camp,
it has been served up gradually to the players over the course of the season.
In hindsight, that has led to uncertainty, tentative play, and at times
"When we came in, the basic idea was that we weren't going to change a whole
lot of things at one time," Marmie said.
Marmie and the Rams planned to retain some of the most successful elements of
the Cover 2, keep the same terminology, and then kind of add and supplement as
they went along.
"Looking back on it now, we probably should have been more aggressive in our
installation in training camp, and even all the way back to our minicamp,"
Marmie said. "But moreso in training camp, we should have been more aggressive
and maybe installed more things at a faster pace. And then had a chance to come
back and refine them as we went into the preseason."
The new system is more complex and requires more study than the old one. Martz
says Rams defensive players now have to prepare for a game much like Rams
offensive players. But if a defensive player spends too much time thinking on
game day, the results can be disastrous.
"You'd like for your guys to be able to go out and, as everybody says, play
fast," Marmie said. "And that when the call is made in the huddle ... they know
exactly what's expected of them.
"I'm not sure it has always been that way. There were times that we probably
haven't played as fast, or played with as much confidence. And then, if
something bad happens, it has a tendency probably to even shatter (confidence)
a little bit more."
Keep in mind, too, that for most of the Rams' defensive starters, Smith's Cover
2 defense was the only scheme they knew in the NFL.
"It's hard changing systems," Archuleta said. "My rookie year (2001), pretty
much everybody was brought in at the same time and we all learned and grew
under one system and one philosophy. We have a very young defense, so all
they've ever known in the NFL is this one way."
Eight of the Rams' 11 primary starters on defense entered the NFL in 2001
(Smith's first year in St. Louis) - or later.
"Sometimes it's hard to get all 11 guys and all the coaches on the same page,"
Archuleta said. "And sometimes, when you're hesitant, you can't play well. You
can't play good defense. There's a lot of hesitation in there at times. And
that's a transition period."
"We'll be OK"
The transition period has lasted much longer than either Marmie or Martz
anticipated. But over the past month, there have been signs of change. In that
time, the Rams have improved from that 30th ranking to 23rd in total defense.
The Rams haven't given up a touchdown in their last two home games. And in
their last two games, period, the Rams have yielded a total of 26 points and
468 yards. In terms of yards allowed, it's the best two-game stretch for the
Rams since early in the 2003 season.
As Marmie prepares to face his former team, the Arizona Cardinals, for the
second time this season, perhaps the light switch finally is in the "on"
position for the Rams' defense.
"This defense is finally getting the picture, I think," defensive end Leonard
Little said. "At first, not everyone knew what they were doing, and were out of
place. Now, I think people get what we need to do on defense. We've just got to
keep building on it. Keep building every week, and we'll be OK."
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