Give the coach his due, he had the Rams ready
By Bryan Burwell
Of the Post-Dispatch
Because he possesses an audacious and occasionally brazen coaching style that is equal parts hair raising and hair pulling, Mike Martz tends to be a rather polarizing fellow. There is no other head coach in the NFL whose every move is as scrutinized or criticized as much as Mad Mike. There's no other sideline boss in pro football who's so roundly imitated or so routinely denigrated as the Rams' head coach.
Truly there have been a few too many Sundays when the hair pulling overwhelms the hair-raising nature of his football philosophies. But sometimes, the bashing needs to take a rest. Sometimes you just must give the man his due.
This is one of those times. Criticize him next week. Save the hand wringing over his fast-and-furious approach to football for some other day, too. Just hold your tongue, put down your angry placards and stop with the irrational e-mails, because Sunday -all week, really - Mad Mike coached his rear end off.
As he walked off the field at Edward Jones Dome after the Rams' inspiring (and inspired) 23-12 victory over the fraudulent Seattle Seahawks, our favorite gray-haired football eccentric was a man loving life. Mad Mike blew kisses to a few admiring fans, pumped his fist in the air and smiled broadly as he trotted gleefully through the end zone tunnel toward the locker room to the cheers of 66,044 witnesses to one of the most significant regular-season victories of his career.
"I was just excited about getting these guys passionate again," Martz said. "If you don't coach passion every day, they start to slide."
Well, Martz surely had done his job. He'd just coached a near-perfect game and a near-perfect week. No one mumbled about any failed strategies or any odd clock management. Heck, even when he threw two red flags to challenge a few officials' calls, the only booing that this delirious mob spit out was directed at the zebras.
For the past six days, Martz had turned this week into a high-energy referendum on his ability to motivate a team that was on the verge of floundering into mediocrity. He had ranted and raged and challenged his players to step up and make plays and stop making excuses. It is always risky business when a coach goes public like this, because if the Rams had lost, it would have given Martz the appearance of nothing more than a desperate man.
But the scoreboard glowed with good news. Rams 23, Seahawks 12, and he looked like a wise strategist. Martz kept talking about players making plays and that's precisely what they did as they once again exposed these phony-baloney pretenders from Seattle and reminded them who still has a firm grip on the supremacy of the NFC West.
But if this was a game about players making plays as Martz kept telling us it would be, ultimately it was also about a coach stepping up and doing some mighty good coaching, too. He spent every day on the field and in meetings coaxing, prodding, needling and exhorting his squad to rekindle an emotional sense of urgency that will be mandatory equipment if the Rams expect to get through these last seven games, win this division and charge into the postseason.
As Leonard Little stood next to Martz while the team warmed up before the game, the defensive end looked to his boss and knew the boss's high energy certainly hadn't been left on the practice field. "I asked him, 'So, Coach, what's up? What are we gonna do today?'" Little said. "He looked at me with this gleam in his eyes and told me, 'We're gonna attack 'em, Leonard. We're gonna attack 'em all day. On offense and defense. We're gonna go after 'em!' He was fired up. I haven't seen him that fired up in a while."
So as soon as the game began, and the Rams took over on offense, Martz was true to his word. He called 13 consecutive passes and in the blink of an eye, the Rams led 14-0. For all you balanced- offense freaks (me included), how's this for a nice way to keep that offense in perfect harmony:
After starting the game with all that passing, the Rams ended the game with a ground-gobbling, clock-controlling running attack that produced an impressive total of 202 yards on 31 carries for the game. In the fourth quarter, they grinded it out with Marshall Faulk (18 carries 139 yards) and Steven Jackson (10 carries, 47 yards) and an eye-popping 6.5 yards-per-carry average. And that balanced out just perfectly with Marc Bulger's 23-of-34, 262-yard, one-TD show.
The defense, which still has some huge problems trying to contain any good running back, played with much more inspired energy. Just as they did under Lovie Smith, Rams defenders flew all over the field, even forcing two rare turnovers (one fumble, one interception).
You could tell that whatever emotional buttons Martz pushed, they worked ... at least for this week.
"I didn't plan it that way," he said, trying to be humble. "It just happened. It's hard to explain."
I don't care if he can explain it. I just hope he can keep on getting it done for seven more weeks as impressively as he did it this week.
Re: Give the coach his due, he had the Rams ready
Martz did a fine job of coaching, motivating, and play calling this week. He even stayed calm during the loss of Pace, and made the necessary offensive line adjustments.
:ramlogo: Nice job Martz. :ramlogo: