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    Cool Martz looking to open up passing attack

    Martz looking to open up passing attack
    By John Clayton

    Macomb, Ill. -- The success of the Rams offense has naturally become its worst enemy. For five years, defenses have schemed to stop "The Show." Each year, more defenders hang back in zones. Cornerbacks developed tricks to slow down Isaac Bruce and Torry Holt. First, it was the Cover 2 (zone).

    "We started calling it the Cover 2 Hold-em zone," Bruce said. And "hold-em" they did. Cornerbacks waited at the eight-yard area and grabbed Bruce's jersey so many times that he would come back to the huddle with his shoulder pads sticking out. That didn't stop Martz. He'd still send three-to-five receivers into coverages of seven or eight. Passing is the strength of the Rams no matter the strategies against them, and in five years, the Rams have finished no lower than third in the league.

    But things change. Offenses evolve. Guys get older. Bruce is now 31 and in his 11th year although he looks no worse for the wear. Holt has established himself as a Pro Bowler at the age of 27. Marshall Faulk is 31 and you're starting to hear speculation about him retiring because of a bad knee. And now, Kurt Warner is gone, and Marc Bulger is at the helm.

    The Rams Show may be getting older, but it's reloading to a certain degree. The other day, Martz incorporated some aggressive running drills in which backs hit holes hard and linebackers crashed into bodies to stop them. There is a new emphasis on trying to run the ball. No, this isn't Ground Chuck. The Rams remain a passing team, but Martz wants more physical, aggressive play from his offensive line to bring some changes in the coverages he sees.

    The idea is if the Rams can run the ball better, defenses won't keep an extra safety in deep coverage.

    "We need to run the football extremely well," Holt said. "I think Coach has a big emphasis on that this year. We need to establish the line of scrimmage. If we can dominate up front, maybe we will see eight in the box and get some one-on-ones for the receivers. I can count on one hand the number of times I see eight in the box against us in a game. If we are running the ball five and six yards a pop, teams might bring that eighth man in the box and make it easier for Marc Bulger."

    Despite making a playoff run with Bulger last season, the running offense grounded to a halt. Part of that was the health of Faulk, who fought through another year of knee troubles. Part of that was strategy. Backs ran the ball a little less than 23 times a game. That's a half sometimes for Ricky Williams, which is one of the reasons he's retired in Asian watching his NFL career go up in smoke.

    What Martz is stressing is more production from the running offense, which averaged only 3.6 yards a carry. That average needs to go up to anywhere from 4.5 to 5 yards a carry. Faulk's back. So is talented and relatively unused Lamar Gordon. Undrafted second-year player Arlen Harris offers some versatility. On top of that, the Rams used their first-round pick on a Ricky Williams-type back in Steven Jackson.

    "We have to run the ball better than we did a year ago," Martz said. "There are a lot of logical reasons to do it, but the mindset part of it is the most important. We will try to get that going, as we did in 1999 (the Rams ranked fifth in rushing that year). It's easy for us to throw the ball in some sense. We have guys who have a pretty good concept of what we do. We can always go back into that quickly."

    Talent-wise, the Rams can challenge the Vikings as being the deepest running team in football. Faulk and Jackson are first-rounders. Gordon is a third-rounder. And Martz loves Harris. "You watch him out there and I'm just as excited about him as the other guys," Martz said. That might translate into many more rushing attempts a game, but the idea is to be more physical and definitely more efficient.

    One concern, however, is Faulk. For the first time in 11 seasons, Faulk is beginning to realize his days as an every-down back are numbered. He's so valuable to this offense that it's not out of the question for him to play three or four more years. He's best route-runner out of the backfield during his era and will remain a force -- as long as his knee doesn't become a liability.

    "This is the first year I thought about if the body isn't acting right, what do I do?" Faulk said. "Do I fight through it or do I not play. I have to evaluate it after the season. I love football. It's in me. I was given a gift to play this game, the physical gift and the mental gift to understand."

    After last season, doctors found a way to prolong his career. During an arthroscopic procedure, they found arthritis wasn't the main problem. Instead, there was a little flap of cartilage causing some problems. They shaved off a flap of the cartilage, and the knee was fine.

    Martz understands he has to be smart in how he uses Faulk in practices and in games. So much of the offense is geared to Faulk breaking runs and making catches in traffic. Last year, he rushed for 818 yards and caught 45 passes for 290 yards despite missing five games. The coach is letting Faulk go day-to-day in practice when the knee feels right. So far, he's put the pads on a couple of times, and tried a few runs.

    "I just have to take care of myself and day to day let my body tell me," Faulk said. "I have to listen to it. It doesn't listen to me. I watched what I did the first day of practice and looked pretty good on film."

    To help the knee, Faulk came to camp at 214 pounds, more than 10 pounds lighter than last season when he was asked to be a little heavier for the pounding. However, Faulk also understands that because of the team's new philosophy and his health, the other backs might factor into the plans more.

    "I have to understand if I have to take a lesser role if that becomes an issue," Faulk said.

    It isn't the issue. Faulk's the starter. The Rams just have to be smart how they use him. One issue behind this team is Warner. This is Bulger's team now. It's really been his team for two years. While Warner was fighting injuries, Bulger compiled an 18-4 record while he was winning over his teammates with his accuracy and humble leadership.

    Bulger doesn't have the same bravado as Warner, who had a flair for dramatics by standing in the pocket taking a hit while releasing a big-time pass. Bulger's game is efficiency. He's quiet. His game is more of the Trent Green-style than Warner's. It worked well enough for the Rams to invest a four-year, $19 million contract that included a $9 million signing bonus.

    "I feel like it's my team now," Bulger said. "It's not that much different than before, but last year was a learning experience. When you first start playing as the quarterback, you have to earn the players' respect. I'm not a rah-rah guy. I lead by example. Once you have been with these guys, they learn to trust you. They have some confidence in me."

    With Faulk, Holt, Bruce, Adam Timmerman and Orlando Pace, Bulger doesn't have to go outside of his comfort zone to be a leader. The Rams have plenty of offensive leaders. They've been in the forefront of NFL offenses for the past five years. The big difference from last summer is that Bulger is working with the first team during training camp. Warner did that last season. Now, Bulger has a whole summer to work on his efficiency running the offense.

    "Last year, I knew where guys specifically were supposed to be and I threw to the area they were supposed to be at," Bulger said. "Now, I can be more conscious to get the ball at 18 or 12 yards in specific routes."

    Though he isn't the most mobile quarterback and his deep balls are a little in question, Bulger's game is accuracy.

    "Chris Miller was the most accurate quarterback I've worked with, but Marc is the next best," Bruce said. "We just need to make the game easier for him. Running the ball is one of the things that will help. They may get us more eight in the box, and if that happens, we can get more plays on the outside in the passing game."

    The league's new edict for officials to penalize illegal contact against cornerbacks who mug Bruce and Holt should open things up even more. Warner's gone. Faulk is aging. But "The Show" goes on.

    Senior writer John Clayton covers the NFL for

  2. #2
    HUbison's Avatar
    HUbison is offline Superbowl MVP
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    Re: Martz looking to open up passing attack

    Combine this...
    The league's new edict for officials to penalize illegal contact against cornerbacks who mug Bruce and Holt should open things up even more.
    with some of this...
    There is a new emphasis on trying to run the ball.
    and an extra dose of...
    "Last year, I knew where guys specifically were supposed to be and I threw to the area they were supposed to be at," Bulger said. "Now, I can be more conscious to get the ball at 18 or 12 yards in specific routes."
    roll in a hefty amount of run-stopping D, and we should end up with...
    "The Show" goes on.

  3. #3
    RamTime Guest

    Re: Martz looking to open up passing attack

    “Cornerbacks developed TRICKS to slow down Isaac Bruce and Torry Holt.”
    TRahahah? Trihihihohoho… Trickekeke. Trickssasahaha. TRICKS! NOW THEY ARE CALLING THEM TRICKS? This clown needs to plug in the tape of Superbowl XXXVI.

    Cornerbacks around the league saw Superbowl XXXVI. Cornerbacks saw with their own eyes what was OK for teams to do against the Rams because cheating err TRICKS was the only way that they had a prayer of winning. They realized that when there is as wide of a gap in talent such as the Rams offense compared to the Patsies defense officials will allow holding, face guarding, err… face slugging I should say and tackling out of bounds. Oh, ya they also learned the TRICK of hitting, mugging and holding receivers past 5 yards down field. They learned these cute TRICKS watching the superbowl and it was all because the Rams receivers might catch the ball and make a touchdown, which would have been unfair to the Patriot’s. When one team so out classes another then cornerbacks are not the only ones who have cute little TRICKS. Even given all of the shenanigans listed above it was still not enough to hand the Patriots their scripted trophy. NFL Officials had to reach into their own bag of TRICKS as well. You remember as 100 million people looked on and on the final drive, the Patriot ball carrier was tackled in bounds. Officials had no choice but to TRICK us into believing that he got out of bounds otherwise they would have been hard pressed to stick to there TRICKY ending. 100 million people sat there and saw it as all perfectly normal because it had to be destiny! Well if it was destiny then their real MVP was Bin Laden. I mean after all, it only makes since that if there is no Bin Laden there is no need to make the Patriots the ward of the NFL. No need to play TRICKS on the Rams. If there is no destiny then there is no need for officials to play TRICKS on the Raiders. You remember how they TRICKED everyone into thinking that Brady threw an incomplete pass. Hell that one was so blatant it even TRICKED Brady! But the Raiders got the ball which once again was not fair to the Patriots so they TRICKED everyone into believing that play fell under the quarterback tuck rule gleefully handing the ball and the win to the Patriots. Let's not forget the Final dirty TRICK of watching the time run off the clock at the end of the game. Has a Kicker ever had a hang time of 7 seconds before that Field Goal TRICK? err.. Kick? Of course we should just join the masses and say golly that was dumb luck, or golly that was destiny however I for one have seen the tape too many times now and I am not so sure that the Rams themselves were not part of some concocted Patriotic scheme. The Rams defense looks as if they were reading from a script on that final drive. (“OK we have to let them into FG range now. It says so right here in the script”.) What sounds more believable?
    A.) How great Brady played and how he so deserved that MVP trophy he was awarded. Brady belongs in a higher league after that MVP performance. That was probably the greatest team ever to step onto a superbowl gridiron but the Rams tricked us into believing that they were the better team OR
    B.) We have been had.

    I have to vent at least once a year about that game please forgive me.

  4. #4
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    Re: Martz looking to open up passing attack

    Quote Originally Posted by HUbison
    Combine this...

    with some of this...

    and an extra dose of...

    roll in a hefty amount of run-stopping D, and we should end up with...

    With apologies to ELP ... the rest of the quote might go like this

    "Welcome back my friends to the show that never ends. We're so glad you could attend. Come inside, come inside. Stand behind the glass, the single plate of glass. Be careful as you pass, move along, move along. Come inside the show's about to start. Guaranteed to blow you're head apart. You've got to see the show. It's a dynamo. You've got to see the show ... it's rock 'n roll."

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