By Jim Thomas
Of the Post-Dispatch
11/08/2004
Mike Martz fielded all the questions Monday about what went wrong against New England. And there was a lot of ground to cover, because obviously, a lot went wrong in the Rams' 40- 22 loss to the Patriots.

But then totally unsolicited, he offered some thoughts about accountability. More specifically, the accountability of Rams players.

"This is my fifth year here," Martz told reporters, referring to his 4 1/2-season tenure as Rams head coach. "You guys have been with me long enough to know, I've never tried to mislead you. Sugarcoat it. If I've screwed something up, I'll tell you.

"You try and take a bullet (for a player) whenever you can. But there comes a time when some of these guys have just got to play. Step up and make a play. Players make plays. That's just the way it is.

"And that's not a cop-out, or brushing it off on these guys. But I'm upset. We've got some guys that we're counting on, that have got to step up. That's the way it is."

Martz wouldn't name names. But it's clear he has put his team on notice. He is growing increasingly frustrated over execution - or lack thereof - on the playing field. The team continues to make too many mistakes, and too few plays, on game day.

Martz made many of these points to his players and coaches Monday during a team meeting. Right now, Martz is searching for something to jolt his team out of its current skid - a skid that includes two straight losses, but also recurring problems on special teams, on defense, and in pass-blocking.

The sense of urgency has never been greater because if the Rams don't display a dramatic reversal of fortunes this Sunday against Seattle, the season could be all but lost.

The Seahawks are 5-3; the Rams 4-4. If the Rams win, they pull even with Seattle record-wise at 5-4, but actually take the NFC West lead because they hold the tiebreaker edge by virtue of a 2-0 sweep in head-to-head competition.

But if the Rams lose to Seattle, they're two games back, and face the daunting task of playing four of their next five contests on the road.

"We just didn't play well (against New England)," Martz said. "That's not a secret. We all saw that. We've played much better in the past and I'm confident that we'll do that again."

But how? What's the way out?

"We understand what our problems are, and what we need to address," Martz said. "And there may be some personnel changes."

But eight games into the season, it's not like Martz and the Rams can reinvent the wheel. The 53-man roster is what it is, and there's not much left on the streets.

So it looks like Chris Dishman will continue to start at left guard and Grant Williams will continue to start at right tackle. Scott Tercero's shoulder injury is such that he might be able to continue playing, but at the moment, it's difficult for the Rams to count on him in a starting role at either right tackle or left guard.

There simply aren't many other options. The Rams could try Tom Nutten at left guard, but he hasn't played in an NFL regular-season game since November 2002. The Rams also could look at rookie Larry Turner at guard. Turner was an all-conference selection at center as a senior at Eastern Kentucky, but played guard all of his junior year and part of his sophomore season.

Overall, the pass-blocking problems against New England went much beyond Williams and Dishman. There were breakdowns across the board.

Martz said Marc Bulger's lost fumble on a sack late in the second quarter came under a maximum protection pass-blocking scheme. On a sack of Bulger at the start of the third quarter, Martz said, "We had six guys - seven guys - blocking and we get beat. ... So what are you going to do? That's not so much the issue - the scheme - at this point. It's just that when you've got a guy to block, you've got to block him."

Martz said he made some adjustments against New England in an effort to overcome the pass-blocking problems. "We were in the shotgun and we threw a bunch of slants," Martz said. "But you've got to start getting some chunks (bigger plays) after a while."

Defensively, the Rams are considering a couple of changes this week at linebacker, which has been one of the most unsettled units on the team this season. Already, the Rams have started three different middle linebackers, and two different strongside 'backers. There's a chance Robert Thomas or Brandon Chillar, or both, will be back in the lineup against the Seahawks. After sitting out two games with a sprained ankle, a healthy Thomas was reduced to a backup role against New England.

But as with the offensive line, the team's defensive problems against New England went beyond one or two players. Well beyond. Simply stated, the Rams aren't getting off blocks. And if you're not shedding a blocker, you're not going to make a tackle.

"You've got to get off blocks and get all 11 (defenders) on the ballcarrier," Martz said. "You cannot rely on one or two guys to make the play."