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  1. #1
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    Martz sensitive about Rams' struggling defensive unit

    Martz sensitive about Rams' struggling defensive unit
    By Jim Thomas
    Of the Post-Dispatch
    Saturday, Oct. 02 2004

    The many penalties have been puzzling. Special teams have been anything but
    special, with the exception of Jeff Wilkins. As for timeouts, replay
    challenges, and use - or is it neglect? - of the running game, well, "Mad" Mike
    Martz has been particularly maddening this season.

    But when all is said and done, the most disappointing element in the Rams' 1-2
    start has been the play of the defense. The Rams rank 30th in total defense and
    30th in rushing defense. That's third from the bottom.

    For the first time since the move to St. Louis in 1995, the Rams have gone
    three straight games without a takeaway.

    Arizona's Emmitt Smith ran like he was 25 instead of 35 against them in the
    season opener. In Week 2, Atlanta's Michael Vick played like Superman; he's
    looked like Clark Kent against everybody else. And last week, New Orleans'
    Aaron Stecker gashed them for 106 rushing yards. Not only was this a career
    high for Stecker - it was practically a career. He had never run for more than
    175 yards in a season in his four previous NFL campaigns.

    "We've just got to play better," Martz says. "I don't think it has anything to
    do with Larry (Marmie)."

    This obviously is a sensitive subject for Martz. He replaced one good friend
    (Lovie Smith) with another good friend (Marmie) as defensive coordinator after
    Smith became head coach in Chicago. In fact, it's such a sensitive subject that
    Martz refused to make Marmie available to be interviewed for this article.

    Marmie's hiring in St. Louis drew some criticism because of the
    less-than-stellar performance by the Arizona Cardinals' defense during his four
    seasons there as defensive coordinator.

    "Whatever problems we have right now on defense, we certainly ended up last
    season with," Martz said. "It's not like we were playing such great defense at
    the end of the season last year. When you look at the rushes and the yards per
    rush, that's a big concern, whoever the coordinator is.

    "We've just got to do a better job of tackling at the point. We've had some
    missed tackles that have ended up in big plays. You can't have that. And that
    has nothing to do with who's coaching the defense. Or the system. Or anything
    else. We've just got to make a play, and make a tackle."


    Not stepping up

    The Rams haven't been swarming to the ball, one of their trademarks under
    Smith. So when somebody misses a tackle, there's no one there to bail him out.
    Or no one there to jar the ball loose for a fumble after the initial tackler
    makes contact.

    Some of the Rams' top defensive playmakers simply haven't been making many
    plays. Strong safety Adam Archuleta, slowed by a nagging back problem, hasn't
    played up to his standards. Tommy Polley, among the Rams' leading tacklers in
    each of the prior three seasons, was benched during the preseason in part
    because coaches weren't happy with his practice habits.

    Cornerback Travis Fisher, one of four players to share the 2003 team
    interception lead (with four), has been sidelined for the past six weeks
    because of a fractured forearm.

    Over the past three seasons, only two NFL players had more sacks than defensive
    end Leonard Little. But Little has drawn extra attention from opposing defenses
    this season - both of the legal and extracurricular variety. After several near
    misses, Little finally got his first sack of the season against New Orleans.

    To their credit, Rams defenders aren't making excuses. This isn't a situation
    like the defensive collapse of 2000, where many of the mainstays on that side
    of the ball were in denial about their play, almost refusing to concede there
    was a problem.

    "When you don't play well, people want to know why," defensive captain Tyoka
    Jackson said. "And they start asking questions about things that have nothing
    to do with it. A play here, a play there, these questions aren't even asked.

    "But those plays didn't get made. It's the players who make the plays. Or don't
    make the plays. So we have to look at the players and say: Are we playing well
    enough to win? The answer is no on defense. Can we? Sure. Of course we can. And
    will we? Yes. I believe so, no question about it.

    "But you don't need to look at the coaches, or the scheme, or anything else.
    Just look at the players."


    Numbers game

    By the numbers, the Rams defensive performance isn't all that different from
    the '03 version after three games. Last year at this time, the Rams had allowed
    71 points. This year, it's 72. Last year at this point, the Rams were yielding
    5.2 yards per carry in the running game. This year, it's 5.4. The Rams were
    26th in total defense and 24th in rushing defense a year ago at this point
    compared to the current 30-30 ranking.

    Of course, one big difference is turnovers. The Rams had five takeaways last
    year at this time, compared to zero at the moment.

    Big plays also are hurting the Rams' defense. Already this year, the Rams have
    allowed 27 "big" plays - which is defined as pass plays of 20 yards or more, or
    running plays of 10 yards or more. Last year at this time, the Rams had allowed
    21 such plays.

    "In every game here the last two weeks, we've given up several big plays,"
    Martz said. "It's not a succession of a lot of (plays). It's two or three real
    big runs. Or you get two or three big passes. You're looking at about half a
    dozen plays that you just need to eliminate."

    Despite all of Vick's running around two Sundays ago, remove Justin Griffith's
    62-yard catch and run (after a missed tackle by Archuleta), and Alge Crumpler's
    33-yard reception (on a near interception by Jerametrius Butler), and the Rams
    win that game. Or at least take it to the wire.

    Against New Orleans, the Rams were playing fairly well defensively until the
    Saints caught them in a blitz on Stecker's 42-yard touchdown run midway through
    the second quarter.

    "We play a single-gap defense," defensive tackle Ryan Pickett said. "So if one
    person is out of place, the whole defense breaks down. We have to eliminate
    that one person being out of place."

    Blown gap assignments - where a defender isn't in the proper gap (between
    blockers), or gets there too late - usually leads to busted plays. That's
    particularly true on blitzes.

    "Coach Marmie has a different twist on things," linebacker Robert Thomas said.
    "He likes to attack a little bit more (than Smith). That's what makes the
    defense a little more risky. If we attack one way and they run the other way,
    it can be a big play."


    Blitz brigade

    By unofficial count, the Rams blitzed 12 times in the opener against Arizona,
    nine times against Atlanta, and 14 times against New Orleans. That may not seem
    like a lot, but it's more than Smith did. The Rams would like to blitz even
    more often than that. But they've been hesitant to do so with Travis Fisher and
    then DeJuan Groce (knee) sidelined by injury, because blitzing puts a lot of
    pressure on cornerbacks in coverage.

    Better health in the secondary, and at linebacker - where all six LBs have
    missed at least part of one game with injuries - might help free up Little to
    get to the passer. Little has faced considerably more double-teaming and
    chip-blocking by tight ends and running backs than he has in the past.

    "There's no question," Martz said. "In fact, a lot of the protections are
    turned toward him."

    On game tape, it's clear the Saints took it a couple of steps farther,
    frequently grabbing his jersey and even tugging on his facemask once to keep
    him away from quarterback Aaron Brooks.

    So how do you counter the extra attention on Little?

    "You try to get other guys involved, and you have to do different things with
    him," Martz said. "And we are. As we get some guys healthy, we're going to move
    into a different area, in terms of defense, and do some different things."

    All along, Martz planned to have the Marmie defense evolve beyond Smith's Cover
    2 zone concept into a more multiple scheme.

    "We're doing different things," Archuleta said. "I think we have much more in
    our package than we ever did, as far as our zone dogs and our blitzing. We're
    doing more. And we have more multiple fronts."

    So there has been an adjustment process, and some hiccups along the way. But as
    Archuleta points out, the Rams are far removed from minicamps, and more than
    two months removed from the start of training camp.

    "You'd think we should be adjusted by now," he said. "I mean, I would hope.
    We're professionals. But I think it's just a matter of trusting our teammates,
    understanding that our guys are going to be there, and just playing hard, going
    full speed. If you shoot your guns, do it full speed."

    But so far, the Rams are shooting too many blanks


  2. #2
    afrightertoo Guest

    Re: Martz sensitive about Rams' struggling defensive unit

    Quote Originally Posted by RamDez
    Martz sensitive about Rams' struggling defensive unit

    Jim Thomas
    Of the Post-Dispatch
    Saturday, Oct. 02 2004

    Martz says. "I don't think it has anything to
    do with Larry (Marmie)."
    He can say whatever he wants, but the D is worse than what it was at the end of last year. And the Cards are better without him. They have more sacks, TOs, and given up less points than last year.

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