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With playoffs on line, Martz goes down with ship
By Bryan Burwell
Of the Post-Dispatch
Sunday, Jan. 02 2005
Well now, isn't this just how he likes it? There is this great, big, hostile
world of detractors swirling all around him once again, yet we find Mike Martz
standing in the midst of this not-so-quiet storm doing what he always does,
raging against the onslaught.
In similar situations, some embattled souls might meekly peek their heads out
the portal for just a second to cautiously gauge the conditions. But there is
just a bit of Captain Ahab in the besieged head coach as he leads his St. Louis
Rams into the final day of the NFL regular season at high noon Sunday inside
the Edward Jones Dome. There he stands, defiant and combative as ever, chest
puffed out, ignoring the turbulence churning around him. As always, he is Ahab,
feet firmly planted on the deck of the Pequod, his eyes riveted just slightly
above the horizon. All he cares about is the blind passion of his life's
You might want to know about Steven Jackson. You might beg for more dirt on
Kyle Turley. You might want to know about running the ball more, and passing
the ball less. You might be either overly embarrassed or deeply alarmed as the
7-8 Rams stand here teetering on the edge of postseason elimination in this
sudden-death showdown with the New York Jets.
This is great theater for you. But you are not Mike Martz.
"First of all, I'm not aware of all that - who's alarmed," he said earlier this
week, his lip curling, his tone snarling. "Nor do I care, to be honest with
So he really is some kind of football Ahab, or at least that is how it seems
sometimes. Doesn't it always appear as if he's on some monomaniacal mission?
His friends say it is blind focus and hail it as his greatest strength. His
enemies call it excessive compulsion, and swear it is his biggest weakness.
So now by the grace of the football gods - not to mention the parity-challenged
NFC - Martz has this flawed 7-8 team still in the hunt for a postseason berth,
and he's not about to apologize for it. Does it matter that the Rams could
sneak into the postseason as the unlikeliest division champ in NFL history if
things fall into place by the end of the day?
No, not at all, he'll tell you. "Have no fear of failing," he tells his crew.
"Don't worry about how many games it takes to win it. .... You want to play at
the highest level as well as you possibly play. And however that ends up, and
how many games you win, well that's what it is. You can't do anything more than
And ultimately, after all the turmoil of this strange season, can anyone
justifiably begrudge Martz if he does find a way to will this Rams squad into
That remains to be seen. The answer will depend largely on what the Rams do if
granted a postseason gift. A year ago, Martz turned an overachieving squad into
an impressive and surprising 12-win division winner, and earned a first-round
bye. But he then gave away a home game in the conference semifinals with some
reluctant play-calling in the final moments of the loss to the Carolina
Panthers. That was a huge black mark on his record, not to mention a severe hit
on his image as the NFL's ultimate "fast and furious" offensive free spirit.
Yet if he can get this unlikely team to beat the Jets in a game filled with
playoff-like consequence for both teams, it could be a new lease on life for
Martz. I don't care how much they have struggled all season with inconsistent
play on the defense and injuries and questionable play calling on offense.
Winning washes away a multitude of sins in this business.
So imagine the possibilities if the Rams beat the 10-5 Jets, and the sorry,
no-account Seattle Seahawks actually lose to Atlanta today. That would give the
Rams the NFC West title, and even with an 8-8 record, they would host a playoff
game in the first round.
The Rams are a different team at home (5-2) than on the road (2-6). They are
also a lot healthier now than they have been in a while. Strange things can
happen once you get into the postseason. Martz keeps telling us that his team
is on the verge of getting its act together now, that they are jelling at just
the right time. He keeps insisting that his young squad has matured and is
ready to shock the world.
Okay, prove it. Now's the chance. The opportunity is right in front of them.
The coach says his team is ready. His players say they would die for their
coach. If he can get an 8-8 team to travel deep into the postseason, that could
make up for a lot.
But can Ahab navigate his ship through these troubled waters, or will his blind
obsessions spoil another playoff journey? Earlier in the week, there he was
firmly and defiantly standing on the Pequod deck, once again exposing his
maddening philosophical preoccupation with the passing game. The Rams are 4-0
this season when they have a 100-yard rusher, and 39-0 in those circumstances
since 1995. Just as significant, they are 5-0 this season when they run the
ball 30 or more times, and 26-0 under similar conditions since 1999. So the
numbers clearly don't lie. Running the ball - or at least utilizing a more
balanced offensive attack that relies equally on runs and passes - makes the
Rams a more successful team.
Yet even though he knows those statistics by heart, Martz still has an
out-of-control fixation with the "fast and furious" way of football life. Even
though he actually reveled in the way Steven Jackson and Marshall Faulk
galloped through the Philadelphia defense in Monday night's 20-7 victory, you
just can't shake the feeling that our football Ahab is going to keep chasing
that darned (passing-game) whale no matter what the cost.
"It was different from what we normally do," he said. "But everything we do and
who plays every week and how we use them is relative to the defensive structure
and the defensive personal, not how we feel about it. I don't know if that
makes sense, but that's how we do it. ...
You might see us throw 30 balls in a row (against the Jets)," he added with
that devious smile of his. "You might see us throw 25 passes. Who knows? ... I
don't know. I don't know what I might do."
Oh, brother, why do I have that sinking feeling?
Re: With playoffs on line, Martz goes down with shipOriginally Posted by RamWraith[SIGPIC][/SIGPIC]
Re: With playoffs on line, Martz goes down with shipYou might see us throw 30 balls in a row (against the Jets)," he added withJUST WIN ONE FOR THE FANS
"HIT HARD, HIT FAST, AND HIT OFTEN"Adm. William "Bull" Halsey
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