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In riveting battle with Rhodes, Martz is in his right mind
By Bernie Miklasz
Of the Post-Dispatch
Sunday, Jan. 09 2005
On Saturday in Seattle, Rams coach Mike Martz took us on another journey to the
center of his football mind. And what a strange, thrilling but satisfying trip
Martz's offense came out a 27-20 winner over an old nemesis, Seahawks defensive
coordinator Ray Rhodes. Martz prevailed with brilliant play-calling early in
the game and by finding the golden touch again in the final minutes.
Of course, things did get muddled in between. It's never entirely smooth, is
it? And after all these years, do we expect anything else? Of course, the Rams
wasted timeouts, and I don't intend that as criticism. Spending timeouts
quickly is a way of life around Rams football, and the habit hasn't cost the
Rams a victory.
Complicating matters were transmitter problems. For a time, quarterback Marc
Bulger couldn't hear the plays being sent in by Martz. That cost the Rams a
couple of timeouts, at least. Martz was slow to send in some plays. And the
confusion caused a little tension, with Martz going off and Bulger snapping
back. Relax - there was no need for Martz to call NFL security.
"Obviously (Martz) wants to know why the play didn't get in," Bulger said.
"It's tough to explain it to him. ... Coach doesn't want to hear that. We talk
to him and say, 'Can we get the play in a little quicker?' When he gets in the
mode of calling plays and we're moving the ball, he's great. But if we get a
penalty and it's second and 15 and you've got to think about a play, it's
tougher for him. You ask him to go quicker, so you say it in a nice, slow way.
You don't want to offend him."
Then Bulger summed up the customary Martz-related drama with these succinct
words: "The give and take of all we do is worth it."
And the strategy used in the win over Seattle demonstrated the finer side of
"Martz Madness." Martz's initial game plan was superb: He wanted to exploit
Michael Boulware, Seattle's young and overly aggressive safety. Indeed,
Boulware was suckered by the Rams' formations and Bulger's fakes, got caught
out of position, and was nailed on deep passes to set up the Rams' first two
Rhodes is wily, however. Naturally, he adjusted. Rhodes got the Rams
off-balance with his line stunts, and the Seahawks sacked Bulger five times.
The stunts also gummed up the Rams' running game. And Rhodes seemed to do a
shrewd job of disguising his coverages; the Rams' passing attack struggled in
the game's middle stages. Bulger completed only nine of 21 through one cold
After taking a 14-3 lead 1 minute 28 seconds into the second quarter, the Rams
didn't score another touchdown until bagging the winning TD with 2:11
remaining. Martz probably got a little pass happy; during one extended stretch
the Rams ran the ball only six times in 27 plays. Martz seemed to be falling
into Rhodes' trap.
But with the Rams down 20-17, Martz's offense put together two drives that
netted the field goal and the winning touchdown. Martz returned to the run,
calling nine rushes on the final 18 plays to keep Rhodes guessing.
Martz's play calls on the winning TD drive were wonderful. On third and 2 from
Seattle's 32-yard line, Martz used four wideout and halfback Marshall Faulk.
Wideout Shaun McDonald went in motion from left to right, parking just over
Bulger's right shoulder. Wideout Kevin Curtis was lined up in the right slot,
with Isaac Bruce flanked to his outside.
At the snap, Curtis and Bruce broke hard to the middle. McDonald looped outside
of them on a swing route to the right side. Extra Seattle cornerback Kris
Richard, set up inside, tried to get outside to cover McDonald but got trapped
in the traffic congestion caused by Curtis and Bruce.
McDonald was all alone when he caught Bulger's flair pass and sped for a
31-yard gain. It's a play that Martz put into the offense several weeks ago,
waiting to save it for the precise time. Bang.
On the winning touchdown to tight end Cam Cleeland, the Rams faced a
third-and-3 from Seattle's 17. Martz sent in a jumbo package: two tight ends, a
fullback, a halfback and only one wideout. It was a ploy devised to trick
rookie Seattle linebacker Niko Koutouvides, who was matched up on Cleeland.
When Bulger faked the handoff to Faulk, Koutouvides hesitated, looking into the
Rams' backfield, and Cleeland ran by him. Bulger delivered a perfect high
strike for the TD.
Both huge plays represented Martz at his best. He stymied the Seahawks with his
creative use of formations, motion and personnel groupings. He identified the
inexperience, the weakness, in the Seattle defense and assaulted it. And he
used the element of surprise; McDonald and Cleeland hadn't caught a pass all
day until that final drive.
"It's nice when all of your formations and personnel changes actually pay off
at the end," Bulger said.
Martz won most of the skirmishes on third down. The Rams converted nine of 14
third-down plays. On third-down passes, Bulger completed seven of 10 for 95
yards and two touchdowns for a passer rating of 139.5
Pardon the boxing analogy, but the Martz vs. Rhodes matchup went something like
this: Martz knocked Rhodes down twice early. Rhodes recovered and dominated the
middle rounds. But Martz came back and registered the late knockout to win.