[*****] Martz instrumental in demise of Rams
Wednesday, September 29, 2004
In the Super Bowl following the 2001 season, the New England Patriots played a nickel defense virtually the entire game, daring St. Louis to run.
The Rams didn't take the bait. Of course, you might remember, New England, a two-touchdown underdog, won the game -- the second-biggest upset in Super Bowl history.
St. Louis coach Mike Martz did not get his reputation as an offensive wizard by ordering his quarterbacks to hand off. Three seasons later, Martz has not changed. The Rams still live -- and, frequently these days, die -- by the pass.
St. Louis, which is averaging fewer running plays than any other team in the NFL, will bring a 1-2 record to San Francisco for a Sunday night game against the *****. The Rams have beaten only winless Arizona -- in a game the Cardinals led after three quarters -- and their roster includes better talent than their won-lost record shows.
The quarterback, Marc Bulger, leads the NFL in completions and has a completion percentage of 69.3. One receiver, Isaac Bruce, leads the league in receptions and receiving yardage, and the other, Torry Holt, was the league leader in 2003. Left tackle Orlando Pace might be the best in the game. Running back Marshall Faulk has slipped with age, but remains effective. And nine of the 11 starters return on a defense that at least was decent in the recent past.
So how come the Rams stink?
Yeah, it's time to take another look at Mad Mike.
As a head coach, Martz makes an easy target because he is outgoing, outspoken and different. But for all his offensive flair, Martz still doesn't get it. The Rams thought they were starting a dynasty when they won the Super Bowl under Dick Vermeil following the 1999 season, but they haven't come close to fulfilling their promise.
A month ago, this game looked like a certain loss for San Francisco. Now, despite how wretchedly the ***** played at Seattle, it's up for grabs.
The Rams have had the same problems for five seasons under Martz. They lack attention to detail, play sloppily, allow their quarterback to take too many hits (which is what happened to Kurt Warner) and use questionable strategy and play-calling that ignore the running game.
Since Martz became their head coach, the Rams have been more than 37 percent above the league average in losing turnovers and 17 percent above the league average in giving up quarterback sacks. Except for last season, they also have been penalized at a rate well above the league average.
Yet, rather than change, Martz apparently has become defiant about doing it his way.
When he was questioned in St. Louis this week about the abject lack of balance on offense -- 29 runs, 91 passes called in the past two games, both losses -- he said, "Look, you can find another coach, then. ... That's just the way it is. Get used to it.''
In three games, the Rams have allowed Bulger to be sacked 10 times, a team-record pace of more than 50 for the season. They are the only team in the league that has not forced a turnover. They have been penalized 50 percent more than their opponents. And Martz continues to confound with questionable strategy:
-- The play-calling. Even with Faulk and first-round pick Steven Jackson as running backs, the Rams won't run. In a tight game against New Orleans, which allowed 349 yards rushing in its two previous games, the Rams called runs on only 14 of 69 offensive plays.
-- Replay challenges that waste timeouts. In each of the first two games, Martz challenged a call that probably should not have been challenged.
-- Game management. Against the Saints, Bulger ran 19 yards for a touchdown that put the Rams three points ahead with 28 seconds remaining. Martz then called for a squib kickoff by Jeff Wilkins, even though Wilkins' two previous kickoffs had forced New Orleans to start drives at its own 20- and 15-yard lines. The Saints started at their 42 after this kick, and needed only three plays to move close enough for a tying field goal.
Even for Martz, it has been a strange month. The Rams did more contact work than usual in training camp and emphasized getting physical and running the ball. In the final exhibition game against the Raiders, they ran 45 times and, against Arizona in the opener, they ran the ball effectively.
Then they stopped running.
Meanwhile, the defense, which was supposed to be more aggressive under first-year coordinator Larry Marmie, is struggling, even with most of last year's starters. The Rams can't stop the run, allowing 5.4 yards a carry. They were forced to make adjustments in the secondary because of injuries. And they are the only team in the league that has not forced a single turnover.
All that's missing is someone saying, "Same old Rams.'' But they're getting close.
Under head coach Mike Martz, the Rams have been a sloppy team. Here's how their annual number of turnovers lost, sacks allowed and penalty yards compares with the league average since Martz became head coach in 2000, and how they have ranked in the league turnover differential:
E-mail Ira Miller at email@example.com.