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    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

    Keeping the Rams Nation Talking

  • #2
    Re: Martz sensitive about Rams' struggling defensive unit

    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.


    Related Topics


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      Associated Press

      ST. LOUIS - At long last, St. Louis Rams coach Mike Martz believes his beleaguered defense is ready to stand alongside his still somewhat high-powered offense.

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      "I know it sounds silly after the last few weeks," Martz said. "But I'm really encouraged."

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      "Every week is an opportunity," defensive end Bryce Fisher said. "It's going to be important for us to go out there and prove ourselves."

      When Lovie Smith left to become head coach of the Chicago Bears after three successful seasons as defensive coordinator in St. Louis, the Rams made the transition from a bending cover-2 defense to one with multiple schemes and featuring more pressure. But the transition to new coordinator Larry Marmie has been rocky in part because players had become attached to the old ways.

      Martz blames himself for introducing the new defense gradually instead of making a clean break, an approach that has contributed to the Rams losing four of five.

      "It wasn't fair to Larry and it took a while for these guys to completely accept what we're doing," Martz said. "Now, the change is complete.

      "They've accepted it and they're trying to learn it."

      Week after week, players have noted that minor breakdowns in gap coverage in what essentially is an eight-man front have resulted in huge gains for the offense. This week, they hope, they will seal those gaps.

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      -12-03-2004, 05:45 AM
    • RamWraith
      St. Louis Continues Search for Takeaways
      by RamWraith
      Wednesday, September 29, 2004

      By Nick Wagoner
      Staff Writer

      Turnovers. The one defining characteristic of the Rams’ defense in their dominant five-year run has been turnovers.

      Interceptions and fumble recoveries, no matter the method, takeaways can cure a lot of what ails a defense. Give up 450 yards of offense? No big deal, get the ball. Without them, an opportunistic defense becomes a mediocre one.

      A defense that forces turnovers can alter a game in a matter of moments. Last year, St. Louis had such a defense, as they had a league-leading 46 takeaways. That number more than made up for the 315.8 yards per game it allowed. The totals did more than keep the opponent from scoring; it instantly gave the ball back to one of the league’s most prolific offenses.

      With three games in the books this season, the Rams find themselves still searching for their elusive first takeaway. At the same stage of the season last year, St. Louis had three fumble recoveries and an interception.

      During the offseason, there were a few changes on the defensive coaching staff. Defensive coordinator Lovie Smith left to take the head job with Chicago. Former Arizona defensive coordinator Larry Marmie replaced him. The philosophy didn’t change much, but there is still an adjustment to a new coach and that might have contributed to the lack of takeaways.

      Rams’ coach Mike Martz said any time a new coach is added there is an adjustment period.

      “I think anytime you inherit a system and he’s very aware of the system, he has to put his own stamp on it and be able to adjust with the personnel,” Martz said. “We’re in the process of going through some of that. I said at the beginning of the year we’ll have some growing pains early, but eventually we’ll be a pretty good team.”

      The opportunities for turnovers have been there. Instead of converting, though, those close plays have resulted in near misses instead of big plays, none more than the painstaking almost got it miss by cornerback Aeneas Williams in the Rams’ 28-25 loss to New Orleans on Sunday.

      Saints’ quarterback Aaron Brooks fired a pass over the middle into the endzone with his team trailing 17-16 and more than eight minutes to play in the game. Williams broke on the ball, as he has so many times in his career, and appeared to have a game-saving interception. Instead, the ball squirted through the future Hall of Famer’s hands and fell into Saints’ receiver Joe Horn’s for a touchdown.

      After the game, Williams shouldered the blame for the loss, pointing directly to that play.

      "When I have an opportunity in the end zone to make a play on a ball and don't, that's a serious letdown to my teammates," Williams said. "We wouldn't even be in the situation that we were in at the end of the game. I have to make that play."
      -09-30-2004, 06:38 AM
    • RamWraith
      Rams Getting Defensive
      by RamWraith
      Monday, September 19, 2005

      By Nick Wagoner
      Senior Writer

      It has been quite awhile since the Rams last put a game in the hands of their defense, but that’s exactly what they did Sunday afternoon in Arizona.

      And to the credit of that revamped St. Louis defense, it did the job when it needed to. The Rams held the Cardinals to four field goals and were able to keep Arizona from scoring on a last-minute drive to preserve a 17-12 victory at Sun Devil Stadium.

      “It would have been nice to hold them to three or four and out in their territory and let our offense take a knee,” strong safety Adam Archuleta said. “But this was a good test for our defense. I think we kind of needed that to get some confidence. I’m glad it ended up this way.”

      There have been few Rams’ teams in recent years that anyone would rather see the defense on the field than the offense with the game on the line. Of course, anytime a team has a lead it would prefer to have its offense on the field to run the clock out, but it’s a change of pace to hear one of the Rams’ defensive leaders saying that they wanted to be on the field.

      That is the type of change that could pay huge dividends down the road for a team that has spent the better part of the past year searching for a defensive identity. That’s not to say that the Rams boast the best defense in the league, but after a couple of weeks, it certainly stacks up among the top half of the league.

      With a pair of Monday night games still to be played, the Rams sit at No. 15 in total defense, allowing 298 yards per game. But a further glimpse at where those yards have come from would seem to indicate that St. Louis has been even better in those two games against San Francisco and Arizona.

      The ***** boosted their yardage total with the help of a number of trick plays, including a pass by receiver Arnaz Battle that netted 24 yards. The Cardinals had modest numbers in Sunday’s game until they were able to post almost 80 yards on their frantic, last-minute drive.

      But the biggest difference so far for the Rams defense resides in the front seven, where the defensive line is getting push on passing downs and eating up blockers on run plays and the improved linebacker crew is hitting its fills and punishing the running backs.

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      -09-20-2005, 06:14 AM
    • RamWraith
      Martz in good mood at Rams' late stand
      by RamWraith
      Defense credited with helping to even team's record

      ST. LOUIS - Being 1-1 isn't so bad when you know, like the St. Louis Rams do, that you easily could be 0-2.

      "It feels good obviously to win a division game on the road," Rams coach Mike Martz said Monday, the day after the team's harrowing 17-12 win over the Arizona Cardinals. "Those things are hard to do, particularly at the beginning of the year. After a disappointing start up in San Francisco, to be 1-1 feels good."

      The Rams are 6 1/2 -point favorites over the Tennessee Titans (1-1) at noon Sunday at the Edward Jones Dome.

      The Rams-Cardinals game went down to the wire.

      The Cardinals had first-and-goal at the St. Louis 5 with 27 seconds left in the fourth quarter.

      Rams strong safety Adam Archuleta sacked Arizona quarterback Kurt Warner, and then the Cardinals let the clock run down to seven seconds as they tried to run a play instead of spiking the ball.

      Cardinals left tackle Leonard Davis was called for a false start, resulting in a 10-second runoff on the clock, and the end of the game.

      "Obviously we were trying to take a shot and get it in the end zone on the next play," Warner said. "We changed personnel, and we had to change gears a little bit."

      For the game, the Cardinals had four trips inside the red zone, and came away with three field goals and no touchdowns.

      "That's something our defense can be proud of," Archuleta said. "That's something the defense can hang their hat on, but we have more challenges ahead. We're trying to establish our character and our identity."

      The Rams collected five sacks and limited the Cardinals to 82 rushing yards.

      "I thought we played real good team defense," Martz said. "We competed to the ball, we rallied to it, and we got them out in an awful lot of third-down situations, which was a difficult thing for us in years past. Third-and-long, we weren't very good. (Defensive coordinator) Larry (Marmie) has done a real nice job here putting this defense together and this package. It was a real nice call on that blitz to get a sack to win the game."

      The Rams currently rank fourth in the NFL in rush defense after ranking 29th in rush defense last season. They've allowed an average of 58 rushing yards per game to their first two opponents.

      Martz credited the Rams' linebacking corps, especially middle linebacker Chris Claiborne, for the team's improved run defense.

      "The linebacker play is paramount to everything," Martz said. "Claiborne, anything inside the tackles, he's just going to splatter it. I was watching their reads and their run fits, and they were perfect in this game."

      Martz said...
      -09-21-2005, 05:45 AM
    • RamWraith
      Marmie earns praise for making gutsy call
      by RamWraith
      By Jim Thomas
      Monday, Sep. 19 2005

      The acclaim was universal - from the players in the locker room, and from coach
      Mike Martz in his postgame and day-after news conferences.

      Namely, that defensive coordinator Larry Marmie made a heck of a call with the
      blitz that dropped Kurt Warner on what proved to be the final play of the game
      Sunday in Arizona.

      "You've got to make something happen," Martz said. "If you get something like
      that, then obviously, there's a scramble to get lined up again, and spike it,
      or go for another play. We couldn't just sit there and get in another zone

      Safety Adam Archuleta's sack with about 24 seconds to play left the Cardinals
      so "scrambled" that they didn't even attempt another play until just 7 seconds
      remained in the game. And then, a false-start penalty resulted in a 10-second
      runoff, ending the game and giving the Rams a 17-12 victory.

      That begs the question: Why didn't the Rams blitz more often? Later in his
      career, Warner has shown himself increasingly vulnerable to pressure. On
      Sunday, Warner seemed jittery early, with three fumbles in the opening 1 1/2

      But the Rams rarely sent extra pass rushers, relying mainly on their four
      defensive linemen to pressure Warner. Afterwards, even Marmie was
      second-guessing himself a bit.

      "We didn't want to give up a big plays, but to be honest with you, we should
      have come at him earlier than on the last drive," Marmie said Sunday. "But we
      were getting pressure on him early with four men. So that's why I think we
      stayed with it. I should've been more aggressive."

      On Monday, Martz said the variety of ailments and injuries in the secondary
      that cropped up in the game prevented the Rams from blitzing more.

      "We had a hard time putting the blitz package in because we were losing guys in
      the secondary all the time," Martz said. "You had both corners out at one time.
      You had the nickel (back) out at one time. So you can't do that when you have a
      rotating secondary, because you're going to get mistakes and you're going to
      get (beaten) by it."

      Fifth defensive back Chris Johnson missed much of the first half with the
      flu-like illness that has affected several team members - and Martz - over the
      past couple of weeks. Starting cornerbacks DeJuan Groce (leg) and Travis Fisher
      (forearm) also were in and out of the lineup with minor injuries.

      For a while, it seemed like the Rams were going with a different secondary
      combination on every play.

      "That created so much confusion,"...
      -09-20-2005, 06:16 AM