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  • Air Martz reloads with young guns

    BY JEFF GORDON
    Post-Dispatch Online Sports Columnist
    Monday, Oct. 11 2004

    NFL defensive coordinators aren’t feeling so good today.

    The Rams offense has officially reloaded. Air Martz flew again Sunday in
    Seattle, blitzing the previously stringent Seahawks defense with a 23-point
    outburst.

    Rookie running back Steven Jackson has given this team a power running element
    to complement all the speed – and he can bust some big plays of his own.

    Young receivers Shaun McDonald and Kevin Curtis have finally arrived, albeit a
    year later than hoped because of injuries.

    Tight end Brandon Manumaleuna had a special Kellen Winslow Moment in Seattle,
    suggesting he could earn a bigger role. Receiver Isaac Bruce has turned back
    the clock to ’99, playing at a Pro Bowl level.

    Quarterback Marc Bulger beat the Seahawks with an accurate deep throw –
    something we haven’t seen much of – and receiver Torry Holt is the third- or
    fourth-best player in the league at his position.

    Many positives emerged from Sunday’s comeback victory, including a sturdy
    second half from a battered defense and a rare big play from the special teams.

    But the most encouraging development was the big-play arrival of McDonald,
    Curtis and Jackson. McDonald and Curtis provide explosiveness the Rams have
    sought since losing slot receiver Az Zahir-Hakim to free agency.

    When did Mike realize these kids were ready for more heavy lifting?

    “You don’t know, really, until you put them on the field in key situations like
    this where they have to make a play to win a game,” Martz said at his Monday
    news conference. “They can kind of blend in and make a play during the game,
    but when they make plays that are a major reason why you win games, then you
    know they are at that point where everybody gets excited.”

    With the NFL cracking down on the clutching and grabbing of receivers coming
    out of their break, the Rams can create serious match-up problems for most
    teams.

    The Seahawks believed they had the secondary depth to match up against the
    Rams. And Bulger strafed them during the frantic rally, spreading the ball to
    various targets.

    The Rams mounted that historic rally without getting much from running back
    Marshall Faulk, who ran ineffectively and dropped a couple of key passes late.
    But as we’ve seen earlier this season, Faulk still has plenty to give.

    Think of the possibilities. The Rams can attack with their four-receiver set,
    with six guys (including reliable Dane Looker) to choose from. They can throw
    to tight ends, since Manumaleuna and Cam Cleeland can both catch the ball.

    The two-back set is a possibility too, with Faulk and Jackson playing at once.
    Personally, I’d like to see Faulk deployed in the slot more often so Jackson
    can pound away between the tackles.

    If the Rams offensive line continues to hold up – and keeping defenses from
    beating the confidence out of Bulger – Martz will be able to turn these guys
    lose.

    We all know how Mad Mike wants to coach this team. We all know that he wants to
    attack, attack and attack some more.

    And now Martz can.

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  • RamWraith
    The swagger is back with the St. Louis Rams
    by RamWraith
    ST. LOUIS -- The swagger is back with the St. Louis Rams. Much like a couple of years ago, Rams offensive downs aren't just plays. They are shows. The pace is quick. The routes are imaginative. Overall, the old confidence has returned.

    Inside Rams camp
    RamsHow's the health of safety Adam Archuleta? Which newcomer should have a big impact in the front 7? Those are just a couple of the things John Clayton touches on in his observations from Rams camp.
    . Inside Rams camp
    "You need three or four receivers [for this offense] and we have four solid receivers now," quarterback Marc Bulger said. "We brought back [tight end] Roland Williams, and he was with the team when we were the greatest show on turf. He still thinks it's that way. We had to go through a couple of rough years, and you hate to let that persona down."

    Training camp practices opened with that old flair the Rams had in their Super Bowl years (1999, 2001 seasons). Practice passes never hit the turf. Torry Holt, Isaac Bruce, Kevin Curtis and Shaun McDonald snatch passes out of the air and try to zip past corners. Running back Steven Jackson explodes through the line of scrimmage and then uses his 230-pound body to "shake-and-bake" a linebacker. A thin Marshall Faulk runs routes with renewed quickness.

    " When this offense is working well, we can move down the field so quickly teams don't have time to catch up. Normally in those situations, defenses try to get safe. Coach Martz is the best when teams start getting safety because he starts attacking them."
    -QB Marc Bulger

    Coach Mike Martz says the Rams' swagger is just confidence. Fans love it. Opponents view it as arrogance and hate it. Rams players say their confidence is a byproduct of having fun, and the fun is back because the Rams' offense has reloaded.

    "I was just saying it this morning that it was like it was when I came in during my first year," Holt said. "Then, we had a great mix of veterans with some young guys coming in to help. It's the same way now. As long as the guys up front on the offensive line hold, we have that swagger. The coaches have the swagger. Practices are fun. We are going out there and we are seeing the ability to click and jell at a high pace."

    Returning to the 500-point-a-year level of 1999-2001 might be tough, but the Rams make a case they are ready to make a run. Curtis and McDonald have evolved into significant role players who augment the 90-catch skills of Holt and Bruce. Each has three years of experience in the offense. Curtis offers blistering speed that inside corners can't match. McDonald isn't Az-Zahir Hakim, but he offers a little bit of the shiftiness and run-after-the catch ability.

    But the single most exciting addition to the offense this year is Jackson. This isn't the dreadlocked rookie who looked lost in...
    -08-01-2005, 12:59 PM
  • RamWraith
    Rams Have New Look, but Offense Is Still Biggest Threat
    by RamWraith
    By LYNN ZINSER

    Published: January 10, 2005


    hey have the same drama-king head coach, the same offense that relegates between-the-tackles runs to the same scrap heap as leather helmets, and the same two old-school receivers whom defensive backs struggle to cover.

    But a closer look at the St. Louis Rams reveals that little of the team that managed a 27-20 victory at Seattle on Saturday in the National Football Conference wild-card playoff game looks like the Rams of old.

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    "We are coming around," Rams Coach Mike Martz said with a satisfied smile after the game. "There are a lot of good young players here that played at a really high level. That's what is really thrilling. Who knows what this team can achieve from here on out."

    The victory over the Seahawks, which vaulted St. Louis into an N.F.C. divisional playoff game against Atlanta this Saturday, served as a coming-out party for players like the speedy receivers Kevin Curtis, who caught 4 passes for 107 yards, and Shaun McDonald, whose only catch was a crucial 31-yarder during the Rams' drive to the winning touchdown.

    "It's uplifting to see these guys," the 11-year veteran receiver Isaac Bruce said; he and Torry Holt still form the backbone of the Rams' offense. "Their confidence grows with every catch."

    Martz talked with pride about his young lineup, saying it was a group he saw coming together - despite a season full of struggles that required finishing with two straight victories just to reach the playoffs at 8-8. Of course, Martz often overshadowed his team with his histrionics, but he was more than happy to give his players all the credit for the playoff victory.

    Martz applauded the defense, the side of the team that even he rarely notices, the side that is almost unrecognizable without a roster and photo ID's. But it came together to hold the Seahawks' star running back, Shaun Alexander, to 40 yards rushing.

    The Rams' leading tackler, Pisa Tinoisamoa, is a second-year linebacker out of Hawaii. The defense has rising stars on its line, including the rookie end Tony Hargrove out of Georgia Tech; Martz singled him out for his relentlessness against Seattle.

    And Jimmy Kennedy, a second-year defensive tackle out of Penn State, is playing despite a broken foot and had a crucial sack of Seahawks quarterback Matt Hasselbeck with 46 seconds remaining to help thwart a potential game-winning drive.

    But the offense remains the heart of the Rams, and quarterback Marc Bulger, 27, may have had his most impressive game, winning his first playoff game in his second full season as a starter. More telling than his statistics - 18 of 32 passing for 313 yards and 2 touchdowns - was his handling of a difficult situation with poise.

    For much of the...
    -01-10-2005, 05:30 AM
  • RamWraith
    Young guns bring new energy to offense
    by RamWraith
    By Jim Thomas
    Of the Post-Dispatch
    Wednesday, Oct. 13 2004

    At its apex, the Greatest Show on Turf wasn't just about Marshall Faulk, or
    Isaac Bruce, or Torry Holt, or Kurt Warner. It was about all of them - and
    more. Az-Zahir Hakim and Ricky Proehl as the No. 3 and No. 4 wide receivers.
    Roland Williams, and then Ernie Conwell, at tight end.

    Make no mistake, Faulk, Bruce and Holt were the money players. Still are. But
    there simply were too many options across the board. You couldn't cover them
    all. And that was the beauty of the offense back in the "glory days."
    Which brings us to the Rams' back-to-back victories over San Francisco and
    Seattle. In those contests, the Rams' seven touchdowns were scored by wide
    receiver Shaun McDonald (two), wide receiver Kevin Curtis (one), running back
    Steven Jackson (one), tight end Brandon Manumaleuna (one), fullback Joey
    Goodspeed (one), and quarterback Marc Bulger (one).

    Since the start of the Rams' 1999 Super Bowl championship season, Faulk, Bruce
    and Holt have scored 159 touchdowns. Until that Oct. 3 San Francisco game, the
    Rams had gone 24 consecutive contests with Faulk, Bruce or Holt scoring at
    least one TD.

    But now, for the first time with Faulk, Bruce and Holt on the roster and
    available to play, the Rams have won back-to-back games with none of the three
    scoring a TD.

    Could it be a sign that the "good old days" are back on offense? Are the Rams
    developing the kind of multiple options that characterized the '99, 2000, and
    2001 squads? (All three of those teams scored 500-plus points.)

    Coach Mike Martz stopped short of such a sweeping assessment. Way short.

    "This is totally different," he said after the Seattle game. "This is just a
    completely different team. We're just trying to find a way to win."

    Not that the youngsters aren't making life easier for the Rams offensively.

    "Some of these young players are stepping to the forefront right now," Martz
    said. "These guys now are taking the load off some of the other players. And as
    they step to the forefront, that makes it easier to manage the game. These
    other guys, now, you've got to account for them."

    Leave it to free safety Aeneas Williams to dream of the possibilities.

    "You have a dual threat at running back," Williams said. "You have four, five
    receivers. Why wouldn't you think that you have the potential to have an
    explosive offense like we did before?"

    The emergence of Dane Looker last season gave the Rams at least a reasonable
    facsimile of Proehl, who signed with Carolina following...
    -10-13-2004, 05:26 AM
  • RamWraith
    In riveting battle with Rhodes, Martz is in his right mind
    by RamWraith
    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
    it was.

    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
    touchdowns.

    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
    spell.

    After taking a 14-3 lead 1...
    -01-10-2005, 05:32 AM
  • RamWraith
    Ingredients are ideally suited for Martz magic
    by RamWraith
    By Bernie Miklasz
    Of the Post-Dispatch
    Friday, Jan. 07 2005


    SEATTLE - In the wild-card round of the NFC playoffs, wild-man head coach Mike
    Martz has a chance to create a masterpiece.

    Martz can put all of the regular-season controversies behind him, and remind
    everyone of how he made his name and reputation in the NFL. Martz will be in
    his element, working at what he does best: conceptualizing an offensive
    strategy, identifying the weak spots on the defense, getting the ball into the
    hands of his playmakers and game-breakers, and attacking.

    All of the essentials are in place for the Rams to do serious damage to the
    Seattle Seahawks. Martz has one of the NFL's hottest quarterbacks in Marc
    Bulger. He has an improving offensive line. He has four outstanding receivers
    in Isaac Bruce, Torry Holt, Kevin Curtis and Shaun McDonald. Martz has a rookie
    running back (Steven Jackson) who runs like an old pro, and an old pro back
    (Marshall Faulk) who still has the energy of a rookie.

    And Martz gets to turn his offense loose to attack one of the league's most
    vulnerable defenses. Seattle ranked 26th among 32 teams in yards allowed. The
    Seahawks were 23rd against the pass, 24th in defending the run, 27th in sack
    percentage, 27th in stopping third-down plays. In the last six games, Seattle's
    defense has been plundered for an average of 394 yards and 31.3 points. And
    Martz knows where to aim his arrows, having faced this Seattle defense twice
    this season.

    But this isn't just about the Seahawks' thin defense. It's more about the Rams
    offense, and how it's coalescing at an ideal time. After a period of
    stagnation, the offense stirred in the last two games. The Rams powered up
    against Philadelphia with a bullish running game, then scorched the New York
    Jets with every variety of pass.

    This Rams offense isn't at the same level as the "Greatest Show" era
    (1999-2001) but it's establishing an identity.

    "The right thing for me to say is, well, I think we have a nice future and it's
    going to work out real good, but I'm thrilled," Martz said. "I'm really and
    truly thrilled with this group. ... I've said this before, but I'm so excited
    for this organization and this city. We are not where we can be, but sometimes
    at night, I get goose bumps just thinking about what these guys are capable of.
    It's thrilling for me and I can't wait to continue this for a long time."

    The offense is amped for several reasons. Bulger has played assertively after
    returning from injury. Jackson's increased role gives the Rams the kind of
    wallop they've lacked on the ground since moving to St. Louis,...
    -01-07-2005, 05:52 PM
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