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Amid adversity, can Rams coach reinvent himself?

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  • Amid adversity, can Rams coach reinvent himself?

    Amid adversity, can Rams coach reinvent himself? By Bryan Burwell Of the Post-Dispatch 12/18/2004

    Sports Columnist Bryan Burwell



    PHOENIX - The Rams have played this season as if it was an extended game of Russian roulette, forever keeping us anxious and aggravated as they flirt with so many potential season-ending disasters.

    Yet now, with only three games to play, they want us to believe the self-destructive nonsense is over and a no-nonsense approach is firmly in place. They keep talking to a world full of doubters, telling us that out here in the Arizona desert they will begin a legitimate postseason run.

    "Are you kidding?" Mike Martz said earlier this week, grinning like a Cheshire cat. The head coach appeared to be almost insulted, wondering why no one could see how this struggling 6-7 football team controls its own playoff destiny. He seemed shocked that no one could figure out that success was just around the corner, even with two NFL powerhouses like the Philadelphia Eagles (12-1) and the New York Jets (9-4) standing in the Rams' path after Sunday's little dance with the sorry Arizona Cardinals (4-9).

    Martz was a glass-is-half-full man in a room full of glass-is-half-empty doubters. While we keep calculating how bad a mess the Rams are in, our favorite gray-haired football eccentric keeps finding hope peeking into the room like warm slashes of sunlight.

    "We can," Martz told a room full of reporters. "That's why I'm so excited. I stand here every week and tell you that. Things come up that you have to deal with, unfortunately. If it were that easy, which it's not, obviously, trying to get guys to that certain point, sometimes it takes longer than you think it would. But we're going to get there.

    "I'm encouraged by what I've seen, and I told the team after the game that they have nothing to be ashamed of. They played their butts off, and we just made some mistakes that we couldn't overcome. If we eliminate those mistakes, this is going to be a real good football team."

    But time is running out on Martz's hopes and dreams. A loss Sunday to the Cardinals effectively crushes the Rams' postseason possibilities. Sure, there are slim, mathematical opportunities - particularly with the tentative way the faint-of-heart Seattle Seahawks hold on to the NFC West lead - but the Rams really can't count on the NFC being so sorry that an 8-8 record will be good enough to get that final wild-card berth.

    So let's take Martz on his word and believe that this is the start of the playoff push. How will the Rams do it, particularly with 39-year-old Chris Chandler starting at quarterback again after last week's six-interception meltdown? It's never a good thing to see the Rams go into a game without Marc Bulger, particularly when his backup is a 17-year veteran who looks as completely disoriented and dispirited as Chandler.

    However, there is an upside to Chandler being in the lineup Sunday. It will force Martz to rely heavily on his running game against one of the worst run defenses in the NFL. With both Marshall Faulk and Steven Jackson ready to play, we should see a steady diet of handoffs against a team that gives up an average of 142 yards on the ground.

    Martz figured when he brought Chandler in to back up Bulger during the offseason that the former two-time Pro Bowler still had something left in his gas tank. He figured Chandler could step in during emergency duty, but after last week's debacle, you know he has his doubts, and will scale back this offense greatly. (Join me now in a collective crossing of hands, fingers, toes, eyes and any other spare body parts. Can we conjure up enough cosmic goodwill that it will seep into Martz's game plan?)

    Will Martz be able to resist all his fast-twitch urges Sunday? Will he be able to contain himself and play smash-mouth football, or will the very idea of such a down-and-dirty brand of offense displease his creative senses to the point of revulsion?

    The Rams are more than good enough with Faulk and Jackson (and all the talented receivers) to win ugly without Bulger. They are more than good enough to slog through a low-scoring, low-risk game plan to beat a flawed team like the Cardinals. With the patchwork offensive line working with so many changing parts once again, and with a skittish backup quarterback like Chandler still trying to shake off last week's disaster, Martz can show the football world his true offensive genius if he can play smash-mouth football Sunday.

    And wouldn't it be a wonderful discovery if out of the desperation of trying to bide time until his Pro Bowl quarterback gets healthy again, Martz had an offensive epiphany? As he sees Faulk scoot through the defense like watermelon seed on a wet plate and Jackson slam through Arizona like a powerful runaway train, is it possible that Martz might actually become infatuated with just how magnificent running the football can be?

    Go Rams!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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  • Nick
    Words can't do justice to describe QB's ineptitude
    by Nick
    Words can't do justice to describe QB's ineptitude
    By Bryan Burwell
    Of the Post-Dispatch
    Sunday, Dec. 19 2004

    TEMPE, Ariz. - Before we get to the really heavy lifting in the wreckage of
    this disastrous Rams season, let's shove some of the light debris out of the
    way first.

    Cut Chris Chandler right now.

    Don't waste another day or another ounce of aggravation on someone who clearly
    doesn't care enough about his job to prepare properly to help his team win. The
    Rams' postseason hopes have all but disintegrated in the span of the two weeks,
    and in the aftermath of another catastrophic defeat that has his fingerprints
    all over it, Chandler is the easiest (though clearly not the only) culprit to
    identify.

    Somehow, after 17 years in the National Football League, the 39-year-old
    Chandler has mysteriously forgotten how to play quarterback, as evidenced by
    his pitiful display in Sunday's 31-7 loss to the Arizona Cardinals. One week
    after playing one of the worst games I've ever seen a proven, veteran NFL
    quarterback play (six interceptions and three sacks in a 20-7 loss to
    Carolina), Chandler outdid himself against the Cardinals.

    I cannot overstate how bad this guy stunk up half-empty Sun Devil Stadium. In
    only one spectacularly abysmal quarter of play, Chandler completed one of six
    passes for 1 lousy yard, was sacked twice, threw an interception and had a 0.0
    passer rating. By the time Mike Martz yanked him at the end of the first
    quarter, the Rams had already fallen behind 10-0 and had been outgained in
    total offensive yards 108 to minus-20.

    Here's how his day went out here in the Arizona desert, and too bad it wasn't a
    mirage.

    Three and out.

    Three and out.

    Interception.

    Three and out.

    Benched.

    He was beyond bad. He was flat-out incompetent, and maybe worse than that.
    Incompetence, as bad as it might be, is at least excusable. But indifference is
    an unpardonable transgression. You expect a rookie to play incompetently. You
    might even expect a free agent, walking in cold off the street, to be clueless.
    But who could expect a 17-year veteran who has been to two Pro Bowls, won an
    NFC championship and played in the scorching heat of a Super Bowl, to play
    without a clue, and with so little passion?
    Chandler was not only bad, he was calling passes when he was supposed to be
    calling a running plays. He was throwing to the wrong receivers. He was
    floating balls like they were filled with helium. And when he wasn't doing
    that, he was showing all the mobility of an oak tree, feet deeply rooted in the
    ground and unable to move...
    -12-20-2004, 12:17 AM
  • RamWraith
    Words can't do justice to describe QB's ineptitude
    by RamWraith
    By Bryan Burwell
    Of the Post-Dispatch
    12/19/2004

    Cut Chris Chandler right now.

    Don't waste another day or another ounce of aggravation on someone who clearly doesn't care enough about his job to prepare properly to help his team win. The Rams' postseason hopes have all but disintegrated in the span of the two weeks, and in the aftermath of another catastrophic defeat that has his fingerprints all over it, Chandler is the easiest (though clearly not the only) culprit to identify.

    Somehow, after 17 years in the National Football League, the 39-year-old Chandler has mysteriously forgotten how to play quarterback, as evidenced by his pitiful display in Sunday's 31-7 loss to the Arizona Cardinals. One week after playing one of the worst games I've ever seen a proven, veteran NFL quarterback play (six interceptions and three sacks in a 20-7 loss to Carolina), Chandler outdid himself against the Cardinals.

    I cannot overstate how bad this guy stunk up half-empty Sun Devil Stadium. In only one spectacularly abysmal quarter of play, Chandler completed one of six passes for 1 lousy yard, was sacked twice, threw an interception and had a 0.0 passer rating. By the time Mike Martz yanked him at the end of the first quarter, the Rams had already fallen behind 10-0 and had been outgained in total offensive yards 108 to minus-20.

    Here's how his day went out here in the Arizona desert, and too bad it wasn't a mirage.

    Three and out.

    Three and out.

    Interception.

    Three and out.

    Benched.

    He was beyond bad. He was flat-out incompetent, and maybe worse than that. Incompetence, as bad as it might be, is at least excusable. But indifference is an unpardonable transgression. You expect a rookie to play incompetently. You might even expect a free agent, walking in cold off the street, to be clueless. But who could expect a 17-year veteran who has been to two Pro Bowls, won an NFC championship and played in the scorching heat of a Super Bowl, to play without a clue, and with so little passion?

    Chandler was not only bad, he was calling passes when he was supposed to be calling a running plays. He was throwing to the wrong receivers. He was floating balls like they were filled with helium. And when he wasn't doing that, he was showing all the mobility of an oak tree, feet deeply rooted in the ground and unable to move out of the way of the various blitzes the Cards were throwing at him.

    How does this happen? Was Chandler so traumatized from last week's bad experience that he was paralyzed with fear this week? Was he sleeping in meetings and didn't know the game plan? Was the wireless microphone in his helmet picking up shortwave signals from Sri Lanka? Did his dog eat his playbook?

    "Guys, I don't know," said a seething Mike Martz in the head coach's...
    -12-20-2004, 02:22 PM
  • RamWraith
    Martz expected to be back next season
    by RamWraith
    By Jeff Gordon
    Post-Dispatch Online Sports Columnist
    Monday, Dec. 20 2004

    We expect Rams coach Mike Martz to be back next season.

    Team executives John Shaw and Jay Zygmunt are rational men who don’t rush to
    judgements. Martz’s career won-loss record is still better than most head
    coaches, despite this 6-8 downturn, and he has a ton of dough left on his
    contract.

    As we noted last week, the rash of Rams casualties provides Mad Mike cover for
    this season. The decimation of the offensive line, the demise of team leaders
    Marshall Faulk and Aeneas Williams, the loss of quarterback Marc Bulger and the
    nagging injuries plaguing the front seven were too much to overcome.

    However . . .

    In order to retool this team, the franchise must also retool its football
    operation. As colleague Bernie Miklasz explained with great clarity, General
    Manager Martz left Coach Martz with too little to work with this season.

    Look no further than the decision to dump Kurt Warner and replace him with
    Chris Chandler.

    Rams insiders insist that Warner had to go, due to his eroded relationship with
    his teammates and head coach. A divorce was best for everybody. But if the team
    was happier without Kurt, it sure hasn’t shown it during this season.

    Injuries go a long way toward explaining what happened this season, but these
    Rams haven’t played with much passion – to use one of Mad Mike’s favorite
    phrases. That 31-7 loss at Arizona will stand among the franchise’s most
    embarrassing performances since coming to St. Louis.

    As for Chandler, the poor guy never had a chance. Even the most casual Rams fan
    knew he would become a liability if pressed into duty.

    Whenever the Rams faced Chandler the past few years, folks around here were
    thrilled with the match-up. He played one dreadful game after another against
    the Rams, folding whenever the going got tough.

    We pointed this out when Chandler was signed. We pointed it out when Bulger got
    hurt, forcing Chandler into the starting assignment.

    Martz became indignant when your cyber-correspondent warned of impending
    calamity. He insisted Chandler would be fine.

    He was wrong, terribly wrong, and Chandler’s miserable play probably cost the
    Rams another trip to postseason play.

    “It goes back to the inability to function at one position,” Martz told
    reporters after Sunday’s game. “You hold the whole team hostage.”

    That the Rams had to pull career back-up Jamie Martin off street, scrape off
    his 13 months of rust and hurl him into combat . . . well, that’s just
    unthinkable.

    (That Martz threw Chandler under the bus Sunday...
    -12-20-2004, 03:33 PM
  • RamWraith
    Coach could find his words coming back to haunt him
    by RamWraith
    By Bryan Burwell
    Of the Post-Dispatch


    For five years, Mike Martz has stood there firmly at his perch as the Rams unappreciated genius head coach, an unswerving example of pride and genius, arrogance and attitude, boldness and bravado. Even with his Super Bowl pedigree, he was forever the unloved interloper who could never do quite enough to erase the unpardonable sin of not being Dick Vermeil.

    There was always something about him that they just couldn't love, refused to embrace and loved to scorn. Yet through it all, Martz stood there defiantly defying convention, always doing it his way. It is what always intrigued me about Martz, always fascinated me with him. He was a man who spit at convention, railed against the status quo and broke convention with the zeal of a mad genius.

    Yet now, it seems that his greatest strengths have conspired against him. His defiance has become his biggest weakness. In these reeling times with his football team teetering on the edge of playoff extinction, Mike Martz is sounding a lot like a man who exposed himself fully to all his detractors.

    I admire his creative spirit and combative attitude. I did not believe this before, but I am wondering now how Martz can survive as the Rams head coach. If team president John Shaw was not thinking about firing him before, after listening to this odd performance at his Monday afternoon news conference, the thought has to be creeping into his mind.

    Martz used a 15-minute session with reporters to darned near condemn himself with his own words. In one odd stream of consciousness, he tried to explain why he chose to play quarterback Chris Chandler and didn't play rookie running back Steven Jackson. In doing so, his words spoke shocking volumes.

    Martz essentially admitted two things: He lost his poise and he has no idea what is happening in the game unless it is written down in front of him on his game-plan placard.

    First of all, he admitted he lost his poise after Chandler went into another meltdown in the first quarter. "I got very upset with (Chandler) in the game. ... I regret being that upset with him," Martz said. "I got unsettled, quite frankly, with the quarterback situation and it took me a while to get going. I could have handled that situation much better."

    Even if it was true, how could you admit that? How can the man in charge tell the whole world that he lost his poise, lost his direction and purpose, even for a brief moment? It's alarming to hear the head coach of a professional football team say that he flaked out in the heat of battle. Isn't that was he essentially what he eviscerated Chandler for doing against the Panthers and Cardinals?

    But then he went further. Much, much further. When someone asked him why the powerful first-round draft pick never got off the bench, particularly against...
    -12-21-2004, 01:28 PM
  • Nick
    Shaky Chandler to get another start ahead of injured Bulger
    by Nick
    Shaky Chandler to get another start ahead of injured Bulger
    R.B. FALLSTROM
    Associated Press

    ST. LOUIS - Marc Bulger can't get healthy fast enough for the St. Louis Rams.

    Bulger, who missed Sunday's 20-7 loss to the Panthers with a sprained shoulder, resumed light throwing on Monday, but the team is aiming for him to return to the lineup next week against the Eagles.

    "He's a little sore, but who knows?" Martz said Monday. "We may have him, but I'm not going to count on it."

    That means another week with 39-year-old backup Chris Chandler, whose first start of the season was forgettable: a career-worst six interceptions. Chandler has played for seven teams, and Martz said at times it appeared his quarterback was running another offense.

    At one point in the second half, the frustrated coach showed his lack of trust in Chandler by calling nine straight runs for third-string running back Arlen Harris.

    "He got a little rattled," Martz said. "He's a guy that's been in a lot of systems and had a lot of different coaching, and when you get under pressure like that sometimes you revert back to another system or how you were doing things in the past.

    "He's just devastated."

    The alternatives are not very enticing for the Rams (6-7). The backups are rookie Jeff Smoker, who's still learning the offense, and Jamie Martin, who's not physically ready after being out of the NFL since October 2003 before signing last week.

    So Martz knows better than to beat down Chandler. He blamed himself for not preparing Chandler better, and he blamed poor pass protection for getting Chandler off to a shaky start that became the shakiest of games - he was only one off the franchise record for interceptions.

    "Chris is our starter," Martz said. "I can help him a lot more and we need to help him up front."

    Martz said fill-in right tackle Blaine Saipaia, who made his second career start, was the best of the bunch on an offensive line that features five-time Pro Bowl left tackle Orlando Pace and guard Adam Timmerman (two Pro Bowls).

    "I think he played better than the rest of them and you can draw your own conclusions about the rest of it," Martz said. "I'm embarrassed about it, to be honest with you.

    "We're going to look very hard at this."

    Saipaia did a good job against Julius Peppers. He had the best game of the three reserves playing in high-profile spots against the Panthers. The tailback was third-stringer Harris, who had 19 carries for 62 yards in his first real action of the season because both Steven Jackson and Marshall Faulk were sidelined with bruised knees.

    Faulk, who has missed two games, told Martz he'd like to be available on a limited basis this Sunday...
    -12-13-2004, 09:09 PM
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