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In riveting battle with Rhodes, Martz is in his right mind

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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
    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 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.

Related Topics

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  • 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, 06:52 PM
  • RamWraith
    Martz says Bulger amazes him with his current level of play
    by RamWraith
    Jackson may not play against Falcons

    BY STEVE KORTE




    ST. LOUIS - Marc Bulger's game-winning touchdown pass to Cam Cleeland in the St. Louis Rams' playoff win over the Seattle Seahawks on Saturday was evidence of how much he has matured as a quarterback, Rams coach Mike Martz said on Monday.

    "The window to make that throw is not very long," Martz said. "You have to have great confidence to make that throw. Most quarterbacks would be reluctant to make that throw. He didn't hesitant, he didn't bat an eye, and he just put (the ball) right home."

    Cleeland managed to pull down the high pass from Bulger right before taking a hard hit from Seattle safety Ken Hamlin.

    "Probably one of the better catches we've had since I have been here in terms of being extremely meaningful," Martz said of Cleeland's catch, which put the Rams ahead 27-20 with 2:11 left to play. "It was a little bit like Ricky's catch against Tampa Bay to win that game. I think it was outstanding and it deserves to go down in Rams folklore as being one of the franchise's biggest catches."

    Martz said Bulger has come back better than ever from a bruised throwing shoulder that sidelined him for two games late in the season.

    "There is no question about his arm strength," Martz said. "I don't know if Marc would be happy that I said this, but his arm looked weary. I didn't realize that he was actually hurt. He didn't say anything to anybody. After that time off and coming back, he has some zip on the ball that is pretty remarkable, and it's one of the reasons he is throwing the deep ball so doggone well."

    Bulger had pass completions of 52 and 50 yards in the first half against the Seahawks.

    Bulger has thrown for 988 yards with six touchdowns and three interceptions in his three games back from the shoulder injury. He's completing 68 percent of his passes over that span.

    "He is so accurate and so quick with the ball, and he knows what is going on out on the field better than he ever has before," Martz said.

    Martz said Bulger's knowledge of the Rams' offense has enabled him to be more creative in preparing the team's offensive game plans in recent weeks.

    "I think Marc right now is capable of doing anything that we ask him to do, obviously within reason, but we can be unreasonable sometimes," Martz said. "He is playing at the highest level right now. He is truly remarkable. Some of the things that he sees and does, I didn't know that he could do."

    Players of the Game

    The Rams' coaching staff has chosen wide receiver Kevin Curtis as it's offensive player of the game, defensive tackle Ryan Pickett as it's defensive player of the game and Mike Furrey as its special teams player of the...
    -01-12-2005, 05:51 AM
  • RamWraith
    Struggles prove value of Bulger, Martz says
    by RamWraith
    By Bill Coats
    Of the Post-Dispatch
    Monday, Dec. 20 2004

    Two weeks ago the Rams were 6-6 and in control in the NFC West. Now they're 6-8
    and a game behind Seattle, with two weeks left in the regular season. What
    changed?

    Most notably, the quarterback position, coach Mike Martz emphasized Monday, a
    day after the Rams were smothered 31-7 in Arizona. Had starter Marc Bulger
    remained healthy instead of missing the last two outings with a bruised
    throwing shoulder, the Rams' situation might be significantly different, Martz
    indicated.

    "Obviously, you can see the difference. How much of a difference would he have
    made at Carolina? It's all the difference in the world," Martz said. "I think
    he's one of the elite in the league. I've been saying that for a long time. Now
    that he was out of the picture, I think everybody can appreciate how good he
    really is. And how stymied we become in a lot of areas without him."

    Stymied, indeed. The once-powerful Rams offense produced one touchdown in a
    20-7 loss to Carolina, then was stopped cold by the Cardinals. A 61-yard fumble
    return by defensive end Leonard Little provided the Rams' only points.

    Some 111 games had passed since a 14-0 loss to Miami on Oct. 18, 1998, the last
    time the Rams offense failed to score.

    Bulger, who is expected to play Monday night against Philadelphia, was leading
    the NFL in passing yardage before he was hurt in the first quarter Dec. 5
    against San Francisco. Chris Chandler replaced him, and the Rams went on to a
    16-6 win.

    But Chandler, 39, tossed six interceptions in a woeful showing at Carolina,
    then was pulled after a grisly first quarter at Sun Devil Stadium. His future
    with the team is unclear; Martz said that Jamie Martin "more than likely" would
    back up Bulger vs. the Eagles. That presumably would leave rookie Jeff Smoker
    as the No. 3 quarterback, and Chandler, a 17-year veteran, perhaps unemployed.

    Martin, a 10-year journeyman who hadn't appeared in a regular-season game in
    two years, completed 16 of 31 passes for 188 yards, without an interception
    Sunday and earned effusive praise from Martz.

    The Rams had 185 yards on offense, their lowest total of the season. Bulger's
    presence, Martz insisted, might have changed that.

    "He gets the ball so quickly out of there under duress and pressure that you
    don't really realize it," Martz said. "There may have been a breakdown in
    protection, but he still completes the ball. Those kinds of things, you just
    don't really completely comprehend or appreciate until he's not in there."

    Davis provoked Polley,...
    -12-21-2004, 04:57 AM
  • RamWraith
    The Rams and Martz Regroup Just in Time-NY Times
    by RamWraith
    By RAY GLIER

    Published: January 13, 2005


    LOWERY BRANCH, Ga., Jan. 12 - The St. Louis Rams looked like a broken team last month. Hours before a game against the Arizona Cardinals, there were news reports that Coach Mike Martz could be fired. Martz fumed, calling the reports irresponsible and destructive. The Rams went out and were trounced by the Cardinals, 31-7, dropping their record to 6-8.

    Controversy continued to churn after the game when Martz's play-calling was called irresponsible by the St. Louis news media. Martz, renowned for his innovative offense, let running back Steven Jackson, a first-round draft pick and the team's second-leading rusher this season, behind Marshall Faulk, languish on the bench during the game.

    The loss came five days after a heated shouting match between Martz and offensive tackle Kyle Turley, who was placed on injured reserve before the season.

    Playoffs? Not for the 6-8 Rams. They were in the checkout line of the season.

    The Rams somehow regrouped, winning their last two games of the regular season, including an overtime victory over the Jets, to qualify for the playoffs. Last Saturday in Seattle, they repelled the Seahawks in the waning seconds to secure a 27-20 victory in the National Football Conference wild-card round.

    As the Rams prepared to face the Atlanta Falcons at the Georgia Dome on Saturday in a divisional playoff game, Martz said the return of quarterback Marc Bulger was the key to the turnaround.

    Bulger, who injured his shoulder in a victory over San Francisco on Dec. 5, was sidelined the next two games; the Rams lost both, and the offense scored just one touchdown. Since his return Dec. 27 against the Eagles, Bulger has completed 68 percent of his passes and has thrown six touchdown passes.

    "Getting Marc back was very significant to this team," Martz said Wednesday in a conference call. "When he was hurt, he was playing at such a high level. We just had to have better play at the quarterback position at that point."

    The Falcons have marveled over Bulger's ability to read a defense and run through a progression of receivers until he finds a target. That is why Atlanta will disguise coverages and try to pressure him out of the pocket.

    "I can't think of another guy, besides Peyton Manning possibly, who could run that offense as well as he does," Atlanta safety Bryan Scott said. "He definitely comes off his first receiver to his second and even sometimes to his third. And if that's not there sometimes, then he'll dip it down to Marshall Faulk or Steven Jackson.

    "I think what makes that offense so amazing is that he doesn't call audibles," Scott added. "They pretty much go off what they see, so the receiver and the quarterback have to see the same thing. That's really cool...
    -01-13-2005, 04:49 PM
  • RamWraith
    Martz says Rams worked against fake
    by RamWraith
    By Bill Coats
    Of the Post-Dispatch
    11/08/2004
    The Rams worked Friday on defending a fake field goal by New England. They even covered the possibility of the kicker taking a quick snap and tossing a pass toward a wide receiver on the sideline.

    "We'd practiced that," coach Mike Martz said Monday. "Walked through it, talked about it, ran it."

    And sure enough, the play unfolded Sunday early in the third quarter at the Edward Jones Dome. "The exact same thing," Martz noted. But rather than being ready for it, the flummoxed Rams were caught flat-footed.

    As they milled about the line of scrimmage, long snapper Lonie Paxton zipped the ball to kicker Adam Vinatieri, whose toss to a wide-open Troy Brown on the left side resulted in a 4-yard touchdown.

    Instead of a field goal making it 22-14, the Patriots' lead ballooned to 26-14. A 40-22 loss dropped the Rams (4-4) into second place in the NFC West, with pacesetting Seattle (5-3) coming to town Sunday.

    While viewing the game tape, Martz discerned the fatal flaw on the fake kick: Cornerbacks Jerametrius Butler and Dwight Anderson were scurrying to switch sides so that Anderson's sore shoulder would be protected in the rush scheme. No one was within 10 yards of Brown when the ball floated into his arms.

    "Not too much to say about that," defensive end Leonard Little said. "It's another mistake we made."

    The most egregious error on that play was the failure to call a timeout, Martz said, even though the players on the field noticed that something was up. "They recognized it, but they were caught in the middle changing over. It was a comedy of errors," Martz said. "You can't blame it on the two corners. We should have enough experience here that ... you need to see it and just burn a timeout. It's just inexcusable, really. I'm really kind of at a loss for words on that one."


    Upon further review

    As he promised to do, Martz phoned Mike Pereira, the NFL's supervisor of officials, on Monday morning. Martz probably brought up several areas of concern, but it's a good bet that a non-call on Pats linebacker Mike Vrabel, who clobbered sliding Rams quarterback Marc Bulger, was at the top of his agenda.

    That was particularly galling for the Rams because Little later received a dubious 15-yard, roughing-the-passer penalty for hitting New England quarterback Tom Brady just after the ball had been released. Martz wouldn't disclose the details of his chat with Pereira, but he said he was satisfied with the talk.


    Problems vs. running game

    Only four teams in the NFL are yielding more rushing yards per game than the Rams, which throws their next three games into the "Yikes!" category.

    Seahawks running back Shaun...
    -11-09-2004, 06:24 AM
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