The Rams have turned the most cherished coaching maxims on their
ear. Establish the run. Avoid mistakes. Take what they give you.
Uh-uh. "We make them take what we give them," Marshall Faulk,
St. Louis's brilliant running back, said after the Rams'
hair-raising 23-16 Super Bowl win over the Titans.
Establish the pass. Be bold. Push the ball downfield. That's the
credo of the NFL's new showcase team. That's the philosophy that
enabled Kurt Warner to throw for a Super Bowl-record 414 yards,
73 of them on his last pass, the game-winner to Isaac Bruce.
The guy responsible for this strategy is Mike Martz, St. Louis's
48-year-old offensive coordinator. He came to the Rams this
season well versed in the true West Coast offense, which had
first fascinated him in the late 1960s when he was a San Diego
high schooler and Chargers coach Sid Gillman ran that dazzling,
down-the-field attack. The scheme filtered down to Don Coryell
and his disciples, two of whom Martz worked under, Ernie Zampese
with the L.A. Rams and Norv Turner with the Redskins.
But before St. Louis bought into the strategy, Martz had to do a
selling job to coach Dick Vermeil, who clung to the old maxims.
Get the ball downfield, he told Vermeil. Pass first, then run.
Vermeil wasn't so sure. He called the Elias Sports Bureau, which
keeps the official statistics for the NFL, and got a
pass-frequency printout. The results were startling. Two of the
four teams that had played in the conference championship games
last January had passed more than they'd run in the first
quarter throughout the season, as had six of the other eight
playoff clubs. Of the 18 teams that had missed the postseason,
six had relied on the rush in the opening period. "Go run your
offense," Vermeil told Martz.
February 7, 2000
That's what the Rams did on Sunday. Their pass-run overload was
13 to 6 in the first quarter and 45 to 13 by game's end. The
last pass, Warner's bomb to Bruce, defied logic. The St. Louis
defense had been on the field for 20 of the previous 23 plays
and was tiring badly. A little more than two minutes were left,
and the score was 16-16. A long scoring drive was called for.
Rest the defense, eat the clock so that Tennessee would have
only seconds remaining if it got the ball back. Nope. Martz
remembered that the Rams had almost lost the NFC title game to
the Buccaneers after he had turned conservative. He had an
attack-first philosophy, and he would live or die by it. "We had
a shot," said Martz afterward, "so we took it."
After its quick touchdown St. Louis watched in agony as the
Titans marched downfield. "Tennessee played with great courage,"
Rams tight end Ernie Conwell said, "but it took courage for Mike
to call that play, too. It's been the character of this team all
year. The big play. Today it won a Super Bowl for us."