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1 St. Louis Rams Mike Martz's cure for underachievers on defense was simple: Get rid of 'em

Sept. 03, 2001
Sept. 03, 2001

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Sept. 3, 2001

NFL Preview 2001

1 St. Louis Rams Mike Martz's cure for underachievers on defense was simple: Get rid of 'em

It wasn't exactly an all-out blitz, but Mike Martz didn't like
the line of questioning--and he didn't run from it. A few days
into his second training camp as the Rams' coach, Martz was asked
if he wished he had devoted more attention to his defensive
players during the team's disappointing 2000 season. Walking off
the practice field at Western Illinois in late July, Martz became
hotter than the sweltering sun as he pondered the question's
implications: Had Martz, former coach Dick Vermeil's offensive
coordinator during the Rams' Super Bowl- winning '99 season,
failed to make the team's defenders feel as loved as had his
touchy-feely predecessor?

This is an article from the Sept. 3, 2001 issue Original Layout

"I coached those defensive guys the same way I coached the
offensive guys," Martz said sharply. "I don't care how many
dinners Dick took them to or how many times he put his arm around
them. Those guys can rip me all they want, but the bottom line
is, they didn't produce or perform, and that's why they're not
here."

Forgive Martz for being defensive, because last year's team
certainly wasn't. St. Louis surrendered 471 points (28 more than
the next-worst team), gave up 29.4 per game and held just one
opponent under 20. In the off-season Martz got out his sling
blade and hacked at the wreckage of the previous season. The
defense will have as many as eight new starters, along with three
new coaches.

While Martz's high-speed offense remained the greatest show on
earth, the second-greatest show was whichever team's offense was
playing the Rams. Even the innocuous Buccaneers looked like a
run-and-gun outfit against St. Louis, rolling up 446 yards in a
38-35 victory last Dec. 18 that nearly squashed the Rams' playoff
hopes. On the flight home from Tampa halfback Marshall Faulk, who
was the league MVP last season, approached Martz and pleaded,
"Let me play cornerback" in the regular-season finale in New
Orleans. "We were in a desperate situation," Faulk says. "I
wasn't trying to disrespect anyone."

Under the circumstances, failure to show respect would not have
been inappropriate. By then many Rams were furious at two
defensive leaders, end Kevin Carter and cornerback Todd Lyght,
for what they perceived as lack of effort. Both players were
bothered by the team's failure to meet their contract demands in
the wake of Pro Bowl seasons in '99, and their performances fell
off dramatically. After the season Carter was shipped to the
Titans for a first-round draft pick; Lyght's contract expired and
he was not re-signed. (The Lions picked him up.) Several other
defenders were released, including Super Bowl hero Mike Jones,
now a backup inside linebacker with the Steelers. Martz also
jettisoned defensive coordinator Peter Giunta, whose varied
schemes were regarded as confounding by some players, and
replaced him with Lovie Smith, a protege of Tampa Bay coach Tony
Dungy and the Buccaneers' linebackers coach for the previous five
seasons.

Among the free agents signed as replacements were free safety Kim
Herring, a former Ravens starter; Mark Fields, a Pro Bowl outside
linebacker for the Saints; and outside linebacker Don Davis,
formerly of the Bucs. On draft day St. Louis pried six-time Pro
Bowl cornerback Aeneas Williams from the Cardinals for second-
and fourth-round picks, then used six of their first eight
selections on defensive players. Two first-rounders are projected
as starters: defensive tackle Damione Lewis, whose quick inside
burst has been compared to the Bucs' All-Pro Warren Sapp, and
safety Adam Archuleta, a converted linebacker whom Smith likens
to Tampa Bay's hard-hitting John Lynch.

Take the players' names off the backs of their jerseys, and even
the Rams' vets might get confused. But at least Smith's scheme, a
knockoff of Dungy's successful system, will be simple. Right now
the players are lovin' Lovie, who promises lots of two-deep
coverage and a single-minded pursuit of excellence. "What our
offense does is great," Smith says, "but as far as we're
concerned, we have to win the football game ourselves."

The conventional wisdom is that the electrifying Rams, barring an
injury to Faulk or quarterback Kurt Warner, need only an average
defense to return to the Super Bowl. Martz doesn't want to hear
that. "Our goal is never to be average in anything," he says.
"That would be hard to stomach."

--Michael Silver

COLOR PHOTO: ALLEN KEE With game-breakers like Az-Zahir Hakim, the Rams' offense is still the greatest show on turf.COLOR PHOTO: DAVID E. KLUTHO WISTROM

ENEMY LINES
an opposing team's scout sizes up the Rams

"Everyone says there's no dominant team in the conference, but
St. Louis is pretty close. There have been some great offenses,
but these guys have a chance to go down as the best of all
time.... Most teams are happy if they have two outstanding
skill-position players. The Rams have a spectacular quarterback,
three dangerous wideouts and a running back, Marshall Faulk, who
should count as two weapons because he's so versatile.... Most
of the offensive line is solid, and then there's Orlando Pace.
He might not always crush people like he should, but he's still
one of the top five tackles in the league.... I think you'll see
teams blitz a lot; otherwise Kurt Warner is unstoppable. He got
banged up last year, and maybe he'll rush his reads because he's
worried about getting hit in the head.... The defense will be
more athletic and active. Aeneas Williams still has what it
takes, and he'll be faster on turf. I also like Kim Herring, who
may not be terrific against the run or the pass but is good
against both and is smart. That's important because I'm not sure
if Adam Archuleta will be ready. They're asking him to switch
positions and start at safety as a rookie, which is equivalent
to putting a rookie at quarterback.... Kevin Carter dogged it
last year, so getting rid of him will help.... Grant Wistrom
isn't the most gifted pass rusher, but he makes up for it with
his effort, cunning and toughness."

SCHEDULE

Sept. 9 at Philadelphia
16 ATLANTA
23 at San Francisco
30 MIAMI
Oct. 8 at Detroit (Mon.)
14 N.Y. GIANTS
21 at N.Y. Jets
28 NEW ORLEANS
Nov. 4 Open date
11 CAROLINA
18 at New England
26 TAMPA BAY (Mon.)
Dec. 2 at Atlanta
9 SAN FRANCISCO
17 at New Orleans (Mon.)
23 at Carolina
30 INDIANAPOLIS

2001 SCHEDULE STRENGTH
NFL rank: 9
Opponents' 2000 winning percentage: .512
Games against playoff teams: 7

PROJECTED LINEUP with 2000 statistics

COACH: Mike Martz; second season with St. Louis (10-6 in NFL)
2000 RECORD: 10-6 (second in NFC West)
NFL RANK (rush/pass/total): offense 17/1/1; defense 13/27/23

OFFENSIVE BACKS PVR*

QB Kurt Warner 3 347 att. 235 comp. 67.7% 3,429 yds.
21 TDs 18 int. 98.3 rtg.

RB Marshall Faulk 1 253 att. 1,359 yds. 5.4 avg. 81 rec.
830 yds. 10.2 avg. 26 TDs

RB Robert Holcombe 255 21 att. 70 yds. 3.3 avg. 8 rec.
90 yds. 11.3 avg. 4 TDs

FB James Hodgins 310 1 att. 3 yds. 3.0 avg. 2 rec.
5 yds. 2.5 avg. 0 TDs

RECEIVERS, SPECIALISTS, OFFENSIVE LINEMEN

[PVR*]

WR Isaac Bruce 18 87 rec. 1,471 yds. 9 TDs
WR Torry Holt 38 82 rec. 1,635 yds. 6 TDs
WR Ricky Proehl 225 31 rec. 441 yds. 4 TDs
TE Ernie Conwell 257 5 rec. 40 yds. 0 TDs
K Jeff Wilkins 156 38/38 XPs 17/17 FGs 89 pts.
PR Az-Zahir Hakim 66 32 ret. 15.3 avg. 1 TD
KR Trung Canidate 177 no kickoff returns in 2000

LT Orlando Pace 6'7" 325 lbs. 16 games 16 starts
LG Tom Nutten 6'5" 304 lbs. 16 games 16 starts
C Andy McCollum 6'4" 295 lbs. 16 games 16 starts
RG Adam Timmerman 6'4" 300 lbs. 16 games 15 starts
RT Ryan Tucker 6'5" 305 lbs. 16 games 16 starts

DEFENSE

LE Chidi Ahanotu[N] 46 tackles 3 1/2 sacks
LT Damione Lewis(R)[N] 41 tackles 3 sacks
RT Jeff Zgonina 37 tackles 2 sacks
RE Grant Wistrom 63 tackles 11 sacks
OLB Don Davis[N] 21 tackles 0 sacks
MLB London Fletcher 132 tackles 5 1/2 sacks
OLB Mark Fields[N] 82 tackles 2 sacks

CB Aeneas Williams[N] 60 tackles 5 int.
SS Adam Archuleta(R)[N]127 tackles 4 sacks
FS Kim Herring[N] 59 tackles 3 int.
CB Dexter McCleon 54 tackles 8 int.
P John Baker 43 punts 40.4 avg.

[N]New acquisition
(R) Rookie (statistics for final college year)
*PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 119)

"Pace might not crush people, but he's still one of the league's
top five tackles."