1 St. Louis Rams Don't expect last season's Super Bowl loss to slow the game's most potent offense

September 01, 2002

As if it weren't bad enough that virtually everyone in football
thinks his ego cost the Rams a Super Bowl ring last February,
coach Mike Martz then had to spend the next seven months being
second-guessed at restaurants, supermarkets and airport gift
shops. "Why didn't you run the ball?" autograph-seeking fans
would ask Martz, leaving the St. Louis coach to explain politely
that an extra 10 or 15 carries for Marshall Faulk wouldn't
necessarily have ensured victory over the Patriots in Super Bowl
XXXVI.

If you were expecting Martz to be a humbled convert to
conservative football in the wake of last February's shocking
upset, get over it. "You don't score points running the ball,"
Martz says. "We're going to be aggressive and throw the ball no
matter who we play and what they're doing. That's who we are,
and that's what we do."

The only thing Martz can do to answer his critics is to win the
big one--which, for the third consecutive year of his three-year
tenure, his team will be favored to do. "We're still a marked
team," says All-Pro wideout Isaac Bruce. "Even though we lost the
Super Bowl, it's like people think we got paid off." That's the
way it is when you have the game's best quarterback, the most
well-rounded running back in NFL history and an innovative coach
who knows exactly how to exploit their talents.

Cynics note that Martz won his lone Super Bowl in January 2000 as
Dick Vermeil's first-year offensive coordinator and blame him for
the following season's defensive meltdown that led to a
first-round playoff defeat. But Martz, who signed a five-year
contract extension in July, has considerable front-office juice
and the unwavering allegiance of those he cares about most. "A
lot of people see Mike's approach as arrogant, but to us it's him
taking care of his own," says All-Pro quarterback Kurt Warner.
"His attitude is, 'This is my family, and it's us against the
world.'"

Pressed for an example, Warner cites the onside kick the Rams
pulled off late in the third quarter of an October victory
against the Jets. St. Louis led 31-7 at the time, and the move
caused an uproar for its apparent lack of sportsmanship. "That
kick wasn't designed for that game," Warner says. "It was sending
a message to teams we'd play in bigger games down the road:
'Don't get too complacent, because you never know what we might
do.'"

Martz's bag of tricks remains well-stocked this season, despite
the departure of the team's ultraquick No. 3 wideout, Az Hakim,
who signed as a free agent with Detroit. Former Colts speedster
Terrence Wilkins and holdover Yo Murphy are vying to fill Hakim's
role and join underrated veteran Ricky Proehl backing up Bruce
and Torry Holt, the league's best receiving tandem.

Then there is perhaps the most intriguing wide receiver prospect
of all: former Nebraska quarterback Eric Crouch, the fleet-footed
Heisman Trophy winner whom Martz chose in the third round of
April's draft. Martz believes Crouch will become good enough at
wideout to contribute this season.

Far more important are the potential contributions of Warner and
Faulk, who have combined to win the league's last three MVP
awards. Though Warner insists he has fully recovered from a
sprained right thumb that plagued him throughout last season,
there is some skepticism within the team; one offensive starter
says many of Warner's longer throws during training camp tended
to sail off target. Faulk, who signed a seven-year contract
extension in July, isn't among those who griped after the game
that Martz should have pounded the ball against New England's
six- and seven-defensive-back alignments. "Look at the receivers
we have," says Faulk, "and how can you say that throwing the
ball is wrong?"

Given his team's obvious talent on both sides of the ball--St.
Louis's defense, which was ranked third last season under
first-year coordinator Lovie Smith, looks to be even better in
2002--Martz believes he'll have the last word come February.
Until then the Rams intend to keep scoring points and proving
them, with their usual abandon. "We're hungry, and that makes us
dangerous," Bruce says. "Mike's attitude rubs off on all of us."
--Michael Silver

COLOR PHOTO: DAMIAN STROHMEYER (RAMS) [INSIDE COVER] NFC WEST WHY THE RAMS WILL WIN IT ALL MARSHALL FAULK COLOR PHOTO: TAI PFLEGER/ENDZONE Faulk is the NFL's top running back, but even he expects the Rams to throw often. COLOR PHOTO: NFL PHOTOS TERRENCE WILKINS

NEW TWIST
--Brace yourselves: Mike Martz has a new toy, and it should come
with a warning label for opposing defenses. Second-year tight end
Brandon Manumaleuna, a 6'2", 288-pound bull, has good hands and
Martz plans to get him the ball. Last year Manumaleuna's sole
reception was a one-yard touchdown catch in a loss to Tampa Bay.

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

"In the Super Bowl, Bill Belichick laid out a blueprint for how
to slow these guys down. The Patriots played a lot of man-under
coverage and jammed the receivers, and the two-deep zone didn't
give them room to run around. But Mike Martz is so damn smart,
he'll have some new wrinkles.... I know they were unhappy with
Az Hakim because he dropped a lot of balls, but I don't think
Terrence Wilkins is as dangerous. Wilkins is fast, and he's
probably a better return guy, but Hakim was special.... Eric
Crouch is a hell of an athlete, but playing receiver is going to
be a tough transition for him.... I'm still trying to figure out
why they let [linebacker] London Fletcher go. Fletcher [who
signed as a free agent with the Bills] was the leader of their
defense.... Jamie Duncan can flat-out fly. Even though he knows
Lovie Smith's system from when they were at Tampa together, I
think Fletcher's better.... The guy I love is Grant Wistrom. His
first year, he got his butt handed to him in the running game.
But he worked and worked, and now he's one of the best ends in
the league. His motor runs 900 miles an hour, and he chases guys
all over the field.... Adam Archuleta is much better than I
thought he'd be. I knew he'd be a big hitter, but he can cover,
too.... Dre' Bly should start at cornerback; he's better than
Dexter McCleon. The more he plays, the better he gets. He's
quick, and he's tough."

SCHEDULE

Sept. 8 at Denver
15 N.Y. GIANTS
23 at Tampa Bay (Mon.)
29 DALLAS

Oct. 6 at San Francisco
13 OAKLAND
20 SEATTLE
27 Open date

Nov. 3 at Arizona
10 SAN DIEGO
18 CHICAGO (Mon.)
24 at Washington

Dec. 1 at Philadelphia
8 at Kansas City
15 ARIZONA
22 at Seattle
30 SAN FRANCISCO (Mon.)

SCHEDULE STRENGTH

NFL rank: T4
Opponents' 2001 winning percentage: .539
Games against playoff teams: 6

PROJECTED LINEUP with 2001 statistics
COACH: Mike Martz; third season with St. Louis (24-8 in NFL)
2001 RECORD: 14-2 (first in NFC West)
NFL RANK (rush/pass/total): offense 5/1/1; defense 3/11/3

OFFENSIVE BACKS PVR*

QB Kurt Warner 2
546 att. 375 comp. 68.7% 4,830 yds. 36 TDs 22 int. 101.4 rtg.

RB Marshall Faulk 1
260 att. 1,382 yds. 5.3 avg. 83 rec. 765 yds. 9.2 avg. 21 TDs

RB Trung Canidate 124
78 att. 441 yds. 5.7 avg. 17 rec. 154 yds. 9.1 avg. 6 TDs

FB James Hodgins 339
2 att. 5 yds. 2.5 avg. 4 rec. 24 yds. 6.0 avg. 1 TD

RECEIVERS, SPECIALISTS, OFFENSIVE LINEMEN

[PVR*]

WR Torry Holt 19 81 rec. 1,363 yds. 7 TDs
WR Isaac Bruce 35 64 rec. 1,106 yds. 6 TDs
WR Terrence Wilkins [N] 42 34 rec. 332 yds. 0 TDs
TE Ernie Conwell 134 38 rec. 431 yds. 4 TDs
K Jeff Wilkins 119 58/58 XPs 23/29 FGs 127 pts.
PR Terrence Wilkins [N] 42 21 ret. 10.4 avg. 1 TD
KR Trung Canidate 124 36 ret. 20.8 avg. 0 TDs

LT Orlando Pace 6'7" 325 lbs. 16 games 16 starts
LG Tom Nutten 6'5" 304 lbs. 15 games 13 starts
C Andy McCollum 6'4" 310 lbs. 16 games 16 starts
RG Adam Timmerman 6'4" 310 lbs. 16 games 16 starts
RT John St. Clair 6'4" 320 lbs. 0 games 0 starts

DEFENSE

LE Leonard Little 28 tackles 14 1/2 sacks
LT Damione Lewis 9 tackles 0 sacks
RT Jeff Zgonina 32 tackles 0 sacks
RE Grant Wistrom 44 tackles 9 sacks
OLB Tommy Polley 68 tackles 0 sacks
MLB Jamie Duncan [N] 62 tackles 2 sacks
OLB Don Davis 20 tackles 0 sacks
CB Aeneas Williams 55 tackles 4 int.
SS Adam Archuleta 47 tackles 2 sacks
FS Kim Herring 52 tackles 1 int.
CB Dexter McCleon 58 tackles 4 int.
P Mitch Berger [N] 47 punts 43.5 avg.

[N] New acquisition
*PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 98)

"The Patriots showed how to slow them down. But Martz is so
smart, he'll have some new wrinkles."

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)