Mix of pass, run helping Rams control clock

Updated: October 16, 2003, 3:50 PM ET

ST. LOUIS -- It's not exactly three yards and a cloud of plastic for the St. Louis Rams, but the team once known as the "Greatest Show on Turf" for its quick-strike offense is now controlling the clock.

Gone are the 49-37 wins, the days when the Rams would throw pass after pass and often score four or five plays into a drive -- then give up points just as quickly.

In Monday night's 36-0 win over the Atlanta Falcons, the Rams (3-2) mixed 31 runs with 35 passes. They controlled the ball for 37 minutes and 20 seconds. In their previous game, a 37-13 win over Arizona, the Rams held the ball 42:27.

The Rams are averaging 35 minutes and 13 seconds of possession each game, easily the best in the NFL. Dallas is second at 33:08.

Coach Mike Martz said much of the credit goes to the defense for keeping opposing offenses off the field.

"Defensively when you get them three-and-out quite a bit and you start making some first downs on offense, I think that takes its toll on the other team," Martz said as the Rams prepared to play host Sunday to the Green Bay Packers (3-3).

As for the offense, quarterback Marc Bulger figures a more methodical approach takes a toll on opposing defenders.

"That defensive line is big guys," said Bulger, who passed for 352 yards and two touchdowns and ran for another against Atlanta. "To be on the field that long, it's going to wear on them."

Martz was criticized after a season-opening 23-13 loss to the New York Giants in which Kurt Warner passed 54 times while the Rams ran just 13 times. The Giants, unconcerned about the run, sacked Warner six times and forced six fumbles.

Since then, Warner has been replaced by Bulger and the game plan has turned more conservative. It's hardly Woody Hayes-like -- the Rams completed 10 passes of 15 yards or longer against Atlanta; Isaac Bruce completed a pass on an end-around, and were throwing downfield late in the fourth quarter of a blowout win.

Still, in the four games since the opener, the pass-to-run ratio is a more traditional 37-31.

Defensively, the Rams are more like they were in 2001, when they allowed almost 200 fewer points than they did the previous season.

The Falcons made just nine first downs, netted 209 total yards and threatened to score only once on a drive ending when Aeneas Williams intercepted a Doug Johnson pass in the end zone. Travis Fisher also intercepted a fourth-quarter pass and returned it 74 yards for a touchdown.

Counting a third-quarter safety, the St. Louis defense outscored Atlanta 9-0.

"People need to give credit to Mike Martz," defensive tackle Tyoka Jackson said. "Everyone is always criticizing his play-calling and his philosophy, but we lead the league in time of possession. You can't do that without an offense that's willing to be patient and run the football and do the things that are going to control the clock."

This story is from ESPN.com's automated news wire. Wire index