Martz gets tough with Rams
The Rams responded to a tough week of practice with a huge win over the Seahawks.
ST. LOUIS -- Mike Martz has been praised and criticized for being the Mad Scientist of offense. Since last week's loss to the New England, Martz was just mad.
Mad coaches live on the edge. Players usually respond big or fall flat. The Rams responded big Sunday. Martz cracked the whip earlier in the week and the Rams responded like a champion horse down the final furlong. Five days after Martz turned his Wednesday practice into a live scrimmage, the Rams hit the turf looking to hit somebody.
"We had to go back to basics and identify things that we are not doing well, tidy them up and get them cleaned up on Wednesday," Martz said. "The players appreciated it. They responded very well."
Appreciate might not be the right word here. For the usually jovial Martz, the days leading up to the victory over the Seahawks was much like an episode of Fear Factor. For seven days, there was no more Mr. Nice Guy.
It appeared the players' coach had turned anti-player after back-to-back losses. His quotes to the St. Louis press were classics. One quote: "We don't hold hands and get in a séance and sing Kumbaya." Then there was this one straight from Jim Fassel's quotebook: "You're on the train or you're not. Get out, period. I know where I'm going, you're either with me or you're not."
This was coaching. The masterful strategist calls it an "attitude adjustment." He called out the team publicly. Privately, he called out a handful of players for not doing their jobs. He threatened putting players on the bench. He put tape together to show sloppy or non-existent effort. The embarrassing loss to Miami in particular caught everyone's attention.
"He showed us videotape of the Miami game where guys quit running," safety Adam Archuleta said. "Those are things we had gotten away from. You can't give up on a play. You need 11 hats getting to the football. Playing hard and playing aggressive is the key to a lot of things. If you have that down, schemes take care of themselves. It's more attitude than anything."
Wednesday's practice was wild. It started after Martz cut a 15-minute press conference 10 minutes short with quick, terse answers. He stormed to the practice field and treated the players worse than the writers. Hitting was live. "I've never been in a practice like that," halfback Marshall Faulk said. Linemen could hit as if they were in a game. Backs could be tackled.
To make matters worse, Martz stormed around the practice field with his whistle and nasty attitude. He chided the defense if they gave up 2 yards by saying "2 yards is too much." He called out players who didn't hustle.
"We had a nine-on-seven drill that was live and I had a whistle," Martz said. "If the offense started to run against our defense, I would yell, 'First do-o-o-o-w-n, Seattle,'" Martz said, trying to sound like retired ref Red Cashion. "We had fun."
The point was made. Hustle or get out. So the Rams hustled. Perhaps there was no batter example than Aeneas Williams' hustle in the fourth quarter. Seahawks halfback Shaun Alexander broke a 35-yard run down the left side of the field. He maneuvered around Rams defenders, but Williams, who had been in man coverage, chased him down and stripped the ball from his hands at the Rams' 14.
Remember, this is a Rams defense that had only two interceptions and five forced fumbles in eight games. Williams, the Rams' oldest position player at 36, saved a potential touchdown. This was the same Williams who lost his starting free safety job this week because of a stinger problem that had affected his play.
"There he is coming up with a big play, yanking the ball out and we get the ball," Martz said. "That was probably the turning point and the most critical point in the game for him to make that play. I'm very proud of this team and how they responded. The most important thing at this point is next week, and we need to continue with this type of effort."
Which means more physical Wednesdays.
"We needed to get aggressive," Williams said. "That's the definition of football. Football is hitting. Coach Martz has attempted a number of things to motivate this team. We knew what was needed. We had lost a couple of games, and we were being embarrassed."
For years, Martz was criticized for being too soft on his players. During bye weeks, he gives players the entire week off. During the first four years, they won each game after the bye week. But last week after the bye, they lost by 18 to the Patriots. No more Mr. Nice Guy.
|“||We needed to get aggressive. That's the definition of football. Football is hitting. Coach Martz has attempted a number of things to motivate this team. We knew what was needed. We had lost a couple of games, and we were being embarrassed. ”|
|— Aeneas Williams, Rams safety|
To his critics, Martz is basically saying, "Screw it." He's criticized for not running the ball enough, so he came out in his biggest game of the year Sunday and threw the ball 13 straight times. His defense wasn't going to lose focus in the red zone. Six times, the Seahawks penetrated the Rams' 30. They ended up with four field goals, two turnovers and only 12 points.
"We knew we had to get it in gear," Archuleta said. "We don't like to do the things we did in practice, but evidently it works. We were more physical. As players, you don't like it, but as players, you control that by playing well and we hadn't done that. Our pursuit was outstanding today."
So was the Rams' resilience. The offense survived plenty of adversity. In the first quarter, wide receiver Torry Holt was leveled by Seahawks safety Terreal Bierria. He suffered a concussion that was so bad he started talking about credits needed to graduate in college. Martz shut him down for the rest of the game.
In the second half, the Rams lost two offensive linemen -- guard Chris Dishman to a minor knee injury and left tackle Orlando Pace to an ejection for bumping into side judge Don Carlson. Grant Williams moved from right tackle to left tackle. Tom Nutten, who came out of retirement to be a backup, played left guard. Blaine Saipaia finished the game at right tackle.
The Rams settled into more of a running game in the second half and ended up with 202 yards rushing on 31 carries, a very un-Martz-like performance. "Those things happen with the running game when you come out passing," Martz said.
So the harder practices will continue.
"I think that this team needed that," Martz said. "We had gotten into practice habits that were more geared to the veterans. In 2001, we were in shorts and sweatshirts for most of the time in practice. They knew how to play and they had been playing together for a long time. It was just a coaching error on my part. We have to get back to basics with a lot of these guys, like taking blocks and shedding them. Wednesdays are violent practices and that is the way it has to be for a while."
The Rams now have back-to-back cold weather games in Buffalo and Green Bay. There is no truth to the rumor that Martz will have the Rams practice in cold meat lockers like Rocky to prepare them for these fights.
John Clayton is a senior writer for ESPN.com.
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