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Defense leads Rams into second round

1/11/2005 - St. Louis Rams

ST. LOUIS -- It took the St. Louis Rams nearly all season to
learn a new defense. They got the hang of it just in time for the
playoffs.

The Rams held the Seattle Seahawks to 20 points in their
wild-card victory Saturday, a week after limiting the New York Jets
to 324 total yards in a regular-season finale that allowed St.
Louis to sneak into the postseason with a .500 record.

Once ranked as low as 28th in the NFL in total defense earlier
this season while struggling to grasp the scheme of new coordinator
Larry Marmie, St. Louis finished a respectable 17th.

"The thing I like about our defense is we're capable of new
things every week," coach Mike Martz said Monday. "Once they
bought into that whole concept, it's a whole different ballgame."

The Rams will face Atlanta in the divisional playoffs Saturday
in large part because they held Seattle's Shaun Alexander to 40
yards on 15 carries after he gouged them for 326 yards in the first
two meetings.

"We did a real good job of stopping Alexander," defensive
tackle Jimmy Kennedy said. "He took advantage of our mistakes the
first two games."

Kennedy, who sacked Matt Hasselbeck late in the fourth quarter
to help the Rams hold on, has become a factor lately after missing
the first seven games with a broken foot.

"Jimmy has just amazed me," Martz said. "What he did quietly
while he was away, the way he redefined himself physically, is
pretty remarkable."

This week, the Rams will get a stiffer test. Michael Vick is the
most dangerous run-pass threat in the NFL, and he ran for 109 yards
on 12 carries and passed for 179 in the Falcons' 34-17 victory over
St. Louis in Week 2 at Atlanta.

"He certainly is unique and probably as an athlete is the best
in the league, there's no question about that," Martz said. "The
first thing you do is you need to account for him."

Vick led the NFL with an average of 7.5 yards per carry and
rushed for 902 yards, third-best ever for a quarterback. He'll be
well-rested because the Falcons earned a first-round bye and Vick
played just three possessions in the regular-season finale.

"When you keep a guy out like that, obviously they've got a
plan for him," Martz said. "I know they'll have something
different that involves him to a large extent."

The Rams' defense features five first-round picks, three of them
on the line. Martz said one of them, nose guard Ryan Pickett,
played his best game in four seasons with the team last Saturday.
He had four tackles and three assists, a quarterback hit and a
quarterback pressure.

"As a nose guard, you just don't get those opportunities to
make a lot of plays," Martz said. "When it happens, it's very
unusual."

The new defense aims to confuse offenses with multiple fronts.
Martz said it's not as complicated as the offense, which for a long
time also confused the Rams.

"We just had to go through this," Martz said. "At this point
I think they feel very good about the fronts we're running and
their responsibilities, and they can rely on their speed and their
get-off."

As a result, the Rams are an energized team with their second
three-game winning streak of the season. Last season, they earned a
first-round bye in the playoffs. But Martz said this team doesn't
need the rest.

"For us right now you just wouldn't want to have a bye," Martz
said. "We're starting to really get going."