New Orleans fans, noting that the Rams, en route to a 34-14 rout, executed an onside kickoff with a 31-7 lead over the New York Jets last Sunday, are asking: What will those guys think of next?
Ram Trick Plays Win Again
FOR UNCERTAIN REASONS, Martz isn't getting the national attention he's earned for the last three years as the NFL's only venturesome, creative leader. The league's other coaches all play it safe. Martz attacks. As the founder of what's being called the greatest show on earth, he is habitually in an attack mode. It's only a coincidence that in the trick-or-treat month, October, Martz was always playing tricks and getting treats in the Jet game. Three examples:
To break open a 7-7 struggle in the last three minutes of the half, he called a unique option play for a 56-yard touchdown. The play began when Ram wide receiver Az-Zahir Hakim moved into the backfield as a running back, took a handoff, and swept wide for 12 yards, then pitched out to halfback Trung Canidate to get the rest of the easy yardage.
As the Rams stretched away to 31-7 in the third quarter, Martz positioned quarterback Kurt Warner far left as a wide receiver before lining up Canidate as a shotgun passer in an otherwise empty backfield, whence, faking the pass, Canidate sprinted to a 12-yard touchdown on a quarterback-draw play.
It was an instant later that the Rams worked their onside kickoff, ending all hope for the Jets. As a third-quarter call, it was legitimate. Contrary to the Howie Longs, nothing whatever that a winning pro club does in the first three quarters—no pass, no trick play—can be construed as pouring it on.
Martz Proving to Be a Complete Coach
IT'S TIME TO recognize Martz as a candidate (not more than that yet, perhaps) for a theoretical eminence that only three Hall of Famers, Vince Lombardi, Paul Brown and Bill Walsh, have previously reached. I see him approaching greatness—or at least respect—as a complete coach. In their time, Lombardi, Brown and Walsh were, first, original offensive thinkers, as Martz is. But more than that, they excelled in all of the other important aspects of their intricate and difficult game—among them personnel acquisition, defensive understanding, overall organization, and the education and development of individual athletes. And, so far, these have been Martz strengths too.
Though he hasn't had a chance to stand the test of time, the coach of St. Louis has shown promise as a personnel scout by acquiring unusual star-caliber talent as represented by running back Marshall Faulk, defensive back Aeneas Williams, and Canidate—to name three Rams that any other coach could have had this year. Defensively, Martz has bewildered the NFL with a new team he put together in six months. He showed, first, the vision and force of will to fire eight defensive starters, and then, with the help of a personnel department headed by club president Jay Zygmunt, to install eight new starters along with the right new defensive system and, apparently, the right new defensive leader, Lovie Smith. Most of all, to be sure, Martz is redefining offensive football.
Play Selection is the Secret to the Rams
THE PRO LEAGUE is jammed this season with some pretty good once-beaten or twice-beaten contenders: San Francisco, Oakland, San Diego, Green Bay, Pittsburgh, Chicago, Miami, New Orleans, Philadelphia, New York Giants. There are even some talented three-time losers: Baltimore, Minnesota, Denver, Atlanta, Tennessee, Tampa Bay, the New York Jets. Far above them all, strangely, stands one undefeated team, the 6-0 Rams, who won the Super Bowl two years ago with Martz's unique offense and who only missed the final round last year after quarterback Warner was twice injured. In the playoffs, Warner was crippled with a concussion.
And, surely, injuries, if any, are all that stand between the Rams and another title-day appearance. Chance of injury is the one invincible NFL negative.
In this era of parity-inducing salary caps and free agency, the creation of this Ram team has been an extraordinary if not-quite well-understood achievement. Looking for explanations, some critics noted last week that Warner and Faulk play most of their games indoors, where the entire club's rare speed—a Martz priority—seems to overwhelm all comers. By contrast, in the Jet game, they played on outdoor turf, minus Faulk, and destroyed the Jets. As usual, one thing made much of the difference there: play selection. The Rams call more passes on first down than any other team since Walsh's 49ers. What's more, their three conspicuous trick plays in the Jet game weren't the only ones Martz called that afternoon. Nearly every Martz play is a trick play.