- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 15, 2000

ST. LOUIS If Washington becomes just another victim Monday of the force that is the St. Louis offense, the Redskins can blame themselves.
Not only did the Rams hire Redskins quarterbacks coach Mike Martz as their offensive coordinator in 1999, but Martz is yet another branch of the Don Coryell-based offense that also spawned Washington coach Norv Turner. What's more, Martz's aggressive, all-out philosophy also was shaped by the 0-7 start to his final year in Washington.
"That was the worst time I've had in football," said Martz, a 28-year coaching veteran who took over the champions when Dick Vermeil retired after the Super Bowl. "All of us were taking it personally, and it got to the point that I told [running backs coach] Bobby Jackson, 'You know it's legal to have fun coaching in this league.' When I came here, I was determined that we were going to have fun."
The 8-2 Rams certainly are having fun. Tied for the best record in the league despite playing without MVP quarterback Kurt Warner for the last three games and superstar halfback Marshall Faulk for the last two, St. Louis is averaging NFL records in points (39.2), yards (475.4) and passing yards (355.6).
Martz took the Air Coryell approach refined by Coryell assistant Ernie Zampese and his protege, Turner. He added the personnel switches and motion that worked so well for former Redskins coach Joe Gibbs (another Coryell aide) and the quick-hitting pass patterns of Bill Walsh's West Coast offense and came up with this system.
"This is the old Coryell system," said Martz, who spent time at San Diego's training camps while he was coaching at Arizona State in the mid-1980s and Coryell was in his waning days with the Chargers. "We identified some guys [1996 Pro Bowl receiver Isaac Bruce, top draft pick Torry Holt and Faulk, acquired in a trade with the Colts] we thought needed to get the ball, and then we started moving them around. Some of that was a reaction to defenses having taken control of the game with zone blitzes. You start double-shifting and moving guys around, and sooner or later someone's going to be free."
Bruce (1,094) and Holt (945) have come free so often that they rank 1-2 in the NFC in receiving yards. With third receiver Az-Zahir Hakim and the sidelined Faulk, St. Louis has four of the conference's top 20 in receiving yards. No other team has more than two.
The same is true with catches. Bruce is third with 60. Faulk, out until next month following arthroscopic knee surgery, is tied for eighth with 48. Holt is right behind with 47, and Hakim has 42. Holt (20.0), Bruce (18.2) and Hakim (15.0) all average at least 15 yards a catch. Only three other NFC receivers with more than 40 catches are averaging that much.
"Most teams have one or maybe two guys that fast, but I don't think anybody has ever had that many guys with that kind of speed," said Atlanta defensive coordinator Rich Brooks, whose defense was strafed by the Rams for an average of 34 points and 412 yards in four losses during the last two years. "Not many teams' starting corners can match up with Bruce and Holt, and the Rams' third and fourth receivers are better than anybody's third and fourth corners."
The Rams, who hadn't had a winning season since 1989 before Martz's hiring as their offensive coordinator, are 24-5 (including playoffs) since. The offense hasn't been fazed by the St. Louis defense's struggles or the absence of Warner and Faulk. Minus arguably the NFL's top two offensive players, the Rams racked up 38 points in three quarters Sunday against a New York Giants defense that had yielded just 30 points in its previous four games.
Warner, out with a broken finger, leads the NFL with a 111.6 quarterback rating. Replacement Trent Green is second at 109.0.
"The four-receiver packages [veteran Ricky Proehl is No. 4] and Marshall are really what sets this offense apart," said Green, a Martz pupil the last four seasons. "We can really spread a defense out. Norv has always been into the shifting and the motion, but Mike has taken it to another level. We have guys crisscrossing and flip-flopping all over the place to try to spread the defense thin and create mismatches."
Dealing with all of those moves, plus the unmatched speed of Bruce, Holt, Hakim and Faulk, is a nightmare.
"Things happen so fast that you have to make adjustments on the run," said Rams linebackers coach Mike Haluchak, who prepared for the offense when he was with the Giants in 1999. "On one play, they'll have three receivers, a tight end and a back. The next play, there'll be two receivers and two backs. Then there might be four receivers and a back. Marshall's in the backfield on one play. He's at receiver on the next play. Defensively, you're always back on your heels."
And unlike Gibbs, Zampese or Turner, who went to ball control with fourth quarter leads, Martz keeps throwing, keeps attacking.
"It's an aggressive attitude that you try to perpetuate," Martz said. "We never back off. We have one speed. That's all the way to the floorboards."
That attitude can lead to charges of running up the score. Indeed, the Rams who scored at least 30 points in a record 14 straight games until losing to Carolina 27-24 on Nov. 5 at times seem like a college team trying to move up in the polls. Martz's first 18 calls against the Chargers were passes. It was 17-0 after just 9:16.
"Mike keeps going for the jugular," Brooks said. "They were up [37-29] on us with less than two minutes to go, and we were out of timeouts. The only way they could have lost was if we returned a fumble for a touchdown, but they didn't try to run out the clock. They drove and scored and then went for 2. They had the game won, but I guess they had to get their 40 points. I don't think that was right."
It's right until a defense figures out how to stop it.

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