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Tuesday, 3 July 2012

SB XXXIV Revealed - Red Zone Problems, Answered

It may be over 12 years ago, but the win in Superbowl XXXIV is still a badge of honour for St Louis Rams fans, particularly when you consider over the last 5 seasons the Rams have a record of 15-65. Past glory always shines a little brighter when you're in the dark. However, recent conversations with one of the people in and around the Rams during their 1999 run at the Superbowl have revealed that this victory was even more touch-and-go than even the last second, game-winning Mike Jones tackle on Kevin Dyson portrays, and goes a long way to explain why the Rams only went into half time of the game 9-0 up, despite driving into the Red Zone 5 times in their opening 5 drives, and out gaining the Titans in yards 294-89.

Like so many of the questions surrounding the post-'99 Rams, the answer is Mike Martz.

Of course, the Rams did win Superbowl XXXIV, finally stopping the Titans on the 1 yard line as the clock ticked to 0:00 with the score 23-16, but coming in to the game all the talk was about the Rams potent offense, the Greatest Show on Turf, and many expected them to put a lot of points on the Titans (even though Tennessee had beaten the Rams 24-21 earlier in the season).

He didn't make it...

As it turned out, the Rams offense did perform well in the first half, consistently driving on the Titans, with Kurt Warner setting a Superbowl record for most passes in a half, and going 2nd in passing yards in a half (he eventually broke the record for the whole game in yards too). However, every time the Rams got inside the Titans 20, they stalled. The usual slick and efficient offense looked uncertain, rushed, and pressured, and the Titans blitz schemes looked effective, knocking Kurt Warner to the turf on numerous occasions. In the regular season the Rams had the 2nd best Red Zone offense in the NFL, but here they looked like amateurs. Talking to Bob McGinn the day after the victory, offensive coordinator Mike Martz gave credit to the Titans. "They changed up their defence" he said. But according to Lynn Stiles, 3 times Superbowl winner and then tight ends coach of the Rams, that wasn't the complete story. When talking about Martz this weekend at the British American Football Coaches Association (BAFCA) annual convention, Stiles said "He changed our red zone offence on the Friday night before the Superbowl. We only had walkthroughs on the Saturday to try and install this stuff."

2 days, 1 walkthrough before one of the biggest games in Rams history, and certainly the biggest since the move to Missouri, Mike Martz decided to change the playbook. A team that had been explosively successful all season turned into the first team in Superbowl history to drive into the Red Zone 5 times and not find the endzone. Stiles continued, "We shoulda been 21-0 up at the half. But should have, could have, ya know."

Now of course, Martz may well have been correct in his assertion, and even with his changes to the playbook, the Titans changes may have been more key. But you'd assume that maybe the Rams might have someone on the sideline that could quickly draw up the schemes Tennessee were using, show Warner and the O-line, and adjust after a couple of drives. Well, you'd be right. And the guy in charge of drawing up the blitz schemes in this game? Lynn Stiles.

"I was in charge of calling the blitzes. I drew 'em up and showed them to [Martz]. He'd be like "yeah, yeah, yeah, [imitates flicking through pages.] Don't worry about it, we'll get them.""

Right. So, not only did Martz decide to change the Red Zone playbook, but when his stuff wasn't working, he wasn't bothered about working to fix it. Supreme confidence? Blind denial? In the long term, it says a lot about why the Rams time at the top was relatively short-lived...

"He just wanted to keep running his sets with his guys. Ya know, he got Warner killed out there some days."


- Phil Gaskin (@sosayitisaid)
- The Pulling Linemen


  1. Martz was a maniac in both Super Bowl appearances with the Rams. It was almost as if he didn't trust what he had been doing all season. The Super Bowl loss to the Pats still stings to this day. This franchise still has not recovered.

  2. Without him there is no trophy in the case.A statue should be erected in his honor.