INDIANAPOLIS (AP) – Even without Mike Martz on the St. Louis sideline, the Indianapolis Colts realized his influence would be pervasive Monday night.

The speed, the risks, the unadulterated air show that helped turn a conventional NFL offense into one of the league’s most feared, is Martz’s masterpiece. And, of course, the Rams wanted their coach to know that the Greatest Show on Turf still could be a top draw – even if the stage manager was back home.

“That’s their style of play,” Colts coach Tony Dungy said. “I think Mike might be disappointed if they didn’t play that way.”

Martz’s health has overshadowed football the last week.

The mastermind of the Rams offense acknowledged he did not feel well during a 37-31 loss to Seattle last week. The next day, Martz announced he was taking an indefinite leave of absence to recover from endocarditis, a bacterial infection of the heart valve. His temporary departure left assistant head coach Joe Vitt in charge of Monday night’s game and offensive coordinator Steve Fairchild in charge of play-calling.

The transition made for a challenging week.

“It’s been different,” wide receiver Torry Holt said. “I have a tremendous amount of respect for Mike and what he can do. His creativity is something we’ll miss. But I think coach Fairchild has a good handle on things.”

Fairchild has been around Martz long enough to understand the sometimes implausible system. Martz never fears challenging a defense, never hesitates to use his replay challenges and never appears to worry when the Rams give up points.

That’s because he expects his offense to trade touchdowns like they’re baskets, and while different coaches may make some adjustments, the Martz signature is likely to remain unchanged.

“They run a very complex, complicated offense and if you make a mistake, they’ll make you pay,” Colts defensive tackle Montae Reagor said. “So we really have to be on the details.”

But Martz’s absence couldn’t have come at a worse time for the Rams, who had lost two straight before traveling to Indy. They were facing the league’s hottest team, and the league’s lone unbeaten team entering Week 6.

The Colts offense, the league’s highest-scoring unit from 2000-04, also appeared to be getting in sync. It scored 59 points in its two previous games, so the Colts believed they could counter one of Martz’s trademark shootouts – if they must.

“Coach (Dungy) kind of points that stuff out, what they’re capable of offensively, what they’re capable of defensively,” two-time MVP Peyton Manning said. “So you realize they’re capable of scoring a lot of points and we may have to score a lot of points, too.”

Without Martz, both teams found themselves making adjustments all week. While the Rams scurried to get accustomed to their new leaders, the Colts debated whether the Rams’ tactics might change without Martz.

“That’s the million-dollar question,” Dungy said.

Vitt, who was making his NFL head coaching debut, said he was leery of changing the formula Martz used to turn around the Rams’ sagging franchise in the late 1990s. Why would he, especially if, as some Colts believed, Martz had his fingerprints all over this week’s game plan?

“It is what it is,” Vitt said. “We’re moving on.”

Indianapolis figured that meant the Rams weren’t changing for the duration of Martz’s absence.

“With the personnel they have, how coach Fairchild calls plays, those are the wild cards,” Dungy said. “They’ve thrown more passes than anyone in the league, and I don’t think that’s going to change.”

AP-ES-10-17-05 1439EDT


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