Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Trying to be Positive

....which, as you may have realized, isn't my strong suit. I've obviously been opposed to the hiring of Mike Martz as Bears offensive coordinator since the beginning of the offseason. However, now that it's happened, I have to go ahead and figure out some way to find the positive in this situation, because if I can't muster up some false enthusiasm for football season it's going to be one long, long, looong fucking summer. So here's what I've got:

1. Mike Martz improves quarterbacks.

No, seriously. I mean this. Take a look at some of the QBs Martz has had as either an offensive coordinator/head coach:

Trent Green before Martz: 54.5 completion %, 81.8 rating, 6.8 ypa, 215.1 ypg.
Trent Green under Martz: 60.4 completion %, 101.8 rating, 8.6 ypa, 257.9 ypg.

Jon Kitna before Martz: 58.8 completion %, 75.3 rating, 6.4 ypa, 198.5 ypg
Jon Kitna under Martz: 62.8 completion %, 80.4 rating, 7.1 ypa, 258.6 ypg

Marc Bulger under Martz:64.6 completion %, 89.7 rating, 7.8 ypa, 275.2 ypg
Marc Bulger after Martz: 60.0 completion %, 79.9 rating, 6.7 ypa, 209.7 ypg

These are the most noticeable examples of improvement under Martz's system.The other quarterbacks that Martz has developed in his career (Warner, O'Sullivan, Shaun Hill) were all undrafted or unheralded players that Martz made into serviceable-to-outstanding quarterbacks. I guess. Either way, I think we can agree that Jay Cutler is clearly a better quarterback than Jon Kitna, Marc Bulger, J.T. O'Sullivan, or Shaun Hill, and is at least more talented than Trent Green. The quarterback that he compares most favorably to is Kurt Warner, which possibly bodes well.

2. Martz's offense is not inherently opposed to tight ends.

One of the biggest complaints that I and many other Martz detractors have is that his offense doesn't feature the tight end, which takes away Greg Olsen as one of Jay Cutler's biggest weapons. This isn't necessarily so. Martz himself said:

"If there's a player that can't fit a system, then something is wrong -- if he's a good player -- with the system. Don't you think?," Martz said Tuesday at Halas Hall. "Our deal is, we will give everybody an opportunity to find who they are and how they will contribute. Everybody will get that opportunity, and Greg will, too. He's learned things very quickly, very pleased with just the few things we've done on the field. Not disappointed in any respect."

This is a nice start. Another thing to look at is that Martz's offense is (schematically speaking) nearly identical to the offense his former head coach Dick Vermeil took with him to Kansas City. Vermeil inherited Tony Gonzalez and knew the best option was to make the system work with him, and the rest is history as far as that goes. Greg Olsen is no Tony Gonzalez, but the idea that the Martz offensive scheme is inherently opposed to utilizing the tight end as a pass-catcher is wrong.

3. Simply put, he gets results with talented players.

When Kurt Warner, Trent Green, or Marc Bulger were healthy and surrounded by the talented receiver corps and runningbacks of the Rams, Martz's offenses rolled up points by the bunches. His struggles toward the end of his St. Louis career coincided with key injuries to Warner and Bulger, as well as the decline of Isaac Bruce and the defense. He did well with the limited talent in Detroit, with Jon Kitna racking up back to back 4,000+ yd passing seasons, and the 20.4 ppg the Lions offense averaged under Martz was it's highest total since Barry Sanders retired. Likewise, the 21.2 ppg the 2008 49ers averaged was a higher total than they've managed in any season since Jeff Garcia and Terrell Owens left after 2003. Since he's left St. Louis, they've averaged just 16.9 PPG vs. 27.5 PPG under Martz. Granted, the talent level has diminished greatly, but many of the key players during that time period (Bulger, Holt, Jackson) were the same as they were in the last years of the Martz era.

So there you have it. Disastrous hyperbole aside, there's real reason to be hopeful that Mike Martz can get results with Jay Cutler and the Bears offense. The key skill position players (Jay Cutler, Matt Forte, Chester Taylor, Greg Olsen, Desmond Clark, Brandon Manumaleuna, Devin Hester, Devin Aromashodu, Earl Bennett, and Johnny Knox) are all much, much better than anything he's had to work with since the glory days of his run with the Rams. The biggest problem, however, is the offensive line. If the line struggles to block and Cutler starts taking the style of beating that Kitna did (114 sacks in two years) in Detroit, Martz has to be willing to mix things up (focus on the run, abandon the seven step drop, move the pocket, etc.) in order to keep Cutler alive and upright. Martz also has to make good on his promise to use Greg Olsen.

Well, that's what I've got. If you don't like it come back after Martz has Cutler throw 60 passes and gets him sacked 6 times in week one and I start frothing at the mouth. Go Bears.