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Mike Martz by the Numbers

Mike Martz by the Numbers

After a forgettable stop in the motor city, the Ringmaster of the Greatest Show on Turf,

Mike Martz, has landed in San Francisco. This will be his 6th team change in a football career spanning 24 years, with 4 of those team changes coming with a better win record. In this edition of the Stat Lab, we’ll take a look at the career of

Mike Martz, including his 8 seasons with the Arizona State University Sun Devils, with emphasis on what could be in store for one of last season’s fantasy disappointments, runningback

Frank Gore.

Mandatory Disclosure

Under section 5 of the Sportswriting Transparency Act of 2004, I’m required to tell you that I’m a 49ers fan. I understand this might have some downside, but this also means you’ll find no one more interested in the truth about what

Mike Martz is going to bring to the table for

Frank Gore and the Niners this coming season. Let’s look at his career, his reputation, and what fantasy owners can expect this year.

The Martz Passing Game

Only once in his entire career as Offensive Coordinator or Head Coach in the NCAA or NFL has a Mike Martz team finished below the league average in pass attempts, and a Martz offense has always been better than most of the NFL in yards per pass. There is no questioning his appreciation for the passing game.

As the incoming quarterback coach, all inherited quarterbacks improved in yards per pass and/or completion, and touchdowns per pass. Of these, all but

Gus Frerotte, in his 3rd season with the Redskins, also improved their completion rate by an added 4% in the season he took over. 3 out of 4 ain’t bad.

So far this off-season, the Niners have parted ways with Seattle Trojan Horse

Darrell Jackson, while vulturing their other division rivals for Isaac Bruce and now ex-Cardinal

Bryant Johnson.

Isaac Bruce finds himself united for the 3rd time with Martz, 13 years since being a student of then Rams Wide Receiver coach and his first All-Pro season (Read: He’s old). Bruce’s numbers have been steadily declining, so expectations should be tempered.

Bryant Johnson is a bit more interesting, having put up a respectable 12.5 yards per catch and 41 yards per game in spot starts in his 5-year career. His career taken as an average compared to 2007 performances would put him on par with New England’s

Jabar Gaffney and above Niners top receiver,

Arnaz Battle. These moves combined with Martz’s résumé offer a glimmer of hope for Niners fans, and maybe some flier prospects for wideout bargain seekers, but I wouldn’t hold my breath.

A slight tangent

I’d like to add a few words on

Alex Smith here, but being a family-friendly site I’ll have to settle for some other words. If you look at quarterbacks who have missed as many passes in as many games as Alex Smith, recent history says he’s got just over half a chance of surviving this season as the 49ers quarterback. From watching them both, my money is on

Shaun Hill this season, but if he doesn’t take over, Niners fans should take solace in that history also says if Alex Smith hangs around and doesn’t improve this season, he’ll be on a plane or a bench in 2009.

The Martz Running Passing Game

Mike Martz runningbacks have averaged about 4.5 catches per game, which is closer to the high than the average most seasons. Most were by

Marshall Faulk, who first led NFL runningbacks with 86 receptions in 1998 – from the hand of the Colts’

Peyton Manning, the year before Faulk and Martz joined the Rams in 1999.

Consider that none of his runningbacks has come close to those reception numbers, it doesn’t seem that

Mike Martz built a pass-catching machine in

Marshall Faulk, but inherited one. Over the last two seasons,

Frank Gore has averaged nearly 4 catches per game, which is already well above average, and close to the Martz figure. All taken together, you should be wary of any predictions of a bump for

Frank Gore in PPR formats.

The Martz Running Game

If you just snickered at the heading, you’re probably familiar with the

Mike Martz reputation for neglecting the run. Now it’s true that, as a whole, Martz runningbacks have averaged about one carry fewer per game than their peers, but let’s take a closer look.

The table below splits Martz-led teams and offenses by runningback carry load. Because we’re combining stats from different leagues, we’ll look at decision-making in a relative way, with rushes per game (R/G) and passes per game (P/G) shown as totals versus the league average.

Rushes Per Game

Seasons

R/G vs. Avg

Y/R

P/G vs. Avg

Y/P

Margin of Victory

Win %

Below Average

8

-0.83

4.25

+4.4

7.60

-3.5

44%

Above Average

6

+1.47

4.88

+2.7

8.31

+8.1

71%

Based on these, there is no denying Mike Martz likes to pass, but with 8 seasons below average in carries and 6 above, we can immediately dismiss the notion that Mike Martz is a stingy run caller. Now notice that in seasons with fewer runs it happened that the offense, if not the entire team, was less effective. From this we can either infer that Mike Martz forgot to run the ball in 8 seasons and therefore lost often during that time or, more likely, he shaved off some runs from the game plan when he found his team behind.

Conclusion

Mike Martz does seem to prefer to pass a little more than most, but any reputation as a running back killer or PPR gold is way overblown. On winning or losing teams, Martz has run the ball almost as much as any of his peers as an NFL or NCAA coach. Rest assured that

Frank Gore will get his carries, but unless you think he’s the second coming of

Marshall Faulk and has just been slacking, don’t look for a PPR bump just because Martz is in town.

As for the team, following a 5-11 season with arguably the worst passing game in the NFL, adding an Offensive Coordinator with quarterback and wide receiver coaching experience can’t hurt. They’ve added a 5-year veteran in

Bryant Johnson, who is better than

Arnaz Battle on paper (that’s not saying much, but it’s something), and an abundance of experience in

Isaac Bruce, which is a kind way of saying he’s been playing longer than your Yahoo league opponents have been alive. I expect these small improvements will add up to a modest improvement through the air, and a few more opportunities for

Frank Gore: A bad passing game doesn’t always ruin the running game, but a disastrous passing game will. So long as they can put out a quarterback who can stay above the Alex Line of 55%, like the end of last season, they’ll run more effectively.

 

Before you get too optimistic, there’s a bit of bad news for Gore owners and Niners fans. The Niners will play half their games against the Eastern Division teams, which includes

Tom Brady and the nearly undefeated Patriots, the Superbowl Champion Giants, and two other Eastern playoff teams, on top of the usual pair against the division-leading Seahawks.  For now though, sit back, let some of the off-season dust settle, and check back into the Stat Lab soon when we take on Strength of Schedule.

To join the discussion on

Frank Gore in the Red and Gold Martz Offense, check out this thread in the Main Tank at FantasySharks.com. For feedback on this article, or if you have suggestions for future Stat Lab articles, drop me a line in the Article Discussion forum.

About Fantasy Sharks

FantasySharks.com began in 2003, disseminating fantasy football content on the web for free. It is, or has been, home to some of the most talented and best known fantasy writers on the planet. Owned and operated by Tony Holm (5 time Fantasy Sports Writer Association Hall-of-Fame nominee,) Tony started writing fantasy content in 1993 for the only three fantasy football web sites in existence at the time.