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The Mike Martz Effect On The Bears Offense

NFL fans will always associate Mike Martz with the ‘Greatest Show on Turf’ aka the 2001-2002 St. Louis Rams. That Martz-led offense scored 526 points, fourth most all-time. Martz also transformed a grocery store clerk into a potential Hall of Fame quarterback (Kurt Warner). Under Martz, Warner completed 66 percent of his passes while averaging 4,204 yards per season as a starter.

After his tenure ended with the Rams in 2005, Martz became the offensive coordinator of the lowly Detroit Lions. In Martz’s pass-happy system, the 34-year-old
Jon Kitna threw for 4,208 yards, far surpassing his previous season-high of 3,591 yards. For an encore in 2007, Kitna threw for 4,068 yards. Kitna’s numbers are somewhat limited since he was sacked 114 total times during those two 4,000-yard seasons. Martz was subsequently let go after 2007 and a season later, the Lions became the first 0-16 team ever.

Martz’s final stop before Chicago was with the San Francisco 49ers in 2008, which was extremely disappointing. During the preseason,
Alex Smith injured his shoulder and missed the entire year. Journeyman J.T. O’Sullivan started nine games for the 49ers, but only managed 186 yards per game. Current head coach Mike Singletary took over mid-season and brought in a more conservative, run-first approach. Once again, the pass happy Martz was let go.

Going into 2010, it’s pretty safe to say that Martz’s newest toy will be his most physically talented. The 6-foot-3
Jay Cutler has an absolute rifle for an arm, but has dealt with accuracy issues. Cutler’s inception total has increased during each of his three seasons as a starter. Cutler threw 26 total interceptions last season and logged at least one interception in 13 of his 16 starts. Cutler’s 60.5 percent completion percentage was the lowest of his career…. but there is hope.

Under Martz, Kitna and Warner completed an average of 65 percent of their passes. We all know that Warner threw to two of the best receivers of all-time (
Torry Holt and Isaac Bruce), but Kitna’s leading receiver was Shaun McDonald. This point alone proves that receivers did not define gaudy passing totals, rather Martz’s shrewd passing scheme kept defenses off-balance. Expect Cutler and his receivers to absorb all of Martz’s teachings.

What can we expect from the receivers?

Well, speedsters
Johnny Knox and Devin Hester are penciled in as the starters. However, Cutler has spoken very highly of third-year receiver Devin Aromashodu. Add in dynamic tight end, Greg Olsen and Cutler’s ex-college teammate, Earl Bennett, and the Bears have a very deep receiving core. Expect Martz to concoct numerous sets to highlight each receiver.

What about the running game?

Martz has always been a pass-first type of coach. However, Martz has effectively utilized his running backs, including one of the best dual-threat running backs of all-time. Under Martz,
Marshall Faulk had his best three seasons. From 1999-2001, Faulk averaged 2,256 total yards per season.

Current Chicago running backs
Matt Forte and Chester Taylor figure to split time. Forte had a great 2008 rookie campaign, rushing for 1,238 yards while hauling in 63 passes for 477 yards and 12 total touchdowns. Forte regressed a little last season (1,400 total yards, four touchdowns), but Martz’s pass-first offensive style figures to help Forte. Taylor was signed as a free-agent this off-season. Like Forte, Taylor has very good receiving skills and is a tough inside runner. Expect a split of carries.

What about Cutler?

Cutler threw an interception against each team he faced last season, except the Detroit Lions and the St. Louis Rams. With Martz joining the Bears, don’t expect Cutler’s interception woes to simply evaporate. I do think Cutler will be more comfortable in his second season with the Bears. Martz has a history of squeezing every piece of potential out of his quarterbacks. I don’t think Cutler will be any different. Cutler already has a 4,000-yard season under his belt, so Martz’s teachings will focus around quicker defensive reads. I wouldn’t draft Cutler as a QB1, but I would feel comfortable pairing him with an
Eli Manning or Matt Ryan and playing matchups. Overall though, expect Cutler to finish closer to his 2008 yardage total (4,526) than his 2009 total (3,666). The Sharks seem to agree.

2010 Projection:
4,000 yards, 30 TD, 25 INT

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