Mike Martz hasn’t always been known as the easiest guy to get along with. It’s not necessarily that he’s mean, arrogant, or brass.
He’s just stubborn.
He loves to air it out. He passes to set-up the pass. His offense thrives on blowing the other team’s offense out of the water, making less mistakes, and quite literally, simply scoring more points than the opposition.
It worked in St. Louis when he was he offensive coordinator under Dick Vermeil, and it worked again when he took over as the Rams head coach the following season. And really, until everything blew up in St. Louis, it kept on working.
Martz led his offense to a number one finish in the rankings, leading the league with 526 points (4th best in league history at the time), and eventually ended the season with a 23-16 win over the Tennessee Titans in the Super Bowl.
Vermeil moved on, and Martz continued on with the Rams “Greatest Show on Turf” ways, leading the Rams to a 14-2 record and another Super Bowl appearance.
After losing to the New England Patriots, Martz’s key cog in the offense, Kurt Warner, struggled with a finger injury, which hurt his accuracy (his main strength, and a vital key to the offense), forcing Martz to eventually turn to back-up Marc Bulger.
After finding much success with Warner in his first three seasons, Martz turned the little-known Bulger into an over-night sensation, keeping the Rams offense near the top of the league, while also remainin competitive.
However, it was soon apparent that, while Martz is one of the great offensive football minds in the league, he may not be best suited to run an entire team.
Martz latched on with the Detroit Lions in 2006, after six seasons at the helm with St. Louis, and quickly turned Jon Kitna into a star quarterback, while helping the Lions (perpetual doormats), into a surprisingly potent offense.
The Lions still only finished 3-13 that season, but Martz helped the passing offense finish seventh in the league, and had all of Michigan praying for the playoffs in 2007. In fact, the offense’s extraordinary growth even had Kitna guaranteeing 10 wins and a playoff spot.
The Lions looked like they might have done just that in 2007, as Martz guided a pass-heavy offense to an impressive 6-2 start, despite Kitna’s inability to effectively read defenses and make decisions on a consistent basis.
The Lions slid the rest of the way, struggling to protect the quarterback, and finished 7-9. Despite an obvious overall improvement on offense, Martz was criticized for lacking a balance in his offense, and not focusing on the run game enough.
Martz took his most recent job the next season as offensive coordinator with the San Francisco 49ers, in hopes to aid former first round pick Alex Smith into becoming the elite talent he was hoped to be when he was drafted.
Unfortunately, Smith sustained a shoulder injury in the preseason and missed the entire season. This propelled Martz to lobby for J.T. O’Sullivan, a quarterback he had on his roster when with Detroit, who then became the 49ers’ starting quarterback for the beginning of the 2008 season.
O’Sullivan struggled mightily, which led to a change at quarterback, and ultimately led to the head coach, Mike Nolan, being fired. This in turn led to the interim coach, Mike Singletary, letting Martz go, as Martz was criticized for the second consecutive season for being unable to lead a balanced offense.
Now, Martz is joining Love Smith’s staff (who he coached with in St. Louis), in an effort to give an at times anemic offense a much-needed lift, while pair star quarterback Jay Cutler with a fresh offensive perspective.
But, as all skeptical writers and fans continue to suggest, there are concerns that are raised, both with the “Cutler vs. whoever the offensive coordinator is” debate, as well as Martz’s inability or even reluctance to put together a more balanced offense.
So, does that all go away with Martz signing?
There’s no doubt it’s a straight-up “50-50″ answer from most people right now, but here’s a perspective that will have the Chicago faithful feeling better about 2010.
Cutler Is Stubborn, but so is Martz
While you’d think this would work against them, it probably won’t.
Martz is stubborn in the fact that he doesn’t necessarily believe that you have to balance an offense a “certain way” to be successful. And really, he’s right. Even more than him just being “right”, there’s proof in his offenses with the Rams, and the way the Detroit Lions started in his second season with the team.
The difference in Chicago? Jay Cutler is by far a better quarterback than J.T. O’Sullivan or Jon Kitna, and it’s extremely arguably that he’s already as good as (if not better) than Marc Bulger was in his prime.
And even if you don’t buy the Cutler hype and think that Bulger was under-rated (he wasn’t), then it’s at least difficult to deny Cutler’s physical tools and ability to produce great numbers in an offense that curtails to his abilities.
Enter Martz, and we’re suddenly looking at the very real possibility that Cutler’s 2007 numbers (and confidence) returns.
Of course, much of Cutler and the passing game’s issues also are attributed to the shady offensive line play, passive play-calling, and a dismal rush offense. But this isn’t a finger-pointing game. At least, not if the Bears are to turn back into winners.
So, if we’re being reasonable with our expectations, we should be able to safely assume that Cutler should be able to cut-back on the turnovers, make quicker reads and throws, and post better overall numbers.
And if this works, the whole “Cutler vs. the coaches” argument will be void. It simply won’t be an issue.
However, Martz is just one piece of the puzzle.
It’d be foolish to look at this signing as the “missing link”, when in reality, it’s just the beginning of right moves Chicago needs to make to get back to the playoffs.
Actually, the “right moves” started last year by acquiring Cutler. Now he has an offensive guru that can make him play to the best of his abilities.
The drama will die. The whispers will cease. And finally, at long last, the Bears will be a potent, offensive machine that isn’t to be messed with.
But, in the name of the 2007 Detroit Lions, and even the 2007 Denver Broncos, a great offense, or even a vastly improved one, can’t cure all ailments.
The offense line needs work, the defense as a whole needs a good, hard looking into, and Martz, in some form or another, will have to address the abysmal rushing attack.
All in due time, Chicago fans.
Mike Martz may not be the final piece that pulls it all together, but he’s the start that Chicago needs.