The Martz Effect On the Chicago Bears
By Jeff Tefertiller
May 24th, 2010

This is a big year for Lovie Smith's career with the Chicago Bears. He will likely be shown the door if the team does not make stark improvement. After the Jay Cutler trade, the offense disappointed with a poor performance by most all positions. So, in an attempt to jump-start the struggling offense, Chicago made the bold, and desperate, move to hire pass-happy Mike Martz as the offensive coordinator, replacing the conservative Ron Turner. How will the addition of Martz impact the Bear offense? How should fantasy owners consider this hiring? Who will benefit? Who will be negatively effected? We will attempt to answer these and other questions from a historical perspective. First, a look back at the Martz history, and then a look at the skill positions.

Let's start with what we know from history. Martz was promoted to offensive coordinator for the Rams in 1999. St. Louis had a full arsenal of weapons. Martz enjoyed playing with the toys Dick Vermeil had assembled. Vermeil retired the next year leaving Martz to take over the reins of the powerful offense. He was the Rams head coach for six seasons. In his second season as the head coach, Martz led the Rams to a Super Bowl berth. The 2001 Rams led the NFL in most all offensive categories, through the air and on the ground. His head coaching career came to an abrupt end in the middle of the 2005 season. During Martz's head coaching tenure in St. Louis, he accumulated a 53-32 record, including three division titles and the NFC Championship in 2001. It was during this time with the Rams, having great quarterback play and speedy weapons, that Martz earned his reputation. He made elite quarterbacks out of unheralded passers like Kurt Warner and Marc Bulger. In 2006, Martz headed to Detroit to take over the job as offensive coordinator for the struggling Lions. He lasted two years before being axed. Martz landed in San Francisco for the 2007 season, but only made it one season with the 49ers. He now is in Chicago, working with his most talented passer since tutoring Warner and Bulger. What should we expect?

In the Martz offense, quarterbacks get hit almost every pass play. This is not a good thing for Cutler considering the poor state of the Chicago offensive line. The Bears have major holes on the offensive line. Expect Cutler to be knocked on his backside early and often this season. In addition, Martz demands a lot out of his quarterbacks in terms of reading the defense before the snap so there is a chance for conflict with two strong personalities. His last few passers have possessed passive personalities. The head strong Martz should be able to keep quarterback Jay Cutler in check, but the ex-Bronco passer is far from pliant. Former Martz pupil, Kurt Warner, indicated that Martz will be a good fit for Cutler. If the below average quarterbacks under Martz, including Jon Kitna, Shaun Hill and J.T. O'Sullivan, could produce good numbers, so can Cutler. Let's remember that Kitna was QB6 and QB12 in his two seasons in Detroit under Martz. Fans need to remember that even though Martz is running the offense, it is still Lovie Smith's team. His neck is the one on the line. It is difficult to imagine Smith allowing the offense to become heavily slanted toward the pass like Martz's last two stops. Soon after the Martz hire, Coach Lovie Smith said the Bears will still run the ball. Smith also indicated that playing in the Chicago weather dictates having a strong run game. In his three seasons as an offensive coordinator since leaving the high-powered St. Louis Rams, Martz has taken poor offenses and made them respectable. He hopes to do the same in the Windy City. What should we expect from the Bear skill position players?

a. As noted above, Martz utilized less than stellar passers in Detroit and San Francisco, and they were effective. Even Warner and Bulger were not thought highly of before the instruction by Martz. None had near the talent, or arm strength of Cutler. Warner and Bulger possessed accuracy and a good feel for the game. Cutler has a big arm and should be able to take advantage of weaknesses exposed by the Martz scheme. Martz has been able to make NFL journeymen quarterbacks into productive passers. If the two strong personalities can get along, there could be some big passing games in Chicago. Cutler has good weapons at his disposal. He finished as QB11 last season and can crack the Top 6 this season. If Kitna can do it, why can't Cutler?

b. Since Marshall Faulk's big season in 2001, Martz's running backs have not made much of an impact in fantasy leagues. In fact, none have cracked the Top 10 fantasy backs any season and Martz has had some very good ball carriers in this time period. The list includes Stephen Jackson and Faulk in St. Louis, Kevin Jones in Detroit, and Frank Gore in San Francisco. All were disappointments in the pass-happy Martz offense. Gore's strong play since Martz's departure should temper expectations for Matt Forte and Chester Taylor. Gore was elite last year after Martz left town. Looking at Forte's chances, fantasy owners should expect numbers closer to 2009 for Forte than those of his rookie season. The two backs will likely split time enough that neither is a good fantasy option. In Detroit, Martz ran the ball slightly over one-third (34%) of the time. Last year, the Bears ran the ball 40% of the time, the lowest amount of coach Smith's tenure. In 2005, Chicago called running plays on a whopping 54% of offensive plays. Something will have to give between the tendencies of Smith and Martz. Neither Kevin Jones nor Frank Gore were stud fantasy running backs under Martz, even in PPR (Points Per Reception) leagues, while Martz was running the show. Making things even worse, until Chicago improves its pathetic offensive line, fantasy owners can expect Cutler to get hit often and the running game to underperform. Martz's offense should serve only to shine a light on the inadequacies of the offensive line play.

c. Most fantasy owners want to know what to expect at the receiving positions. It is the wide receiver position that benefits most from the introduction of the Martz offense. This early in the offseason, it is difficult to say which receiver will benefit most from Martz's arrival because the receiving yards are usually spread out in the Martz offense. In 2008 with the 49ers, seven receivers (including Frank Gore and Vernon Davis) totaled over 300 receiving yards. Yes, this means that five wide receivers amassed at least 300 receiving yards, and only one (Isaac Bruce) had over 550 yards receiving. I expect a similar distribution in Chicago. This is a distinct possibility for the Bear offense. None of the wideouts are good bets for 1,000 yards. The Martz offense will look to take advantage of weakness in the defense and get the ball to the open receiver. In Detroit, Kitna distributed the ball effectively and had better weapons than Martz had in San Francisco. Most remember Mike Furrey and Shaun McDonald from Martz's Detroit days. Many weeks, these two averaged less than ten yards a catch, but were viable fantasy options despite the limited talent level. The Bears have players that could fit this role. I expect Devin Aromashodu to get the most targets. It might take him a while to emerge, but he has a high ceiling. Aromashodu has good hands and makes plays after the catch. He played great to end the season and it seemed that he developed a strong rapport with Cutler over that time. Johnny Knox, Earl Bennett and Devin Hester are still developing as receivers and may find the adjustment to the heady offense difficult. The Martz offense is predicated on the quarterback and receivers reading the defense and adjusting the patterns accordingly. This might be tough for the three still developing wideouts. If I had to choose one of the three to be a viable fantasy option, it might be Johnny Knox. Expect Knox to be used similarly to the speedy outside receivers Martz had in St. Louis. Bennett also has a chance to surprise, but is likely the fourth of this group at this time. He played with Cutler in college at Vanderbilt and could thrive in a possession receiver role a la Furrey and McDonald. One caution is how slow he was to pick up the Bears' playbook as a rookie. Hopefully, things have changed. Hester looks like an ideal candidate to fill the role Az-Zahir Hakim had in St. Louis. Martz is not afraid to run four-receiver sets which would get Bennett on the gridiron. In 2007, with the Lions, Martz had four receivers with more than 660 yards. The Chicago passing game will rack up the receiving yardage on short passes, especially with strong quarterback play, finding the weakness in protection. The average yards per reception for Martz's last three seasons (two in Detroit and one in San Francisco) was under twelve. Yes, that is correct. His quarterbacks completed a ton of short passes in order to rack up the yardage totals even on weak offenses. Cutler should be the fantasy winner with the addition of Martz in Chicago leaving Aromashodu, Knox, Hester and Bennett fighting for targets.

d. The Martz offense requires the tight end position to block more than to go out on pass patterns. Consequently, the Martz offense has never had a tight end catch more than 38 passes in a season. In 2008, he raved all offseason about how Vernon Davis posed mismatches for the defenses, but still rarely used the big, athletic tight end. Davis finished a disappointing TE26 with only 31 receptions. Just like with Gore, Davis blossomed after Martz departed. This is not a coincidence. Davis caught 78 balls, including 13 touchdowns while finishing as TE1 in 2009. What a difference a year makes. It is now apparent how Martz was stubborn about using the tremendous talent of Davis. This should make Greg Olsen owners nervous. While Martz is saying much of the same glowing things about Olsen, it is best to wait and see before believing his words over history. The offensive scheme is working against Olsen for fantasy purposes. Martz will ask the athletic Olsen to stay in and block instead of going out as a receiver. Instead of adapting the offense around his personnel, Martz chooses to whack the square peg harder to make it fit the round hole. This is all bad, very bad, news for Olsen .. and his fantasy owners.

The heat will be on coach Smith. He has had a losing record over the course of the last three seasons after the Super Bowl berth in 2006. The Bears have given him weapons on both sides of the ball. The situation will be a pressure cooker if the Bears get off to a slow start. The NFC North is a strong division, making a strong record a remote possibility. But, Cutler and the wide receivers could have good years. With Martz's short duration at his previous two stops, the players negatively impacted could rebound as early as 2011.

Questions, suggestions and comments are always welcome to tefertiller@footballguys.com.