The Chicago Bears’ offense underwent a transformation this season. They went from a pass-heavy to a balanced attacked, and that might be the best fit for the Bears.
Mike Martz insists he’s not looking back. If he’s feeling nostalgic for those “Greatest Show on Turf” days in St. Louis, he’s keeping it to himself.
Besides, he tried it in Chicago. And it didn’t work.
Now, the Bears are one win away from the Super Bowl with a home date against Green Bay in the NFC championship game, and if they go back to their pass-happy ways, there’s a good chance they won’t be heading to Texas.
“I’ve always been very pragmatic about football and how you impact a team offensively,” Martz said. “You have to do what you have to do to move the football and be efficient and help score points and win. It changes everywhere.”
What worked in St. Louis didn’t work in Chicago earlier this season. A more balanced approach was a better fit for the Bears and helped them go on a season-saving 7-1 run after their off week, propelling them to the NFC North championship and a first-round playoff bye.
As for “The Greatest Show On Turf?”
“That was a special place and time,” Martz said. “I don’t think we’ll ever see that again. Those players were very, very special. That was then. Now is now. No, I would never try to mimic that or copy that. It’s not going to happen. These are different players and they do different things and you try to go in the direction they take you, really.”
The Bears hired Martz hoping he could get Jay Cutler to cut down on the interceptions after throwing a league-leading 26 last season – his first in Chicago – and provide the sort of early lift he helped give the Rams and Detroit Lions.
In St. Louis, he orchestrated one of the most prolific offenses the league has seen.
The 1999 Rams won the Super Bowl and produced the first of a record three straight 500-point seasons in his first year as offensive coordinator under Dick Vermeil. Kurt Warner threw for 4,353 yards and 41 touchdowns. Marshall Faulk, Isaac Bruce and Torry Holt were right there in the spotlight with him.
Martz replaced Vermeil as head coach in 2000 and went on to produce a 56-36 record in five and a half seasons, leading the 2001 team back to the Super Bowl.
He also coaxed a 4,000-yard season out of Jon Kitna as offensive coordinator in Detroit and held the same job with San Francisco in 2008.
The exits were ugly in all three cases, whether it was because of a clash with management in St. Louis or his pass-happy ways in Detroit and San Francisco.
As an NFL Network analyst last season, he criticized Cutler’s demeanor. Many wondered how those two headstrong personalities would mesh and whether Martz’s passing preference would mesh with coach Lovie Smith’s run “getting off the bus” mentality.
Then again, Smith knew what he was getting. He was Martz’s defensive coordinator in St. Louis, and the Bears needed to spark an offense that ranked 23rd in the league.
They nearly crashed and burned before they got going, with a 4-3 record at their bye after three ugly losses in four games. Cutler already had taken 26 of his league-leading 52 sacks and had missed a game with a concussion, thanks to a brutal line and some poor decisions.
The running game was being ignored, too.
In many ways, it seemed like Martz at his worst, trying to force his will on a team that simply couldn’t execute his plan. That changed during the off week.
“It’s not like there was some big powwow or anything like that,” Smith said. “When you come in with a new offense, it takes awhile to see what weapons you really have.”
The Bears went away from the deep drops and ranked among the most balanced teams in the NFL over the final nine games of the regular season, with 258 rushing attempts and 276 pass plays. Matt Forte ran for 717 yards in that span to finish with a team-leading 1,069, and the running kept defenses off balance. It also cut down on the pounding Cutler was taking.
“I have been impressed with the commitment to the run game,” Green Bay’s B.J. Raji said.
The scoring has jumped since they made that commitment, with the offense going from 26th to 21st in points per game. It’s helped create openings in the passing game, like when Cutler connected with Greg Olsen on a 58-yard touchdown on the Bears’ third play from scrimmage last week in a win over Seattle after two runs by Forte.
Simpler doesn’t necessarily mean dull. And simple might not be the right word.
“We changed the balance in how many runs and passes were called,” offensive line coach Mike Tice said. “We didn’t change our offense. … It’s not simple to me. I was here until 12:15 last night.”
It never is simple with Martz. It is, however, interesting. Every week, players wonder what new wrinkles he’ll throw at them.
“It’s fun,” said Cutler, who has thrown for 23 touchdowns with 16 interceptions. “He’s a football guy. He loves it. That’s all he thinks about. He comes in here, he brings a lot of excitement to this football team.”
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