Bears' Martz experiment should be over
The more efficient the offense becomes the more obvious the need for a new leader
LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Reading between the lines is hardly necessary anymore.
Even when the Chicago Bears win and the offense works, it is increasingly obvious that Mike Martz doesn't and that the team is likely to make still another change at offensive coordinator after the season.
Jay Cutler was not very subtle when he deflected praise from Martz after the Bears' 39-10 victory over the hapless Minnesota Vikings on Sunday night, saying there were "a lot of people involved" in simplifying the game plan, naming pretty much everyone but Martz.
"When we are smart about it and do the things we did [Sunday night], we are more than likely going to be successful," Cutler said.
And then there was the even blunter comment, picked up partly by the on-field microphone after Devin Hester dropped a Cutler pass on second-and-7 from the Minnesota 32 with 49 seconds remaining in the first half.
After breaking the huddle for the next play, Cutler turned in the direction of the sideline clearly disgusted and was heard swearing, leading to speculation he was openly frustrated with Martz.
"It's not that difficult," Cutler said later of the decision to add more play-action and let him go from a seven-step drop to a five-step drop in order to get the ball out quicker and avoid great bodily harm. "We need to be very judicious going forward with what we can and can't do."
The irony is that the more efficient the Bears' offense becomes, the more obvious it is that Martz, whose contract runs out after this season, should not be the one running it. After turning down a contract extension without a raise this past offseason, he appears as good as gone when this season is over.
It might become a bit sticky if the Bears were to somehow make the playoffs. But even in that case, expect a lowball offer from general manager Jerry Angelo, who wanted to name Mike Tice the offensive coordinator before Lovie Smith convinced him to hire Martz and make Tice the line coach.
A new offensive coordinator would be Cutler's fourth in five years. But the most seamless and predictable move would be to promote Tice, who in addition to serving as a head coach in Minnesota, was instrumental in the Jaguars' productive run game which ranked 10th in the league in total offense and third in rushing in 2009 as Jacksonville's assistant head coach/tight ends coach from 2006 to 2009.
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Of course at the time the Bears named Martz their coordinator in 2010, Angelo all but promised their franchise quarterback would not be hampered by more instability.
"We want to get out of that business," Angelo said then. "When you look at all the good quarterbacks historically, they've had the familiarity of the system, the same coordinators. That's a real problem. We do not want to get into that handbasket."
Handbaskets aside, Smith was promising other things at the time.
"It's no surprise, no matter who comes in here, we're going to have to run the football," Smith said. "That's not going to change "
It did, as we all know, and then it changed back, and then this season changed back and forth once again.
The problem with Martz's system is not so much that it is complicated as much as it is simply unrealistic, unwilling as he is to fit his offense to his personnel rather than vice versa. And when he tried to get the "right" players for the offense, that didn't work either (see: Brandon Manumaleuna, Todd Collins, Dan LeFevour, Roy Williams).
Addition by subtraction (launching Greg Olsen) was also inspired/requested by Martz and was another questionable move at best.
The Bears can certainly still botch this one. Smith, who was given his first big break by Martz when he was hired as the Rams' defensive coordinator in 2001 and later as Martz's assistant head coach, could freeze at the trigger.
And a .500 season never looks quite as bad after victories.
Sunday night's win over the Vikings was impressive though this Sunday against Tampa should be easier to gauge against a team that doesn't, well, stink.
"Where am I with the offense?" Smith said Monday. "It's about what you've done lately, and I'm pretty excited about the improvements I saw the week before to last night."
Still, with each passing week, this seems to be less Martz's system and more a disjointed hybrid. And a watered-down Martz, even if it helps the Bears' offense play better-than-average football, is not Martz anyway.
Melissa Isaacson is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com.