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Few coaching moves have caused the furor among fantasy players that the Bears’ hiring of Mike Martz has stirred this offseason. With visions of “The Greatest Show on Turf” dancing in their heads, enthusiastic Jay Cutler fans are already erasing Dan Marino and Tom Brady from the record books to make room for their guy. The excitement has spread to the receivers, where Johnny Knox and Devin Aromashodu are battling for position on many sleeper lists. Even the running backs are involved, with Matt Forte suddenly drawing comparisons to Marshall Faulk despite sharing few characteristics other than initials with the future Hall of Famer.
What’s truth and what’s hyperbole? As difficult as it may be for Bears fans and Martz disciples to acknowledge, the overall effect on Chicago’s passing numbers is likely to be minimal. After all, with the acquisition of Cutler last year the Bears had already transitioned to a pass-first team; they ranked 8th in passing attempts and 29th in rushes in 2009. Those are pretty typical numbers for a Martz offense, as his units have ranked 20th or lower in rushing attempts six of the last seven years he called plays—and the one season he ranked 15th he had both Marshall Faulk and Steven Jackson, which is unquestionably a more dynamic duo than Forte and Chester Taylor.
Cutler also throws plenty of picks, which should make Martz feel right at home; over his last seven years at the helm, Martz’s quarterbacks have thrown 159 INTs against 154 TDs. And while Mike Tice—almost as important a hire as Martz, given what he’ll be tasked with—is working on improving a Bears’ offensive line that allowed 35 sacks last year, he won’t get much help from the OC: Martz’s offenses have allowed at least 40 sacks every year he’s been at the helm.
Some will point to Jon Kitna’s big numbers in Detroit as evidence of Martz’s genius, but the reality is that Kitna was essentially the same quarterback as he was in Cincinnati—but with more attempts and more interceptions. He didn’t have his most prolific touchdown season as a Lion, and while he did have his two greatest yardage seasons they came in the years he threw the most passes—and the most interceptions. Neither his completion percentage nor yards per completion jumped significantly, either.
The biggest loser in Chicago projects to be tight end Greg Olsen. The best numbers put up by a tight end in a Martz system came back in 2001 when the immortal Ernie Conwell caught 38 balls for 431 yards and four touchdowns. Sure, Olsen has more talent—but so did Vernon Davis, who mustered just 31-358-2 under Martz’s thumb in 2008; Davis had surpassed those numbers by the midway point of last year, sans Martz.
Bottom line, unless you’re in a league that penalizes dramatically for interceptions there’s no way Martz will be bad for Cutler’s fantasy status; on sheer volume alone, he should put up career numbers. And because it takes a special type of receiver to succeed in this offense, the Bears won’t likely spread their completions among so many receivers this year. Look for the bulk of Chicago’s receiving numbers to be collected amongst Knox, Aromashodu, and Devin Hester, with Taylor and Forte getting a chunk as well. It won’t be surprising if one or maybe all three of the Bears’ primary receivers put up numbers Mike Furrey (x in y) would be proud of. But as for Cutler suddenly becoming Dan Marino and Forte morphing into Faulk... well, don’t rush out to print those “The Greatest Show on Grass in Cold Weather in a City Known for its Wind” t-shirts just yet.
Don’t be surprised if the Texans show up in orange jerseys at some point, because there’s a whole lot of Denver Broncos running through the franchise. Offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan followed his dad to Washington, so Gary Kubiak tabbed the man who followed him as OC in Denver to run the show in Houston. Rick Dennison had a solid run with the Broncos, coaching the offensive line from 2001 to 2005 and handling OC duties when Kubiak left to take the Texans job before Josh McDaniels kicked him back down to o-line coach last year.
You know the drill with the pre-McDaniels Denver offense: zone blocking, multiple backs, and success running the football. During Dennison’s tenure the Broncos averaged 4.6 yards per carry and 124 rushing yards per game, capped by 6,333 total yards (second in the NFL) in 2008 and just 12 sacks allowed.
Seeing as Kubiak and Kyle Shanahan both spring from the same coaching tree as Dennison, there shouldn’t be much of a change in the game plan. It will be interesting to see how Dennison balances his run-first tendencies with the league’s top-ranked passing game from a year ago. While Dennison has talked about adjusting to the talent he’s been given, he’s also noted that success in the running game requires persistence. And with Dennison calling the plays, Matt Schaub might not see another 593 attempts.
Kansas City Chiefs
Only slightly less publicized than the Martz move in Chicago is the reunion of Todd Haley and Charlie Weis in Kansas City. After calling plays himself in his first year as head coach, Haley welcomed his former boss as a offensive foil—though Haley indicated he’ll still be involved in the process.
However, it may be tough to tell where Weis ends and Haley begins, or vice versa. Both have been known to take more than their share of risks, and both are fond of a spread-out passing game paired with a between-the-tackles running game. Kansas City’s offense will look a whole lot like the one Tom Brady directed under Weis in New England—which should make Matt Cassell extremely happy, even though Weis reportedly wanted to draft his Notre Dame quarterback, Jimmy Claussen, last April.
Much like he did as Brady was cutting his teeth, Weis will play to Cassell’s strengths: the short, horizontal passing game with occasional stretches down the field. He’ll also get plenty of mileage from Thomas Jones, though two bright offensive minds like Weis and Haley have to know that getting the ball into Jamaal Charles’ hands is the highest priority of this offense.
Another player to keep an eye on in Kansas City is rookie tight end Tony Moeaki. While Haney had little use for tight ends in Arizona, Weis’ offenses in both New England and South Bend featured productive pass catchers at the position. With Moeaki wowing during OTAs, he could take advantage of the same system that made John Carlson a star at Notre Dame.
It couldn’t get much worse for the Oakland offense, so it doesn’t really matter much that new OC Hue Jackson’s resume is hardly impressive. He’s had two previous stints as an offensive coordinator, each lasting just one year. In 2003 he directed the Redskins’ 23rd ranked offense (17.9 points per game), and in 2007 his Falcons rolled the same rank with 16.2 points per game. Hey, the Raiders were 31st and scored just 12.3 points per game, so if Jackson can get a 33% increase in offensive production the Black and Silver will do backflips.
Jackson has already turned heads during minicamp with his enthusiasm; doesn’t hurt that the Raiders shed JaMarcus Russell and have Jason Campbell running the show, either. There’s certainly some offensive talent on the Oakland roster, and with head coach Tom Cable handing off play-calling duties maybe he can focus more on his specialty, the offensive line.
It’s tough to discern a tendency given Jackson’s short resume; his teams ranked slightly better throwing the ball, and with Al Davis looking over his shoulder you can expect plenty of deep balls in Oakland. Bottom line, they’re still the Raiders so don’t expect too much to change overnight. Jackson’s biggest impact might come in attitude adjustment; after all, it couldn’t get much worse.
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