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Here’s the real clash: Martz vs. Belichick

Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM

There will be no shortage of stars in Sunday’s matchup between the Bears and New England Patriots.

The game pits two of the game’s hottest quarterbacks — Tom Brady and Jay Cutler — and one of the league’s most efficient offenses against one of the most efficient defenses.

But one of the most intriguing matchups is between coaches.

Patriots coach Bill Belichick is one of the game’s best defensive minds, and Bears offensive coordinator Mike Martz is one of the game’s best offensive minds.

And their impact and influence on Sunday’s result will be significant.

It’ll be a compelling chess match, with these two innovative coaches manipulating and maneuvering their pawns/players to gain an advantage.

There’s history in play here, even if Martz tried to deny it Wednesday.

Martz had a feeling

Asked if Belichick is in his head, “Martz said, “Oh, God, no.

“You’ve got to be kidding me. C’mon, serious?”

Disregard the matchup between them when Martz was the offensive coordinator with the San Francisco 49ers and Detroit Lions; he simply didn’t have the personnel to challenge the Patriots.

Instead, rewind to the 2001 season. When reminded that Belichick’s Patriots defeated his St. Louis Rams (when he was the head coach), Martz said, “I’ve beaten him, too.

“I went up there on Sunday night and beat him, too. Same year, remember?”

Indeed, on Nov. 18 at Foxboro Stadium, the Rams defeated the then 5-5 Patriots 24-17 rather comfortably. After the game, Martz noted that the Patriots had Super Bowl potential.

He was prescient.

Respect from both coaches

The Patriots closed out that season with six consecutive victories, and they upset the Steelers in Pittsburgh in the AFC Championship Game to earn the right to play the heavily favored Rams in Super Bowl XXXVI.

Asked if Belichick did anything to throw a wrench in his record-breaking offense, Martz said, “No. We had 450 yards, and we moved the ball exceptionally well.

‘‘In that game, we turned the ball over three times. They got 17 points off those three turnovers.”

Think that game — which the Patriots won 20-17 — isn’t fresh in his mind?

“They were a great team, obviously,” Martz said. “I’m not taking anything away from that.

‘‘But for us in that game, it was about turning the ball over like we did that gave them those great opportunities that affected the outcome more than anything else.”

In other words, the outcome wasn’t on Belichick — or, more important, on him.

But Belichick certainly isn’t in his head.

“I don’t think like that or live like that,” Martz said. “I’m sorry. I hate to disappoint you, but those things just don’t happen to me. I guess I’m screwed up.”

What’s not off, though, is the influence Martz and Belichick will have on the game.

During a conference call Wednesday, Belichick highlighted Martz’s “passing concepts, which are difficult to defend.”

“If you stop one,” Belichick said, “then that opens up something else.

“He’s a hard guy to defend,” Belichick said later of Martz. “His teams are always very creative, and they give you a lot of things to worry about.”

And what does Belichick do well?

“He’ll study everything that you’ve done, take it apart piece-by-piece,” Martz said. “He’ll identify what your strengths are, and he’ll try to eliminate your strengths. And he won’t do anything to radically change his defense, but he will make you adjust.

“There’s no question, he will make you adjust.”

Brady and the Patriots’ suddenly scary offense aren’t Martz’s problem; those headaches are defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli’s concern. But Belichick may concoct creative ways to pressure Cutler, whose offensive line has had its share of problems this season, or he may use the strategy that worked so well against the Rams in the Super Bowl: Flood the coverage and force the quarterback to make difficult throws.

Belichick praises Cutler

And Martz’s weakness in the Super Bowl was widely criticized. Despite having a stud running back, the Rams only handed off the ball to Marshall Faulk 17 times. Meanwhile, quarterback Kurt Warner attempted 44 passes, including two that were intercepted.

Can Cutler avoid mistakes and continue to play at a high level?

Belichick, naturally, was effusive in his praise of the young quarterback.

“I’ve been extremely impressed with Jay Cutler,” Belichick said. “I think he’s playing as well as any quarterback we’ve seen, and we’ve seen some good ones.”

Cutler will be a key, but what Martz calls on the quarterback to do and what Belichick does to thwart him will largely determine who walks away a winner.

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