Martz has advantage in playoff opener
NEIL HAYES ON THE BEARS January 3, 2011 11:04PM
Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM
If the Bears are as productive during this bye week as they were the last time they took a break, Sunday’s 10-3 loss to the Packers at Lambeau Field will soon become an empty memory.
If Mike Martz can approach what he accomplished when the team was reeling after losing three of four at midseason, the Bears could wind up in the Super Bowl.
“It gives [Martz] a great advantage,” ex-Rams receiver and current NFL Network analyst Torry Holt said. “Now he can evaluate all three teams and break them down into detail and he’ll know exactly where that particular team is weak, he’ll know exactly how they’re going to attack and who they are going to attack them with.”
The offensive inefficiency against the Packers may have been partially a product of Martz not game-planning the way he would for a normal game because he knew he might face Dom Capers’ Green Bay defense again in the postseason. Regardless, three points, six sacks allowed and a quarterback rating of 43.5 from Jay Cutler hardly qualifies as a continuation of the momentum that helped the offense rack up 78 points against the Vikings and Jets.
Worse yet, the Packers’ approach will likely serve as a blueprint for the Bears’ first playoff opponent. Martz can expect the Eagles, Seahawks or Saints to attack similarly.
“He takes those things very personally,” said Holt, who starred in Martz’s system in St. Louis. “When his quarterback gets attacked, he feels like that’s an area he’s not teaching well and he takes that very, very personally. That’s how it was with us. Teams tried to get to us with pressure — and once the coach and the quarterback figured out exactly what they were doing and how they were getting there, they could put everybody in the right position to make the throws we needed to make.”
In the locker room after the game, players said the Packers blitzed them more than any other team. Devin Hester and Johnny Knox combined for one catch, by far their lowest production of the season, in part because Cutler didn’t always have time to find them downfield. The Packers secondary made sure they were well-covered when he did.
The pressure was almost constant, especially late in the game when cornerback Charles Woodson was knifing into the backfield on virtually every play.
“We’re going to go and fix this and make sure this doesn’t happen again,” a determined Hester said afterward. “The next team that tries this, we’re going to make them pay for it. Now we know what we need to work on and we have an extra two weeks to prepare for this.
“If the next team decides they want to do something like that, we’ll be ready for it. This won’t happen again.”
When a team gives up sacks as the Bears did Sunday, it’s not always because offensive linemen are getting beat one-on-one, although that happened at times. Defensive coordinators try to confuse the quarterback. They also try to confuse offensive linemen. In fact, that’s become an increasingly popular approach of late.
A wave of defenders can outnumber blockers on one side of the ball, for example. Delayed blitzes and stunts test the coordination between blockers. The Packers took away Cutler’s “hot” reads, giving him no place to get rid of the ball.
They would send one blitzer and then send Woodson in his wake.
“Anytime we can give a guy like Mike Martz an extra week, it’s going to benefit us,” Cutler said. “Even though we don’t know who we’re playing against exactly, we can get a feel for a couple teams — and Mike is going to take a look at us and self-scout us and see what we’ve done good and bad.
“The way we’ve played offensively, I don’t think we’re going to change much. That’s my gut feeling. Mike is pretty confident about where we’re at and where the offensive line is at and how everybody is playing.”
The offense won’t change radically, but anyone who watched the unit flounder in Green Bay knows tweaks are required. That’s Martz’s specialty, as he proved by turning the Bears’ lack of balance and poor third-down efficiency rating into strengths that helped the team win seven of eight coming out of the bye. If the last time he pulled his unit into his garage for an overhaul is any indication, the necessary adjustments will be made before the Bears’ first playoff game on Jan. 16.
“They can’t afford to give up six sacks in the postseason,” Holt said. “The other area they have to get better at is red zone efficiency. They have to improve there. If they improve those areas — offensive line play, Cutler controlling the ball and not turning the ball over and red-zone efficiency — they are a team that can compete and win the NFC championship.”