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Mike Martz must tailor Bears’ game plan to Caleb Hanie’s strengths

Mike Martz wouldn’t admit ‘‘throwback screen’’ thresulted an interceptilast week was questionable play-call. | Getty Images

Mike Martz wouldn’t admit the ‘‘throwback screen’’ that resulted in an interception last week was a questionable play-call. | Getty Images

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Updated: December 4, 2011 10:19AM

The faction of Bears fans worried that offensive
coordinator Mike Martz will leave after this season is eclipsed only by the faction of Bears fans worried that he’ll stay. That must be the curse of genius.

The Bears’ game Sunday against the Chiefs is a big one for Caleb Hanie, but it’s an even bigger one for Martz. And it’s the same challenge he has faced since he realized he knows everything there is to know about offensive football when the Rams won Super Bowl XXXIV: Does he have the humility to learn from his mistakes?

If Martz could do that as well as he orchestrated the Greatest Show on Turf — with Hall of Famers at running back, left tackle, quarterback and possibly even wide reveiver — he would be as good as he’s reputed to be.

But it seems Martz has to be prodded to balance his offense to give the Bears the best chance to win, to call plays that allow his beleaguered quarterback to throw the ball before he gets hit or to let his beleaguered quarterback move the pocket and buy time to make a play work.

Here’s how simple the solution is: He just has to live by his own stated philosophy.

‘‘Here’s my philosophy as a coach,’’ Martz said when asked if a coach who has lived by the
drop-back passer can take advantage of Hanie’s mobility. ‘‘If you’re not pragmatic as a coach, [if] you coach from a box of information, you’ll fail.

‘‘[You have to] adjust to what you have and be pragmatic. [If you] need to run it 60 times, then you do. Whatever it takes to win. .  .  . You have to adjust and do the right thing by the people you have and give them the best opportunity to have success.’’

Amen to that. But we’ll see how well he lives up to it when Hanie makes his second NFL start. Hanie is far from the prototypical Martz quarterback. In some ways, he is the polar opposite. But used properly, he should be good enough to get the Bears into the playoffs. Now we’ll see just how much of a genius Martz is.

He failed on one account last week, calling an ill-advised ‘‘throwback screen’’ on second-and-one from the Raiders’ 7-yard line late in the first half. Hanie rushed it like he was on automatic pilot — like a quarterback making his first NFL start — and the
ball was tipped and intercepted, with Kamerion Wimbley returning it 73 yards to set up a Raiders field goal.

Asked whether he understood why some people criticized the call, Martz didn’t budge.

‘‘No. Shoot, I’ve thrown that for 20 years, and it’s never been anything but a good play,’’ he said. ‘‘We didn’t execute it very well. And the ball got tipped. When you throw a screen and the ball gets tipped .  .  . Screens aren’t hard. It’s just something that happened, really.’’

This is where Martz loses many people. It’s not that it’s a bad play; it’s a great play. Kellen Davis was so wide open when the Bears ran it against the Falcons in the season opener that he could have crawled into the end zone with Chris Williams on his back.

But even Jay Cutler botched that one, throwing the ball well over Davis’ head for an incompletion. And if Cutler can screw it up that badly, what chance does Hanie have in his first NFL start?

Great play. Wrong place to call it. Lesson learned.


We’ll see.

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