It would be so easy for me to tell you that Jay Cutler should have stuck it out and finished the NFC Championship on a sprained MCL. I won’t hide the fact that I do not like Jay Cutler. I felt that he handled his situation in Denver very poorly. Personally, I do not want to see him succeed in Chicago. I don’t think he has what it takes to be an elite quarterback in the NFL anyway. I jumped on the Twitter bandwagon and tore into Cutler when I heard he wasn’t coming back. I shouldn’t have done that because I don’t know what it’s like to play on a sprained MCL. Forget sprained, I couldn’t even play with a fully intact MCL.
However, after Cutler’s injury, I think it’s time to take a look at Mike Martz. I don’t see how is it possible that this guy still has a job in a league that is constantly changing the rules to protect quarterbacks. I think it’s about time Warren Sapp hands Martz his Twitter handle, QBKILLA.
In 1999, Martz took control of the St. Louis Rams offense. Trent Green was slated to be the starter that year but a preseason knee injury sidelined him for the season (an injury that I suppose I can’t link to Martz). Kurt Warner took control of the offense and led them to a Super Bowl victory and was named the leagues MVP. During that season, Rams quarterbacks were sacked a total of 33 times (Warner 29, Joe Germaine 3, Paul Justin 1). No complaints here, 33 isn’t a ridiculous number and they won the Super Bowl. Good job Mike. It doesn’t get any better.
Dick Vermeil decided to retire a second time (don’t worry, he came back, what we now call “Pulling a Favre”) leaving the head coach spot vacant. With Mike Martz taking over as the head coach, he lead the Rams to the playoffs with a 10-6 record. Warner started 11 of the 16 games, missing five due to a broken hand. Trent Green started the games that Warner missed before being traded to Kansas City in the next offseason. Warner was sacked 20 times and Green was sacked 24 times for a total of 44 for the Rams in 2000.
In 2001, Martz led the Rams to a 14-2 record while Warner went on to win another MVP and the Rams fell just short of another Super Bowl ring. Over the course of the season, Warner was sacked 38 times. Consider this, during his time in Arizona, Warner was sacked 23, 14, 20,26, and 24 times in each of his five seasons. Jamie Martin was also sacked twice making it 40 sacks allowed for the 2001 Rams. In 2002, the quarterback position really starts to fall apart. The Rams had four different starting quarterbacks that season: Marc Bulger (7 starts), Warner (6 starts), Jamie Martin (2 starts), and Scott Covington (1 start). Bulger was sacked 12 times, Warner was sacked 21 times, Martin was sacked 10 times, and Covington was sacked twice. Wide receiver Ricky Proehl was also sacked once, proving that it’s not only the quarterbacks that are at risk under Martz. Well, some quick math tells us that the Rams allowed 45 sacks in 2002. Starting to see a trend?
Marc “The Iron Man” Bulger started an astonishing 15 of 16 games in a Mike Martz offense, being sacked 37 times. Warner played in two games that year, starting one, and was sacked six times. That’s a total of 43 sacks in 2003. The next season was the official end of the Kurt Warner Era in St. Louis and what looked to be the end of Warner’s career. Bulger, now entering his second full season as the starter, struggled to stay healthy. Bulger started 14 games and was sacked 41 more times. Who started the other two games? Chris Chandler. He ended up playing in five games that season and was sacked seven times. Chandler decided to hang it up after only one season under Martz (Okay fine, I realize it was his 17th season). Add in the two times Jamie Martin was sacked in his one appearance that year and the total sacks against the Rams in 2004 lands at an even 50.
2005 was a rough year for Martz. He technically only coached the first five games before poor health forced him to take a leave of absence. Still, the quarterback carousel continued as Bulger started 8 games, Jamie Martin started 5 and Ryan Fitzpatrick (yes, that Ryan Fitzpatrick) started 3. Bulger took another beating as he was sacked 26 times in those 8 games, Martin was sacked 11 times, and Fitzpatrick was sacked 9 times. 46 sacks allowed in 2005. Surprisingly, Martz wouldn’t return from that leave as he was fired at the end of the season.
Not surprisingly, the Detroit Lions jumped at the opportunity to grab such an obviously great offensive coordinator. Although the Lions passing game did improve with Martz, quarterback Jon Kitna was sacked 63 times as he started all 16 games of 2006. That’s the fourth most sacks a quarterback has ever taken in one season. Martz didn’t improve enough in 2007 (surprise) as Kitna again started every game but was still sacked 51 times. J.T. O’Sullivan saw playing time in four games and was sacked three times, leaving the Lions with a total of 54 sacks allowed in 2007. After players started complaining about his offense, Martz was fired.
You would think his career would be about over but teams just keep giving him chances. This time? The 49ers. Martz signed a two-year deal on January 8, 2008. Alex Smith was expected to be the starter but after a preseason injury (another I suppose we can blame Martz for), the 49ers were left with Shaun Hill and J.T. O’Sullivan to play the position. Each started 8 games and Hill was sacked 23 times while O’Sullivan was sacked 32 times. The two quarterbacks were sacked 55 times, more than any other team in the NFL that year. The 49ers quickly realized their mistake and Martz was fired at the end of the year.
2009 was a good year for quarterbacks. Mike Martz was unable to find a job. Not to worry though, he signed on with Chicago to be their offensive coordinator in February of 2010. The Bears were starting the second season of the Cutler era and for some reason, thought that Martz was what they needed. Cutler was sacked 35 times in 2009 before Martz took over the offense. In his first season playing for Martz, Cutler was sacked 52 times, more than any other quarterback that year. Cutler only missed one game due to injury (a concussion suffered after being sacked 9 time against the New York Giants) and Todd Collins filled in for him. Collins was sacked 5 times over the course of the season, pushing the Bears total to a league leading 57 sacks allowed in 2010.
Here is a breakdown of the league average for sacks allowed per year compared to Mike Martz’s offenses and the number of sacks allowed by the Super Bowl winner for that year:
Let us step away from the sacks for a minute and look at the reason that Martz keeps getting hired. Going back to 1999, his first season as offensive coordinator, the Rams had the best offense in the league and scored 526 points, which is the fourth most in NFL history. That was also the year that Warner won the MVP and the Rams won the Super Bowl. Not a bad start. Actually it was a great start, the Rams were nicknamed “The Greatest Show on Turf” and had three straight 500-point seasons. No other team has ever done that. In the 2000 season, Warner was missed a few games due to injury but if you combine his numbers with Trent Green’s, they had the highest total team passing yards in NFL history. The two quarterbacks threw for 5,492 yards and 37 touchdowns. Warner won the MVP again in 2001 and led the team to another Super Bowl as he threw for 4,830 yards and 36 touchdowns. Even after Warner left, the Rams continued to see success in the passing game under Martz with Bulger as their quarterback. Bulger threw for nearly 4,000 yards in his first two seasons as a starter (2003, 2004) and made a Pro Bowl appearance in 2003. While Martz was with the Lions, Jon Kitna had more success than any quarterback in Lions team history as he threw for 4,000 yards in both seasons.
It’s obvious that Martz’s offenses put up big numbers, but at what cost? Marc Bulger only had one effective season post-Martz and he never seemed to recover. You can now find him in Baltimore sitting behind Joe Flacco. It took Kurt Warner three seasons to get back to Pro Bowl form after his time in St. Louis. But Warner made it back to the Super Bowl. Martz is still trying.
Now jump to the NFC Championship game. Is it really much of a surprise to see that Cutler wasn’t able to make it through the season? It’s unfortunate that he finally broke in the NFC Championship and many people will question his toughness now. Even though everyone is calling out Cutler, I think Martz deserves plenty of the blame here. Is Cutler the next quarterback to fall victim to Martz? As much as I dislike Cutler, I think Bears fans need to focus their energy on getting Martz fired.