Like Most People, Mike Martz Is Getting More Flexible with Age

I’ve watched it over time in my parents.  I’ve seen it in my older friends.  Most people get better with age.

Once you’ve seen much of what life has to challenge you with on a day-to-day level over a number of years, you realize that most of it just isn’t a big deal.  You stop getting excited about things that you either can’t control or which really aren’t significant in the long run.  Age brings perspective.

Brad Biggs at the Chicago Tribune wrote a really nice article about Mike Martz, revealing this commonly over looked side of human nature:

“Mike Martz, who sometimes speaks in hyperbole, has changed his colors in his fourth stop as a play-caller. The numbers say so, anyway. Since the cosmic intervention during the off week, the play calls have been balanced. Out of the 415 plays in the last seven games, 212 have been runs. Mike Who?

“‘We all mature,’ said Martz, who’s known for his passing game. ‘I probably matured later in life than a lot of guys, maybe not there yet. … As you get older, there are things that don’t upset you or you react to as quickly as maybe you did early in your career.’

“Would he say he is more flexible?

“‘Flexible has probably never been a word that has been associated with my name,’ he said. ‘I think so though, I like to think so.'”

I know so.  In watching the Bears evolve over the course of the year, Martz has abandoned his pride and his dogmatic pass first high octane offensive philosophy and adjusted his coaching style to his personnel more than anyone would have imagined even the most flexible of coordinators doing.  Martz has come to the realization that there’s more than one way for him to skin a cat and, as long as the job gets done, it doesn’t really matter how you do it.

The shift toward the ground game after the bye week has been well documented.  Its been suggested that offensive line coach Mike Tice and Martz sat down for some very straight talk about what the unit could and couldn’t do.  As in they couldn’t protect Jay Cutler during deep, seven step drops but they could run block because that’s easier for a young unit lacking cohesiveness to learn.  I have absolutely no trouble believing this because it sounds like exactly the kind of thing that Tice would do.  I also have little doubt that everyone else from head coach Lovie Smith to team president Ted Philips reinforced the idea.

But what Mart doesn’t get enough credit for is the way that he handled Cutler.

The Martz system is one where the quarterback drops back and throws on time to a spot.  Its up to the receiver to get there and the quarterback has to trust him to get there.  And Jay Cutler wasn’t doing it.  I don’t know if its because he wasn’t capable of learning to do it or if he flat out refused.  Either way, it just wasn’t coming together.

So Martz adjusted instead.  He’s called more roll outs and allowed Cutler to scan the field looking for the open man rather than continuing to try to force him to do something that just wasn’t working.  How big this adjustment was can’t be underestimated.  It required a complete re-wiring of the way that Martz called the game and I have little doubt that it was probably the toughest thing he’s had to do since he’s been coaching.

Give Martz his due.  The 48 year old coach who refused to adjust his game plan at halftime during a loss to the New England Patriots in the Super Bowl is long gone.  At the age of 59, Martz is better than he’s ever been.  And he’s gotten the Bears offense ready to win.

Free Agency at the Right Spots the Route to Success… For Now

David Haugh at the Chicago Tribune writes an interesting column about how the Bears got to the top of the NFC North division:

“Becoming the first team to win a division championship this season dispels two commonly accepted myths:

“1. The McCaskeys are cheap. (Not when it comes to saving their football franchise.)

“2. Free-agency often is the wrong path to take to the playoffs. (Not if the road winds from North Carolina to Chicago.)

“As we begin debating playoff scenarios, it cannot be overstated how one signature from Julius Peppers changed everything we thought we knew about the Bears. It was as if the McCaskeys adopted overspending Redskins owner Daniel Snyder. When (Julius) Peppers signed a 6-year, $91.5 million contract last March it reflected fiscal urgency to which Bears ownership previously seemed immune.”

I’m not entirely sure why the Bears ownership has decided to spend money now.  I have my theories but those will wait for another entry someday, perhaps in the off season.  But what is clear is that their willingness to spend money this year has helped them win now.  But don’t think that general manager Jerry Angelo just  spent this money willy nilly on bad investments the way that Snyder has.  They spent it at specific spots.

The three most important positions on any football team are left offensive tackle, quarterback and pass rusher (defensive end in the 4-3).  These are represented by Frank Omiyale, Jay Cutler and Peppers on the Bears.  They have invested heavily in the last two and the first came through free agency as well.

But, even recognizing the importance of the positions, to his credit Angelo didn’t just spend it on anyone.  Defensive end Julius Peppers is a quality person and a team player who reflects well upon the franchise.  Contrast with Albert Haynesworth, signed by the Redskins, and you see that the Bears did it right.

But as worth of praise as these acquisitions are, Haugh’s characterization of the method as a success isn’t completely warranted in the long view:

“Given the emphasis on the draft and salary cap complexity, conventional wisdom says you can’t buy a winner in the NFL. The Bears just did.”

Yes, but for how long?  Angelo has been justifiably castigated because not a single one of these three players at the three most important positions came to the Bears through the draft.  In fact, the Bears have generally been a failure in the draft overall and as a result they have a very old, very veteran starting lineup.

Much though we all laud the McCaskeys for their willingness to spend money to bring a winner to Chicago in the short term, they don’t have the deep pockets that Snyder does.  For the health of the franchise, Angelo needs to find success in the only proven path to long-term competitiveness.  The Bears have to start drafting players at the positions that count the most.

Ryan Fetish Flap Just Part of the Entertainment

When I came across the Deadspin Rex Ryan news story via Kissing Suzy Kolber a couple days ago, I pretty much ignored it.  I should have known better.  Given the way people react to such things I guess its no surprise in retrospect that Ryan is being dogged with questions about it.  Ryan has been accused of making foot fetish films with his wife, Michelle, for a web site (I’ll leave you guys to follow the link to Deadspin).  He hasn’t denied it.

Other than thinking the whole thing is pretty funny, I really didn’t give this much of a second thought.  Like everything else about Ryan, I find it to be very entertaining.  But not offensive.  By modern standards, this barely rates as a sex scandal in my book.  Heck, it barely rates as a scandal at all.

One thing is certain in my mind and its in complete agreement with what former Bear defensive tackle Dan Hampton told Sean Jensen at the Chicago Sun-Times regrading Rex and his brother Rob Ryan, defensive coordinator for the Cleveland Browns:

“(Hampton) thinks the Ryan twins are good for the league.

‘‘’They coach the right way,’ Hampton said. ‘The NFL is the No Fun League. But not these guys. They still like to have fun.’’’