Bears

Moon: Is Bill Belichick in the head of Mike Martz?

Moon: Is Bill Belichick in the head of Mike Martz?

Wednesday, Dec. 8, 2010
Posted: 9:46 p.m.

By John Mullin
CSNChicago.com

Players can and do get in each others' heads. That's how, for a play, a game, a year, a career, one owns the other.
Brett Favre once owned the Bears. He was in their heads every bit as much as their end zones.

Now an ominous question facing the Bears:

Is Bill Belichick in the head of Mike Martz?

The New England Patriots coach and Bears offensive coordinator have met before this weekend, with generally catastrophic results for Martz: one initial win for Martz, then four losses for Martz with three different teams.

Martz dismisses the Bill-in-his-head thought. Over and over, as a matter of fact.

Dismisses it once: "Oh, God, no," Martz said. "You've got to be kidding me. C'mon, serious?"

Well, he's beaten you four.

"I've beaten him, too. I went up there in 2001 regular season and beat him, too. Same year, remember? In fact, after that game, I said this is a Super Bowl team, and I think they were 6-5 or something. I don't remember what it was."

Martz continues, dismissing it twice: "But oh God, no. They're just a good team. No. I don't think like that or live like that, I'm sorry, I hate to disappoint you, but those things just don't happen to me. I guess I'm screwed up. That stuff doesn't happen to me."

Make it three times in one moment: "I appreciate your question, but no."

Methinks the O.C. doth protest too much?

Ok, but ...
consider:

The St. Louis Rams of then-coach Martz defeated New England and scored 24 points in that game Martz alluded to, during Belichick's first year, 2001. The Patriots were paying attention and then shut Martz down in Super Bowl XXXVI to finish that season. The Rams were favored by 14; they scored 17 to New England's 20.

Since Belichick bested Martz in their Super Bowl, Martz has been part of exactly one winning season (before this current one). His Rams went 12-4 in 2003, one of the years since the Super Bowl in which his teams did not happen across Belichick on its schedule.

Martz is on his third job since then, with stops in Detroit and San Francisco before Chicago.

But "we always have trouble against Mike," Belichick claimed. "He does a great job with the formations, the personnel groupings. His passing concepts are very difficult to defend."
Au contraire

Maybe. But his teams in fact haven't to have much trouble with Martz at all, and Belichick is generally credited with devising creative defensive schemes that have been the virtual undoing of Martz.

The Pats put a 40-22 blowout on Martz's Rams in 2004 and held the Rams to one score over the final 35 minutes despite an injury ravaged secondary.

Martz's Detroit offense scored 21 against Belichick in 2006 but the Lions might have escaped with a win but for turnovers on their final three possessions.

Martz's San Francisco offense got out to a 14-7 lead in a 2008 Belichick game, then managed just one more score over the final 50 minutes.

(Actually, Belichick isn't just a Martz problem. His defense threw in a win over the Super Bowl-bound 2006 Bears when the Patriots held the Chicago offense to 13 points, less than half its per-game average.)

"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."

Martz hasn't always adjusted. Failed adjustments played factors in those four Belichick defeats. But if there is an intriguing aspect going into Sunday's game, it is that the Bears' 5-0 turnaround from their 4-3 funk is due in no small measure to Martz adjusting.

Classics meeting

Late last month the Bears prevailed in a showdown between two schemes properly considered NFL "classics:" the West Coast offense, as practiced by Philadelphia's Andy Reid vs. the Cover-2 defense, the Lovie Smith-Rod Marinelli version.

The Bears were hit with 26 points, albeit a number of them after they had built up an 18-point lead in the second half.

Now comes a rematch. Not between West Coast and Cover-2, but between the defensive mind of Belichick and the offensive scheming Martz.

And maybe both have adjusted.

Here it is 2010 and Belichick, the conservative game manager with the defensive answers, is winning with an offense that is first in the NFL in scoring at 31.6 per game. And Martz's team has won five in a row playing superior defense and with Martz's quarterback handing the ball off an average of more than two-dozen times a game.

"I'm OK with winning a game however we win it in this league -- absolutely," Belichick said. "It's a tough league to win in so we'll take them any way we can get them."

Even if it means getting in somebody's head.

John "Moon" Mullin is CSNChicago.com's Bears Insider, and appears regularly on Bears Postgame Live and Chicago Tribune Live. Follow Moon on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Bears information.

2017 Bears position grades: Inside Linebacker

2017 Bears position grades: Inside Linebacker

2017 grade: B+

Level of need: Low

Decisions to be made on: Christian Jones (free agent), John Timu (free agent), Jonathan Anderson (free agent); Jerrell Freeman has reportedly been cut

Possible free agent targets: Demario Davis, Preston Brown, Anthony Hitchens, Avery Williamson, Navorro Bowman, Derrick Johnson

How the Bears rate Nick Kwiatkoski will be the key to figuring out what this unit will look like in 2018. Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio thought Kwiatkoski finished last season strong, but strong enough to rely on him in 2018 as the starter next to Danny Trevathan?

The thing with the Bears’ inside linebackers, though: Trevathan makes whoever is playing next to him better. The problem is Trevathan hasn’t been able to stay on the field — he missed time in 2017 with a calf injury and a one-game suspension, and missed half of 2016 after rupturing his Achilles’. Trevathan hasn’t played a full 16-game season since 2013, so durability is an issue for the soon-to-be 28-year-old.

So that leads to this question: Do the Bears need to find someone in free agency, regardless of how they value Kwiatkoski, who’s also missed time due to injuries in his first two years in the league?

Free agency could provide a few options. Demario Davis had a career high 97 tackles for the New York Jets last year and has never missed a game as a pro. Preston Brown had some decent production in Buffalo and also hasn’t missed a game since being drafted in 2014. Avery Williamson may not be a world-beater but has only missed one game in his four years in the NFL.

The Bears could also opt for someone who fits more of a rotational mold, like Dallas’ Anthony Hitchens, or try to lure a veteran linebacker like Navorro Bowman (who played for Vic Fangio in San Francisco) or Derrick Johnson (who Matt Nagy knows from his Kansas City days) to play next to Trevathan and/or Kwiatkoski.

The Bears could opt to keep the status quo and re-sign Christian Jones and John Timu for depth, and enter 2018 with Kwiatkoski and Trevathan as the team’s starters (Jerrell Freeman, who suffered a season-ending injury and then was hit with his second PED suspension in as many years, was cut on Tuesday). Signing a starting-caliber free agent isn’t out of the question, either, but there is a third option for the Bears if they appear to stand pat in free agency: Draft an inside linebacker in April. If that’s the route they go, Georgia’s Roquan Smith could be the guy. But again, those more pressing needs at other positions could mean the Bears don’t burn a first-round pick on an inside linebacker.

With Josh Sitton on his way out, what’s next for the Bears’ offensive line?

With Josh Sitton on his way out, what’s next for the Bears’ offensive line?

The first major move of Ryan Pace’s 2018 offseason hit on Tuesday, as NFL Network reported the Bears will not exercise Josh Sitton’s $8 million option for 2018. 

The move accomplishes two things for the Bears: 1) It frees up about $8 million in cap space and 2) Removes a veteran from the offensive line and creates a hole to fill, presumably by a younger free agent or draft pick. 

The 31-year-old Sitton signed a three-year deal with the Bears after Green Bay cut him just before the 2016 season, and was a Pro Bowler his first year in Chicago. Sitton played 26 of 32 games in two years with the Bears, but him being on the wrong side of 30 was likely the biggest factor here. If the Bears saw his skills eroding, releasing him now and netting the cap savings while going younger at the position does make sense. 

“Going younger” doesn’t guarantee the Bears will draft Notre Dame brawler Quenton Nelson, though that did become a greater possibility with Tuesday’s move. Nelson might be one of the two or three best offensive players in this year’s draft, and offensive line coach Harry Hiestand knows him well from the four years they spent together at Notre Dame. 

There’s a natural fit there, of course, but a few reasons to slow the Nelson-to-Chicago hype train: Would he even make it to No. 8? Or if he’s there, is taking a guard that high worth it when the Bears have needs at wide receiver, outside linebacker and cornerback? Still, the thought of Nelson — who absolutely dominated at Notre Dame — pairing with Hiestand again is tantalizing, and Nelson very well could step into any team’s starting lineup and be an immediate Pro Bowler as a rookie. 

If the Bears go younger in free agency, Matt Nagy knows 26-year-old guard Zach Fulton (No. 25 in Bleacher Report’s guard rankings) well from their time in Kansas City. Fulton — a Homewood-Flossmoor alum — has the flexibility to play both guard positions and center, which could open the door for Cody Whitehair to be moved to left guard, the position he was initially drafted to play (though the Bears do value him highly as a center, and keeping him at one position would benefit him as opposed to moving him around the line again). There are some other guys out there — like Tennessee’s Josh Kline or New York’s Justin Pugh — that could wind up costing more than Fulton in free agency. 

Or the Bears could look draft an offensive lineman after the first round, perhaps like Ohio State’s Billy Price, Georgia’s Isaiah Wynn or UTEP’s Will Hernandez. How the Bears evaluate guards at the NFL Combine next week will play an important role in how they go about replacing Sitton. 

The trickle-down effect of releasing Sitton will impact more than the offensive line, too. Freeing up his $8 million in cap space -- which wasn't a guarantee, unlike cutting Jerrell Freeman and, at some point, Mike Glennon -- could go toward paying Kyle Fuller, or another top cornerback, or a top wide receiver, or some combination of players at those positions (as well as outside linebacker). The Bears were already in a healthy place cap-wise; that just got healthier on Tuesday.