Watching Mike Martz‘s Detroit offense rip apart the previously vaunted Chicago Bears defense Sunday, Gregg Williams said he felt like defense had been set back 100 years.
Williams even questioned why he coaches defense for a living knowing his 2-1 Washington Redskins were next in line for the 3-1 Lions’ aerial circus, which drove 70, 80 and 62 yards for late touchdowns in just 17 plays.
“They’re explosive,” Williams said. “They’ll always challenge you, so we’ve got our work cut out for us. That frenetic pace is what Mike likes. Going into the bye week, I told [my players] that they needed to be rested because it was going to be a track meet when they got back.”
Martz, who served as the Redskins’ quarterbacks coach in 1997 and 1998, has a knack for taking apart defenses. In 1999 and 2000, his St. Louis Rams scored the fourth- and third-most points in NFL history, respectively. They won the Super Bowl after the 1999 season and made the playoffs the next year before the 2001 team reclaimed the NFC title.
“Mike’s a very aggressive offensive football coach,” said Redskins associate head coach-offense Al Saunders, who worked for Martz in 1999 and 2000. “He does a lot of very creative things with his people. They throw the ball up the field extremely well. He gives his players a lot of big-play opportunities.”
Martz’s Lions lead the league in passing and are fourth in both points and yards. Seventeen teams don’t have a player with more than 20 catches. Detroit has two: receivers Roy Williams and Shaun McDonald.
“If they’re behind they’re going to throw it,” Redskins safeties coach Steve Jackson said. “If they’re ahead they’re going to throw it. You’ve got to be at your best every snap.”
If facing Martz can give defenses ulcers, being on his side is usually a thrill. The Rams were 72-36 in his six-plus years in St. Louis — five-plus as coach before a heart ailment sidelined him in 2005 — winning a Super Bowl and losing another.
“Every day there is something new to be learned from this guy, how to attack different defenses, what defenses to look for and what plays work best,” said Lions quarterback Jon Kitna, whose league-leading 1,227 yards have him well on his way to becoming just the seventh NFL quarterback to pass for 4,000 yards in consecutive seasons.
“When they hired Mike, everyone was real excited,” said Redskins guard Rick DeMulling, a Lions player when Martz came aboard in 2006. “It was like ‘Watch out!’ Mike’s the ultimate mind when it comes to offensive football. He would get really excited about a play or how we were going to attack a defense which made you excited. You could kinda see it build up and radiate along through everybody else.”
That’s even true for the defenses that have to try slow the Martz express during practice.
“It was exciting to be with the Rams when Mike was coordinating the offense,” Redskins middle linebacker London Fletcher recalled. “[The Lions] look as close to the Rams as anyone I’ve seen.”
Actually, the Lions’ receivers are taller and not as quick as Torry Holt, Isaac Bruce and Az Hakim were in St. Louis. And Detroit’s Tatum Bell is a good back but can’t compare to Marshall Faulk. But then it’s hard to believe Martz is from the same Don Coryell school as the balanced Saunders and risk-averse Redskins coach Joe Gibbs.
“What was always amazing about Don Coryell is he [would] try anything,” Gibbs said. “Mike’s probably a lot like that, not afraid to try something different, do something different. Whereas most coaches, we’re much more paranoid than that.”
But when Rod Marinelli received his first coaching shot in Detroit last year, he wasn’t paranoid about adding the most qualified unemployed coach to his staff. Marinelli saw Martz as a tonic for a team with the NFL’s worst record the previous six years despite having taken a quarterback and three receivers with a top 10 pick in the drafts from 2002 to 2005.
“We had some excellent skilled athletes here,” said Marinelli, who was 3-13 in his 2006 debut. “I want to be aggressive and I want to attack. I want to turn this whole thing around in terms of an attitude. I don’t want to play soft. I don’t want to play conservative. I want to go get it. Mike was the best guy out there to get.”
The Lions jumped from 26th to seventh in passing as Williams led the NFC in receiving yards and Mike Furrey was first in catches, but now Martz is truly getting it done because Detroit is winning.