Wednesday, Dec. 8, 2010
Posted: 9:46 p.m.
By John Mullin
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 ...
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."
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.
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.