Mike Martz is delivering. We’re only three weeks into the season but we’ve already seen more offense than in 16 games last season. We’ve even seen the 49ers go for a touchdown on fourth-and-goal from the one. Glory be!
Martz turns the NFL coach’s dictum — we take what the defense gives us — on its head. He makes the defense react to what he’s doing.
That’s the way Bill Walsh always operated. Walsh used formations that would force defenses into coverages that exposed them. Martz does it more with the plays he calls, but the effect is the same.
The Detroit Lions fired Martz because they thought he didn’t develop their running game — they were 32nd and 31st in the NFL in rushing during his two years in Detroit.
Without him, they’ve moved all the way up to 30th. Whoopee.
In fact, though, Martz uses the weapons he has. Marshall Faulk thrived as a running back/receiver in Martz’s offense in St. Louis. Frank Gore is doing the same with the Niners.
Yesterday, Gore ran 27 times for 130 yards and caught four passes for 32 yards.
In three games, he’s run for 287 yards and caught passes for another 125. His comparable numbers last year at this time were 175 and 37.
The 49ers were as balanced as they could be against the Lions. Counting J.T. O’Sullivan’s four scrambles and one sack, Martz called 28 pass plays, 34 runs. Yardage, too, was very close: 188 passing, 182 running.
Martz keeps the defense off-balance. In Sunday’s game, O’Sullivan was throwing mostly short passes early, but with the lead at 14-3, Martz changed strategies. From the San Francisco 28, O’Sullivan threw a deep ball to Vernon Davis on which the Lions were called for defensive holding. Then he hit Bryant Johnson for 25 yards, Josh Morgan for 18 and Delanie Walker for 24 yards and the touchdown.
Martz always has a bit of trickery; Arnaz Battle’s 18-yard run on a double reverse set up the 49ers’ second touchdown. Again, that was reminiscent of Walsh, who always said it was important to use trick plays early because you couldn’t be certain there will be an opportunity late.
When the Lions muscled up to stop straight-ahead running plays at their goal line, Martz sent in another trick play, using kick returner Allen Rossum on a reverse.
Mike Nolan had first sent the field goal team out, then called them back. As usual, he portrayed it as his decision, but I’m betting he got an earful from Martz when he was going for the field goal. Nolan always goes for the field goal, but Martz plays to win.
It helps that his quarterback is getting more comfortable in his system, making good decisions and also sensing the pressure better. O’Sullivan ran four times for 32 yards against the Lions, and defensive coordinators will have to tell their pass rushers to be aware that O’Sullivan can run for yardage if they come too hard at him.
It’s too early to predict how the 49ers will do this season, with a tough four games coming up: road games against the Saints and Super Bowl-champion Giants sandwiched around home games against the Patriots and Eagles. But with Martz calling the plays and O’Sullivan running the offense, the 49ers are once again fun to watch.