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IN CHICAGO'S offensive meeting room, every so often an image of the old St. Louis Rams will flash across the video screen—Kurt Warner under center, Marshall Faulk in the backfield, Isaac Bruce and Torry Holt at the line of scrimmage. The Bears are getting more than just a history lesson from Mike Martz, the newly arrived offensive coordinator who ran the Rams juggernaut (first as coordinator, then as coach) from 1999 through 2005. They are incorporating Martz's scheme and, they hope, some of that old St. Louis mojo.
"Coach Martz says we have the talent and ability to be like that team," says receiver Devin Aromashodu. "He shows us film of the things we can do if we just buy into what's going on. He's been real optimistic. I believe I have that ability, and I hope everyone else feels the same way. That way we can become a championship team."
Says Martz of his new charges, "These guys will define their future."
It wasn't long ago that the Bears' destiny appeared to be winning a Super Bowl, but since their run to the title game in the 2006 season, they haven't even made the playoffs. Coach Lovie Smith, who worked under Martz as defensive coordinator in St. Louis, hired the impresario to orchestrate an offense that last season saw Jay Cutler throw a league-high 26 interceptions and running back Matt Forte average just 3.6 yards a carry. Further assistance in introducing the Rams way has come from Bruce, who tutored with receiver Devin Hester in the off-season and worked with the team as a minority coaching intern this summer.
With NFC North bullies Minnesota and Green Bay fielding quick-strike offenses, Chicago can't live with the breakdowns that stalled drives in 2009. "I've always respected his offensive mind," Smith says of Martz. "I'm excited about what he's done and what we're going to do this year. It's about scoring points."
Martz has long been a proponent of dictating the tempo of a game, snapping the football early in the 40-second clock, keeping a defense huffing and puffing. His is a playbook heavy on the pass, one that will require contributions out of the backfield from Forte and newly acquired Chester Taylor.
"It'll be different," Forte says of the offense. "We may use the pass to set up the run instead of running to set up the pass. If you have a passing attack, [defenses] can't stack everybody in the box. We're going to use that to our advantage."
The biggest burden will fall on Cutler, whose 76.8 passer rating in 2009 was his worst in four seasons as a pro. Cutler is blessed with a big arm, but too often it found the wrong jersey. Sometimes that was a function of a faulty offensive line (Cutler was sacked 35 times) but at other times those interceptions were the result of Cutler's own carelessness. Smith brought in Mike Tice to help shore up the front five, and they must do a better job keeping the quarterback clean. But Cutler's road back to Pro Bowl form will also depend on his grasp of the offense and his rapport with Hester and Aromashodu, fellow receivers Earl Bennett and Johnny Knox and tight end Greg Olsen.
"There are a lot of details; we just have to make sure we get them all," Cutler says. "[The offense] fits the characteristics of guys that we have—our skill sets with the receivers, tight ends and running backs, and the zone-blocking with our offensive line. Mike is the all-knowing source for this offense. It's his baby, and he does a great job giving me information. He's giving me every possible tool to succeed."
The wide-open philosophy is a departure from the Bears' grind-them-down running teams of the past, but in many ways that offense went the way of the old NFC Central. In Chicago's six division games last season the teams averaged a combined 52.5 points, compared to 39.4 over the previous decade.