The Mike Martz Sack Problem

One of the things many football fans might look for tomorrow (especially if they’re Packers fans) is how many tickets Clay Matthews gets to sell for the gun show.  There’s a good chance the number will be high since they’re playing the Bears, and as Advanced NFL Stats noted, Jay Cutler is getting sacked a lot.  One question that was raised is, is this Cutler’s fault or Mike Martz’s fault?  Martz’s offense uses a lot of deep routes and so the quarterback might have to hang in there for a beating if the receiver doesn’t get open or if the blocking breaks down.

The article notes that Cutler’s deep throw percentage hasn’t really gone up under Martz’s offense, so perhaps it isn’t actually Martz’s fault.  On the other hand, as pointed out in the comments, that number only tells us where Cutler ended up throwing, not where he should or would have liked to have thrown.  In the comments Brian Burke posts the numbers and says that with the exception of one year, Cutler’s sack percentage has been steady.  The numbers are 2006, Denver: 8.7%; 2007, Denver: 5.5%; Denver, 2008: 1.8%; 2009, Chicago: 6%; 2010, Chicago: 10.6%.  So far this year Cutler is at 12.5%.  So you could look at the numbers a couple ways; 2008 was a fluke and so in two Denver years Cutler is at about a 7 and in two full years in Chicago he’s at an 8 and they aren’t that different (Brian’s take).  Or you could say that Cutler has been improving and not getting sacked as much until he went to Chicago, where his percentage has jumped back up and gone to career highs.  It’s unclear to me if one is obviously right.

But what about Martz?  If his offense is to blame, we would expect teams that run his offense to get sacked a lot.  Martz has been the head coach or offensive coordinator for his teams since the ’99 Rams, so that’s where I’ll start.  The following is a list of his teams’ sack percentage along with the average sack percentage for the league that year, with data from pro-football-reference.com.  1999:5.9/6.9 2000: 7/7 2001: 6.8/6.9 2002: 6.8/6.4 2003: 6.7/6.2 2004: 7.9/6.8 2005: 7.1/6.7 2006: 9.6/6.6 2007: 8.4/6.1 2008: 9.8/5.9 2010: 10.7/6.1 (didn’t coach in 2009, 2011 is on-going).  So Martz-led teams have been below or about average until 2005 or so and since then they’ve been well above average.  That corresponds roughly to when Martz left the Rams and went from Kurt Warner and Marc Bulger (before Bulger was crummy) to Jon Kitna, Shaun Hill, J.T. O’Sullivan, and Cutler.

So in the absolute it can’t be entirely Martz’s offense.  The Rams had perfectly reasonable sack percentages for about 6 years.  But in the last 4 years and so far this season Martz’s quarterbacks have taken a beating.  Maybe that’s because Warner and Bulger are simply better quarterbacks than the more recent group, or maybe the league has caught up to Martz’s schemes.  Cutler did seem to do pretty well sack-wise in Denver, so it doesn’t seem like it would be entirely his fault.  Perhaps this is a situation where the quarterback and the offensive scheme simply don’t mesh.  We’ll find out for sure as soon as Kurt Warner comes out of retirement, which can’t happen soon enough.

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