Plugging the Holes: NFC North

Jay Cutler and Matthew Stafford both have big questions to answer going into next season. US Presswire

Football Outsiders continues its "Plugging the Holes" series, in which it targets the offseason issues facing each team in the NFL by division.

Previous editions: AFC West | NFC West | AFC North

Chicago Bears: Can Mike Martz save the Bears' offense?

Five years ago, Mike Martz was considered by some to be the top offensive mind in football. Oh, how times change. He was fired by the 49ers following the 2008 season and got the Bears job only after about a dozen people turned it down, fearful of head coach Lovie Smith's long-term status. Now, Martz is tasked with helping Jay Cutler find the form that led the Bears to trade multiple first-round picks for him only a season ago.

In some ways, the hiring of Martz is downright bizarre. Cutler's primary problems last season were his propensity for interceptions and his lack of protection behind a shoddy offensive line. Cutler threw a league-high 26 interceptions last year and got sacked a career-high 35 times. Martz has long encouraged his quarterbacks to play freely and not fear interceptions, and his focus on deep passing and multiple receivers leads to large numbers of sacks. Jon Kitna got sacked more than 50 times in each of his two years as a starter in Martz's offense. Considering the poor talent on the Bears' offensive line, Cutler will be hit a bunch next year, risking the health of the Bears' largest investment.

Martz's reputation has understandably taken a hit in recent seasons. His tenure as a head coach in St. Louis ended poorly; his Detroit teams never had good offenses; and in San Francisco, the ill-fated J.T. O'Sullivan experiment was a complete disaster. Still, while the Martz addition will not lead to a return of the Greatest Show on Turf, the offense should improve. The 49ers improved from the league's worst offense to a little below average in Martz's only season as the offensive coordinator. In Detroit, his offenses were below-average both seasons, but the Lions still played much better than the year before he arrived or the year after he left.

Martz is far from a panacea, but he should put Cutler in position to have some success. Martz's offenses run up a ton of negative plays, but he does allow his quarterbacks to attack down the field. Cutler has a strong arm that he was not free to use this season, because the Bears were so concerned about his being hit. Additionally, Martz uses running backs well in the passing game, and Matt Forte has proved to be an adept receiver. The Bears' offense will not be good next season, but it should be better.