Posted on Fri, Oct. 06, 2006

[size=13pt]Mad Martz at work[/size]

Offensive mastermind, fired by Rams, has breathed life into Lions' offense

BY DON SEEHOLZER
Pioneer Press


Fred Smoot has seen this act before.

In 2002, his second season with the Washington Redskins, the Vikings' starting right cornerback helped ground the St. Louis Rams' high-flying passing game in a 20-17 victory at FedEx Field.

Looking at tape this week of the Detroit Lions' offense, in its first season under new offensive coordinator and former Rams coach Mike Martz, Smoot saw the same free-swinging approach.

"Mike Martz teams play outside the box," he said. "Up the field a lot and routes you probably won't see from any other team. If something is the average or the way the NFL is done, they do something else, their own way. They don't go by anybody's rules but Mike Martz's."

What sometimes was referred to as Martz Madness was part of a golden age of passing in St. Louis, where Martz was the ringmaster of what came to be known as the Greatest Show on Turf.

The Lions' offense isn't in that class yet, but Martz's bunch is on a roll, with 794 yards and 58 points in the past two weeks.

"We can't be stopped," wide receiver Roy Williams boasted after last week's 41-34 loss to the Rams. "We can only stop ourselves."

That's big talk for someone who plays for an 0-4 team, but the Lions' seventh-ranked passing offense is enough to strike fear into any defense, including a banged-up Vikings unit that has two starting defensive backs — cornerback Antoine Winfield and safety Darren Sharper — nursing thigh and quadriceps injuries, respectively.

"They're very vertical," Winfield said. "They have some threats. I love the way Roy Williams plays. Down the field, he's definitely a great threat. He's 6-4, can run, has great hands. (Jon) Kitna's spreading the ball around. My guy, Mike Furrey, is out there making plays. It's just another challenge for us."

Kitna ranks second in the NFL in pass attempts (150), first in completions (98) and third in passing yards (1,081).

Williams is tied for fifth in receptions with 25 for 384 yards and one touchdown and is coming off back-to-back 100-yard games.

Throw in running back Kevin Jones, who rushed for a season-high 93 yards and two touchdowns in last week's loss to St. Louis, and the Lions look a little scary, 0-4 record and all.

"They're coming into their own offensively," Vikings defensive coordinator Mike Tomlin said. "They've got a veteran, savvy quarterback in Kitna. They have some explosive weapons at the skill positions. They have some known talent along the offensive line. … Of course, they have Mike Martz as the coordinator, who is well-respected throughout this game. It's going to be a unique challenge for us, and we look forward to it."

The Lions' early offensive success has to taste sweet to Martz, especially considering the way he left St. Louis.

In seven years as offensive coordinator and head coach, he helped the Rams to five playoff appearances, three division titles and two Super Bowls, including a 23-16 win over Tennessee in Super Bowl XXXIV.

That didn't stop the team from firing Martz after a trying 2005 season in which Martz, 55, was forced to take a medical leave after five games because of endocarditis, an infection of the lining or valves of the heart.

Lions cornerback Dré Bly, who spent his first four seasons in St. Louis, said he knew when Martz came aboard the Rams' loss would be Detroit's gain.

"When Mike came here, that's what I was expecting," Bly said. "Seeing his offense for four years and knowing the kind of weapons that we have. We have big-play guys on our team. I know Mike; he doesn't settle. He likes to have an explosive offense, so I knew as a defense we'd have an opportunity to score some points and make some plays."