Although 49ers Coach Mike Singletary dismissed his offensive coordinator for 2008, Mike Martz, the creative Martz improved the team's offense from 32nd in 2007 to 23rd in 2008 with his version of Air Coryell.
Martz uses a read-and-react scheme with a complex playbook where the quarterback has an immediate three "digit" choices. He learned this system from Norv Turner when they were both in Washington.
There's never a situation in which Martz tells his offense to "go deep"; it all depends on the defense's reaction at the beginning of the play.
Another change was Martz's attitude toward defensive pressure.
In Jim Hostler's inept 2007 offense, when a blitz was developing before a snap, the signal callers would direct blocking protection toward the potential pressure.
In 2008, the quarterbacks were supposed to make a hot read for a quick throw into the part of the defense vacated by the incoming blitzer.
The Martz variation of Air Coryell is generally much more aggressive in terms of passing. The run is sometimes forgotten, as evidenced by featured running back Frank Gore's 1,036 yards for the season—a major drop off for the former University of Miami Hurricane who racked up 1,695 yards as the NFL rushing champion in 2006.
Under Martz the St. Louis Rams' offense set an NFL record in 2000 with 7,335 total yards; 5,492 came through the air, also a record.
Martz tends to favor three-wide-receiver sets—his best trio in St. Louis being Issac Bruce, Torry Holt, and Az-Zahir Hakim—-with the halfback filling the role of middle receiver. In Turner's version, both the fullbacks and tight ends fill that role.
The Martz offense usually works best with two elite wide receivers with top speed.
The Achilles' heel is that teams can shut down the run and make his offense one-dimensional.
Additionally, the quarterbacks take a lot of hits because of the many five-step and seven-step drops. When the timing patterns get knocked off course, the passing game suffers greatly.
Also, with a pressing pass rush, the quarterback can be forced to hold onto the ball, get trapped in the pocket and then be at the mercy of the defense.
“You always have to disrupt the receivers as well as put pressure on the quarterback,” said veteran safety Rodney Harrison in an interview on the NFL Network. “You have to give him some different looks with a physical, aggressive defense.”
Although the quarterback of a Martz offense is often at the top of the league in passing statistics, he may also lead the league in sacks taken.
That was a big red flag for 49ers head coach Mike Singletary, who let Martz go on Dec. 30, 2008.
Despite being fired, Mike Martz did improve the offense from the cellar. The following slides describe the five plays that made the offense tick.