Martz vs Raye: How will the 49er Offense Change in 2009?

Eric JolivetteContributor IMay 29, 2009

SAN FRANCISCO - OCTOBER 26:  Tight end Vernon Davis #85 of the San Francisco 49ers carries the ball while being pursued by Leroy Hill #56 of the Seattle Seahawks in the fourth quarter at Candlestick Park on October 26, 2008 in San Francisco, California. The Seahawks defeated the 49ers 34-13.  (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)

Martz is a system guy. He brings his philosophy to whatever team employs him, and tries to fit his players into the scheme.  If those guys don’t fit, he’ll find other guys that do.  Just ask J.T. O’Sullivan.

Jimmy Raye builds his offensive approach around his roster.  His track record as an offensive coordinator is long; he’s run different systems in different cities, depending on his talent. 

In Los Angeles he had Eric Dickerson, and not much talent at receiver.  So he ran the ball 537 times, and Dickerson set the single season record for rushing yards.  Gotta play the hand you're dealt, right?

In Oakland, Raye had zero talent at running back, but he did have Kerry Collins, Randy Moss and Jerry Porter.  So, in 2005 his team threw 591 passes, and ran just 367 times.  Those numbers would make Warren Moon proud.

One thing Jimmy Raye does do consistently is use his tight ends.  When Coach Raye’s calling the plays, his tight ends have ranked third or higher in pass receptions on 8 of the 14 offenses he’s led. 

Three times his tight end was his leading receiver.  Famed tight end Tony Gonzalez put up career numbers under Coach Raye.  In 2000, Gonzo led the Chiefs with 93 receptions for a ridiculous 1,203 yards and 9 touchdowns. 

That’s pretty good.

San Francisco has a tight end too. He’s supposed to be pretty good.  However Mr. Davis isn’t celebrated like Gonzo is.  In fact, his critics say he’s nothing but a workout warrior; some even call him a bust.  He’s been in the league for three seasons, and he hasn’t even sniffed the Tony Gonzalez standard. 

So what’s the problem with Vernon Davis?

Well, last year his problem (at least part of it) was his offensive coordinator.  Known for his disdain of the “undersized lineman”, Mike Martz never throws to his tight ends.  Never.

In 2008, the 49ers’ tight ends combined for a measly 41 receptions.  Their “star” tight end Vernon had only 31 catches for 358 yards.  Not gonna live up to the Tony Gonzalez comparisons with those kind of numbers.

In Detroit, Martz was even worse.  In 2007, his second year in “The D”, Martz’s tight ends combined to catch 28 passes.  The Lions threw 587 times that year.  His tight ends caught 13% of the team’s receptions.  Simply stunning.

With Jimmy Raye in the booth this season, things are looking up for Vernon Davis.  In a recent interview with Matt Maiocco of the Santa Rosa Press Democrat, Raye compared Davis to… you guessed it… Tony Gonzalez, and talked about Vernon’s potential role in this year’s offense.

“Just like Tony (Gonzalez) at Kansas City, he is a threat at that (tight end) position – a nightmare for some teams.  I would expect he will be a major part of what we do..”

“He looks like he has the ingredients to be a focal point in what we do.”

“Yeah, yeah..” you say,  “we heard that from Mike Martz last year.  He said he would build the offense around Frank Gore.  He said he would highlight Vernon Davis, too.”   

True, Martz promised us Vernon Davis and Frank Gore, but he gave us J.T. O’Sullivan instead.  The truth is, Martz’s system has little use for Davis, who although freakishly athletic for a tight end, does not create the mismatch in a Martz offense that he would in say, a Jimmy Raye offense.

Martz creates mismatches by running four or even five receiver sets.  This forces the defense to take talented linebackers off the field, and replace them with second and third-string defensive backs. 

If teams try to blitz Mad Mike, he teaches his quarterback to find the receiver left open by the blitzing defender.  Makes sense, right?

It does if your quarterback is good enough to find the open man.  It does if your receivers are good enough to get open in three to five seconds.  It doesn’t if you were coaching the 2008 49ers.

Last year, the 49ers started their third-string quarterback on opening day because the first and second-string guys couldn’t grasp the offense.  I'm pretty sure the team’s number one receiver was collecting social security. 

Mike Martz didn’t have the talent at quarterback or wide receiver to succeed with his system.  His two best players were de-emphasized by his scheme.  He should have recognized that.  He didn’t.  Or he wouldn’t.

Mike Martz is an offensive genius, a guru.  Jimmy Raye is an offensive facilitator.  However, Raye will succeed where Martz failed, because he will build an offense around the 49ers’ strengths.  He’ll compensate for their weaknesses. 

He’ll take pressure off the quarterback position, an area of weakness, by emphasizing the run game, an area of strength.  He’ll throw to his tight end, who’s almost always stronger and faster than the man trying to cover him.    

Jimmy will custom tailor a system for this team.  Mike tried to custom tailor the team to his system. 

Advantage:  Jimmy Raye.