Niners may have edge vs. mighty Martz offense

Brandon Moore, the toast of the San Francisco defense after his do-everything performance in last week's upset of the Vikings, noticed it the moment the 49ers began breaking down film of the Detroit Lions. "It's Mike Martz's offense," Moore said. And so it is. That's a pass-happy system the 49ers know well, and that could give them an edge Sunday against an opponent they haven't faced since 2003.

Martz, of course, now is in his first season as offensive coordinator in Detroit after spending the past seven seasons in St. Louis tormenting the 49ers while directing his "Greatest Show on Turf" with the Rams.

After Martz took over as St. Louis offensive coordinator in 1999, then became head coach the next season after the Rams won their first Super Bowl, his explosive attack put up an average of 33 points a game while beating the 49ers six consecutive times from 1999-2001.

After the 49ers ended that run in 2002, Martz got right back on the saddle and beat San Francisco four of the next five times the longtime NFC West rivals clashed.

All the while, the 49ers began adjusting their schemes and personnel over the years to combat the Rams and Martz's innovative attack. They finally got it right last season after Mike Nolan arrived as head coach, sweeping the Rams to account for two of San Francisco's four 2005 victories.

Now the 49ers stare down the mighty Martz offense again. But this time, it will have a different look in a new incarnation with the Lions. The players may be different, but Martz's fingerprints are all over the system San Francisco defenders will be facing at Ford Field in Detroit.

"We'd be foolish not to consider what the Rams have done in the past and look back at the game film," said Moore, who was named NFC Defensive Player of the Week for his standout effort against the Vikings, when he recorded a career-high 15 tackles - eight of them solo - had a hand in two sacks, caused a fumble, made two tackles behind the line of scrimmage and created three quarterback hurries.

"It's nothing that we haven't seen before," Moore continued. "But I wouldn't say we have a handle on it because it's a brand new team. They do some things differently. They don't spread their formations quite as much. And the Lions' personnel isn't like the Rams' personnel."

No, it isn't. But the Lions have their own Torry Holt in receiver Roy Williams and their own Marshall Faulk in running back Kevin Jones. And, after taking a few months to get comfortable in Martz's system, the Detroit offense is beginning to produce some Martz-like numbers.

The Lions had their breakout performance under Martz last week against the Atlanta Falcons, producing season highs in points and total yards (435) during a 30-14 upset. Detroit has climbed to 12th in the league in total offense and has the NFL's sixth-ranked passing attack.

But it isn't anything the 49ers haven't been exposed to before.

"We've seen all their routes and they don't surprise us anymore," safety Mike Adams said. "Obviously, they can't get down the field as quick as the Rams do. But it helps a lot that we've played against their offense."

It seems like just last week that the beleaguered San Francisco defense could use all the help it could get. The 49ers were coming off whippings of 48-19 against San Diego and 41-10 at Chicago, and they had allowed a whopping 150 points in their previous four games.

But after shuffling schemes and mixing and matching personnel for the past month, the 49ers had a breakout performance of their own against the Vikings. After sliding to 31st in the league in total defense - San Francisco's lowest ranking since finishing last in that category at the end of the 2005 season - the 49ers limited Minnesota to 238 yards while recording a defense-driven 9-3 victory.

It was the fewest yards allowed by the 49ers in their 24 games under Nolan. It also was the fewest points the 49ers had allowed in a game since 2001 and their fewest points scored in a victory since a 6-3 win over Tampa Bay in 1978.

"Finally, this is what we can do," said linebacker T.J. Slaughter, the 49ers' leader in special teams tackles who made his most significant impact of the season on defense against the Vikings. "If we play together and we're all on the same page, this is what we can do. I think (Minnesota) was one of the first games we really locked everything down. So now it's just making sure that we do this every week instead of just one week."

Now the 49ers look to carry over that momentum against an offensive structure they finally began to solve last season while Martz was in the final stages of his St. Louis tenure.

"This game is huge for us, because it can determine where we're at," Adams said. "Right now, it's like a blur to where we're at. We did it last week. Can we do it again? That's the biggest question right now, and I think we're capable of doing it again.

"We're still not where we want to be, but there's nothing like having a winning streak, especially coming off the defensive performance we just had. But we're not trying to look backward anymore. We're trying to look forward. This is more a statement game because we don't want to backtrack one bit from what we did last week."

Adams, who started San Francisco's first seven games at free safety, was supplanted in the starting lineup last week by hard-hitting Keith Lewis. Despite the change, Adams actually played more snaps than Lewis on defense as the two rotated series at safety and Adams also played nickel back in certain coverage packages.

That kind of platoon system is taking place throughout the defense, and it may be a factor in the team's sudden defensive turnaround. Adams is one of four former defensive regulars to lose his starting job in the past month. But each of those players continues to rotate with the starter who replaced them, and that approach paid off last week as several defenders who had been playing poorly this season made an impact.

Tony Parrish, the longtime starter who now rotates with new starter Mark Roman at strong safety, had his best game of the season with five tackles. Mike Adams and defensive tackle Anthony Adams - two former starters now being asked to rotate in and out - both had strong outings. And veterans such as Slaughter are taking advantage of opportunities for expanded roles and increased playing time.

"A lot of guys are hungry, and it's creating competition," Slaughter said. "I don't look at it as a bad thing. It makes you stay on your toes, because if you're not doing your job, somebody else will."

The 49ers will be on their toes this week, because they know better than most teams the things that Martz's attack can do to a defense. They also know they can stop it, but Nolan says the familiarity with what has happened previously can only be taken so far this Sunday.

"It helps from a preparation standpoint for the coaches, knowing your opponent," Nolan said. "But the fact of the matter is, really, it's on the field with the players. And that's the biggest thing. I'd much rather have the best players and not know a damn thing about the opponent than know a whole lot about the opponent and not have any players.

"It does help, but the biggest factor in the game is going to be the players. The people that are on the field are the guys that have to fight the battle, and that's really the key for our players."

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