The Martz offense: Changes coming vs. Seattle

Offensive beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Some observers thought the debut of Mike Martz's offense in San Francisco didn't look so swell last week. Others felt it had the look of something very promising. How'd it look to the guy running the show? Martz is a hard guy to please, but he gives every indication his attack is on the right track as the Niners face a must-win situation at Seattle.

It better be, because the 49ers have precious little time for it to get there. San Francisco takes its 0-1 record to Seattle on Sunday to play the Seahawks, a team that has defined offense in the NFC West while winning four consecutive division championships, not to mention fielding a defense that completely stoned and embarrassed the Niners twice last season.

The Niners weren't embarrassed on offense in their season opener last week by the Arizona Cardinals. Their problem was turnovers – five of them – which prevented their offense from getting on the field and, ultimately, their defense from getting off it.

While the five turnovers left a bad taste and overall shoddy result to show for Martz's first game as San Francisco's offensive coordinator, his attack actually displayed promise moving the ball during Arizona's 23-13 victory.

"There was real progress in a lot of areas that I was very encouraged by and pleased with," Martz said. "There are a lot of good things taken out of that and a lot of things to be learned from that game. But the things that we do to ourselves, we've got to stop doing, and then you make real progress."

Despite running just 44 plays on offense, San Francisco still finished with 291 total yards – 219 in the first half – and enters Sunday's game ranked sixth in the NFL in yards per play. The 49ers had more than 291 yards in a game just twice last season, when their historically bad offense ranked last in nine major categories recorded by the league.

Martz talked at length this week about the progress he sees in his developing offense and what needs to happen for it to reach its potential sooner rather than later.

He doesn't seem too concerned that the 49ers can get it right – and get it right quickly.

"We made some real good plays (last week)," Martz said. "We were, on about a half dozen other plays, just a hair away from big plays. We were just a little here, a little there. In terms of execution of a lot of what we do, particularly in the running game, I was very encouraged by and pleased with. There were a lot of good things that we kind of need to build on."

That said, the 49ers didn't play well enough on offense to win. So that's what needs to change this week against the Seahawks, and here are the tweaks Martz plans to make and the reasons his offense should look better two weeks into the season than it did in Week 1:

Better cohesion in passing game: Quarterback J.T. O'Sullivan has had another week to get in sync with starting receivers Bryant Johnson and Isaac Bruce and No. 3 man Arnaz Battle. Johnson and Battle each missed extensive time during the summer and preseason, with Johnson sitting out the first three exhibition games. "The thing that was a little bit hard," Martz said, "was not having those receivers in the game until that game. We are a little bit rusty outside. Obviously, we need to clean that up a little bit. Our starters together, that was their first outing together and we weren't always on the same page so to speak. That will get a lot better each week. Having those guys all together is a big deal."

Getting the ball to Bruce: Expect a few early passes to go Bruce's way on Sunday to get him in the flow and also to get him his first reception of the season. Bruce was shut out in last week's opener, just the seventh time in his career he has been held without a reception in a game. Don't expect that to happen again this season. "We were trying at times to get him the ball," Martz said. "It just didn't work. Sometimes that happens. There were probably five or six plays where he was the first choice in the route. You can come out and try and get in those situations where he has a real opportunity by coverage to get the ball. But something can happen that gets you off that. It happened a number of times in that game, but (Bruce) knows that. That's just the way it is. He'll have more opportunities to make some plays for us."

JTO on course: Despite his three turnovers – two of which Martz said weren't his fault – Martz was almost ecstatic about the play of O'Sullivan and says he will only get better as he gets more time in the offense in live competition. "J.T.'s performance … I thought he played exceptionally well for his first start," Martz said. "The thing that (O'Sullivan) affords us that we never really had (is) he's so dang mobile. J.T.'s really on top of all his stuff now, so he's remarkably further along than what you'd expect."

The Frank Ratio: Martz said he doesn't worry about how many times any of his offensive weapons get the ball. Any of them, that is, except one. Martz says he has a ratio for the number of times he wants to get the ball into the hands of Frank Gore each week. Gore had 18 touches in San Francisco's 44 offensive plays last week (four of which ended in sacks of O'Sullivan). "We won't worry about anybody but Frank on how many touches they get," Martz said. "Frank has to touch the ball. He's got to be one of the very, very elite in this league. We know we have to feature him and find ways of getting him the ball. Isaac and Vernon (Davis) and all the other guys, they're all good players and they'll have their opportunities. But (Gore's) the only guy that you go into a game and say, ‘You know what, this guy needs to touch the ball this many times.'"

While the 49ers had problems dealing with just about every defense they faced last year, they particularly had trouble with the Seahawks, who outscored them 47-3 in two lopsided 2007 encounters.

The 49ers averaged 178.5 yards in those two games, underscoring their futility last year under one-and-done offensive coordinator Jim Hostler, who was fired after the season. Martz has plenty of experience against that Seattle defense, directed by former 49ers defensive coordinator John Marshall, and he'll be prepared for what the Seahawks are going to throw at him and his San Francisco offense.

"John is still there, and I see the same types of pressures," Martz said. "They're a team with great defensive speed, so we have to match that and address that. They're a big pressure team and I'm sure they'll pressure us a lot. So we've got to be able to deal with that pressure. Those are the things that we have to make sure that we need to do well with."

And after an opening game of feeling its way around, Martz is confident his offense will make the changes and adjustments necessary to find itself in Seattle – and just in time to keep San Francisco's season afloat.



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