Mike Martz was supposed to unleash the potential of Jay Cutler. Critics worried Cutler’s ascension would come at the expense of the running game, but figured it was worth the risk to get Cutler going.

Mike Martz was supposed to unleash the potential of Jay Cutler. Critics worried Cutler’s ascension would come at the expense of the running game, but figured it was worth the risk to get Cutler going.

It didn’t work that way. Chicago’s passing game hasn’t improved much under Martz, renowned as a passing innovator. The result: Martz has been criticized more than any Chicago coach since Dave Wannstedt or John Shoop.

The irony is that Martz mostly gets lambasted for ignoring the running game, even though:

Chicago ranked dead last in the NFL in pass attempts last year.

Chicago is ninth in the NFL in rushing this year, only the second time in 16 years the Bears have had a top-10 rushing attack.

The Bears are averaging 4.8 yards per carry. That ties the team record set in 1968 by Gale Sayers, Brian Piccolo and Co.

The Bears have run the ball at least 25 times four weeks in a row, with 118 passes and 117 runs over that span.

In the three years before Martz was hired, the Bears averaged 83, 105 and 93 yards rushing per game. In two years with Martz, they’ve averaged 101 and now 115 yards. And they’ve had a 15-8 record despite modest expectations.

Mike Martz is not who we thought he was, but critics won’t let go of their preconceptions. They say Mike Martz must go because he’s not making Jay Cutler any better and he’s holding Matt Forte back.

Only half of that is true. Forte is second in the NFL in rushing (672 yards), 22nd in receiving (419 yards) and first in total yards (1,091). He’s on pace to gain 2,494 yards. That would be more than 400 yards more than Walter Payton’s best season.

How can Martz be holding Forte back if Forte is outgaining Walter Payton?

The truth is, Mike Martz may be a better coach for Matt Forte than he is for Jay Cutler, who infamously told him to (blank off) during that Minnesota game. Cutler holds the ball too long and gets sacked too much under Martz’s schemes, which don’t take advantage of his mobility.

Cutler has looked nothing like Kurt Warner playing for Mike Martz.

But Matt Forte has looked a whole lot like Marshall Faulk.

Martz gets most of his plaudits for helping transform Kurt Warner from a former stock boy at Hy-Vee into a record-setting two-time NFL MVP, but he also transformed Marshall Faulk.

He has done the same for Matt Forte. Consider:

Faulk averaged 3.8 yards a carry in his first five seasons for the Colts. He joined Martz and the Rams when he was supposed to be on the downside of his career, but averaged 5.4 yards the next three years and also doubled his receiving yards.

Forte averaged 3.8 yards a rush his first two years and 4.8 so far with Martz. He’s also on pace for as many receiving yards this year as his first two seasons combined.

Faulk’s three highest rushing seasons of his career came with Mike Martz as his offensive coordinator. And the Rams led the NFL in yards-per-carry (5.8) and rushing touchdowns (59) those three years, and finished seventh in rushing yards.

Mike Martz is not running too little with Matt Forte and he’s not running too much. He’s running just right, with a scheme that gets the best out of the Bears’ versatile running back.

Matt Trowbridge can be reached at 815-987-1383 or mtrowbridge@rrstar.com.