Once the ring leader of an offense known as the "Greatest Show on Turf," Lions offensive coordinator Mike Martz is still regarded as one of the most innovative offensive leaders in today's NFL. Heading into this season, head coach Rod Marinelli appointed Martz to drive his Motown offense back to the promise land, and with a nucleus of emerging stars, the Detroit Lions are on their way.
That road leads to the Meadowlands this Sunday as the Lions look to beat the Jets for their second consecutive win. The 1-5 Lions captured their first victory of the season last week against Buffalo. Though their record appears substandard, the Lions offense has the tools to make a prompt turnaround, and it all starts with Martz.
"Mike Martz is as creative as always," said Jets head coach Eric Mangini. "The offense is explosive - they have been doing a good job. Roy Williams and Kevin Jones have really emerged. The different ways that they get the playmakers involved in terms of shifting and motioning is always a great challenge."
The Lions currently have five players who have reached double figures in receiving yards. Roy Williams, now in just his third pro season out of Texas, leads the way with an NFL-best 552 yards, while Mike Furrey (322), running back Kevin Jones (209), Az-Zahir Hakim (141), and tight end Dan Campbell (120) each have made healthy contributions.
"He has always done a good job of putting pressure on defenses between the shifts and the multiple formations and personnel groups," Mangini said of Martz. "His offenses have always been able to create big plays. It's always challenging whenever you face one of his offensive groups."
In 1999, Martz took the offensive helm of a Rams team that had gone just 4-12 the year before. He immediately piloted the NFL's top ranked offense all the way to the Super Bowl where the Rams beat Tennessee 23-16. In that magical season, Martz turned a then no-name Kurt Warner into the league MVP after the former Arena League quarterback threw for 41 touchdowns and 4,353 yards.
The man throwing all of the passes – an NFL-most 228 total attempts to be exact - for the offensive genius this season is Jon Kitna, a veteran in his 10th season. Kitna, a former undrafted free agent from Central Washington, averages 245.2 passing yards per game, ranking him eighth in the NFL. His 1,584 total passing yards is third only to Donovan McNabb (1,849) and Marc Bulger (1,619).
"I spent some time with Jon; he has really good leadership skills," said Mangini of Kitna, who had met with the Jets coach last spring. "Watching him play and competing against him, I always liked his presence and his leadership on the field and the way that he moves around and makes a lot of things happen."
Mangini met with Kitna in the off-season when the Jets were looking to add depth to the quarterback position. During that time, Chad Pennington was in the early stages of his recovery from a second shoulder surgery and Kitna was one of many veteran quarterbacks to visit Weeb Ewbank Hall before the acquisition of Patrick Ramsey.
Fortunately for the Green and White, Pennington has made a tremendous comeback, as the seven-year veteran seems to be passing better than ever. Pennington has thrown eight touchdowns en route to his club's 3-3 record. The Lions have had difficulty stopping teams at times but Pennington sees a solid defensive unit.
"They have a lot of playmakers on their defense and they play very fast," he said. "You can't just expect to walk out there and run up and down the field on these guys. The first game of the season, they held Seattle – the defending NFC Champions – to nine points and they had to kick a long field goal in the end."
"You look at more of the film than necessarily the statistics," Mangini said referring to the Lions 29th ranked defense. "You try to figure out where exactly the vulnerabilities are, where the strengths are, and attack the weaknesses and minimize the strengths. Each week it looks better and better, and last week gives a good indication of where they are."
At first glance, the Detroit defense will most likely hone in on Jets wide out Laveranues Coles, who is coming off of a 106-yard, two touchdown performance against Miami. However, the Lions new defensive coordinator is Donnie Henderson, the same man who led the Jets defensive unit the previous two seasons.
For Pennington, the idea of facing Henderson makes the challenge that much more difficult. The preparation going into the week seven battle against a former coach will undoubtedly be extensive for the Knoxville, Tennessee native.
"I think you have to go into the game expecting the unexpected and not be surprised by a look or a pressure look that you haven't seen," Pennington said of Henderson. "He always does a really good job of throwing a new wrinkle in there and attacking the offense in a way he thinks will help them. You do have to expect that."
One method in which Pennington may look to counter some Henderson schemes is the long ball. A healthy Pennington has welcomed the idea of delivering a few deep tosses and the Jets have succeeded down the field.
Just last week, Pennington and Coles hooked up for a 58-yard touchdown strike after the veterans picked up on the Dolphins' tendencies. Pennington called an audible at the line and the two took went for a big play.
"I think there are shots in every game," Mangini said. "One of the things we want Chad to do - and one of the things Chad has done a good job of - is take what the defense gives you and take advantage of the opportunities when they are there. There was a low opportunity and a higher opportunity came up, and he took the shot down the field."
Wednesday Injury ReportJets
Questionable: FB B.J. Askew (foot), CB David Barrett (hip), WR Laveranues Coles (calf), WR Tim Dwight (thigh), RB Cedric Houston (knee), & OL Trey Teague (ankle)
Probable:*DL Dave Ball (hand), *RB Kevan Barlow (calf), *LB Matt Chatham (foot), *OL Anthony Clement (shin), *OL Pete Kendall (thigh), *QB Chad Pennington (calf), *S Kerry Rhodes (thigh), *WR Brad Smith (thigh) & *DL Kimo von Oelhoffen (knee)
Lions Out: DT Shaun Cody (toe) & S Kenoy Kennedy (foot)
Questionable:LB Alex Lewis (knee), FB Cory Schlesinger (hamstring), OL Rex Tucker (knee) & G Ross Verba (hamstring)
Probable:RB Kevin Jones (hip) & DE James Hall (shoulder)
- Denotes players who participated in practice