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September 18, 2008
Martz sack totals show steady rise since 1999

Today I wrote a story about Jon Kitna, who for the past two years has been the poster boy for punishment and perseverance. In two years under Mike Martz, Kitna absorbed 114 sacks, including a whopping 63 in his first season in the Martz offense. It wasn't always that way for Martz. In 1999 as offensive coordinator for St. Louis, the Rams allowed just 33 sacks. But if you were to construct a line graph of "Martz sacks" it would show a steady incline in the nine years since. Here's the data:

1999.
Kurt Warner 29
Joe Germain 3
Paul Justin 1
Total: 33

2000
Kurt Warner 20
Trent Green 24
Total: 44

2001
Kurt Warner 38
Jamie Martin 2
Total: 40

2002
Kurt Warner 21
Marc Bulger 12
Jamie Martin 10
Scott Covington 2
Ricky Proehl 1
Total: 46

2003
Kurt Warner 6
Marc Bulger 37
Total: 43

2004
Marc Bulger 41
Chris Chandler 7
Jamie Martin 2
Total: 50

2005
Marc Bulger 26
Jamie Martin 11
Ryan Fitzpatrick 9
Total: 46

2006
Jon Kitna 63
Total: 63

2007
Jon Kitna 51
J.T. O'Sullivan 3
Total: 54

The question is whether J.T. O'Sullivan will have Kitna-like sack numbers this season. The short answer is that he shouldn't, and here's why:

  1. As Kitna pointed out yesterday, the Lions' fatal flaw is that they constantly fell behind early the last two seasons, causing them to abandon the running game and pass an inordinate number of times. The 49ers' defense should be better than that of the Lions. Of course, so far you have to wonder. San Francisco has fallen behind in each of its games and has been forced to play catch-up. While that's partly because the defense has allowed long drives, it's also due to big turnovers - a dropped kickoff in Game 1 and Frank Gore's fumble that was returned for a TD in Game 2. The bottom line is that the defense should be good enough to at least keep games close and spare O'Sullivan from dropping back to pass every play in the second half.
  2. Another reason why Martz abandoned the run in Detroit is because he had no running game on which to rely. The 49ers have Frank Gore, who, if the 49ers had a lead, would spend the second half of games pounding away at defenses. If Gore indeed is the Marshall Faulk of the offense, then it stands to reason that the sack numbers will be more early-decade Rams than late-decade Lions.
  3. The offensive line should be better. One of the players Martz pointed to upon taking the 49ers' job was left tackle Joe Staley. If Martz scheme is to flourish, he has to have good protection from the tackles. Martz thought he had that in Staley in Jonas Jennings. Jennings, however, is already hurt, and Staley hasn't been as dominant as expected. Staley will never be as good as Orlando Pace, but the 49ers' offensive line should be better than that of Detroit.
  4. Finally, and perhaps most import, O'Sullivan is still learning. Sunday's game was just his second start ever. It also was his first road start, and it happened to come in perhaps the most inhospitable stadium in the NFL. On Wednesday, he heaped a lot of the blame for his eight sacks in Seattle on himself, arguing that he needs to learn when to throw the ball away. "Obviously, you don't need to be a football guru to know that I took some unnecessary sacks," O'Sullivan said. "Things like that I need to clean up, and we need to realize what the problem is and for me, do the things that I need to not take those sacks." He is a better-than-average scrambler, and his mobility is better than that of just about every other QB on the list above. As the season goes on, he'll gain a better understanding of how to use that ability and of when to take shots downfield and when to merely chuck the ball out of bounds.

-- Matt Barrows



MATTHEW BARROWS

Matt was born in Blacksburg, Va., and attended the University of Virginia. He graduated in 1995, went to Northwestern for a journalism degree a year later, and got his first job at a South Carolina daily in 1997. He joined The Bee as a Metro reporter in 1999 and started covering the 49ers in 2003. His favorite player of all time is Darrell Green.

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