Stats Don’t Lie. People Do!

Last Saturday’s exhibition game against the Arizona Cardinals has had Bears fans, myself included, trying desperately not to over-react to what we’ve seen thus far in the preseason. Let me make something very clear in my position, wins vs. losses in the preseason don’t, in & of themselves, matter.  I’ve never said they do. What does matter is that the Bears start to get an idea for what they can do, and what they can’t.

Unfortunately, we really haven’t been able to see what this team is going to be able to do to win football games.

We’ve seen reason to believe the offensive line will have a difficult time protecting Jay Cutler. We know that if they don’t, he will have a difficult time making plays. We’ve seen reason to believe that the secondary could have trouble locking down in coverage. We know that if they don’t, we will give up 3rd down conversions, keep the defense on the field, wear them down, and allow touchdowns. It’s very simple really.  I don’t care if they win or loose in the preseason.  I care that they take steps in the right direction. We have not seen that.  Period.

Now, I realize that during the preseason teams do things they are not normally going to do in the regular season. They test the waters and press the limits.  You didn’t see me over-reacting to the 2 interceptions Jay Cutler threw Saturday night because it would have been ridiculous to do so.  Quarterbacks are going to try to get a feel for what they can get away with and what they can’t. Same goes for certain aspects of the defense.

They’re not game-planning for the opponent and they’re, quite simply, playing with a different mindset. The veteran players are very aware that what they do on the field today won’t have consequences tomorrow (aside from injury). So, they experiment.  The same kind of thinking applies to the rookies. They all know that they are still interviewing for a job. Even if a player knows his chances to make this team are very slim, they’re out there performing for the next team that may bring them in for a work-out.

They’re not going to play too hard but they are going to try and force some things. In the last few weeks, I’ve been inundated with people trying to convince me that what we’re not seeing from the Bears will suddenly appear when the lights go on September 12th. Concurrently, I’ve heard fans say we should just pack it in now and focus on 2011. I’ve heard all about how the 0-16 Lions of 2008 went 4-0 in the preseason, or how the 85 Bears went 1-3 in their preseason. I’m not sure if people are trying to suggest that playing poorly in the preseason is a good thing or vise-versa?

But do those see mingly shocking stats hold water or are they uncommon as they are surprising? So to find out, I went all the way back to 1997, 13 years, in honor of the apparently “unlucky” curse bestowed upon winning preseason teams, and here’s what I came up with: Teams who went 4-0 in the preseason won an average of 8.7 games during the regular season, while teams that went 0-4 in the preseason won an average of only 6.94 games.

Another interesting stat is that in 2009, the 12 teams that made the post season had a combined 26-22 winning record in the preseason. Those stats would suggest that, in general, teams who win in the preseason win during the regular season. The truth is, fan reaction needs to be somewhere in the middle.  It’s foolish to simply use the “preseason” tag to completely dismiss what can be clear indicators of trouble. I wouldn’t be the slightest bit worried if this team went 0-4 in the preseason but was showing us some progress. The fact is we haven’t seen that. To dismiss the concerns fans are having about the Bears by simply using the “preseason” label is just as bad as the fans who are already calling it quits.

To me it’s this simple; we haven’t seen signs that would suggest to us that this team is going to have anything but a tough time securing a postseason birth in a tough division. Concurrently, we haven’t seen enough to write-off a team with so much talent after only 3 preseason games. The real football starts on September, 12 and I’ll be pulling up a front row seat, with a blank slate, to get a glimpse at the action. Will you?

Bear Down Bears fans!  There’s hope yet…

Bears’ Offensive Struggles Continue

“We let the game get away from us. The defense – they have every right to be mad at us. The defense is the reason we have four wins. Offense has got to get up to their level. We blew that game, and most of that falls on my shoulders.”

 

 

Jay Cutler

The words of a humbled quarterback above – just moments after a 17-14 loss to the Washington Redskins. Jay Cutler, who threw 4 interceptions to DeAngelo Hall in the loss, played an awful game. A game that is making Bears fans question, and rightfully so, “Just why do we keep making excuses for this guy?”

 

 

But, yet again, I am going to defend Jay – to a point anyways. To watch what happened on Sunday and put all the blame on number 6 is not fair. And, more importantly, it’s not accurate.

 

 

Lets go back to what I said a paragraph ago: “Why do we keep making excuses?” Some of it is what we love about Cutler’s raw talent. There are two or three quarterbacks in the NFL that can throw the football like Jay – literally. But mostly, we look back to Jay’s Denver days and we see a 24 year old Pro Bowl quarterback who’s throwing at a 63% completion rate, 4,500 yards, 25 TDs, and only 18 interceptions. I say “only” because that is a fairly average number considering he was asked to throw the football 616 times that season.

 

 

“But he had Brandon Marshall and a better offensive line.” That’s right, he did. But, isn’t it also entirely fair to say, as Cutler was dependant on Marshall – Marshall was just as dependant on Cutler? We talk about football being the quintessential “team” sport. So why then do we not want to give Cutler the credit he deserves for his success in Denver? Consider this: Just one year since Kurt Warner retired from Arizona, Pro Bowl MVP Larry Fitzgerald has just 331 receiving yards to Johnny Knox’ 478. Or, 11.4 yards per catch to Knox’ 19.9 yards per catch. And, for those of you who think I’m fudging the numbers, Knox’ stats are based on 5 fewer receptions than Fitzgerald’s. I am in no way trying to tell you that Knox is a better receiver than Larry Fitzgerald because nothing could be further from the truth. I’m simply showing you that the receiver needs the QB as much as the QB needs the receiver.

 

 

The interception Jay threw in the redzone against Washington is entirely on him. There was no excuse for him to even try to complete a pass. But, you cannot actually expect Cutler to hit these guys with pinpoint accuracy on every throw, ESPECIALLY when he’s under than kind of pressure. If you are waiting for that, pull up a chair because you’re going to be here a while. The receivers need to attack the football and make plays. On all but 2 INTs, the Bears’ receivers should (not could) have made a play on the ball by turning inside and catching it high. Instead they waited for the ball to come to them and DeAngelo Hall took advantage of their inexperience.

 

 

“So why didn’t Cutler adjust where he put the ball?” Wrong question. The question to ask is, “Why were the receivers not in the correct spot?” We talked about this prior to the season. In fact, I told you that in Martz system, Cutler may be poised to actually throw more interceptions than he did in 2009. Why? Because Martz system forces the QB to throw to a spot (not a receiver) on the field. The receiver is expected to be there and make a play. There are no audibles, just the play called and the hot-read.

 

 

Consider this: From 2000-2008, Martz-led offenses were tops in the league in interceptions. Putting up the following quantities each year in chronological order: 23, 22, 27, 23, 22, 24, 22, 22, & 19. To put that in perspective, the NFL average is somewhere right around 14 picks per team per year. Is it a coincidence that Mike Martz just happens to coach INT prone QBs or does his system put them in a tough position? To me, that answer is simple given the numbers.

 

 

 

The offense

But, it doesn’t all fall on the receivers and offensive line either. Mike Martz has got to be willing to adjust. The idea that you can put a quarterback in that situation, behind the worst o-line in the NFL, and refuse the run the ball is a recipe for disaster. I literally laughed out loud on Sunday when it all of a sudden became so utterly apparent that Martz’ system is a huge part of the problem. For a brief period, we saw Cutler move from the 5 and 7 step drops, to the 3 step drops. And just like flipping on a light switch, the Bears started driving down field. We saw the receivers running quick slant routes and being successful. It was too obvious to ignore. It was many of the things we had been calling for and it worked.

 

 

But everything I just told you is too much about placing blame. And that is not going to help the Bears win football games. All we can hope for is that they know where the problems are and have a solution on how to fix them. The Bears are 4-3 at their bye week. They have 9 games left to play and will, at minimum, have to win 5 (likely 6) of them to make the playoffs. That’s going to be a tough task. As it stands, the Bears have somewhere around a 20% chance of doing just that.

 

 

Make no mistake, right now, the Chicago Bears offense is in very bad shape. They are dead last in 3rd down efficiency; they are 0 for 10 on the opponent’s goal line; they have not scored in the 3rd quarter all season; and they are number 1 in sacks allowed. To add to the Bears 3rd down woes is the fact that the Redskins were ranked dead last in overall defense heading into Sunday’s game and the Bears went 0 for 6 (0 for 28 including priors) on 3rd down conversions in the first half of the game, before finally converting their first in the third quarter. And lets go back to that goal line stat: 0 for 10 from the opponent’s 1 yard line?! I don’t have the time to go through every team, every season, for the last 90 years but that has to be a record. It’s unbelievable! Jay Cutler is a 6’4” QB, maybe a QB sneak every now and then? Heck, it worked yesterday. Only Lovie didn’t challenge it. Don’t worry – I’ll get to that.

 

 

The defense

The Bears’ defense continues to put the team in a position to win. Julius Peppers has been dominant at times and, even though he hasn’t been as much of a factor these last few games, Idonije has stepped up in critical spots. Against the Redskins he recorded 1 sack and batted down 2 passes. This after recording 3 sacks just 2 weeks ago against the Panthers. The problem we are seeing now is the offense not being able to sustain drives long enough to keep the defense off the field. 7 games into the season and the Bears defense is very banged up: Briggs with an ankle sprain; Urlacher has been playing with a very worrisome groin injury;Danieal Manning is playing through a painful rib injury; Julius Peppers is said to have some nagging injuries; Zachary Bowman with a sprained foot; and Chris Harris has been dealing with a sore knee.

 

 

You can’t expect these guys to stay healthy for the remainder of the season if they continue to play so many minutes on Sunday. They can’t carry the offense for long and it’s only a matter of time before they get tired of doing it. This brings me to my next important point as the Bears head into their much needed bye week.

 

 

The bye week

Smith said today that the Bears will use the bye to evaluate everything from “personnel” to “scheme” to figure out what’s wrong. Don’t take that to mean whole-sale changes by any stretch. But, I do think we’ll see some movement. With Roberto Garza expected back after the bye, it’s entirely possible that Chris Williams finally finds himself in the position he belongs: the bench. I’m not sure if Williams was truly a misevaluation of talent or a ruining of talent but, I tell you this with all sincerity, he CANNOT play in the NFL, period. At any position. Major Wright will be worked in after the bye, which is good news. While Chris Harris has played well, he’s banged up and could use the rest. Same goes for Manning depending on where the Bears use Wright.

 

 

I have to believe the leash finally runs out for Brandon Manumaleuna (or as Twitter has seemed to name him: Manumalecantblock) and Desmond Clark finally gets the start. Clark is the best blocking tight end the Bears have. To not use him under such conditions is an absolute travesty. Matt Forte needs to be incorporated into the game plan more, a lot more. This last one is wishful thinking but I said it in the beginning of the season:Earl Bennett should be the number 2 wide receiver on this team. He runs the best routes and has the best hands of any receiver on the roster. Lets put Hester (and all these guys for that matter) in the best position to succeed.

 

 

But, it’s not just the players that need to be considered. Lovie Smith needs to take a good look at what Mike Martz is calling and force him to simplify things. In addition to that, I heard someone bring up an excellent point on Monday that just as players work on individual drills, coaches should practice their personal game-plan. We all saw the Cutler QB sneak that Lovie didn’t challenge. It looked as if Jay broke the plane of the goal line before fumbling the football. I’m not entirely sure the call would have been overturned but to not challenge that play is unacceptable and Lovie knows it. He admitted just that today. The only direct move a head coach can make – to decide the outcome or course of a game – rests on that little red flag and Smith is not good at red flags…

 

 

 

Yesterday, as I was watching the game I noticed a tweet from Chris Harris’ wife which read: “I think this NFL season is just made up of average teams! Not impressed by the Redskins either.” So I asked her, “Are the Bears just average?” Without hesitation, she replied: “Yep… all NFL teams are, and the Bears are not exempt!” For all the defending that this Bears organization does, they know, just like we do, that things are bad. The players know it, their wives know it, we ALL know it. Lets just hope they do what is necessary to fix it. I just fear that it is already too late.

Redskins Come to Soldier Field For A NFC Showdown

The Chicago Bears will try to rebound after a terrible performance last week against the Seahawks. Coming into town, is a team that finds a way to continually be in every game this year.

Washington comes into this game with a defense that allows 420 yards per game. The Colts rushed for 170 yards against the Redskins and the Bears should try to repeat what the Colts did last week. McNabb has improved the Washington offense greatly. While statistically they don’t stack up with the leagues top units, they are dangerous. McNabb tends to take a lot of shots down field. Two time Pro Bowler Chris Cooley will be coming back from suffering a concussion and is expected to play. He’s always a threat when healthy. Anthony Armstrong, a rookie with great speed is Donovan McNabbs deep threat in that offense. He’s averaging 19.5 yards per catch.

Mike Martz shows his lack of willingness to run the football last week. A balanced offense is something that is a must in this game. Washingtons secondary has given up a ton of yards this season and with a balanced attack, Chicago should be able to exploit it.

Keys To the Game

As usual, Protect Cutler: For the first time this season, the Bears have continuity in the offensive line. The same group will start 2 weeks in a row. The protection issues are beyond scary at this point in the year. Allowing 27 sacks in 6 games thus far. Jay Cutler has taken a beating and you cant expect him to be able to handle this too much longer. Keep Jay on his feet, and passes will be completed.

Get balanced on offense: The lack of a balanced attack on offense is a major problem. Last week, the bears ran the ball 14 times. Two of which were Jay Cutler scrambles. Forte and Taylor are both very capable backs that need to be used more. It will help out this offensive line as well. Ask any offensive linemen in the league, and they will tell you that they like run blocking a lot more. Running the ball more will open up the play action passes. Even if your not running the ball for a good average, if you run with frequency, the play action will work.

Converting on 3rd down: The Bears haven’t converted a 3rd down with Jay Cutler at QB, since the Greg Olsen touchdown against Green Bay. This must change in order to have success Sunday. However, it will not be easy when the Redskins defense only allows teams to convert 27 % of the time on 3rd down.

Pick up the blitz: Three sacks last week came from the Seattle secondary. Someone is not doing their job when it comes to picking up the outside blitz. The tackles

Get off the field on 3rd down: Last week, Chicagos defense did not play well on 3rd down. That ultimately killed the defense and allowed the Seahawks to practically live on the other side of the field. They looked like the 09 bears on 3rd down. That has to change this week. Wrap up when tackling: McNabb does not go down easy. He’s a big and strong mobile quarterback who keeps plays alive in, and out of the pocket. the Bears don’t do a good job of wrapping up and McNabb will make them pay for that.

As far as my prediction, I really don’t even know anymore. This Bears team is unpredictable to say the least. But i’m going with the Redskins, 24-20 over the Bears. I think that this team has been completely exposed. Until the Bears prove they can block, I don’t think they have a shot against anyone.

Bear-Down Bears fans.

Martzageddon Is Upon Us

The real Mike Martz finally stood up Sunday afternoon against. Coming into the season, there was all the talk about how he doesn’t run the ball, and how he gets quarterbacks killed. Well, everyone of those things came true Sunday.

 

 

Everyone will be quick to blame the line, but look at it from a different angle. Everyone from here to Bangladesh, knows that the offensive line is useless. However, as an offensive coordinator, when will Mike Martz realize that he can’t continue to do 7 step drops and pass the ball constantly. The Bears running backs combined for 12 carries in that game. Cutler was sacked 6 times yesterday as well. All week, there was all this talk about how there should be balance in the offensive game-plan, but what was happening on the field told another story. How can you justify not running the ball? In the words of Singletary, “CANT DO IT”! Mike Martz is going to be the death of our supposed “Franchise QB”.

 

 

Martz should be blamed completely for the offensive performance yesterday. A few times the Bears went shotgun, which was nice to see. However, there wasn’t enough of it. With an offensive line like the Bears currently have, you must have 3 step drops, roll outs, and run the ball. Getting rid of the ball quickly is the key to the Bears offensive success. When Jay Cutler was in Denver, he was rolled out a lot. That led to part of his great success. This 7 step drop style of offense needs to go immediately. It doesn’t take a genius to realize that 7 step drops don’t work when you can’t protect. Cutler has been sacked 23 times so far this season. You cant expect him to last the entire season when he is constantly getting hammered. Another big problem is how they are playing on 3rd down. The Bears are 3-30 in the last few games on 3rd down. The last 3rd down conversion was the Greg Olsen touchdown against the Packers.

 

 

Coming off one of the Best running performances in years against Carolina, Mike Martz completely abandoned the run. Late in the game, the Bears ran the ball on 3rd down with Chester Taylor, which led to a big gain. There were a total of 14 running plays, and 2 of them were Jay Cutler scrambles. Lovie Smith needs to take control and tell this stubborn coordinator to run the ball. A balanced attack must get into the Bears game-plan. Against Dallas, Martz made great adjustments when the line couldn’t block at all. He went to 3 step drops, quick slants. What makes that game different from every other game we have played since then? It just doesn’t make sense.

 

 

So you might ask, what can this offense do to make a change?

 

 

Get Jay Cutler on the move: Jay Cutler makes some of his best plays while hes out of the pocket. In Denver, he was rolled out a lot. It’s something that must happen with this offense before he gets put in a body bag.

 

 

Running Screens: The Bears might have the fastest WR tandem in the league with Johnny Knox and Devin Hester. Get the ball in their hands and let them make plays. Screens also get the ball out of Jays hands quick. It seems like every time the Bears put the ball in Chester Taylor and Matt Fortes hands they are getting a first down. Chicago must run more screens to the running backs as well. On 3rd down, teams are going to start blitzing the Bears because they realize that the offense cant stop it. Run some screens to the backs and that could cut down on opposing teams blitzing constantly.

 

 

Get the ball out of Cutlers Hands Quickly: 7 step drops are useless with this offensive line. By the time Jay finishes his drop, theres defensive players in the backfield hitting Cutler. Running 3 and 5 step drops will help Jay walk out of the stadium alive every week. Running slants and dig routes is something that must happen. The Bears need to go to a short quick passing offense rather then trying to get the big play every other play. This “go big or go home” attitude isn’t working.

 

 

Run The Ball To Set Up Play-Action: If you are running the ball frequently, the play-action game will open up. Even if you aren’t running for a lot of yards, if you stick with it, the passing game will open up. There has hardly been any play-action so far this season.

Did Smith lie to Tice?

Did Smith lie to Tice?

Bears’ head coach Lovie Smith upon hiring Mike Martz as offensive coordinator in February of 2010: “The run will always be a part of what we are going to do. That will not change. However, there’s nothing wrong with being able to run the football and having the balance to be able to pass the football. That is what I am excited about. It is not just Mike that is coming in; it is Mike Tice and what he will bring to the table.”

Rewind to January of 2010 when the Bears hired Mike Tice as offensive line coach:

“I enjoyed my time with Coach Smith,” Tice said. “We have the same philosophy offensively. Being able to have a chance to come in here and put that view into place excited me.”

smith-and-tice1
So what does Tice mean, referencing “his philosophy?”

“I like to run the football,” Tice said. “My wife told me one time that I could never be an offensive coordinator because no one would go to the games.”If you don’t believe in Tice’s words, just look at the stats:

If you don’t believe in Tice’s words, just look at the stats:

The 2002 Vikings, led by first-year head coach Mike Tice, led the NFL in rushing for the first time in team history with 2,507 yards on the season. They set team records for rushing TDs at 26 and average rushing yards per carry at 5.3. Let me back up just a bit to make things easier for you. If you did not catch it before, Tice was hired in January of 2010, while Martz was hired in February of 2010. Typically, a team will hire their coordinators first and subsequently bring in the line coaches whom they believe will fit that coordinator’s system. However, Lovie Smith did not do that. So, why not?

Mike Mulligan of the Chicago Sun-Times may have shed some light on that very question in his column on Wednesday: “Sources say Tice was assured by Smith that the Bears were going to run the football, and Tice even cautioned him that if the plan was to throw every down, he (Tice) wasn’t the right choice for the job.”The Bears are currently 25th in the league in rushing attempts.

The Bears are currently 25th in the league in rushing attempts. While of course he will not come right out and say it, we have to assume that Tice could be starting to have regrets and possibly even hard feelings over the poor position Smith has put him in. “I’ve said this many, many times: Big guys are not big when they are going backwards,” Tice told Sean Jensen of the Chicago Sun-Times. “They are big when they are going forward.” Mike Tice is one of the only guys up at Halas Hall that gives you some real emotion when he speaks to the media. Truthfully, many times he sounds like a frustrated coach and a man scorned. While Lovie and Martz are always guarded, secretive and patronizing in their comments, Tice seems far more genuine and down to earth.

Tice was the one who told us Chris Williams could not play left tackle. Well, Tice and the game film… However, I digress, Tice is the one who broke the news that Chris Williams would be moving from tackle to guard, even when Martz and Smith blatantly denied it the same day Tice had confirmed it. The writing is on the wall: If the Bears do not start to develop a balanced run-to-pass attack, they are dead in the water, and Mike Tice knows it. Believe me, I am not campaigning for “Tice: head coach 2011” by any stretch. However, a head coach’s job is to put everyone in a position to succeed, and Lovie clearly has not done that with the offensive approach. Sure, it is Matz’s system, but it is got Lovie’s “seal of approval” all over it.

Bears’ Defense Still Looking to Improve

With the bye week upon us and all the talk about the Bears’ struggling offense, it is easy to forget the 5th ranked overall defense in the National Football League. Moreover, while it is easy to see that Bears’ defense is playing pretty solid football, they are by no means where they want to be, and much of the room for improvement is in the pass rush. We’ve all heard one or both of the terms, Tampa 2 and Cover 2, used to describe Lovie Smith’s brand of defense. While the term Tampa 2 is a specific type of Cover 2, the reverse is not necessarily true.

Every year some know-it-all tries to uncover the hidden secret that, believe it or not, the Cover 2 can be beaten. Wow, life changing stuff. While yes the Cover 2 can be beaten, so can every other defensive scheme in football. The issue with Lovie’s Tampa 2 is that it is highly dependent on execution, solid safety play, and a consistent pass rush. Easily, the biggest factor for success is that very ability to consistently pressure the quarterback.

Don’t believe me? Consider this: Under head coach Lovie Smith, the Bears have never made the playoffs having recorded less than 40 sacks in a season.

In 2009, the Bears’ defense put up a total of 34 sacks. This season, despite adding of one of the best pass rushing defensive ends in football in Julius Peppers to the roster, the Bears are only on pace to record 25 sacks. In fact, the Bears’ current sack leader is likely not whom you would have expected before the 2010 season. Israel Idonije leads the defense with 4.5 sacks through just seven games and is on pace for over ten sacks this season, this after only recording 2.5 sacks all last year. He is stepping up in a big way.

Peppers is second with just two sacks through 7 games. It is fair to mention that Peppers is getting double-teamed eight ways to Sunday, and it has that extra attention that helps to free up the other guys on the line. “Offenses have to know where (Peppers) is at all times,” DT Anthony Adams said. “They are going to chip or double-team him. That kind of frees us up a little bit, and we need to take advantage of those situations. However, aside from the pass rush, Lovie Smith defenses have always been tops in the league in takeaways. Under Coach Smith, the Bears have never made the playoffs with less than 24 interceptions by their defense. This season, they are on pace for just 20.6.

D.J. Moore leads the team with three picks, while Zachary Bowman, who had six picks last year, currently has none through 5 games. While the Bears are ranked 5th in the NFL in overall defense, they are always looking to improve. Bears defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli on the pass rush: “(We need to work on) converting our rush better. You know we are coming, but we’ve got to convert it. That is where we are. They are working hard to transform. You’ve got to get to the quarterback.”