Support my attention-whoring ways by following us on twitter!

Get the SKOdcast imported directly into your brain!

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Walter Payton=Pure Awesome

Via the always excellent, Walter Payton playing QB in the shotgun. While not the Wildcat per se (no unbalanced line), it's pretty cool for having pre-dated Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams by almost a quarter century.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Bears QB Controversies, Part II

Earlier today, inspired by NFL Networks Top Ten QB Controversies of All-Time, I decided to compile a list of the Top Ten Bears QB Controversies of my lifetime (1988-Present). Here's the rest of the list:

4. Jim Miller vs. Cade McNown, 2000

During the 1999 NFL Draft, the Bears tabbed Cade McNown, quarterback from UCLA, with the 12th overall pick. As you may have figured out, I was not a fan of this pick, and things didn't turn out too well. The Bears entered the 1999 season with the plan that Shane Matthews would start until McNown was ready. Miller was simply a journeyman who'd managed to beat out Moses Moreno for the third spot on the depth chart. Matthews was the starter for most of the season, while McNown started a few games after Matthews got hurt, and Miller started a few games after both Matthews and McNown were knocked out. Miller performed the best of the three, but was given a suspension for taking a banned supplement.

Going into the 2000 season, the Bears held a "competition" for the starting job, with McNown getting the majority of the reps. The second year QB started off the season in a promising fashion, racking up 377 total yards and 3 total TDs in a losing effort against Minnesota, but as the weeks went by his performance regressed drastically. After 8 games under McNown, the Bears stood at 1-7, with the fans chanting for Miller every week. Dick Jauron, likely pressured by management to support the "QB of the Future," continued to state that McNown gave the Bears the best chance to win. In that 8th game, McNown went down after a tremendous hit by Eagles DE Hugh Douglass (who would ironically knock Miller out of the playoff game a year later), and Miller finally got his chance. While the Bears lost that game, Miller won his first start against the Colts, 27-24, but blew out his ankle the next week against Buffalo. The controversy ended there, as McNown's career was essentially over thanks to his injury and his ineffectiveness, and Shane Matthews took most of the snaps the rest of the way.

3. Kyle Orton vs. Rex Grossman, 2005 and 2008.

The Bears selected Rex Grossman with the 22nd overall pick in the 2003 NFL Draft. He started three games his rookie year and looked very promising, and his first three starts of the 2004 season were mostly impressive as well, but then his bad luck began. A torn ACL in the 3rd game of 2004 wiped out the rest of that season. In 2005, Grossman was joined on the depth chart by 4th round pick Kyle Orton out of Purdue. The Patron Saint was supposed to hold a clipboard as the third stringer during his rookie year, as Grossman's back-up was Chad Hutchinson, who saved the 2004 Bears season like Neifi Perez saved the 2005 Cubs. The star-crossed Grossman broke his ankle in the second preseason game of 2005, which left Hutchinson holding the keys to the starting job. Not surprisingly, he fumbled. Hutchinson was so abysmal in the third preseason game (completed just 1 of 12 passes against the Bills), that Lovie rightfully concluded that the rookie was the best option at quarterback.

Orton then started the first 14 games of the season, and the Bears were a surprising 10-4 in that span. Orton was playing fairly well for a rookie outside of one 5 interception abortion against the Bengals (57% comp., 73 rating in his first 10 games excluding CINC.).

As Grossman became healthy and available to play around the time of the Tampa Bay game, however, Orton went into the tank. Orton was terrible against the Bucs, Packers, and Steelers, and the fans really began to clamor for Grossman. Orton went just 2-10 for 12 yard in the first half against the Falcons, and that was the end. Grossman entered to a standing ovation in the second half, started the next game against the Packers (a division-clinching win) and then started the playoff game against the Panthers after Orton got one more start in a meaningless game against the Vikings. The controversy seemed at an end as the Bears signed veteran Brian Griese to back up Rex in 2006, and Kyle was quickly forgotten.

The controversy arose again, however, in 2008. Grossman's notorious struggles in 2006 and 2007, and Griese's failure to do much of anything at all in his stead, led the Bears to open the QB job to a competition between Grossman and Orton. Despite many (yours truly included) thinking the Bears were sure to hand the job to Rex, Kyle won, and shocked the hell out of everyone by leading the Bears to a 5-3 record while averaging 222 passing yards per game, throwing for 10 tds, and posting a 90.8 QB rating. Unfortunately, Orton injured his ankle in the 8th game of the season against Detroit, leading to Rex's last start in a Bear uniform the next week against Tennessee. Grossman had clearly lost his touch by then, and had just a 59.7 rating in his three appearances. When Orton returned, he was much less effective and the Bears missed the playoffs. Jerry Angelo decided to end this controversy by jettisoning both, with Grossman headed to free agency and Orton traded for Jay Cutler.

2. Jim McMahon vs. Jim Harbaugh vs. Mike Tomczak, 1987-1990

This one I'm going to cite from the history books, as I'm too young to actually remember a game started by Tomczak or McMahon. McMahon was the Bears first round pick in 1982 and was without a doubt the best quarterback the Bears have had since Sid Luckman, at least in terms of ultimate results (46-15 as a starter, Super Bowl Champion), but was undeniably brittle, as he never started more than 13 games in a season during his Bears career, and only started more than 10 games twice in his seven years with the team. Because of McMahon's frequent stints in the trainer's room, the Bears drafted Jim Harbaugh in the first round of the 1987 draft. This was despite the fact that some in the locker room (primarily just McMahon and Tomczak himself) thought that Mike Tomczak was a better option as McMahon's back-up. McMahon and Tomczak were close friends while both were bitter rivals of Harbaugh and barely spoke to him at all, according to rumor. The saga of the McMahon-Harbaugh-Tomczak trio plays itself out in the number of starts each had from 1987 until Harbaugh became the undisputed starter in 1990.

1987: McMahon- 6 starts, 210 attempts, Tomczak- 6 starts, 178 attempts, Harbaugh- 0 starts, 11 attempts (replacements Mike Hohensee and Steve Bradley started a combined 3 games during the strike)

1988: McMahon- 9 starts, 192 attempts, Tomczak- 5 starts, 170 attempts, Harbaugh- 2 starts, 97 attempts.

McMahon was traded to San Diego after the season, leaving Tomczak and Harbaugh to battle it out.

1989: Tomczak- 11 starts, 306 attempts, Harbaugh- 5 starts, 178 attempts.

1990: Harbaugh- 14 starts, 312 attempts, Tomczak-2 starts, 104 attempts.

Tomczak departed after the 1990 season, leaving Harbaugh as the winner of the contest. As I mentioned before, however, Harbaugh's hold on the job was always fragile, as Ditka never seemed to embrace him and he found himself in another controversy with PT Willis soon enough.

1. Rex Grossman vs. Brian Griese, 2006-2007.

The top spot should surprise no one. The paint had barely dried on the "savior" label that the fans had applied to Rex after he relieved Orton in 2005 when Rex found himself on the other end of the fans' support. During the 2006 preseason, Grossman compiled just a 60.7 quarterback rating while Griese led the NFL at 141.7. Some fans and pundits argued that Lovie Smith shouldn't risk the Bears Superbowl aspirations by going with Rex Grossman and his 7 career starts over a "proven" veteran like Griese (although I maintained that the only thing Brian Griese had proven was that he wasn't a good quarterback at all). That controversy seemed to end, however, when Rex won NFC Offensive Player of the Month in September of '06 after leading the Bears to a 5-0 record, throwing for 10 touchdowns, 3 ints, 1243 yards, and a 100.8 rating. All Bears fans know what happened next, however, as Grossman melted down with a four interception game against the Cardinals and had a 61.4 rating and 17 interceptions over the last 10 games of the season. By the time the playoffs rolled around, many felt that Griese should have been the postseason starter, and they only grew louder after Grossman's 2 interceptions in the Superbowl helped Indianapolis seal the game.

In 2007, Grossman vowed to cut down on turnovers, but instead seemed indecisive and regressed even further, and was benched after he posted a 45.2 rating during a 1-2 start in the first 3 games. Griese finally stepped in and responded by throwing 3 interceptions against the god damned Detroit Lions. Oh, I'm sorry. I'm supposed to keep my rational, analytical "professional" tone while writing about Brian F*&king Griese? Not going to happen. Brian Griese sucks. Brian Griese sucks so hard that bystanders have been injured by the vortex of suck that he generates while walking. Brian Griese is a god awful journeyman so bad that he goes to bed with delusions of one day being Jeff Garcia. Sure, you may argue, Griese's 75.6 rating in 2007 was way better than Rex's or even Kyle's that year. But you, sir, are an idiot. Do you realize how hard it is to throw SEVEN interceptions and choke away two games to the DETROIT LIONS? Let's compare the passer ratings of Rex Grossman, Kyle Orton, Brian Griese, and Jay Cutler when it comes to Detroit:

Cutler: 112.6
Orton: 102.2
Grossman: 82.2
Griese: 54.3

That's right, folks, when it comes to facing the Detroit Lions, Brian Griese morphs into Ryan Leaf. Now some of you may have realized by now that the reason Start Kyle Orton was founded actually had less to do with our love of the Patron Saint (not that we don't love him) but with our hatred of the weak-armed, hair-brained Griese. Because seriously, f*&k that guy.

Anyways, Griese started 6 games, lost 3 of them, got injured against the Raiders, and was relieved by Rex who won the game with a bomb to Berrian. Rex then started the next four games and played much better, but was injured against the Redskins and replaced by Griese (who, not surprisingly, threw 2 interceptions as the team lost by a touchdown), who was then replaced for the last three games of the season by the Patron Saint, who was the only quarterback the Bears started that year who had a winning record (2-1). So remember kids, when asked the following question:

When Brian Griese and Rex Grossman face off, who wins?

The answer is Kyle Orton.

Matthews, McNown, or Miller and Death is Not an Option

I was watching NFL Network's brilliant Top Ten series the other day as they counted down the the Top Ten Quarterback Controversies of all time. There were some great ones in there (Flutie vs. Rob Johnson, Rivers vs. Brees, Morton vs. Staubach, Montana vs. Young) and it got me thinking of all the epic quarterback controversies the Bears have had in my lifetime. I thought it might be fun to recap some of them and look back at how utterly braindead we all were to think any of these guys would lead the Bears to a championship. So without further ado, here are the


10. Jonathan Quinn vs. Craig Krenzel vs. Chad Hutchinson vs. Jeff George vs. my Burgeoning Alcoholism, 2004

It's hard to remember now, but the Lovie Smith Era could have conceivably started off with three straight playoff appearances. The 2004 NFC was pathetically weak, with TWO 8-8 teams (the Vikings and the Rams) making the playoffs. The Bears actually had the NFL's 13th ranked defense and were by far the best in the NFC North on that side of the ball. After Rex Grossman went down after the team's 1-2 start, the offense dropped from an average of 20 PPG and 345 YPG to an average of 13 PPG and 214 YPG. The culprits? The first three quarterbacks listed above. Quinn came in after Rex was injured late in the 4th quarter against the Vikings and was absolutely abysmal in three starts against the Eagles, Redskins, and Buccaneers, as well as in relief against the Cowboys. Fans clamored for rookie 5th round pick Krenzel to start. Krenzel relieved Quinn against TB and won his first three starts against the 49ers, the Giants, and the Titans, despite averaging only 142 yards passing in those three games (and completing less than 40% in two of them). The Bears defense stopped winning games singlehandedly, however, and Krenzel lost his next two starts against the Colts and the Cowboys before going on IR with an injured ankle. Hutchinson came in because why the fuck not and somehow threw three touchdowns against the Vikings before leading the offense to just 9 ppg in a four game losing streak to end the season. Oh, and at some point they signed the 38 year old Jeff George, who hadn't played since 2001. Mercifully, he didn't get a start. If you'd managed to forget this whole mess, good for you, but just remember: At one point in your life, you thought Craig Krenzel would be an upgrade at quarterback. And you were Right.

9. Jim Harbaugh vs. PT Willis, 1992

You may be asking yourself who the hell PT Willis is. That's okay. I don't remember him that much either, but I was 5 when he made his last start in a Bears uniform. PT was the back up for Jim Harbaugh after Mike Tomczak left, and his preseason exploits against 3rd string defenses made him look capable at that job. Given that Mike Ditka's relationship with Harbaugh was always tenuous at best, it's no surprise that PT got a chance to start towards the end of Ditka's last year with the Bears dead in the water. He sucked. Horribly (54.9 career QB rating). The Bears were 0-3 in games started by Willis between 1992-1993 with the average score being 21-8. Just so you know, if you're coaching for your job, starting PT Willis isn't a good move.

8. Kordell Stewart vs. Chris Chandler, 2003

I'm not sure this was a controversy, as I don't remember wanting either of those two guys. Does that make it a controversy? I guess. Stewart was the Bears "big" free agent signing after the 4-12 2002 season, and for some reason that was supposed to help them back to the playoffs. Stewart sucked (56.8 rating) and led the Bears to a 1-4 start in 2003, including such whoppers as a 49-7 loss to San Francisco and a 38-23 loss to the Packers on MNF in the first game of the "new" Soldier Field. Chandler came in and went 3-3 over the next six games, despite not playing all that much better than Kordell (61.3 rating), but he was injured against Denver. Kordell had the only good passing game either had all season long in a 28-3 victory over the Cardinals, but any victory over the Cardinals before 2007 doesn't count. The Bears had somehow backed their way into playoff contention, and had a 14-0 lead over Green Bay in Lambeau. After the Packers had managed to regain the lead at 19-14, Stewart drove the team all the way to the Green Bay 10 yard line, but threw an absolutely awful interception which Mike McKenzie returned 90 yards for the clinching score. The Bears were then eliminated from contention, and the Rex Grossman Era began, leaving Absolute Failure as the definitive winner of the Chandler-Stewart debate.

7. Erik Kramer vs. Rick Mirer, 1997

This, sadly, was only a controversy because Dave Wannstedt was the only man left alive in 1997 who thought Rick Mirer could still be a starting quarterback in the National Football League, and the mustachioed bastard traded a first round pick to Seattle in order to acquire the legendary double first round bust. Erik Kramer was only one season removed from the greatest passing season in Bears history, but had lost Wannstedt's confidence after an injury plagued and ineffective 1996 season. Wanny had every intention of starting Mirer from day one, but Rick was supposedly so bad in offseason mini-camps that offensive coordinator Matt Cavanuagh was seen throwing his clipboard at the ground in frustration after yet another Mirer mistake. Kramer started the first three games of the season, but the team was winless in those three games and Mirer was given three starts to show what he could do. They were easily the worst three games a quarterback has ever managed in Bears history, as the team failed to score a single offensive touchdown under Mirer's direction and were outscored 78-23. Mirer was benched, Kramer "led" the team to a 4-6 record the rest of the way, and the Bears parted ways with Mirer after the season. I hate you, Dave Wannstedt

6. Shane Matthews vs. Jim Miller, 2001

Matthews and Miller had both entered the 1999 seasons as the guys who were simply supposed to watch Cade McNown's rise to glory. Both of them had NFL careers that lasted longer than Cade. Miller was the fan favorite of the two, but he had been banned for steroids in 1999 and had made just one start in 2000 before blowing out his ankle. Matthews had been solid but unspectacular in 1999-2000, and since "unspectacular" is the quality John Shoop most admires in his quarterbacks, Matthews got the start at the beginning of the 2001 season. Matthews started the first two games, a loss to Baltimore and a win against Minnesota, but was injured at half time of the Vikings game, and the "win" belonged to Miller, who threw for the Bears only two touchdowns of the season to that point. Miller started the next four games, all wins, for the surprisingly 5-1 Bears. In the fourth game, against the 49ers, Matthews was the one with the late game heroics, rallying the team to an overtime win. Matthews got the start against Cleveland the next week, and came back from a 21-7 deficit to tie the game on a last second Hail Mary (although I maintain that Shane Matthews is the only NFL QB for whom 34 yards constitutes a Hail Mary). The Bears won in overtime for the second consecutive week, but the controversy ended there as Miller came back and the team went 7-2 the rest of the way to finish 13-3. In the playoff game against the Eagles, Miller was knocked out early and Matthews failed to muster much offense as the team lost 33-19. Matthews departed after the season, and Miller suffered through yet another injury plagued season in 2002 before departing as well.

5. Steve Walsh vs. Erik Kramer, 1994

Jim Harbaugh had an absolutely awful last season in Chicago in 1993, and so Wannstedt and Co. decided to replace with Erik Kramer and Steve Walsh, who had previously played for the Lions and the Saints, respectively. While Kramer was the starter from day one thanks to his stronger arm and better track record (10-5 as a starter, 75.5 rating in Detroit vs. Walsh's 11-13 record and 69.1 rating), the Bears were 1-2 in the first three games under Kramer (despite his 254 ypg and sparkling 107.5 rating in those three games) and he was injured in the third game. Walsh started the next three games, which the Bears won to bring their record to 4-2. Kramer came back after the bye, but threw three interceptions in a Bears loss to the Lions and was benched during a blowout against Green Bay. Walsh started every game the rest of the way as the team went 8-3 under his direction, made the playoffs, and even won a first round game against the Vikings before bowing out. While Kramer seemed to simply be the recipient of bad luck (the defense allowed 27 PPG in Kramer's 5 starts but only 16 PPG in Walsh's 11, while the offense actually averaged More points under Kramer's direction), Walsh earned praise as a "game manager." The competition was re-opened in 1995, and while Kramer won and broke every Bears passing record in the book and the team finished an identical 9-7, his bad luck continued as they failed to make the playoffs. Walsh left after the 1995 season, but Kramer had to endure three more years of bad luck and losses in Chicago.

I'm stopping this here for today because I just looked up and realized how incredibly long it's getting. You can look forward to the rest tomorrow or Monday.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Boredom=Preseason Rankings

I'm as bored as one person can possibly get these days. The Blackhawks brought home the title but neglected to think of what I was going to do with my time without them giving me something to watch. The Cubs are so far beyond listless that I can't even bear to feign interest in them. All of this adds up to me engaging in an activity I usually mock: ranking college teams in June. Sure, I usually rank teams in August, but by that point rosters have shaken out and you have a good idea of who is going to take the field for the season opener. At this point a lot of that stuff is still up in the air. But whatever, here's my first go at it:

The SKO College Top 10 Rankings:

1. Alabama- Time tested formula: Last year's champion+Returning Quarterback=Preseason #1

2. Boise State- They have a shit ton of returning starters, including quarterback Kellen Moore. I am focusing all of my positive karma on getting Boise into a national championship game.

3. Ohio State- I'm pretty high on them this year, which is odd, as I'm usually convinced that Ohio State is a paper tiger, but they appear to have closed the gap between them and schools from other BCS conferences. I'm not sure they could handle an SEC champion in the title game, but I think the embarassments of the past are over.

4. Texas- Their defense is largely intact, and it's good enough to carry them while they get things sorted out on offense. Garrett Gilbert didn't embarass himself on the national stage in the championship game, and I think he'll be a fine quarterback.

5. Iowa- I I feel this pick is really going to bite me in the ass. Hell, I hope it does. The frustrating thing is that I don't dislike Iowa. I think Kirk Ferentz is an outstanding coach who can somehow make cliches come to life ("It all starts up front!" "Teamwork trumps talent!" "Defense wins (shares) of (Big Ten) championships!"), and you know without a doubt that they're going to have a great offensive line and a great front seven on defense every year. They're everything a Big Ten football team should be. But my God, if you've ever spent an hour of your life in Iowa during football season you want to strangle every single one of their fans. For that reason, I root against them out of spite, because I live amongst the mouth-breathers. Honestly, though, the defense will be as good as expected (it always is), the running game should be much better, and if Ricky Stanzi can cut down on the turnovers while keeping his invincibility in the fourth quarter, the Big Ten will boil down to a two man race between Iowa and OSU.

6. Florida- John Brantley will be a better passer than Tim Tebow ever was, and, while he's not a total behemoth running the ball like Tebow, he can run the option well enough to help move the ball. They return their trio of talented runningbacks, and have enough returning starters on defense to keep them in the top third of the nation in that category.

7. TCU- The team that's gone 23-3 the last two years returns 16 of 22 starters, including most of their stellar running game and senior quarterback Andy Dalton. I'd be shocked if they failed to make another appearance in the BCS this year.

8. Virginia Tech- They only return four of their starters on defense, the key to last year's team, but it won't matter because Frank Beamer always puts out a respectable defense. The important thing for this team is the 8 returning starters on offense. Quarterback Tyrod Taylor became a legitimate threat with his arm down the stretch last season, and he was already a threat with his legs before the year. He'll take a huge step forward this year, helped by the 100 Proof Backfield (brilliance courtesy of these guys ) of halfbacks Ryan Williams and Darren Evans. Williams was ACC Rookie of the Year in 2009, rushing for 1655 and a whopping 21 TDs, while Evans (who missed last year with injury) rushed for 1265 yds and 11 TDs in 2008. As I said last winter, Taylor, Evans, and Williams may dominate like Jason Campbell, Ronnie Brown, and Cadillac Williams did while leading Auburn to an undefeated season in 2004.

9. Georgia Tech- My love of the triple option continues unabated, despite their disheartening loss to Iowa's stingy defense in the Sugar Bowl. While they lose man beast Jonathan Dwyer at runningback, they still return their other two starting runningbacks from last year as well as quarterback and 1,000 yard rusher Josh Nesbitt (who should be better at throwing the ball this year as well). They also return eight starters from last year's defense, so that experience should hopefully help them improve on that side of the ball.

10. Penn State- I'd have had Oregon here before Jeremiah Masoli went all Marcus Vick on everybody and ended his college career early in a cloud of arrests. PSU loses Darryl Clark, who could always be relied upon to suck in big games, but returns most of the starters on their stout offensive and defensive lines as well as RB Evan Royster. I guess they make the top ten.

I'm wrapping this up here because I don't like to do 11-25 during the season when I have way more information at hand, and I hate it even more during the preseason.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

A Quick Note on Pressure

In reference to my previous post about Aaron Rodgers actually having more protection than Jay Cutler, the awesome website keeps statistics on how often a quarterback is pressured and how they perform under said pressure. Cutler was, in fact, pressured on a whopping 32.3% of his passing attempts last year, vs. 31.7% for Rodgers. So Cutler was pressured more often. However, I can't lie, Rodgers response to the pressure that he faced was otherwordly. He had a 104.2 rating under pressure, which was the best in the league by 35 points. Cutler was at 51.2, which was about league average.

My only caveat, however, would be that, like sacks, not all pressure is created equal. One pass rusher coming at a quarterback from around the right tackle is not the same as the complete and total breakdowns in protection that Jay often encountered. Either way, however, the stats tend to bear out the fact that Cutler fares about as well as most other quarterbacks when under severe pressure. He just got pressured more often than all but four others (David Garrard, Matt Cassel, Jason Campbell, and Alex Smith). Oh, and Aaron Rodgers is some kind of amazing quarterback. I hate you, Aaron Rodgers. At the bottom of my gut, with every inch of me, I plain, straight hate you. But dammit, do I respect you!

Monday, June 7, 2010

The Meatheads Were Right, it was Turner's Fault

This article is obviously pretty old (and came before Jay's two game hot streak to end the year), but I found it to be an extremely good explanation of Jay's struggles last year, and why I think he'll improve this year.

While the author agrees that Jay's problems tend to stem from "the cumulative effect of a lot of things. One is an offensive line that is probably the worst in pro football. As you play more and more games, and there's more and more pressure, a quarterback who is not naturally mechanically sound, will become worse because no one likes to have people in their face all the time. Very often, when quarterbacks take shots early in games, you see them start to lose their mechanics over the course of a game, get rid of the ball too early, start to play too fast..." all of which is accurate, I found his critique of Ron Turner's abuse of Jay and terrible play-calling to be most interesting.

"But what happens to that talent if there's no room for it? Against the Vikings, Cutler came out of the box in a way that told me two things: First, the Bears' coaching staff was setting things up to eliminate risk. Second, anything but dink-and-dunk when you're looking at a Jared Allen-Orlando Pace matchup is just nonsensical. On Cutler's second throw of the game, on second-and-3 from his own 42 with 10:58 left in the first quarter, Allen got around Pace with no resistance whatsoever, and Cutler bailed out to Earl Bennett at the line of scrimmage for a loss of two yards. When Cutler hit tight end Greg Olsen for a three-yard out on third-and-five, Olsen could gain only one more yard after the catch because cornerback Cedric Griffin and linebacker Chad Greenway were playing close in, waiting for the short pass, and knowing that the Bears had admitted defeat in a strategic sense. Three quick passes, and a three-and-out.
It was difficult to know what to make of Cutler's mechanics early on -- the guy's obviously talented enough to complete quick outs -- but I was astonished to see Pace get no help with Allen on any of those plays. Offensive coordinator Ron Turner managed to combine the protection leakage of wide sets with the inflexible non-production of a quick-screen-only offense. It was mind-blowing."

One of my biggest problems last year was watching Ron Turner completely obliterate the faith that I'd shown in him before last year. Before last season I had, optimistically, chosen to dismiss the Bears offensive struggles under Turner with the notion that a "real" quarterback would fix them. It didn't. Now, Turner's problem lays not with his "predictability" or whatever lame excuse the media chose to pin his struggles on, but his adaptability. He simply has no idea how to react to changing situations. It was apparent early on that the Bears offensive line was not good enough to run the power offense that Turner wanted to run. His response was to continue calling plays as if it was, based on some miniscule hope that the line simply needed to "gel." It wasn't until Chris Williams took over at left tackle and the line play improved slightly that Turner even attempted to mix things up. During the Vikings and Lions games to end the season he did a good job of moving the pocket and taking advantage of Jay's ability to throw on the run, something the statuesque quarterbacks Turner has dealt with the in the past (Orton, Griese, Grossman, Kramer, Walsh) were unable to do.

This was a recurring problem for Turner throughout both of his tours with the Bears. When he can run the offense he wants to run, like in 1995 and the early parts of 2006 and 2008, and his offensive line blocks and the run game works well, he can score a lot of points. When teams figured him and Rex Grossman out in 2006 and started to put pressure on Rex, Turner failed miserably at adapting and adjusting protection schemes and finding ways to take advantage of the defense's emphasis on blitzing. Last year he seemed overmatched and completely unable to adjust to utilize Cutler's natural talents to overcome the schematic and protection deficiencies of the offense.

If I dare say it (and again, Every positive prediction I make about Jay Cutler and the Bears offense this year hinges on whether or not the offensive line can improve), I have hope that Mike Martz can improve both of these problems. Martz has justifiably acquired a status as a quarterback guru, as guys like Trent Green, Kurt Warner, Marc Bulger, and Jon Kitna were undoubtedly better under his tutelage then they were beforehand (or in Bulger's case, afterwards). He knows how to preach the fundamentals of the position, such as proper footwork, Jay's biggest problem area. I truly believe he can make Jay a more technically sound player.

Schematically, I think Martz is a much brighter individual than Ron Turner. He has shown an ability to adapt to poor personnel in order to generate some semblance of offense. People can criticize the Lions or 49ers win-loss records during Martz' tenures as offensive coordinator, but both teams scored significantly more points under Martz than they had without him. The 2006-2007 Lions were the only Lion teams since 2002 to score more than 300 points in a season. Martz' 2008 49ers scored more points than any 49ers team since 2003. He made Jon Kitna into a 4,000 yard passer in two straight years. I've said over and over again that he has far more talent to work with in Chicago than he has since St. Louis. He'll figure out how to utilize that talent much better than Ron ever would have.

I still don't like him, though.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Fun with Hyperbole

A while ago, Mike Martz made waves when he compared this years Bears to the 1999 Rams when speaking with SI's Peter King. Many people mocked the statement, and understandably so. Hyperbole of this sort is common during this period of the offseason, and Martz is no stranger to empty bravado. But since this is the long death march of the offseason, I'm actually going to play devil's advocate for a bit and suggest that perhaps there's a nugget of truth to Martz' statement. Now, in hindsight, knowing what the Rams did from 1999-2003 when they scored 500 points in a season three times (and 447 in 2003), went 56-24, appeared in two Superbowls, won one, and went to the playoffs four times, this statement looks utterly ridiculous. However, no one knows yet what the 2010 Bears offense will do, as it's the preseason. So perhaps it's best to look at what the 1999 Rams looked like BEFORE taking the field, and compare them to the 2010 Bears.

The 1998 Rams (whom Martz was not affiliated with) had gone 4-12. They had the league's
27th ranked offense in yardage and 24th ranked in points. They were 29th in rushing offense and 22nd in passing.

The 2009 Bears were 7-9. They had the league's 23rd ranked offense in yardage and 19th in points. They were 29th in rushing and 17th in passing.

The quarterback of the 1999 Rams was Kurt Warner. Before the 1999 season he was an undrafted nobody who'd only thrown 11 career passes. After Martz' arrival he became a Hall of Fame caliber quarterback.

The quarterback of the 2010 Bears is Jay Cutler. He's often regarded as the most physically gifted quarterback in the NFL. In 2008 He led the NFL in passing yards. He was the first quarterback in NFL history to throw for 2 or more touchdown passes in his first four games. Even in the worst year of his career last year he was 13th in the NFL in passing yards and 8th in touchdown passes. He arguably has far more potential than any quarterback Martz has ever worked with, including Warner.

The runningback of the 1999 Rams was Marshall Faulk. He was an undeniably great runningback, and a dual threat as a runner and receiver, but look at his career averages before Martz:

Rushing: 1,064 yds , 8 tds, 3.8 ypa
Receiving: 561 tds, 2 tds, 9.4 ypc

And compare that to Matt Forte, the presumptive starter for the 2010 Bears:

Rushing: 1,084 yds, 6 tds, 3.8 ypa
Receiving: 474 yds, 2 tds, 7.9 ypc.

Forte's numbers are remarkably similar, and he's actually drawn a great deal of comparisons throughout his career to Marshall Faulk, Brian Westbrook, and other Pro-Bowl caliber dual threat runningbacks. The potential is there for Forte to explode in a similar manner to Faulk.

The top four wide receivers of the 1999 St. Louis Rams were Isaac Bruce, Torry Holt, Az-Zahir Hakim, and Ricky Proehl. The top four wide receivers of the Chicago Bears will be (in some order) Devin Hester, Johnny Knox, Devin Aromashodu, and Earl Bennett.

Of the Rams group, only Isaac Bruce was a proven quantity. He was a 6th year veteran who had averaged 932 yards receiving and 6 tds during his first five years. The Bears don't have anything quite close to Bruce's level, but they do have Devin Hester, a guy with certifiably great skills who was on pace for a 1,000 yd receiving season before suffering a series of injuries last year.

Torry Holt was an unproven rookie, so second year man Johnny Knox at least has the edge in experience, as he showed great promise last year by catching 45 passes for 527 yards and 5 TDs, despite making the leap all the way from FCS school Abilene Christian. Knox also has comparable speed to the young Holt.

Az-Zahir Hakim made a name for himself as the slot receiver in Martz' offense, but before Martz' arrival he had just 20 receptions for 247 yards and a TD, much like Aromashodu, who showed great potential when given a chance last year has only amassed 31 catches for 394 yds and 4 tds in his career.

Ricky Proehl was a savvy veteran who'd carved out a niche for himself as a great possession receiver and had averaged 634 yds receiving and 4 tds a season before 1999. Earl Bennett also established himself as a reliable, chain-moving possession man, with 54 receptions for 717 yds and 2 TDs in his first year starting.

At tight end, the Rams had Roland Williams, a quality blocking tight end who had just just 15 receptions for 144 yards in his career before Martz' arrival.

The Bears arguably have a great advantage here, with Brandon Manumaleuna as a great option on the line at tight end and Greg Olsen and Desmond Clark as pass catchers, a new element Martz claims he will utilize this year.

On the offensive line, the 1999 Rams had future Hall of Famer Orlando Pace, who at that time was a promising young tackle entering his third year. At guard, they had another Pro-Bowler in fifth year starter Adam Timmerman, and first time starter Tom Nutten. At center they had unhailed third year starter Mike Gruttadaria, and at right tackle they had fourth-year man and future Pro Bowler Fred Miller.

On the offensive line, the 2010 Bears also have a third year, former first-round pick at left tackle in Chris Williams, who has received a lot of praise for his work towards the end of last season. That's pretty much where the comparisons end. Somewhere out of the group of Kevin Shaffer, Lance Louis, Johan Asiata, Olin Kreutz, Josh Beekman, Frank Omiyale, and Roberto Garza the Bears have to craft a capable offensive line. I don't know if they can do it, but perhaps it's worth noting that the Rams, who cleared the way for the league's top ranked passing attack and 5th ranked rushing attack, had been downright awful the year before as well, giving up 47 sacks.

So what does this all mean? Well, I'm going to put this part in bold because mindless trolls who read this would most likely ignore it and say something to the effect of "this guy thinks the Bears are gonna score 526 points and win the Superbowl LOLZ?", what it means is that the Bears may actually have more talent on offense than people realize, and that Martz may not be crazy in thinking that the Bears have more talent (on paper) going into this season than the 1999 Rams appeared to have going into that season. Does that mean they'll be able to do what those guys did? Probably not, but a capable offense seems within reach if the offensive line keeps Jay Cutler alive (a dubious proposition, indeed).