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Thursday, February 10, 2011

In Review- The Wide Receivers

As part of my extremely prolonged and ongoing series reviewing each unit of the Bears and their performance in 2010 and my hopes for 2011, I now move onto the wide receivers.

#13 Johnny Knox-
Johnny's an extremely frustrating player. It's hard to say he's been a disappointment, as his production over the last two years has been outstanding for a guy from a small school whose mere existence on the roster came about as a throw-away in the Cutler trade. He had 960 yards receiving this year and averaged an absolutely outstanding and DeSean Jackson like 18.8 yards per catch. He's got 10 TDs in two years. He's a great return man when he gets chances.


You know and I know, as much as I hate even debating the existence of "toughness", Johnny Knox doesn't have it. Maybe he's just not smart enough to run proper routes. Maybe he just doesn't see the ball on all of those jump balls that he never gets his head around on. Either way, I know I have to stifle the urge to strangle something cute and innocent every time I see Jay Cutler blamed for another "mindless interception" when we all know it was Johnny's fault for standing there and throwing his arms up for a flag while watching a DB wrestle the ball out of the air or cutting behind the defender on a slant. He led the league in most interceptions on passes thrown his way. Not all of that's his fault, but a good deal of it sure as hell is. Apparently it pisses off Marshall Faulk, too. Now, I'm not advocating giving up on Johnny Knox. He's a very talented and very cheap young player. Hopefully he learns from his mistakes and improves his route-running and effort. I'd be more happy, however, if the Bears found another legitimate target so Cutler doesn't find himself forcing the ball to Johnny as often.

#23 Devin Hester-
Devin is what he is. The whole "is he a #1 receiver?" debate of the last few years has been a mostly pointless exercise. He's shown great flashes of talent, but he's never really put it all together. Alot of that isn't his fault. He's not targeted very often, and his skills really are better suited to lining up in the slot in this offense. His skills as a returner are absolutely invaluable and he's a threat when he's at the line of scrimmage. I think the Bears have started to appreciate him for what he is and have shifted away from Relying on him on offense, and that's probably a good thing. He's a good piece to have to move around and cause match-up problems, but he's never going to be an every-down target. That's okay.

#80 Earl Bennett-
I love Earl Bennett. I make no secret of this fact. The Black Bobby Engram is an unstoppable third down threat and his effort is incredible. He throws great blocks and I will always remember him dragging the entire Lions' defense for 15-20 yards in the second Detroit game. That said, he's a complementary player. His speed isn't great enough to make him a consistent deep threat, and his size isn't going to cause many matchup problems in the red zone. There's just a missing piece and it sure as hell isn't

#19 Devin Aromashodu-
Someone out there is still pissed that this guy didn't get many targets this year and won't be back next year. That's fine. That guy is an idiot. Devin was a guy that benefitted from a Hester injury last year and had a couple great games that were almost entirely Jay Cutler's doing. I don't remember Devin making a single catch (outside of his snag against the Giants in the Preseason last year) where I was all that impressed. The hype was stupid and Mike Martz knew it. Even worse, Devin himself believed it and apparently acted like an entitled fuckwad when his reps got cut after his four drops in the opener. Nice thinking for a guy who had finally broken free of the practice squad. See ya.

#81 Rashied Davis-
Rashied is an excellent special teams player. He also earned his way onto the field as a receiver late in the season and responded with some pretty good play out of the slot. I'd never have him higher than #4 on the depth chart, but he's a pretty good value at this position.

So we know what the Bears are missing. I'm not trying to join the horde of idiots who spent the last two years hoping the Bears would throw away valuable picks in a go-for-broke attempt to get Anquan Boldin or be dumb enough to sign Terrell Owens. Chad Johnson may be worth a shot if the price is right (meaning a 5th round pick or lower), but somewhere in the draft or in free agency there's got to be somebody big enough to throw a damn Fade to. That's not that hard.

Chances are, if the Bears fix the offensive line, they could bring back this exact same corps and they'd do light years better next year and I'd feel silly for saying this, but sometimes the difference between a nice receiver and a great one comes down to a few missed plays in a game. I hate going with something so statistically unproveable, but watching the Superbowl I couldn't help but notice the drops by Jordy Nelson and James Jones, both of whom are talented receivers who could probably start for a lot of teams like the Bears and do pretty well. Then you saw Greg Jennings with his two touchdowns and a perfectly run seam route from Rodgers to Jennings for a huge 3rd down conversion on GB's last scoring drive and you realize that it really, really helps to have That guy. Hopefully the Bears will find him soon. Whoever he is, I don't think he's Andy Fantuz.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

In Review- The Runningbacks

Earlier this week I took a look at how the quarterbacks on the Bears roster did in 2010, and what I expect for 2011. Today I tackle the runningback unit:

#22 Matt Forte- I've always been high on Matt Forte. I love the kid. Perhaps I overreacted to watching him have one really good game for Tulane against the eventual national champion LSU Tigers in 2007, or maybe my love for him is the exact inverse of my undying loathing of Cedric Benson. Maybe it's because he's a guy with an incredibly diverse skill set who causes match-up problems everywhere he goes when he's utilized properly. I think my favorite Forte play this year was in week two against Dallas when he motioned into the slot and then caught a fade for a TD. That's just not something a lot of backs can do in this league.

The problem early on this year was that Mike Martz viewed him as more of a receiver than a runner, and he's actually quite good at both. In the second half Matt exploded for 668 yards rushing on 133 attempts, good for a sparkling 5.0 YPC average. In the two playoff games he averaged 147 yards from scrimmage. For the year he finished with 1,069 YDs, a 4.5 YPC average, and 6 TDs on the ground to go with 51 catches, 547 yards, and 3 TDs through the air. In his Bears career now he's averaged almost 1600 yds from scrimmage and 8 total TDs a year. He's not exactly Marshall Faulk yet, but what he showed in the second half may mean he's a lot closer than people think. As I've said with Cutler, the Bears are a few key pieces on the offensive line away from having a very explosive offense, and Matt Forte is a lynchpin. He's got one year left on his deal, but I'd be shocked if he doesn't get an extension as soon as the labor situation stabilizes.

#29 Chester Taylor- Every time I saw Chester Taylor get tackled in the backfield this year, I thought to myself "okay, that can't be his fault Every time, right?" But it's impossible to deny the fact that Matt Forte made Taylor look old and useless by gaining literally twice as many yards per carry over the second half as Taylor gained this season (2.4). In fact, Chester had the worst ypc average of any runningback with 100 or more carries since the NFL merger. That's bad. Not surprising, though, given that Taylor is past the dreaded Age 30 Wall that stops most runningbacks and he ranked dead last in the NFL last year in Pro Football Focus's elusive rankings, meaning, among other things, he had a ton of runs for no gain and he was terrible at gaining yards after contact. My hope, honestly, is that they cut Taylor this offseason. I'm aware that he signed a four year, 12 million dollar contract, but it was a front-loaded deal and he made seven million of it this year. I'm sure he'd "improve" next year, given that it would be hard to do much worse, but there's no way he'd improve enough to be better than a younger, cheaper replacement. If he comes back, well, I'll continue to swear every time he's on screen.

#25 Garrett Wolfe-
Garrett has managed to totally justify the 3rd round pick that Jerry Angelo spent on him in 2007 by racking up a whopping 411 yards from yards from scrimmage in four seasons. Guh. He is, however, a great special teams player, but I doubt that will be enough to justify keeping him as an RFA this season. The Bears can't afford to pay all of their special-teams players the veteran minimum, and I doubt Garrett will be a guy they deem worth the money, although I suppose Jerry has found away to keep this disappointment on the roster for four years as it is. But hey, it's not like the Bears could have used that pick on actually useful back up runningback or an outstanding left tackle, or anything.

#32 Kahlil Bell- Remember this guy? He had a 72 yard run against the Eagles last year. On his other 39 carries he gained just 148 yards, at a 3.8 ypc clip. This year he was inactive for all 16 games. I doubt we'll see him again.

This is one position where I hope we'll see a lot of turnover outside of Matt. I wouldn't be surprised to see three new guys behind Forte next year. Although I suppose it's more likely that Taylor's contract will bring him back again, I wouldn't expect much of anything from him. At the very least I hope the Bears can find a suitable third option that isn't Garrett Wolfe.