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Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Killin' Time- People I Hate: Dave Wannstedt

I've decided to take a fish-in-a-barrel approach to today's "People I hate" and go after former head coach of the Chicago Bears, Miami Dolphins, and University of Pittsburgh Panthers Dave Wannstedt. I say former head coach because he was fired from all three jobs. F*&k you, Dave. If you don't know who Dave Wannstedt is or why he's appearing on this segment of a Bears blog, well, you must be a very small child. While I question why a child is reading this blog, I'll briefly state that Wannstedt was the head coach (and de facto GM, since he was given personnel control by McCaskey when he was hired) of the Bears from 1993-1998, and in that time went 40-56 with just one playoff appearance. The Bears organization, which had been one of the winningest franchises in the NFL from 1984-1992, fell into such a shambles under Wannstedt's control that they averaged 10 losses a year from 1996-2003. The franchise spent most of the Dick Jauron Era (1999-2003) cleaning up the mess from Wannstedt's rampage (although the Jauron Era certainly had its own mistakes to fix) and thus two straight head coaching tenures were absolutely fruitless for Chicago. Today I've decided to kick Wanny while he's down by going after one of his many shortcomings (since going after all of them would take too damn long) and listing the


5. Re-signing Alonzo Spellman (and not Jeff Graham)
Alonzo Spellman was a defensive end from Ohio State who had been the last first round pick of the Ditka regime in 1992. Spellman had largely under-achieved through the first four years of his contract, and entered the last game of the 1995 season with just 19 sacks in 62 career games. Spellman had three sacks in the '95 season finale against the Eagles, and entered the offseason as a potential free agent.

Another free agent that offseason was wide receiver Jeff Graham, who had 150 receptions for 2,245 yards and 8 TDs in two years as a Bear, including a then-franchise record (since eclipsed by Marcus Robinson's lightning-in-a-bottle 1999 season) 1301 yards in 1995.

Given that the Bears are rarely a free-spending team, they were in the position of only re-signing one of the two, and Wannstedt chose to gamble on Spellman, based on a one-game outburst, rather than Graham, a consistent performer.

Graham went on to play until 2001 with the Jets and Chargers (he actually managed 907 yards with the 2000 Chargers despite catching passes from Ryan F*&king Leaf) while the Bears had to run through a motley assortment of receivers in the last few years of the Wannstedt Era.

Spellman, meanwhile, had a respectable 8 sacks in 1996 before the wheels fell off in 1997. Spellman injured his shoulder in 1997 and finished with just two sacks, but even more concerning than his shoulder injury was the fact that he was batshit crazy. In March of 1998 Spellman, angry that his doctor was late to an appointment, decided to yank a phone out of the wall of the office and threatened to kill himself. Spellman also ballooned in weight, began to have drug problems, and was eventually released after he refused to have surgery on his injured shoulder. Nice choice, Dave.

4. John Thierry over Trace Armstrong
One of the reasons that Wannstedt may have decided he needed to re-sign Spellman was the glaring mistake he'd made the year before when he let defensive end Trace Armstrong go after drafting John Thierry. John Thierry was a linebacker at Alcorn State, a I-AA school, that Wannstedt thought he could turn into a defensive end. Wanny compared him to Charles Haley, which was right on since Thierry finished just 67 sacks, 5 Pro Bowls, and 2 All Pro nominations short of Haley's career totals. Even more important was the fact that Thierry's 12.5 sacks in 5 years as a Bear barely exceeded the 11.5 sacks that Trace Armstrong had in 1993 alone. Wanny decided to go with the young Thierry over the proven Armstrong and got burned badly, as Armstrong would go on to play for another decade, with three more seasons of at least 10 sacks (including 16.5 as a 35 year old in 2000) while Thierry never had more than 4 sacks in a season as a Bear.

3. The runningback he didn't draft
Before Wannstedt's first draft with the Bears in 1993 it was obvious that the team needed help on the offense. Neal Anderson, a shifty runningback similar to Matt Forte who could catch passes out of the backfield had been injured for most of the previous seasons and was approaching the dreaded age 30 wall. He was also a poor fit for Wannstedt's offense (based on Jimmy Johnson/Norv Turner's offense in Dallas) which needed a workhorse back. One was available in the 1993 draft in the person of Jerome Bettis, whom you may have heard of. Instead, the Bears drafted Curtis Conway, a one-dimensional receiver from USC who had only played wide receiver for a year in college. While Conway had a long and somewhat above-average NFL career, he was an inconsistent performer who had just two seasons with more than 733 receiving yards during his seven years in Chicago, while Bettis went on to finish his career with the 5th most rushing yards in NFL history. Guh. That's alright, though, because of...

2. The runningbacks he did draft.
During that 1993 season, where the Bears averaged just 14 points per game thanks to a poor season by the aging, injured Anderson (who'd have thunk?) and Conway contributing a mere 19 receptions (Bettis had 1400 yards rushing, but who's counting?) it became apparent that the Bears did need to find a runningback. They tried to get by in 1994 with Lewis Tillman and Tim Worley (both sucked) but were ultimately forced to draft a runningback in 1995. That runningback was Heisman Trophy winner Rashaaan Salaam.

To be fair to Wanny, the Salaam pick seemed to be worth the gamble (there were rumors of drug use and his hands were always questionable) when he set rookie records for the Bears by rushing for 1074 yards and 10 TDs in 1995. However, he also fumbled 9 times, caught just 7 passes (and had numerous drops), and averaged only 3.6 yards per carry. In 1996, Salaam suffered through an injury-plagued season and finished with just 496 yards (3.5 avg), then later admitted to smoking heavy amounts of marijuana while rehabbing and struggled with his rehabilitation and his weight. Salaam went flat-out bust in 1997, rushing for just 112 yards, and was released. That cleared the way for....

Curtis Enis, the #5 overall pick in the 1998 draft. Enis was a guy who had rushed for a ton of yards at Penn State, but had also accepted money from an agent while he was there (among other controversies) and was once described by Joe Paterno as "the biggest con man to ever go through the Penn State program." The Bears, however, bought into the "changed man" act that Enis gave them in pre-draft interviews and chose him over Randy Moss, who they deemed to be a bigger character risk. Enis naturally showed his character by immediately holding out for an outrageous contract, resulting in a showdown that resulted in Enis playing just nine games his rookie year, with only one start. He rushed for just 497 yards that year with no touchdowns (3.7 average), and the Bears managed the same 4-12 record in 1998 with their new runningback bust that they had in 1997 with their old one. Enis went on to rush for just 916 yards in 1999 before new coach Dick Jauron moved him to fullback. He was out of the NFL after just three years, just like his predecessor. At least the Bears didn't have to deal with Randy Moss and all of his damn character issues. And all of those damn touchdowns. Bullet. Dodged.

1. Trading for Rick Mirer
It's hard to really explain to people who weren't there at the time, or who don't really remember Rick Mirer, everything that is wrong with the Bears decision to trade for him. To begin with, never before in the history of football has a player with such an incredibly proven track record of awful play been acquired at such a high cost. Even if Mirer had been able to resurrect his career like a Jim Plunkett or a Tommy Maddox or other quarterback busts who moved on, none of them demanded a first round pick as compensation. Hell, even Steve Young didn't merit a first round pick when he was traded from the Bucs to the 49ers. Yet, there was Dave Wannstedt sending away the 11th overall pick in the 1997 for a guy who had a 41-56 TD:INT ratio and a 65.2 QB rating in Seattle.

Perhaps even more frustrating was the fact that Wannstedt had Erik Kramer on the roster, a quarterback who had set every single franchise passing record possible in 1995 and who had passed his physicals and fully recoverd from the neck injury that had ended his 1996 season after just four games. Kramer had a 40-24 TD:INT ratio and an 83.9 rating in his three years as a Bear, numbers that would make any sane human being concede that he was a vastly superior quarterback to Rick Mirer, not to mention the fact that Kramer would be entering his fourth season in the system in 1997 while Mirer, a notoriously slow learner, would be entering his first.

With every logical impulse telling him no, Wannstedt pulled the trigger anyway and sent the 11th pick to Seattle for Mirer in one of the greatest heists in history. Mirer then struggled to learn the offense, Kramer clearly outplayed him in the preseason, and Kramer started while Mirer served as an expensive clipholder. Kramer was benched after an 0-3 start and Mirer was given three chances to prove himself and failed epically, going 0-3 against the Patriots, Cowboys, and Saints while compiling a 37.7 quarterback rating and guiding an offense that was outscored 72-9 under his watch. Kramer was reinserted and had a mediocre 74.0 passer rating (nearly twice as high as Mirer's, though) but managed his second 3,000 yard season in Chicago. Mirer was cut after one year, making him the greatest front office blunder in the history of the organization.

One final reason the Mirer trade still chaps my ass? The Bears biggest need in the draft that year was tight end, and, after trading away the 11th pick, they settled for USC tight end John Allred (30 receptions in 4 years as a Bear) in the second round. Had they decided to go with Kramer as their starter at QB in 1997 and spent their first round pick on a tight end, there was some guy named Tony Gonzalez available who went to Kansas City with the 13th pick. Might have been handy to have that guy around for the last 14 f*&king years.

So in summary, I f*&king hate you, Wanny.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Bears Offensive Coordinators: A History of Incompetence (or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Accept Mike Martz)

One of my more optimistic beliefs going into the 2011 season is the idea that an improved offensive line and another year's worth of practice, the second year of the Mike Martz offense in Chicago should be much more productive and hopefully feature more of the deep ball (especially the Dagger play. I love the Dagger )as well. Although my love/hate relationship with Martz is well stated, I'd really love to see this offense do the kind of things that a Mike Martz offense does well, rather than the things we've grown accustomed to seeing out of Martz in Detroit and San Francisco when circumstances and personnel dictate that he let his "genius" run amok.

Anywho, this guarded optimism for Year Two of the Martz Era has led me to look back at some of the previous offensive coordinators the Bears have had in my lifetime in order to compare examine their failings and what the Bears will hopefully do differently from here on out.

Ron Turner (1993-1996, 2005-2009)
Ron Turner spent nine of the last eighteen years as the offensive coordinator of the Chicago Bears, and the results were decidedly mixed. I wasted a lot of breath before the 2009 season explaining why much of the criticism that Turner took was unfair, and how personnel problems had had more to do with his failings than anything else, only to be rewarded with a miserable season that torpedoed Ron's career. In last June I wrote this piece, in which I apologized for my mistaken beliefs, explored what had been Ron's undoing and came to the conclusion that Turner's greatest failing was his inability to adapt his plan of attack once it was apparent that the Bears offensive line was not going to allow him to utilize the power running game that he wanted to run.

Turner's offense was a bit of a throwback, one very similar to the one his brother Norv ran under Jimmy Johnson in Dallas. It was entirely predicated on running the football. Without a running game, Turner's playbook was considerably compromised as his passing game relies almost entirely on play action. Watch this video of Rex Grossman's highlights from 2006 and you'll see that almost all of Rex's success came off of play-action.

If teams could take away the run (something all too common in 2007-2009) and Ron was forced to throw the ball more than he was comfortable with, he attempted to move the ball with a low-risk, short yardage passing offense that was ill-suited to Cutler's abilities in the long term. He had some success with Orton in the first half of 2008 and with Cutler in the first four games of 2009, but teams quickly learned to sit on the short routes that Turner wanted to run and Turner was unwilling (which was understandable to an extent thanks to the poor offensive line he had) to attempt to go deep with any consistency. Mike Martz certainly went overboard at times in his attempt to force the ball downfield, but he does understand the necessity of using the deep ball to open up the defense even when the risk of a negative play is high (the Cutler to Knox 59 yard bomb against Dalls comes to mind).

In the end, Turner wasn't a terrible offensive coordinator when he was allowed to run the offense he wanted to run, but his inability to step outside of his comfort zone ultimately doomed him. Martz managed to show during the teams five game winning streak last year that he could, in fact, scale back his offense in order to protect Cutler, as the Bears during the second half became one of the best team's in the league in terms of running the ball and converting third downs. Turner never showed that ability to switch gears, something that's apparent when you note that in all but two of his nine seasons at the helm his offenses scored more points in the first half of the season (average of 21.1 PPG) than the second half (19.2 PPG).

Gary Crowton (1999-2000)
The Gary Crowton Era was truly one of the more interesting experiments in Bears history. Crowton was the head coach at Louisiana Tech from 1996-1998 where he, like Hal Mumme at Kentucky during the same period, was one of the first to implement the modern spread offense (although that's always up for debate) and his pass-heavy offenses stunned the nation. In Chicago, Crowton was supposed to introduce this offense to the NFL while also tutoring young QB Cade McNown. Did I mention that Crowton was somehow supposed to do this with Shane Matthews and Curtis Enis as his starting QB and runningback?

Considering the talent that Crowton had to work with, the results he gained in his first year were rather remarkable. Crowton managed to coax 4,136 passing yards out of Jim Miller, Shane Matthews, and McNown, the most the Bears have had in a season....ever. He nearly managed a 1,000 yards rushing from Curtis Enis (Enis finished with 916, although he got there at 3.2 yards a clip) and one year wonder Marcus Robinson had the best season a Bears receiver has had (1400 yds, 9 TDs).

So what went wrong? A couple of things. For one, outside of a few jump balls from Cade to Marcus, the deep ball was hardly present at all in Crowton's offense. This was a trademark of the original spread offenses, where horizontal passes were the staple. Mike Leach would eventually introduce the vertical element with great success at Texas Tech (and the arrival of Randy Moss and Josh McDaniels to the Patriots would introduce an NFL version of the spread offense with a vertical attack that would only lead to the highest scoring team in history), but Crowton's version relied heavily on bubble screens and shallow crosses to generate most of its yardage. Shane Matthews averaged just 6.0 yards per attempt and fewer than 10 yards per completion, while McNown was hardly better at 6.2 and only Miller averaged a respectable 7.1 ypa.

The short passing of the offense was effective at moving the ball in 1999 (particularly under Jim Miller who had 422 yards against the Vikings and 357 yards against the Chargers in back-to-back games), but didn't translate into points, something I've pointed to time and again when discussing the illusion of Matt Cassel and Kyle Orton's production under McDaniels in New England and Denver. The spread could hide the complete dearth of talent on the Bears offense between the 20s, but it couldn't score in the red zone, as the Bears averaged just 17 PPG despite ranking 8th in the NFL in offensive yards.

The other problem with Crowton's offense is that the NFL figured it out rather quickly. In 2000, the Bears dropped all the way down to 23rd in the NFL in both passing and total yards and dipped to 13.5 ppg. Part of this could be blamed on the increased role of Cade McNown, who was a miserable failure as we all know, but Shane Matthews (64.0 rating, down from 80.6 in 1999) and Jim Miller (68.2 vs. 83.6 in 1999) both had their numbers drop dramatically from their 1999 campaigns as well. As Chris Brown of SmartFootball noted the other day when discussing "constraint" plays on offense, bubble screens and the rest of the "razzle dazzle" (as it was derisively referred to by then-Chiefs head coach Gunther Cunningham) that the Bears utilized under Crowton were plays that could be used against defenses that were taken unaware by the offense and weren't fundamentally sound in their approach against it, but they weren't base plays that could consistently beat defenses that knew they were coming. Crowton lacked the talent and the will to attack downfield or run the ball between the tackles, and he was ultimately doomed.

I also never understood why the team decided to pair the overly-conservative Dick Jauron with the "innovative" Crowton, especially since the disconnect between them became rapidly apparent and led to Jauron not so subtly encouraging Crowton to leave for BYU in 2000.

John Shoop (2000-2003)
There may be no more frustrating human being in Bears history than John Shoop. That may be shocking considering all of the Wannstedts and McNowns and Cedric Bensons out there, but John Shoops term as offensive coordinator sticks in my craw like no other. No NFL organization can actually expect its fans to believe that the organization is focused on winning a championship if they willfully employ an offensive coordinator who has nothing other than contempt for the idea of offensive football.

Shoop took over for Crowton during the last few games of the 2000 season, when Crowton smelled the way the wind was blowing and left to take over as head coach at BYU. Shoop was hailed for restoring sanity to the Bears offensive game plan, as he ran the ball 39 times in his debut game against the Patriots and called a very conservative game plan through the air that allowed Shane Matthews to complete 22 of 27 passes. The fact that the Bears gained just 102 yards from those 39 carries (just 2.6 yards per carry) was ignored, even though it was a terrifying glimpse of things to come. The Bears followed up that win over the Patriots by losing a shutout at San Francisco (gaining just 104 yards of offense) and winning the season finale over the Lions thanks to an RW McQuarters interception return for a TD that hid the fact that the offense gained just 286 yards and averaged just 6.3 yards per passing attempt.

Shoop's inherent cowardice became apparent in 2001, when the team ranked 26th in the NFL in total yards and managed just 192 yards per game through the air. The great defense and good fortune (+13 in turnovers) of that team led to a 13-3 season and hid Shoop's deficiencies to an extent, but the grumbles were already beginning before a 4-12 2002 campaign brought them to a fever pitch. Shoop's 2002 offense finished 27th in the NFL in points, 29th in yardage, and managed just 190 yards through the air. By this point it had become apparent that Shoop's entire offense consisted largely of unimaginative runs up the middle by the slow-footed Anthony Thomas, the long-since obsolete bubble screen (the only holdover that Shoop had kept from Crowton's attack) and an absolute refusal to consider a downfield attack. Quarterbacks during the Shoop Era averaged a whopping 5.7 yards per attempt.

While Shoop's hallmark will always be his cowardly lion approach to the passing game, the Kordell Stewart experiment of 2003 should always be noted for showcasing the best of Shoop's brilliant game plans. As mentioned before, my favorite play will always be the play-action QB draw, in which the QB draws the linebackers closer to the line of scrimmage before running right at them. Brilliant!

Terry Shea (2004)
It's always hard to judge Terry Shea's one year run as offensive coordinator fairly, since Rex Grossman's injury crippled the team and left Shea to run the show with Jonathan Quinn, Craig Krenzel, and Chad Hutchinson. The offense averaged 344 yards per game and 20 PPG under Grossman and had a balanced attack (192 ypg passing, 152 ypg rushing). We'll never really know what could have been, since the Quinn-Krenzel-Hutchinson triumvirate managed only 214 YPG and 13 PPG. Part of the problem was an offensive line that allowed a team-record 66 sacks, although Grossman only took five sacks in his three games and the other three QBs were all incapable of reading a defense and frequently stood there waiting for the hit, but Shea had his problems regardless. He had a playbook that was incredibly long and complex and yet the product on the field was incredibly unimaginative. He was over-reliant on the quick out and the HB draw, and it was his damn fault that Quinn was on the roster in the first place, so I can't have too much sympathy for the guy. Either way, I have no doubt the team was better off firing him when they did.

So those are four men who've run the show in the time before Mike Martz. While the poor first half last year left the Bears attack mired in the bottom half of the league statistically, the increased offensive output in the second half (from 18 to 23 PPG) and offensive outbursts like the 31-26 victory over the Eagles, the 40-14 win in Minnesota, the 38-34 comeback over the Jets, and the 35-24 blowout of the Seahawks in the divisional round give me hope that the team is pointed in the right direction. Martz showed last year that he was far more versatile than Turner, while his commitment (and Jay Cutler's ability) to throw the ball downfield prevents opposing defenses from squatting in the short passing game and prevents Martz from making the same mistakes that doomed Crowton and Shea, and the fact that he's not an unblinking idiot makes him far superior to Shoop. Hopefully this all translates into a Bears offense that (gasp!) scores points consistently in 2011 and beyond.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

The Great Wide Receiver Chase of 2011 (aka Braylon or Bust)

Since the day Jay Cutler was acquired (actually, if your memory can stretch back to the hazy days of the pre-Cutler era) the need for the Bears to pair him with a quality wideout has been a battle cry throughout the fanbase. I spent most of the last two offseasons arguing that the Bears had plenty of targets and that they just needed an offensive line that would allow Cutler to find them. I still stand by that. I think the fact that Bears wideouts have averaged 171 receptions for 2130 yards and 13 TDs in the last two years shows that they aren't as devoid of talent there as many people said they were.

The problem that we've all noticed is the similarity in size and skillset between Johnny Knox (6-0'', 185 LBs), Devin Hester (5-10", 185 LBs), and Earl Bennett (6-1", 205 LBs). Earl's the biggest of the three, but is also the slowest, unfortunately. The need for a big target at wide receiver who can challenge the middle of the defense on intermediate throws (while remaining a deep threat, something that Earl, the Black Bobby Engram, is not) and be a red zone target is obvious. So now we get to the age old question of who this wide receiver should be. I don't think it's going to be our CFL import Andy Fantuz (but that's okay, Andy, Saskatchewan really could use you), and Devin Aromoshadu sucked about as much as I figured he did and will also be off the roster, so that leaves us with these free agents (among others that I didn't deem worth listing):

Santonio Holmes
Vincent Jackson
Sidney Rice
Brad Smith
Braylon Edwards
James Jones
Mike Sims-Walker
Santana Moss
Randy Moss
Terrell Owens
Plaxico Burress

Santonio Holmes' production has been excellent and he's an outstanding deep threat, even if he's the same size as Hester and wouldn't be the "big" target needed, but I don't think the Jets will let him go. All of the signs and rumors point toward Santonio being the wideout that the Jets will give the highest priority to, which should leave Edwards on the market.

Vincent Jackson was a popular choice, but he was just franchised by the Chargers and will no doubt require a king's ransom. Not gonna happen.

Sidney Rice has the size the Bears would want (6-4, 200) but has only produced in one of his four years in the NFL and had major issues last year. I wouldn't be opposed to signing him, but I think the Bears may want to go with someone without the injury and possible one-year wonder stigma.

Brad Smith is a decent sized option at 6-2, 210, but he's never really produced much as a wide receiver and his primary value is on special teams, where opportunities would be few and far between for him, especially considering Devin Hester's role on special times may expand as his role on offense diminishes with a new wide receiver taking over his former starting job.

James Jones is a very talented wideout who has always produced great numbers as a #3 (outside of some drops) and is the heir apparent to Donald Driver. I really don't think the Packers will let him walk, and even if they did, his size isn't quite what the Bears need at 6'1, 208.

Mike Sims-Walker is a guy with decent height at 6'2 who has managed 14 touchdown receptions in the last two years. He hasn't really produced consistently in the yardage department (although Jacksonville wideouts in general don't really produce much since Garrard is a game manager who is fond of his backs and tight ends) but he'd be worth taking a flyer on if the Bears end up devoting more of their money in free agency to the line than to a wide receiver (and I wouldn't object to that strategy).

Santana Moss is one name I've heard bandied about, which is odd since he's going to be 32 and is also no bigger than Hester. His production has been great on some very pedestrian Redskins offenses, and last year he managed 92 receptions and 1115 yards despite Donovan McNabb's struggles. At the right price this could be a great signing, but I fail to see how he adds any kind of diversity to this wide receiving corps, especially since his numbers weren't that much better than Johnny Knox, who is often compared to Moss.

Then we get to the three big rotting names out there in Randy Moss, Terrell Owens, and Plaxico Burress (you could probably throw Chad Ochocinco out there, since he's probably going to be traded or released).

Moss couldn't produce last year in ideal conditions in New England with Tom Brady throwing him the ball and then he disappeared in Minnesota and Tennessee. Plenty of wide receivers would in those situations, but the odds are that Moss's production would be nowhere near what it needs to be to overcome the giant nuisance that he is. I'm not one to overrate team chemistry, but if he's going to put up Rashied Davis-like numbers it's not worth having to deal with him.

Terrell Owens is more interesting that Moss in that he actually produced very respectable numbers (983 yards and 9 TDs) despite catching the ball from a much-diminished Carson Palmer, but he's really not even worth discussing because there's not a snowball's chance in hell that the Bears would ever take a chance on him. They've had multiple opportunities and have never been interested in. They may take a chance on a guy with a few legal issues, but not a guy they deem disruptive in the locker room, and Owens has absolutely burned those bridges. Plus, gambling on a guy at age 37 is risky, gambling that that same guy can produce those same numbers or better again at age 38 is just plain foolish. Maybe they will sign him, actually.

Plaxico is the flavor of the moment, and it's understandable, I guess. Our last big memory of him is his excellent Superbowl performance, he almost singlehandedly made Eli Manning into a serviceable NFL quarterback, and he's huge (6'5", 226). However, he's going to be 34 years old and he hasn't taken a snap in over two years. I think it's ridiculous that people are using Michael Vick as a comparison. 1) Vick is younger. 2) Vick plays a different position that doesn't require the top end speed that wideout does (and while Vick is still a great scrambler, he's not as fast as he once was) 3)Vick looked like crap in 2009 before a year of conditioning and practice got him ready to assume the starting job. I'm not willing to take a chance that Plaxico can get ready in an abbreviated offseason, learn the complicated routes of the Martz playbook and manage to be the consistent contributor the Bears need. They need someone to pair with Johnny Knox (or possibly Earl Bennett, with Knox moving to the slot) on the outside as a starter, not a gimmick player. Plaxico doesn't fit the bill.

That leaves us with my preferred target, Braylon Edwards. Braylon's relatively young (he'll turn 28 this year), he's got good size at 6-3, 211 LBs, he's got enough speed to be a deep threat as well as an over-the-middle guy (averages 15.8 yards per catch for his career) and he's produced very well considering the talent he's had throwing him the ball.

An average of 735 yards and 6 TDs may not seem all that great, but this a man who has had to play with Trent Dilfer, Charlie Frye, Derek Anderson, Brady Quinn, and Mark Sanchez. His 2007 season is damn near miraculous since he managed to 1289 yards and a whopping 16 touchdown passes from Derek Anderson. Last year he managed 53 receptions for 903 yards and 7 TDs catching the ball from ol' Rico Mirerez himself, which is a quality output considering that, according to Football Outsiders, Sanchez missed him a whopping 48% of the time he tried to get the ball to him.

Edwards also has managed to cut down on his dropped passes, something that plagued him in Cleveland (his 15 dropped passes in 2008 lead the league). He's dropped just 12 (possibly 14, exact drop stats are hard to find) in two years as a Jet.

So there's my hope. If the Bears make Braylon Edwards their top target in free agency they'll be getting exactly what they need to round out that receiving corps, and there will still be some mid-ranged guards with starting experience that they can look at without having to throw big money at a guy like Logan Mankins.

Monday, June 13, 2011

In Review-The Coaching Staff

Time to wrap up the reviews today, and I've decided to finish with the unit that typically causes the most controversy, especially among Bears fans: the coaches. Considering at least half (and I think that's an underestimate) of the fanbase started the year off expecting and possibly even rooting for a losing season out of Lovie and Co. so that they'd get fired, this was a unit that had a long way to go to earn any measure of respect. Personally I've never understood the concept of rooting against your own team in hopes that they will then fire a coach in order to replace him with a coach "who will win." I mean, for one, this may be hard to accept, but your rooting interest has absolutely no effect whatsoever on the outcome of games. Secondly, if the guy that's already there wins, why do you need to replace him with a "winner"? Thirdly, if any of you sonsofbitches ever argued for Mr. Four Division Titles in 17 Years Jeff Fisher as future coach of the Chicago Bears, I will personally fight you. So anywho, onto the brains behind the Bears:

Dave Toub, Special Teams Coordinator
I'll admit it- I never saw the value of a special teams coordinator until Dave Toub came around to show us that there really is a big difference between an average unit and a very good one. Obviously Devin Hester's record-breaking talents have earned Dave his share of credit, but that would be shortchanging him considering how good the Bears have been at kicking, punting, returning, and covering. Hell, one of the best things I can say about Dave Toub is how I was so damned shocked that Dez Bryant returned a punt for a TD in week two against he Bears simply because I assumed it could never happen to them under his watch. That's still only the second return for a TD the Bears have allowed in Toubs seven years. I'll take it. Throw in the fact that the Bears lead the NFL by a wide margin in blocking kicks and punts (20 during Toub's tenure) and it's hard to argue that Toub isn't the best in the game at his job. Not surprisingly, the Bears lowballed Toub on a contract extension this offseason and he turned them down. If he has another year this year like he had in 2010 I wouldn't be shocked to see him as a candidate for a John Harbaugh-style leap all the way to a big job somewhere.

Mike Tice, Offensive Line Coach
I'm not going to cover the rest of the individual unit coaches (although I'll mention that Bob Babich sucks. F*&k you, Babich), but I figured Tice was worth mentioning. You'd think a guy who had the worst offensive line in the NFL by a wide margin would have received all kinds of shit this year. Instead, Tice received nothing but (deserved) accolades for managing to scrape together a patchwork that actually managed to hold together for most of the second half of the season. We all knew the Bears offensive line was dogshit going into the season, and yet Tice managed to find a way to move around Chris Williams, Lance Louis, Olin Kreutz, Edwin Williams, Roberto Garza, Kevin Shaffer, and Frank Omiyale to get to a line that went 7-2 after the bye week and allowed the offense to average over 24 PPG in the second half. Matt Forte had the highest yard per carry average of any back in the NFL in that second half, and they allowed 21 sacks in the 9 games after the bye vs. 31 in the first 7 games. None of those numbers are that stellar, but anyone who watched the change knows that Tice did the best he could with a line very, very thin on talent. Hopefully this damnable lockout ends soon and Tice can continue to mold Chris Williams into a guard and gear up Gabe Carimi for his future as a left tackle in the NFL. J'Marcus Webb still has a lot to learn and a lot of talent to work with, and Lance Louis played very well before he was pushed out of the starting lineup through no real fault of his own. Tice's unit should hopefully be the most improved next year.

Rod Marinelli, Defensive Coordinator
We were all pissed when the Bears failed in their search for a new DC and had to settle for promoting Marinelli. We'd heard all offseason the year before about how Marinelli was going to upgrade the Bears defensive line in 2009 and bring them back their 05-06 heyday. He actually did improve their overall numbers, but to nowhere near the extent we were promised and the backlash was pretty powerful. Rod's Lovie's best friend and yes man and everyone knew it, so it seemed like more of the same was in order for this year.

Well, it wasn't. The truth is that the Tampa Two that Lovie brought to Chicago was never broken, the personnel the Bears had to run it was. Marinelli had Julius Peppers and a healthy Brian Urlacher and Charles Tillman to work with, along with Chris Harris and the breakout year of Danieal Manning. I'll still give Rod some credit, since his game plans were very stout and he never seemed to be too loyal to his base defense or even some of the zone blitzes that Lovie was fond of overusing last year. All in all, this wasn't the bad hire it seemed to be, and the fact remains that the Bears will have a good defense so long as they can keep the big three of Urlacher, Briggs, and Peppers healthy.

Mike Martz, Offensive Coordinator
Oh, Mike Martz. What a long, strange trip it's been. I love the art of offensive strategy in football. The Coryell offense that Martz runs is one of my favorite schemes of all time, if not my all time favorite. Granted, I'm more of a fan of the more balanced attack run that Dick Vermeil and Al Saunders ran in Kansas City, but the fact remains that, schematically, the deep passing of this offense makes it one of the more exciting and difficult to defend offenses in football. That's good, considering what Bears fans have had to deal with in the past with the monotonous Ron Turner, the sham that was Terry Shea's "Coryell" style attack, and the Run'N'Punt of John Shoop.

Of course, the problem is that we've only seen glimpses of the true Mike Martz offense. Cutler hasn't had the protection necessary for the kind of seven step drops and deep dig routes that were Martz's staple in St. Louis. Lord knows Martz tried, and the results were disastrous. You could see him chomping at the bit in the second half while he had to reign things in and play small ball, but he managed to do it well, and eventually things reached a point where he was able to dabble a bit with some of his old favorites, which led to some interesting explosions like the Eagles game, the 40-14 demolishing of the Vikings, and the wild comeback win over the Jets that showed what this offense can be if it can get consistent blocking up front.

I'd have to give Mike a B- for the year if I was giving out grades. On the one hand, he managed to right the ship and gameplan around some serious deficiencies up front in order to do just enough to win 11 games. On the other hand, a lot of his problems were self inflicted. He should have known better than to attempt seven step drops against the front of the New York Giants. He should never have ignored Matt Forte's ability to run the ball until it took a rumored closed door meeting during the bye week to get Matt some more carries. He attempted to run "his" offense against the Packers in week 17 and he missed the chance to knock the Packers out of the playoffs while exposing Cutler to an unnecessary beating and, most damning of all, he tried to run the same god damn offense out there in the NFC Championship Game. When Mike's "genius" was needed the most, he failed to adapt. Cutler should have been in the shotgun early and often in those games, Forte should have been given more than 15 carries, and you DO NOT CALL A REVERSE ON 3rd AND FUCKING THREE.

Sorry. Every now and then I remember that I hate Mike Martz as a person, and that sort of taints my view of him as a coach. I think Mike has earned his reputation in this league, both for good and bad. We saw plenty of both this year. It's easy to say that Mike's offense will do better next year with a better offensive front, but that still leaves the burden on him to remember to give Forte the rock, to protect Cutler at all costs, and to just plain be able to admit when something isn't working. I really hope he can do that.

Lovie Smith, Head Coach
The Lovie Smith experience for me is all about perspective. Last year I jumped on the Fire Lovie bandwagon late, as three years of frustration can have a deadly effect on a man. I think Lovie's an imperfect coach. He has some of the same flaws as his predecessor Jauron in that he can sometimes be too loyal to an assistant (Bob Babich, anyone?) and that he has a tendency to shut things down and pucker late in close games. He's also a bit of a dictator behind the scenes, considering he ran Ron Rivera out of town over a very minor difference in philosophy. His struggles with challenges are infamous, even though statistics say he's about average in that category. I'm also pretty sure that he'd draft seven safeties a year if it was entirely up to him. He's also, however, a pretty good football coach.

That's as controversial a statement as I can make, but the results tend to bear me out. Lovie's now 63-49 (.563%) as coach of the Bears with four winning seasons, three playoff appearances, and a conference championship in seven years. The Bears are a top ten team in this decade with regard to wins and playoff appearances. They're not where we want them to be with regards to championships and consistency, but there's still something to be said for Lovie's ability to turn around a franchise that went 75-101 (.426%) under his two predecessors.

We know what Lovie's faults are as far as on-field coaching goes. He can get too conservative on offense. He will live and die by the Tampa Two, even when you lose three of the four guys who made it so effective in Chicago in the first place (Mike Brown, Brian Urlacher, Tommie Harris, and Lance Briggs). He'll occasionally do some really, really stupid shit. But if he can get healthy players that fit his system, he wins ballgames. When Lovie has 16 games of Brian Urlacher, he's 51-29 with three playoff appearances in five years. I still don't blame him for 2004, since he wasn't the one that put Jonathan Quinn and Craig Krenzel on the roster. 07-09 sucked, and Lovie bears his share of the blame, but again, the biggest problem in that time period was a roster based upon big contracts given to Brian Urlacher, Tommie Harris, Nathan Vasher, and Charles Tillman when those four all missed parts, most, or all of entire seasons with injuries. It sucked to watch a Superbowl contender disappear over night, but it's hard to blame Lovie for being as mystified as the rest of us when most of his best players simply weren't the same guys anymore.

I think this team is on the cusp of ending the ups and downs of the past few years and turning into a perennial contender. There's a great corps of young skill players on offense with Cutler, Forte, Knox, Olsen, Hester, and Bennett that are only going to get better if they can find five guys up front to allow them to go to work. The defense is aging but the performance it gave this year gives me hope that they'll stick around long enough to allow their replacements to start filtering in over the next couple of years. I think the simple truth is that the Chicago Bears are going to have the same head coach for a while, and for once it might not just be the result of ownership being too cheap to fire him.

Friday, June 10, 2011

In Review- The Special Teams

I tried brainstorming a "Killin' Time" idea for this week and came up rather uninspired. Hopefully I'll have something worth my vitriol next week. For today I'm just going to continue with my unit reviews, finishing up the review of the players with the special teams unit today (I'll do one more for the coaches). Since they first hired Dave Toub the Bears have had an outstanding special teams unit, and this year was the best unit they've fielded since 2007, so there are plenty of positives to take from this unit going forward.

#9 Robbie Gould, Kicker
There's nothing much to be said about Robbie, really. He's awesome and everyone knows that. He's the most accurate kicker in Bears history and he's the 6th most accurate kicker in NFL history (also 6th all-time in extra point % at 99.522, since he hasn't missed an XPA since his rookie year in 05). Last year he hit on 25 of 30 field goal attempts, a very good 83.3% which was actually his worst % since his rookie year. If your kicker can hit 83.3% in an off year, you're doing pretty well. This year Lovie also finally unleashed him past the 50 yard line, something he had seemed reluctant to do before. Coming into this year Robbie had attempted just five kicks from beyond the 50 yard line in five years as a Bear (he was 2-5). This year he nearly matched his career total, attempting four field goals from beyond 50 yards and hitting 3 of them. The only knock anyone ever had on Robbie before this year was that he wasn't a powerful kicker, and I'd have to say he's helped to dispell that. I've got no beef with him being the highest paid kicker in the NFL, and I'd expect him to keep at it for a long time.

#4 Brad Maynard, Punter
Robbie's partner in crime may not be around so much longer, however. Brad's been as consistent and dependable of a punter as anyone could have wanted for most of the decade in which he's worn a Bears uniform. He's 37 years old, however, and some cracks started to show last year. His 40.1 yard average was the lowest of his career, and the 35.2 net average was the second worst showing he's had as a Bear. He still had a respectable 24 punts within the 20 yard line, but that's actually below the 28 that he's averaged in his Bears career. He had 39 punts that were actually returned against him this year, his highest total since 2004 (although the 55 he allowed to be returned against him in 04 shouldn't really be held against him since he had to punt 108 goddamn times during the Quinn-Krenzel-Hutchinson Reign of Terror). For what it's worth he even had a punt returned for a TD against him (by Dez Bryant), only the second one he's allowed in his Bears career. I like Brad, and his directional punting is still a great asset, but I'm not surprised the Bears have stated they'll be bringing in some competition. Hopefully he can find a way to boost his power a bit and maybe keep it going for a few more years, but I think he's definitely on the down side. Also, holy shit, I just wrote an entire paragraph about a punter.

#38 Danieal Manning, Kick Returner
I mentioned in my bit about the secondary that Danieal Manning had a quietly all-pro season as a safety, but another reason he'll be missed if he leaves is his ability to return kicks. Manning is two years removed from his Pro Bowl 2008 season when he led the NFL with a 29.7 return average, but he still managed to average a respectable 24.7 average on 33 returns this year. He didn't score a touchdown, but he did manage to break a few long ones, including a 62 yarder on the opening kickoff against the Panthers. His loss on special teams would be easier to absorb than his loss on defense (especially since I picture Hester in an even more reduced role on offense this year), but the best case scenario is still bringing him back.

#13 Johnny Knox, #81 Rashied Davis, Kick Returners
Although Danieal handled the majority of the kick returns, these two combined for 13 returns for 252 yards (19.8 yards per return) and no touchdowns. Although their opportunities were limited, Johnny is of course just one year removed from his own Pro Bowl year where he averaged 29 yards on 32 returns and had a 102 yard kick return for a TD, and Rashied has performed respectably on his 70 career kick returns as well. This is certainly an area where the Bears have unbelieveable depth.

#23 Devin Hester, Punt Returner
There were those who'd said that Devin was just a two year wonder and a beneficiary of great blocking who had lost the explosiveness he'd shown in his first two years. To them, I'll just Devin himself speak:

"They told me I was never gonna be nothin' but a kick and punt returner. Well, at least I'm the best one to ever do it."

Best. Ever.

Monday, June 6, 2011

In Review- The Secondary

Just three units left before I have to figure out another offseason activity (probably previews since that's all the damn offseason ever consists of). Today I move onto the secondary, easily the most improved unit the Bears had in 2010.

#35 Zack Bowman, Cornerback
Bowman should be very thankful that Lovie Smith thought so highly of him coming out of college. He earned his way into Lovie's doghouse very early this year and wasn't very good in 2009 despite his deceptive interception total. Bowman has an undeniable amount of talent. He's got a good blend of size and speed at 6'1'', 197,which makes him slightly bigger than Charles Tillman with much greater speed. That's the reason why the Bears made the ill-advised decision to make him the left cornerback this year, one that nearly cost them the first game against Detroit when Zack was repeatedly torched by Calvin Johnson on the last drive and allowed the Touchdown-That-Wasn't. Then Bowman gave up 10 catches and 142 yards to Miles Austin the next week before Lovie decided he'd seen enough and put in the over-achieving Tim Jennings. This isn't a complicated system for cornerbacks. All they have to do is generate turnovers and keep everything in front of them. Bowman allowed too much of the big play in his brief stint as the starter last year, and I still don't expect him to win his job back this year, although Lovie will give him the opportunity.

31 Joshua Moore, Cornerback
Joshua was the other Moore in the Bears secondary this year and he didn't really do anything. He was active for just 3 games and registered no stats. So I have no idea if he's any good at all, and whether he's seriously going to be given equal consideration in a competition with Bowman and Jennings for a starting role. D.J. Moore did play in just 3 games with no stats his rookie year and made a huge impact in year two, so there's hope.

30 D.J. Moore, Cornerback
When the Cover 2 is working well, nickelback is often the most fun position to play on defense. The nickelback is usually covering the slot receiver or tight end, the guy the quarterback is likely to go to in hot-route situations, so when the pass rush hits hard and things start to break down, the ball's often headed in D.J. Moore's direction. He profited big time by racking up four interceptions (including 2 huge ones during the game in Dallas), 8 pass deflections, a forced fumble, 37 tackles, and a defensive touchdown one of his interceptions. He's not a great cover corner and Calvin Johnson destroyed him on a 45 yard touchdown catch during the game in Detroit, but he's not required to be in this role. I was glad to see that Lovie has stated that the competition for the job opposite Charles Tillman won't include D.J., since playing nickel in this defense is a completely different job than playing starting corner, and it would be foolish for the team to move a player who was so great in that role in just his second year in the NFL. I look for D.J. to match or top his numbers next year. Also, he's f*&king hilarious, if anyone heard his "Shit, ain't nobody wanna lose to the Lions, Geez Louise" comment last year.

26 Tim Jennings, Cornerback
Jennings came over from Indianapolis in a very quiet free agent signing last year. He'd burned out with the Colts, where he was considered a huge disappointment as a failed second round pick. The good thing about that was that it meant that Jennings did have second round talent. I don't know if the Bears' DB coaches are just that good or whether Jennings just had a light go on, but he was a very valuable contributor and a major upgrade from Zack Bowman and he stabilized that half of the field. He still had his weaknesses, as evidenced by the 145 yards receiving he allowed to Stevie Johnson of the Bills, among others, but, for the most part, he wasn't a liability and he had an interception, seven pass breakups, a forced fumble, and 39 tackles in 13 starts. I don't think his ceiling is much higher than what he managed last year, so I think the team is certainly right to open the spot back up to competition. Either way, they're going to need to find a long term solution since Tillman is definitely on the back end of his career.

33 Charles Tillman, Cornerback
Tillman takes too much shit. I've beaten this point home time and again, but I still think most Bears fans just snapped after the Steve Smith Game in 2005 and haven't ever been able to forgive P'Nut (which is particularly stupid, since Tillman wasn't even responsible for covering Smith during most of that game). The problem is that too many people still don't get the point of the Tampa 2 defense. I understand that it's frustrating. When you explain to somebody the role of a cornerback, you usually start with "they cover the wide receivers," so cause and effect makes you want to point the finger at Tillman every time somebody gains a yard over on his side of the field. My illustrious friend Fro Dog suffers from this simply dichotomy over at, and I sympathize with his 11-on-11 mentality. He's just dead wrong.

The truth is that Charles Tillman is pretty good at his job. It sucks that he's losing a step and is, at best, a number two corner that you shift over to #1 based on the size/speed of the wideout that he's matched up against, but for a long time now he's been about as effective of a cornerback as one can ask for in that system. He's not Nnamdi Asomugha, it's true, but he's not supposed to be. You can probably count the number of times the Bears require their corners to play straight-up man-to-man in a game on one hand. Tillman's a sure tackler, he generates a ton of turnovers, and he doesn't get beat deep. That's it. That's what you want from that position in this situation, and he gives it to you.

This year he had 5 interceptions (tying his career high), 14 pass breakups, 4 forced fumbles, 3 fumble recoveries, and 72 tackles while starting all 16 games. In his career, Tillman's averaged 4 interceptions, 13 pass breakups, 3 forced fumbles, and 74 tackles in the seven seasons that he's been healthy. Those numbers compare pretty favorably to Ronde Barber, the gold standard in Tampa Two corners, who has averaged 3 ints, 11 pass breakups, 1 forced fumble, and 68 tackles a year in his career, and he gets nowhere near the shit that Tillman does. Hell, even Tillman's biggest fuck up this year, the long touchdown pass from Tom Brady to Deion Branch on the last play of the first half during the Patriots game, was actually Major Wright's fault for biting on the tight end seam and not getting over to give Tillman help over the top after Tillman released (stupid Four Verticals play. Bane of my existence). So yeah, Tillman haters, knock it off.

36 Josh Bullocks, Safety
Sucks. Did nothing of note in two years in Chicago, will now be gone. Fin.

21 Corey Graham, Safety
Wasn't very good at playing cornerback, so they moved him to safety. Wasn't very good at playing safety, so is now a special teams maven who led the team in special teams tackles, which isn't surprising since it was the only thing he did well as a defensive back. Way to find your niche, Corey.

20 Craig Steltz, Safety

27 Major Wright, Safety
Well, it's hard to say that Major Wright wasn't a disappointment this year. I had high hopes that he'd supplant Danieal Manning as the starter and that I wasn't wrong in thinking that his ball-hawking skills resembled a young Mike Brown. Instead, his durability resembled an old Mike Brown. Major had most of his training camp and preseason wiped out by injuries and only made it into 11 games this year with zero starts. Although he didn't record any interceptions, he did have a few flashes that gave me some hope. He'll have to make the biggest improvement next year out of anybody in the defensive backfield, since it is appearing increasingly unlikely that Danieal Manning will be back. Hopefully Wright can stay healthy enough and live up to his potential so that the loss will be negligible.

46 Chris Harris, Safety
Jerry Angelo made one of his best moves in years when he brought Chris Harris back this offseason for the superfluous Jamar Williams. Of course, trading away Chris Harris in order to make room for Adam Archuleta was still one of the dumbest moves of Jerry's career, so I'll restrain from giving him too much credit. Chris isn't flashy and he's not a top ten safety in any particular category. He's an above-average run defender and he's capable in pass coverage. That only makes him about 1000x better than the flotsam the Bears have rotated at that position since he left. He's also really good at hitting people, something I enjoy in my safeties. He was a steady veteran in a secondary that was mostly young and largely inexperienced. He had a career high five interceptions and added 70 tackles, although he failed to force a fumble after creating 12 of them in his three years in Carolina. He'll be back next year on the last year of his deal, and I'd expect him to earn an extension and lock down the spot for a few more years.

38 Danieal Manning, Safety
Speaking of extensions, it really sucks that Danieal rejected the one the Bears offered him. There's still hope that he'll return once the free agency period begins and the Bears can see what market value is for him, but if they lose him it'll really suck. I never imagined that I'd find myself saying that, but the numbers are undeniable: Danieal Manning was beyond outstanding last year. As PFF points out in that article, Manning allowed a passer rating of just 59.7 in his coverage, and didn't surrender a single touchdown all year long. Throw in 65 tackles (with just three missed tackles, something that used to be his biggest weakness) and you've got a guy who had a very quiet All-Pro caliber season. Naturally, after living up to his draft stock and talent for one year out of five, he rejects the Bears offer. I really hope they find a way to bring him back, because I have my doubts that Major Wright can be a top five safety. I'm willing to admit that I was wrong in saying that Lovie should have given up on the DanMan experiment a few years ago, although it's still hard to believe that the biggest reason the Bears secondary went from a strength to a weakness is the fact that Danieal himself went from the secondary's biggest weakness to it's biggest strength. Life is funny sometimes.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Killin' Time: People I Hate- Ross Tucker, Apparently.

My twitter feed is all aflutter this morning thanks to Brad Biggs (who I'm quite sure doesn't like Cutler and occassionally tries to troll Cutler fans in a very subtle manner) retweeting some list by Ross Tucker (he was a mediocre backup lineman for the Patriots in one of the years after they won the Superbowl. HE KNOWS GREATNESS WHEN HE SEES IT, FOLKS) where he ranked NFL QBs and had Jay Cutler at number 20, 1 spot behind Kyle Orton. Yep. That happened. Let's go to this list and see where Tucker could come to such an absolutely bumblefucked conclusion:

Tucker's list starts with his "tier 1" quarterbacks, which consists mostly of no-brainers and I don't disagree with in principle:

1. Tom Brady
2. Aaron Rodgers (I'd probably flip those two, actually. I know Brady's the MVP and has 3 rings to Rodger's 1, but Rodgers just fucking terrifies me in ways beyond human comprehension. He's not helped by the spread offense that inflates Brady's numbers to an extent and he's impossible to pressure thanks to his mobility. Asshole.)
3. Drew Brees
4. Peyton Manning
5. Ben Roethlisberger
6. Philip Rivers

No argument. Moving on to Tier 2

7. Michael Vick
Right now he's a one year wonder considering he set career-highs in every passing category and tailed off toward the end of the year, has durability issues, and may not repeat. I won't gripe about this one too much because he was phenomenal, so there are bigger fish to fry.

8. Josh Freeman
Also premature, given only one year, but Freeman's a very impressive physical specimen who had an outstanding year on an incredibly young offense and figures to be a top ten QB for awhile. Allowed.

9. Joe Flacco
Statistically pretty good and has already played in seven postseason games, has a talented offense around him. Still doing OK, Ross.

10. Matt Ryan.
Matt Ryan is the first beef I have, although I know this is a losing argument. He's a vastly overrated QB because of his winning %. He's 0-2 in the playoffs for a reason. He's an overrated game manager of a QB. Here's a guy that's had absolutely outstanding protection (career sack%+ of 116), an excellent running game, and one of the top wideouts in the game his entire career. What's he done? Although his TD totals have climbed, he's actually declined in effectiveness since his rookie year. His YPA has gone down from 7.9 his rookie year to 6.5 in back to back years. His QB rating of 91.0 is actually really low for a guy with a 3:1 TD:INT ratio, and it's because he's not very good at moving the ball on his own. He's 0-2 in the playoffs because teams can take away Michael Turner and force him to beat them by himself and he's not really capable of it. Oh well. He's got good numbers in some areas and he's got a winning record, so I'm not that asshurt about it. Let's move on.

11. Eli Manning
Here we go. This is a guy that's supposedly vastly superior to Jay Cutler and other because he has a Superbowl ring. He threw 25 interceptions last year but hey he was just trying to make something happen because the Giants were struggling and their offensive line is aging blah blah. Bullshit. Eli Manning threw 25 interceptions last year because he makes bad decisions and gets nowhere near as much shit for it as Cutler does. He had some of the best pass protection in the NFL last year (Sack %+ of 125) and one of the game's most effective running attacks and yet he made terrible decisions with the football. For his career Manning still has a QB Rate+ of 97, meaning he's a below average passer.

12. Tony Romo
I'm okay with this. He should actually probably be in the top ten, where he belongs statistically. He's a very good quarterback. Deal with it.

13. Matt Cassel
Nope. Not at all. Wrong. Very, very wrong. There's a reason Cassel got the shit kicked out of him and threw three interceptions against the Ravens in the playoffs. He's also an overrated game manager. He had a very solid TD to Interception ratio in the regular season. That's true. His YPA and Completion% were both average or below average. He benefitted from a team that ran the ball more than anyone else and had an absolutely outstanding running attack in a very shitty division. He's just one year removed from a season in which he posted a 69.9 rating in 15 starts. 2009 stats are obviously valid, because if they weren't and we could throw out Cutler's first disastrous year with the Bears there'd be no justification whatsoever for where he is in these rankings.

14. Matt Schaub
This is a fair place for a guy like Schaub. He's got good numbers and it's not his fault the Texans defense sucks. This is where I don't understand Tucker's methodology (assuming there is one). I mean if he's doing this statistically (hint: he's not) then Schaub absolutely belongs up here, but so does Cutler. If he's doing this based on intangibles and "winning" (which I suspect, given some of the names that are coming up soon), then Schaub doesn't go anywhere near here since he went 6-10 this year and is 25-31 in his career. That's not how I roll, so that would be a stupid reason to keep him out, but it's proof that this list makes no sense.

15. Sam Bradford
Fuck this. Fuck this to hell. This is where the list absolutely falls apart. Sam Bradford has proven Nothing in his NFL career. Absolutely nothing. He had a deceivingly good rookie year because the Rams absolutely hid him as much as possible. The guy averaged just 6 yards per attempt. He had a middling QB rating of 76.5 (rate+ of 92) and a pedestrian 18:15 TD:INT ratio because the Rams had him attempt almost nothing risky and leaned heavily on the run game. There's nothing wrong with that, and it's a safe way to handle a rookie QB, but anyone who thinks that Bradford has "proven" he's great is an idiot. Hell, Tim Couch had a rate+ of 95 in his rookie year, and look how that turned out. He belongs nowhere Near the top 15 QBs in the game, and putting him ahead of Cutler is a goddamned joke.

16. Mark F*&king Sanchez
People might think that I'm going to be the most pissed about Orton ranking ahead of Cutler on this list. Not even close. I'm more pissed about Mark Sanchez ranking ahead of nearly ANYONE in the entire NFL. He's fucking terrible. He's absolutely fucking terrible and he's managed to make 2 AFC championship games (where, I may add, he was the main reason his team fucking lost both times) and therefore he's the 16th best QB in the NFL? Fuck that.

Let's look at what Sanchez has had to work with in his career: Outstanding protection? Check, with a Sack%+ of 108 last year. Outstanding running game? Check, Jets were 1st in rushing in 2009 and 4th in 2010. Outstanding receivers? My God, would I love to see what Cutler could do with a four deep wideout corps of Santonio Holmes, Braylon Edwards, Jericho Cotchery, and Brad Smith and a first round draft pick at tight end in Dustin Keller, not to mention a great pass catching back in LaDainian Tomlinson. Oh, and how about the league's top scoring defense in 2009 and 4th best scoring defense in 2010?

So what has Sanchez done in his time with the Jets? He's been as accurate as Rex Grossman (54.4 career completion%, good for a completion %+ of 78, 22 points below league average), he's been absolutely no threat downfield (YPA of 6.6, good for a YPA+ of 91), he's failed to cash in on great field position (TD Pass%+ of 90) and a whopping rate+ of 91. He's below average in absolutely every single category except Sack%+, which just means that he wastes the protection of a great offensive line. The fact that Mark Sanchez is given any credit for the Jet's success the last two years is abominable, considering that team could probably win the superbowl if they just signed a guy like Jeff F*&king Garcia off the streets. Guh.

17. David Garrard
I'm actually not that pissed about this, frankly. Perception is that Garrard is nothing more than serviceable, and that's probably true, but statistically he's been above average on a team with a pretty mediocre o-line. I'm not going to waste breath on this because Sanchez is much more egregious and so is...

18. Kyle Orton
I know the numbers over the last two years make it seem closer than it is, but Kyle Orton is nowhere near the QB that Jay Cutler is. Like I said when defending Jay in January, if you compare them when they had the same level of talent around them (Cutler in Denver was better than or equal to Orton in every single category and is light years ahead of Orton's numbers in Chicago, even last year) it's just not even close. I've broken down from every statistical angle how the spread offense inflates Kyle's yardage and yet he's managed just 41 TD passes (9 fewer than Cutler over the last two years) on over 1039 passes and the Broncos just don't score. I'll go back to the money line:

"The problem is that when teams move from the "bend but don't break" philosophy that most defenses are forced to employ between the 20s to their red zone defenses, the underneath stuff is taken away and teams have to revert to conventional out routes against tighter coverage, the kinds of throws that NFL quarterbacks are made of. Orton, as we know, struggles with these, and the Broncos offense is a perfect example of the tendency of spread offenses to rack up yards and not points. The Broncos, despite Orton's 1,236 passing yards and the great run game leading to a 6th place ranking in total yards, are just 22nd in the league in scoring at 19.8 ppg"

That quote is from all the way back in 2009, but it still works. There's a reason, like I said, the 2008 Patriots lost nearly 10 PPG from 2007-2008 despite practically no decline in total yardage after Brady went down and Cassel took over. Mediocre QBs can move the ball in the spread, but that doesn't mean they can put the ball in the end zone. If you think I'm lying just to throw out Kyle's numbers, look at the 1999 Bears under Gary Crowton. Crowton brought the spread to the NFL from Louisiana Tech, and the Bears managed to finish 3rd in the NFL in passing behind the three-headed monster of Shane Matthews, Cade McNown, and Jim Miller, but they were 25th in scoring. The spread can hide a QB between the 20s, but not in the red zone.

The other reason often quoted for ranking Orton over Cutler is that "Orton is a winner." That argument was a lot easier to make when Orton left Chicago with a 21-12 record as a starter. Nowadays he's just 32-29 after going 3-10 with Denver this year, while Cutler is close at 34-34 and Cutler's the only one of the two to actually start a playoff game. So much for that old argument. There are those that'll argue that it wasn't Orton's fault, since the defense in Denver was so bad, which is a laughable argument since Cutler had to deal with that same awful defense when he was there (and a pretty awful one in Chicago in 2009) and Orton's only truly "successful" season in his rookie year of 2005 was entirely attributable to the Bears defense, since Orton had one of the worst passing seasons in modern NFL history that year.

Anyone who reads this site knows how loathe I am to give Josh McDaniels credit for anything, but he knew Orton's limitations and that's why he drafted Tim Tebow. Granted, Tebow was the wrong choice, but McDaniels was at least right in ackowledging that he needed someone with the arm to actually scare an NFL defense. It's also the reason why Denver's still looking to get rid of Orton. Again, this is like someone wondering why Jeff Garcia moved from franchise to franchise despite all of the "good" numbers he put up. Sometimes you just know what a guy's ceiling is.

19. Jay Cutler
And here we get to Jay. Now I'm not deluded. He's not a top ten QB right now. My list would probably look something like: 1. Rodgers, 2. Brady, 3. Brees, 4. P. Manning, 5. Rivers 6. Roethlisberger, 7. Romo, 8. Flacco 9. Vick 10. Freeman 11. Schaub 12. Cutler.......33. Sanchez. But Jay's certainly not #19 and statistically for his career he's better than Sanchez, Bradford, Cassel, and Eli Manning, he's comparable to Ryan, Flacco, Schaub, and Garrard, and using the idiotic "winner" argument he's now been to an NFC Championship game, so he's ahead of Garrard, Ryan, Schaub, Orton, Cassel, Bradford, and Romo. Plus, as we all know, Cutler's had to deal with one of the worst offensive lines in football, as they allowed more pressures in 2009 than any team in the NFL but the Redskins and were dead last in sacks last year (52) and over the last two years combined (87) and his sack%+ of 64 last year was by far the lowest of any of the QBs on this list.

When you add that all up, there's no justifiable reason for Tucker to rank Cutler as low as he did other than the fact that he doesn't like him, which is perfectly valid unless you're trying to pass yourself off as a respectable journalist like Tucker is.

I'm not a respected journalist or even a respected human being, so I feel safe saying F*&k you, Ross Tucker.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

In Review: The Linebackers

I'm rounding the corner on these unit reviews, but there's still a few left. Today we get to the heart of the defense: the linebackers. Starting with a man who didn't actually play a single down this year:

#92 Hunter Hillenmeyer, OLB
I normally wouldn't put someone who didn't play in a review, but Hunter's Bears career is most likely over and I'd like to acknowledge the five years that he did play in a Bears uniform. Hunter took a lot of crap (especially from me) throughout his career with the Bears thanks to the fact that he was always the obvious weak link in the linebacking corps, and Lovie, like the rest of us, was constantly looking for his replacement and never seemed to find him. Hunter was slow, he was a liability in coverage, and he had very limited range. However, he also managed to outlast guys like Jamar Williams (who has never had the instincts or intelligence to cash in on his talent) and he managed to be a healthy, dependable guy who really did everything that can be asked of him. I thought he was a starter-quality MLB when Urlacher went down in '09. We're used to so much more than that at that position, however, so Hunter once more bore the brunt of our disappointment. All that said, farewell Hunter, I hope that concussion doesn't have any lingering effects.

#52 Brian Iwuh, OLB
Iwuh was a good pick up to fill Dave Toub's designated special teams roster spot. Brad Biggs may still be asshurt over the Bears letting Tim Shaw go, but Iwuh was a solid contributor on special teams with ten tackles, and, unlike Shaw, he actually had some value as a defensive player. Iwuh got the start when injuries to Briggs and Tinoisamoa forced him and Nick Roach into the lineup against the Redskins, and Iwuh had a sack and a forced fumble in the game. He finished the year with 15 tackles, 2 forced fumbles, and a sack. He wasn't tendered in the brief free agency period before the lockout, but I still expect the Bears to bring him back once he lowers his asking price.

#53 Nick Roach, OLB
Nick Roach could start at outside linebacker and the Bears would be fine. He did well in 2009 when he started 15 games, although his efforts were lost in the midst of a pretty miserable season. The only thing that keeps him behind Pisa on the depth chart is that Pisa has much greater awareness and is a better defender against the pass. Both Roach and Pisa are currently free agents, so it will be interesting to see if the Bears can bring back both (although drafting JT Thomas would seem to indicate that someone's gonna go) or if they'll go with Pisa's experience and slightly better performance, or Roach's youth and potential.

#59 Pisa Tinoisamoa, OLB
Here's an interesting stat: In games started by Urlacher, Briggs, and Pisa last year the Bears were 7-1, in games where either Pisa or Briggs missed time the Bears were 4-4. Certainly Pisa is nowhere near the only reason for that, nor is the linebacking corps alone the decisive factor in winning or losing, but it just stands to reason that, as Paul Allen of the Vikings radio broadcast said, when those three are healthy the Bears win a lot of games. Pisa's been injury plagued throughout much of his career, and has managed to start just 12 of a possible 28 games as a Bear. In his ten starts this year, however, he was a highly effective complement to Urlacher and Briggs, with 40 tackles, a pass breakup, a sack, and a forced fumble. As I said, Nick Roach is a fine player, but the Bears are at their best on defense when they have Pisa in the lineup and have three veteran players who've spent most of their career in Lovie's defense and could play it blindfolded. I won't blame Jerry Angelo if he decides to give Roach a shot and doesn't gamble on another contract for Pisa, but the best case scenario is definitely that Pisa comes back healthy and gives the Bears at least one more year. Either way, depth is definitely important as this is one of the older (and yet most important and effective) units on the team.

#55 Lance Briggs, OLB
In 2009 Lance was left alone on an island on a defense that was crumbling around him and he had a subpar year by his standards. This year he had help again and reverted back to his All-Pro form despite missing his first ever start to injury agains the Seahawks and having to leave the Redskins game early on after aggravating the injury. The Bears went 0-2 in those games, which was one of the "ifs" that critics seemed to forget when listing all of the "lucky" breaks that allowed the Bears to win the games they "didn't deserve to win" while ignoring how close most of their losses were. In just 14 full games Briggs had 89 tackles, 2 sacks, 2 forced fumbles, 2 interceptions, and 7 pass breakups. He added 11 tackles, a pass breakup, and an interception in the postseason. You don't really need me to tell you that Lance Briggs is awesome, but man, he's really awesome.

#54 Brian Urlacher, MLB
I don't know how much longer Urlacher can keep this up. I'm willing to buy that the year off because of the wrist injury saved him some wear and tear, but I'm still shocked by the complete resurgence he had this year and I'm still not sure how much longer the Bears can bank on that kind of performance. I think Ray Lewis' late career revival is certainly a reason for optimism, since the Ravens rebuilt their defensive line in order to free Ray up to make plays and hide his declining ability to shed blockers, something the Bears hopefully did by drafting Stephen Paea.

All that said, I'm just going to keep believing in Urlacher until I've got a reason not to. He missed the Pro Bowl for the first time in 2004 thanks to a series of injuries and was named "most overrated player" by the Sporting News. He went out and won Defensive Player of the Year. In 2007 he was snubbed again for the Pro Bowl after his lackluster first half and had a monster of a second half and finished with his best sack and interception totals in years. In 2008 he seemed to lack his old range and explosiveness and we feared he was done. The wrist injury in 2009 cost him a chance to redeem himself, but this year he had a hell of a lot of fun playing behind a defensive line that once again scared people and the upgrade at safety behind him (with Chris Harris returning and Danieal Manning having a breakout year) allowed him to move up and make more plays underneath. He finished with 125 tackles, 4 sacks, 2 forced fumbles, an interception, and 10 pass breakups. He had a monster game against the Packers in the NFC Championship, although the "what might have been" of watching him get tackled by Aaron Rodgers on that interception return will stick with me for years. Other than that, however, it's hard to say that Brian Urlacher was anything other than amazing this year. That shouldn't have surprised me, but it did. I promise I won't be shocked if he does it again next year.