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Thursday, October 27, 2011

The Bears at the Bye, Part 1: The Offense

Last year the Bears were 4-3 headed into a week 8 bye. This year the Bears are, well, 4-3 heading into a week 8. So clearly not much has changed, no?

Well, for one, the method they used to get there was a bit different. The 2010 Bears managed to get to four wins by overcoming two teams they were supposed to have no chance against (Green Bay, Dallas), and by losing, in frustrating fashion, 3 of 4 games against mediocre or awful shitheaps (NYG, SEA, WASH). The 2011 Bears? Well, they've lost in painful fashion to three good teams, and have managed four wins of varying quality over a couple of bad teams and a couple of not-so-bad teams. The 2010 Bears lagged into the bye and needed a complete retooling, while this year's Bears appear to have regained some momentum after two straight wins.

Also, the issues that have confronted this team are almost entirely different than the ones that ailed last year's team. Sure, the shaky offensive line's been a problem for both, but otherwise the issues are quite different.

Injuries have been a big issue. The loss of Gabe Carimi and Lance Louis in weeks one and two completely reset all of the progress that had been made in the offseason and preseason towards upgrading the line. The line has certainly played better since Louis has returned, and the hope is that Carimi will represent a permanent upgrade, and keep Frank Omiyale off the field forever. Dane Sanzenbacher has played well as of late, but he still isn't an adequate replacement for Earl Bennett, whose knowledge of the playbook and versatility can't be matched by any of the other receivers.

On defense, the injuries to the safeties and the revolving door resulting therein has also been a major issue, resulting in some uncharacteristic big plays both on the ground and in the air. Harris got his release today, a surprising move considering the injury history of his replacements, but an understandable one given his poor play.

Regardless of how they got there, the Bears are 4-3. The second half of the schedule appears to have some promising soft spots (The AFC West, anyone? How about the Seahawks?), but a few places that could prove very troublesome (road trips to Philly and Green Bay, the rematch with Detroit). If this team comes back healthy and continues to play as it has the last two games, with the emphasis on Matt Forte and the whole not-giving-up-80-yard-touchd0wns-like-candy, they should make the playoffs. Otherwise, this is going to be one interesting offseason.

Anywho, now it's time to go unit by unit:


Jay Cutler
, thank God, is the only one that's played this year, and I'd say he's played well. The numbers (59% completions, only 9 TD passes) aren't great, but he's held up well under fire and you have to think his best days are ahead. The line has returned to health, Omiyale has been banished to the depths of hell, and Earl Bennett is coming back. Mike Martz appears to be making some of the adjustments (keeping guys in, bootlegs, back shoulder throws) that Jay has clearly been angling for. I think it's nice that Jay's obvious hatred for Mike has spurred Martz to actually take steps to enable his quarterback to be both productive and healthy. Crazy how that works. I'd also like to commend Jay on keeping the interceptions relatively low, when it would have been easy during the games in New Orleans and Detroit to just throw the damn thing into the crowd when your offensive line doesn't give a damn about protecting you.


Matt Forte: I don't know if I've ever seen a Bear (on offense) look as dominating as Forte has played throughout much of this season. When Martz doesn't inexplicably forget his existence (as happened in New Orleans and against Green Bay), Matt absolutely destroys opposing defenses. He's got over 40% of the team's yards from scrimmage. When you could apply that stat to someone like, say, Thomas Jones in 2004 or 2005, that was mostly due to the sad state of the offense, but the Bears haven't been embarrassing, really (16th in yards, 12th in scoring), and it's all thanks to Forte. I won't get into the contract dispute, since I've made my feelings on that apparent just like everyone else, but it's safe to say he's unquestionably the most important player on this team right now. Even if this season ends up as a disappointment in the win column, Forte alone would keep this team worth watching.

Marion Barber: He didn't play until week four against Carolina, but he's played well when he's gotten the opportunity, with 23 carries for 91 yards (4.0 ypc) and 3 rushing touchdowns. He doesn't have to do much, either, with Forte playing out of his mind on all three downs, but he's a huge upgrade over Chester Taylor , Khalil Bell, and Kevin Jones, the other three scrubs who've backed up Forte since 2008. I still don't get why Lovie didn't give him the ball on third or fourth down and inches against Detroit, and he needs to not let screen passes that hit him in the hands turn into interceptions, but other than that, I'm a big fan of the barbarian's work.

Khalil Bell: He's not good.

Tyler Clutts: the first sign that Mike Martz is maybe starting to come to his senses has been the increasing workload given to Clutts over the last couple of games. He's done an excellent job lead-blocking for Forte, even if he's shown on multiple occasions that his hands are made of righteous dolomite.

Wide Receivers:

Devin Hester: He's been awesome as ever at kick returns, with two TDs already this year, but he's been a frustrating proposition at wide receiver yet again. His excellent game against Minnesota aside, he's had a bad habit of disappearing in games where Jay really needs a go to guy. Hopefully the protection will improve and he can be more of a long ball specialist, but he's still not "the" guy and I think at his point we all know he isn't going to be.

Roy Williams: Here's the thing about Roy: when he does what he was brought her to do, like running nice, crisp dig routes and using his big body to secure balls for first downs, it's easy to see his value. When you see him weakly jogging down the sideline and allowing the safety to jump the route, or you watch him let a beautiful ball bounce off of his hands and chest on what would have been a crucial first down in field goal range, you get really, really angry. He's at least healthy now, so we'll see if he can start to produce on a regular basis in the second half. If not, well, I can go back to my time-tested practice of hating Roy Williams.

Johnny Knox: He's had a professional approach to his demotion, and he's played well, for the most part, when given a chance, as he's second on the team in receiving yards and first in yards per catch. He even broke up his first interception against Minnesota. On the other hand, his drop on 2nd and 17 against Green Bay will forever haunt my nightmares and it was a classic case of Johnny alligator arming the ball as he looked up to see where the hit was coming from. As always, he's a work in progress.

Dane Sanzenbacher: You've got to be f*&king kidding me. I spent all summer poking fun at the incredibly predictable Bears fan love affair with Sanzenbacher only to see the kid turn into a productive receiver. You have to admire the fact that Gritty McWhitenbacher managed to turn three of his seven catches into touchdowns. It's like team's can't even see him in the red zone. On the other hand, it's incredibly sad that it took one 5'11'' undrafted white guy to find Jay a reliable red zone target not named Greg Olsen. Either way, it'll be interesting to see if his role diminishes now that Earl is coming back, or if someone else loses reps because of it. You win this round, Whitey.

Earl Bennett: The BBE only caught 3 balls for 20 yards before going down with what may have been a lacerated spleen. Ouch. He's coming back for the Philly game, and I for one, am glad to see him. I'm betting Jay is happy too.

Sam Hurd: He's played. He hasn't been terrible. Hasn't been remarkable either.

Tight Ends:

Kellen Davis: Well, he's been as much of a red zone threat as his predecessor (8 catches, 107 yds, 2 TDs), but his blocking hasn't been as much of an upgrade as I hoped. It's been an upgrade, undoubtedly, but Martz still needs to get over the delusion that his tight ends can block defensive ends on their own. Windmills do not work that way.

Matt Spaeth: I like him. He's made some great blocks, and he scored a touchdown in the opener on that PA pass to the 2nd tight end that has worked for the Bears since time immemorial.

Offensive Line:

J'Marcus Webb: The numbers aren't good. He's allowed seven sacks, and he's also been penalized seven times. That said, he's still played well enough to give us hope. The raw totals aren't great, but he hasn't been consistently victimized. He's been quite dominant blocking the edge in the run game, and, outside of the Detroit game, he's been more good than bad. I think his arrow is pointing up.

Chris Williams: Well, I'll be damned. Williams has been, without a doubt, the most consistent player on the Bears entire line. He's allowed just 1 sack this year. If you saw that coming, you, sir, are some kind of sage. Not that I'm not thrilled. It'll be nice if Chris develops into a consistent starter at left guard and the Bears actually salvage something out of what could have been another first round disappointment.

Roberto Garza: Roberto's transition to center has been awesome. He hasn't bobbled snaps, he's managed the shotgun well, he's actually done something in the run blocking department and he's allowed just one sack. In short, he hasn't been Olin Kreutz, who proved that he's the asshole I long suspected him to be by walking away from New Orleans in the middle of the season. Good for you, Roberto. I love being right.

Lance Louis: I was high on Lance Louis after last year, and during the preseason. His injury really set this team back, as did the decision to go with Omiyale at right tackle in Detroit instead of Lance. Now that he's playing consistently he's been a big part of the team's success in the run game and he's certainly an improvement in protection, considering he hasn't allowed a sack this year.

Chris Spencer: Then again, Chris Spencer also hasn't allowed a sack this year and has played well out of position. I think the Bears will roll with Carimi and Louis with Carimi back, but I'm glad Spencer's making it a tough call. This is called depth. It's awesome, and it will mean a lot less Frank Omiyale in everyone's lives.

Gabe Carimi: Gabe looked promising in the preseason and against Atlanta. He allowed 1 sack in 6 quarters of work before going down with an injury. He'll get his job back, but it's nice to know Louis can step in if Gabe falters. I don't think he will, though. Carimi, Webb, and Louis give me a lot of hope for the future of this team at those spots.

Frank Omiyale: I saved Frank for last because, well, God, I hate him. How he keeps getting opportunities I'll never know, especially when he somehow recovered his job after losing it against Carolina, only to lose it again against Detroit. He's allowed 4 sacks and been penalized five times despite starting just three games. He is the Devil.

That's it for now, since this is a mile long.

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