Tuesday, November 6, 2012

It's Halftime in Chicago: The Offense

Clint is unimpressed
The last couple of years I've been able to break down the Bears at the bye week, since it's come very close to the mid-point of the season. This year the bye came a bit too early for that much perspective, so I've waited till now. As in the past, I'll break things down in thirds by offense, defense, and coaching.

On offense the story, as we know, has been inconsistency, but count me among those who think their struggles are a bit overrated. I've seen bad offense. I am a f*&king connoisseur of bad offense. This is not a bad offense. Is it a bad offensive line? Possibly, although they've been a dominant run-blocking unit when they commit to it. Their protection issues are still irritating, but the sacks tend to come in fits and starts and there are long stretches of competence (two sacks or fewer in four games, 5 or more in three). Bad offenses, regardless of opponent, do not rack up 500 yards of total offense, as they did against the Jaguars. They do not score 41 points against what is currently a 5-3 team. Bad offenses do not have Jay Cutler, Brandon Marshall, and Matt Forte. They may not have figured out how to find that consistency and balance that great offenses have, but they're far closer than they've ever been in recent memory.

QUARTERBACKS:

#6 Jay Cutler: 144/241 (59.8%), 1774 YDs, 12 TDs, 8 INTs, 7.4 YPA, 85.3 Rating
The statistics aren't mind-blowing, but outside of the debacle in Green Bay he's having the best season of his Bears career. He's mostly kept his composure and avoided putting the defense in bad situations, he's gone for the big play when it will put the dagger into the heart of opposing defenses, he's clearly relishing having Brandon Marshall back, and he also shut up more than a few of the idiots who questioned his toughness by taking a bone-shattering hit from Ndamukong Suh and coming back in after one play. In his last four games he's got a 7-2 ratio with a 94.7 rating despite some typically shaky protection. The second half of this season is probably the most important stretch of his career to this point. He's either going to be the guy we all hope he can be, or he's going to get all of the blame for what could only be considered a major disappointment after this start. I think he's going to seize the opportunity, but to do it he's going to need to stay patient early in games, get the ball out of his hand quicker, and look off of Marshall earlier in his progressions.

#2 Jason Campbell: 1/1 (100%), 0 YDs, 0 TDs, 0 INTs, 0.0 YPA, 79.2 Rating
I mostly just posted Campbell's stat line to demonstrate how incredibly flawed passer rating is. Jason, unfortunately, had to actually take meaningful snaps in a regular season game becuase of Jay's ribs. He didn't really do anything, and the scare ended as soon as it had begun, so we'll have to wait and hopefully never find out what Jason would do as head of the offense. I'm at least 72% sure that he'll be better than Hanie if that opportunity comes. I'm willing to leave that question unanswered, though.

RUNNINGBACKS:

#22 Matt Forte: 107 rushes, 539 yds, 5.0 ypr, 3 TDs, 20 receptions, 179 yards.
The offense still runs through Matt Forte, even if Mike Tice tends to forget that at times. He's averaging 103 yards from scrimmage per game, down from last year's ridiculously high total, but understandable given that he's no longer the team's best receiver, he was slowed for a bit with his ankle injury, and he actually has a true complementary back in Michael Bush. The team's going to need to lean on him more in the weeks to come. When they do, they tend to win a lot of ball games.

#29 Michael Bush: 77 carries, 236 yds, 3.4 ypr, 3 TDs, 7 receptions, 66 yards.
He's a beast. His yards per carry is rather low since the Bears basically used him to grind out the clock for three quarters against the Rams, but he's been extremely effective in the short yardage and goal-to-go situations that they brought him in for, he tends to wear down defenses on the few series that he gets each game, and he's actually shown some pretty good elusiveness as a receiver, twice hurdling defenders for first down receptions. So far he's everything we thought Chester Taylor and Marion Barber were going to be.

#25 Armando Allen: 17 rushes, 90 yds, 5.3 ypr, 1 TD
I don't want to make too much out of his garbage time yardage, but he's shown some nice burst and he hits the hole fast. A nice change of pace back.

#32 Kahlil Bell: 12 rushes, 32 yds, 2.7 ypr, 1 reception, 11 yds.
Cut in the preseason. Re-signed when Forte got hurt. Ineffective in his few opportunities, cut again. Always a bridesmaid...

RECEIVERS:

#15 Brandon Marshall: 59 receptions, 797 yds, 13.5 yds/rec, 7 TDs
There really aren't enough superlatives to describe the joy that watching Brandon Marshall brings me after years of Johnny Knox, Bernard Berrian, Roy Williams, Muhsin Muhammed, and all of the other impostors the Bears have thrown out there as "#1 receivers." This guy is everything you could possibly want. He's big, he's surprisingly fast, he changes the way defenses approach the team, and the little things that he does as far as adjusting to under/overthrown balls, leaping for jump balls, and catching back shoulder throws are a breath of fresh air after decades of shit. He's on pace to shatter nearly every franchise receiving record, and, well, what more do you want me to say?

#80 Earl Bennett: 16 receptions, 178 yds, 11.1 yd/rec.
Unfortunately, in a fairly common pattern for his career, the BBE missed several games early with a hand injury. He's been back the last couple of weeks and used somewhat sparingly for various reasons (Cutler injured and the passing game shut down against Detroit, Cutler getting killed for an entire half against Carolina, Tennessee couldn't cover Marshall), but he's hopefully working his way back, with 6 receptions in the last two games. When he caught consecutive first downs against the Panthers it seemed to change the entire momentum of the game, so hopefully Cutler can remember that Earl was his guy before Brandon was his guy again, and that's it okay to have two guys, and is in fact really good for an NFL offense to use said guys.

#17 Alshon Jeffery: 14 receptions, 184 yds, 13.1 yd/rec, 2 TDs
In Jay's defense, he did look for Alshon Jeffery when Marshall was taken away from him early in the season. Jeffery, like Marshall, has been everything we could have hoped for from a second round draft pick. Unfortunately, he broke his wrist while making a great touchdown grab against Jacksonville and his still working his way backs. Most reports say he'll be back against the 49ers while a few optimists have speculated his return against Houston. Hopefully it's sooner rather than later, because the passing game, especially the quick game, is much more effective when he and Marshall are both on the field.

#23 Devin Hester: 13 receptions, 13.5 yd/rec, 1 TD
He's had a few great moments, like his TD against the Cowboys and his great diving grab against the Jaguars, but the song's mostly been the same for Devin. Hopefully he'll be relegated to an even smaller role once Jeffery and Bennett are both available for only the third time all season. Sorry, Devin, but this experiment's over. On special teams, he's been mostly hesitant and somewhat awful at times, but he still impacts opposing coaches and sent Ron River into full-blown hysteria, apparently. So that's nice.

TIGHT ENDS:

#87 Kellen Davis: 10 receptions, 144 yds, 14.4 yds/rec, 2 TDs
For all of the fuss about Tice making greater use of the tight end than Martz, Davis is barely ahead of last year's pace. Of course, it'd help a lot of if he didn't drop every third pass thrown his way, but he's trying. His touchdown against Carolina was super awesome? He's also regressed a bit as a pass protector, with 3 sacks and several hurries allowed. Hopefully he'll play better in the second half, because they need production from that position, either as a receiver or giving Jay time to find his other guys.

#89 Matt Spaeth: 1 reception, 4 yds. 4.0 yds/rec.
On twitter, during the Panthers game, several media members tore into Jay for overlooking a wide-open Spaeth and forcing an incompletion to Marshall. On the very next play, Jay hit Spaeth for a first down with tons of room to run...and Spaeth had an absolutely brutal, unforced drop. He's also been poor in pass protection based on his usual standard, getting beat against Carolina and Tennessee. He'll need to step it up to avoid losing playing time to Evan Rodriguez.

#86 Kyle Adams: 2 receptions, 24 yds, 12.0 yds/rec.
Be honest. Do any of you remember either of these passes that Adams has allegedly caught? That's really all I have to say here, honestly. Haven't paid much attention to him.

#48 Evan Rodriguez:
He hasn't contributed much on the stat sheet, yet, but in his limited snaps in four game's he's been Pro Football Focus' highest-rated lead-blocker. Considering the knock on him out of college was that he was more of a receiver than an in-line blocker, it should be interesting to see what kind of problems he might pose if the Bears ever make an attempt to get him the ball against a defense that's been lulled into believing he's merely a crash-test dummy.

OFFENSIVE LINE:

#73 J'Marcus Webb: 5.5 sacks allowed, 1 false start, 1 hold, 1 illegal hands to the face.
J'Marcus hasn't actually been terrible this year. He's actually been adequate, and sometimes more than adequate. The 5.5 sacks is a high total, but below what he's done the last couple of years and is more impressive when you consider that 3 of those sacks came in one game when Tice left him alone against Clay Matthews on 11 different occasions. The biggest improvement in J'Marcus has been in his run-blocking, where he's graded out positively almost every game, and in his discipline, as she's cut down on his false starts and holdings dramatically. His facemask against Tennessee that caused a safety was pretty bad, but I pin that one on Tice for passing in the end zone on 2nd and 14 with the lead in the first quarter. Keep it up, J'Marcus.

#62 Chilo Rachal: 1 sack allowed, 2 false starts, 1 unnecessary roughness.
Chilo had some trouble with his run-blocking against the Titans, but he's otherwise been a pretty solid, if not spectacular, player on the left side. He's certainly an improvement over Spencer or Chris Williams. Congratulations, Bears, after five years, you've upgraded the left side of your offensive line from total disaster to "possibly average, from time to time."

#63 Roberto Garza: 1 sack allowed, 3 false starts. 
After committing just 1 penalty all of last year (a hold) Garza has put on his best Olin Kreutz impression with three false starts at center in the first half. Please stop that. He's also been largely ineffective as a run-blocker.  It might not hurt to see if Spencer could be an upgrade at his natural position of center.

#60 Lance Louis: 2 sacks allowed, 2 false starts.
In 13 career starts at guard, Lance Louis has graded positively as a run blocker and allowed just 3 sacks. As a right tackle last year he allowed 10 sacks in just 11 starts. This year he's been the most consistent performer on the line and is the best-all around blocker on the team. He also flashed his old tight end skills with his first career reception on a tipped pass against the Titans. So far three of Tice's projects, Louis, Rachal, and Webb, are starting to pay dividends. Hopefully they can continue to make progress, because they'll be severely tested in the weeks to come.

#72 Gabe Carimi: 4.5 sacks allowed, 3 false starts, 3 holds, 1 unnecessary roughness.
The numbers don't really do justice to how bad Gabe Carimi has been in pass protection. He's allowed over 20 hurries and hits. He is, to quote Iggins! once more, " a dumpster fire." Now, he is also one of the highest ranked run-blocking tackles in all of football and he's the best run-blocker on the Bears. That doesn't make you feel less panicked about the future, does it? Me neither. He's a gaping hole in pass protection and that's what's going to count more than his run-blocking excellence down the stretch. There are plenty of excuses to be made about his knee injury, his relative inexperience, and that's fine, but there's been no evidence of progress throughout the year, and that is certainly concerning. Hopefully it gets fixed, but if there's one Bear that I'm struggling to find my optimism for, it's Gabe.

#67 Chris Spencer: 1 sack allowed, 1 holding.
He was mediocre throughout the preseason and was bulldozed in the run game against Indy and Green Bay. He played very well at right guard last year, but the switch to left just wasn't his thing. Would be interesting to see what he or Eddie Williams could possibly do at center if Garza continues to falter, but, much like his predecessor, Garza is a long-tenured, well respected veteran and it will take a complete disaster to get him benched.

That's it for the offense. Later this week I get to splooge all over the defense. Looking forward to it!

Go Bears.