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Sunday, March 31, 2013

2012 Bears Position Reviews: The Offensive Line

How hard is it to fix an offensive line? I ask this not in a sarcastic way, like "Jesus, how dumb are you people to not have fixed this yet?" but legitimately. The Bears problems on the offensive line go back many years, ever since the 2001 Bears were one of the league's best, and yet oldest, groups. Angelo, in his first go round at running a draft, took Marc Colombo in the first round in order to provide youthful talent to the unit. Colombo, to Angelo's credit, was a solid left tackle for several years...for the Cowboys, after he lost nearly all three years of his rookie contract with the Bears to a devastating knee injury.

The Colombo experience seemed to sour Angelo on investing premium draft picks on offensive linemen, and from 2003-2010 he drafted just one offensive lineman, Chris Williams, above the fourth round (in that time he spent one fourth round pick on Josh Beekman, and spent six seventh round and one sixth round pick on various projects, with only two middling "successes" in Lance Louis and J'Marcus Webb) before public fury forced his hand on picking Gabe Carimi.

With such a low investment of draft resources on the unit, Angelo had to find his answers in free agency. In a lot of ways, his rise and fall as a general manager had more to do with his declining success at signing free agent offensive linemen than his much-maligned misses on high draft picks. After Angelo completely overhauled the line in 2004-2005 with the additions of John Tait, Ruben Brown, Fred Miller, and Roberto Garza (and you can say what you want about Angelo or about Brown, Miller, and Garza's performance in their later years, these were great pickups), the Bears had a very effective run and pass-blocking unit that played a major part in the team's 2006 title run by clearing the way for Thomas Jones and Cedric Benson. 

Unfortunately, if you are forced to rely on highly-paid free agent offensive linemen and you don't invest in providing depth behind them with valuable draft picks, you're in for a bad time once those veterans age out of effectiveness. In 2007 Miller and Brown utterly collapsed, and Olin Kreutz began his slow decline as well. Tait retired after 2008, leaving the Bears with a gap at left tackle they've spent four years struggling to fill.

As we know, Jerry whiffed with Chris Williams and later Gabe Carimi, leaving the success of the line again dependent on low-round projects and free agents. Jerry failed to duplicate his earlier success in this department, throwing away millions on has-beens like Orlando Paces and oh-no-fucking-way-will-he-ever-bes like Frank Omiyale. The result was a line that's ranked 31st, 32nd, and 30th overall in the last three years according to Pro Football Focus. Some will give Angelo credit for "getting good value" in finding seventh rounders like Louis and Webb who developed into passable starters, but this team suffered greatly as those two took their lumps, and the other three spots around them still sucked this year. Not to mention the fact that Webb didn't show enough even in his best year to stave off getting replaced on the blind side and Louis left in free agency.

So what does it take to fix this mess? Money, in the form of contracts handed out to Bushrod and Slauson, who are both on the right side of thirty and have plenty of proven experience, which wasn't the case for the worn-out Pace or the unproven Omiyale. It's also going to take a willingness to continually invest at least second day draft picks in the position on a continual basis, whether the team feels confident in their current batch of guys or not. Experience has shown that injury, inconsistency, and age will strike at any time. I still think they'd be best served, even with Bushrod and Slauson on board, to take an interior lineman in round one.

Now that I've spent six paragraphs without reviewing a single player, I'm going to try and keep this short and sweet:


#73 J'Marcus Webb: 16 games, 16 games started, 7 sacks allowed. 

I really don't mean to sell J'Marcus short. He made huge strides last season, and he's still young and talented enough to be a good tackle. I'm glad that Phil Emery understands that potential can only buy you so much time, and that the team is still better served throwing a proven, reliable left tackle on Jay's blindside and letting Webb have the chance to take his talent and his developing skills as a run blocker over to the right side, where his still-too-frequent mental lapses in pass protection will hopefully be less devastating. If not? Too bad. I doubt anyone will shed a tear and say the Bears didn't do everything they could for J'Marcus.

#72 Gabe Carimi: 16 games, 14 games started, 6.5 sacks allowed.

To be clear, Gabe doesn't necessarily have to be the next Chris Williams. He's an absolutely elite run-blocker, ranking 9th among all offensive tackles in the NFL according to PFF. There's reason to believe he can still be a productive player inside at guard (where his +4.2 rating in four games would have made him a top 15 guard in the NFL if he managed to do it for a full season), or even at tackle if he can find a way to be something less than a complete waste of space in pass-blocking. There are those who believe his recovery from the knee injury wasn't complete, and that the resulting lack of speed and agility crippled him in pass-blocking. I hope they're right. It would be a terrible waste if he can't become a valuable contributor somewhere, but I also hope the Bears aren't banking on him starting. As of right now I'm not really sold on a competition between Carimi and James Brown at guard being a good thing. The team needs to add one more guard in the draft so the team isn't forced to rely on either of those two panning out as a quality starter.

#79 Jon Scott: 12 games, 7 games started, 1 sack allowed.

Scott is about the very definition of a swing tackle. He can play left or right tackle and he won't get utterly embarrassed in pass protection. He'll give up hurries and hits but not necessarily sacks. He also gets zero push in the run game. He was an adequate band-aid last year, and I'm not upset that the Bears re-signed him, so long as they don't start him for any reason other than injury. 

#74 Chris Williams: 3 games, 0 games started, 1 sack allowed.

He was bad, and it's over. I've wasted too many lines on him already. Sigh.


#60 Lance Louis: 11 games, 11 games started, 2.5 sacks allowed.

Lance Louis is a very good pass-protecting guard. He's also a very bad run-blocking guard. On the Bears offense, you'll take the good pass-blocking every time. If Lance had never gotten hurt, I think he'd have gotten himself an extension and would still be a Bear. With the injury, however, he was never going to get what he wanted from the team. In the end Phil managed to grab a player of similar age with more experience, who is an even better pass blocker, and is a slightly less-bad run-blocker to replace Lance, one who isn't coming off a knee injury (and doesn't have a history of missing games with injury every year of his career, as Lance has). I kind of love you, Phil Emery. I wish Lance well in Miami, though.

#67 Chris Spencer: 10 games, 5 games started, 1.5 sacks allowed.

After a very good 2011 that led both the Bears and myself to think he was somehow just a guy who found his untapped potential after six season, Spencer regressed last year and lost his job early, and never really re-claimed it despite numerous opportunities. While he allowed just one sack, he allowed frequent hits, hurries, and disruptions, and his shoddy run-blocking performance was more in line with the rest of his career than his 2011 anomaly. No one will shed tears over his departure.

#62 Chilo Rachal: 9 games, 8 games started, 2.0 sacks allowed.

I was pretty enthused about the Chilo Rachal signing. He was always a dominant run-blocker in San Francisco, grading out as the top run-blocking guard in all of football in 2010 according to PFF, and his mental lapses in pass protection were often overrated by 49ers fans. In Chicago, however, he was an unmitigated disaster. He was actually worse as a run-blocker than Spencer, his mental-lapses in pass protection became complete systemic collapses, and he committed seven goddamn penalties in just eight starts, and Mike Tice fucking complemented him on his personal foul because he gave the team "an edge." Just not, like, an edge in competition against the opposing defense. He quit in a bitch fit after the 49ers game and will probably never take a snap in the NFL again.

#78 James Brown: 5 games, 3 games started, 3.0 sacks allowed.

*Don't Make James Brown Joke* *Don't Make James Brown Joke*...James Brown may have soul, but as a guard in 2012, he was super bad. Goddammit. Actually, after a horrible debut, Brown was somewhat less than awful in his last two starts, but there's nothing to give any evidence that he's got true potential. Again, I hope Emery has a plan to draft one more guard, because a James Brown/Carimi competition at guard could just be two wrongs failing to make a right.

#70 Edwin Williams: 6 games, 2 games started, 0.0 sacks allowed.

Edwin Williams has allowed just 1 sack in 14 career starts at guard. The reason he hasn't started every single game possible for the Bears is because he doesn't do much else besides provide adequate pass protection. He's not a dominant pass-blocker, as he allows plenty of pressure whether it gets home or not, and he's never been much of anything in the run game. This is why many people think his future is inside at center, where he played in college, and I'd certainly like to see him get a shot, since his lack of power and his smaller frame would be more suited in that role. Also because Roberto Garza is shitty.

#63 Roberto Garza: 16 games, 16 games started, 5.0 sacks allowed.

No offense, Roberto. You seem like a nice guy, and for a long stretch there you were a very, very good guard. That stretch ended in 2008. Since then you were a mediocre guard for two years, and a mediocre center for a year after that. Jerry Angelo gave you a f*&king contract extension for this. Now you're just plain bad. Garza allowed five sacks, a fairly high total for a center, and was still somehow a better pass blocker than a run blocker, mostly because he was utterly useless in that department. He can still get out there on pulls and screens, but he's otherwise beaten up and tossed in the trash by any half-decent nose guard. He also committed four false starts this year. My God. Roberto Garza is Olin Kreutz. We just can't get rid of that sonofabitch.

That's all for now. After 44 sacks allowed last year, and 149 allowed since 2010, the Bears have finally made it a real priority to upgrade this dumpster fire of a unit. Marc Trestman's scheme will certainly help, but we've heard that story before. The important thing is that Emery has shown a willingness to spend money on protecting his quarterback, and I hope he's willing to invest draft picks on it as well. We can only hope Bushrod, Slauson, and the hopeful rookie-to-be-named-later can lead to the first truly productive offensive line the Bears have had since Superbowl 41.

Friday, March 29, 2013

2012 Bears Position Reviews: Tight Ends

This review is a lot easier to write now with the Bennett acquistion in the rear view mirror and Kellen Davis now a Brown. I'm not sure if I can stomache describing the performance of the Bears tight ends in 2012 if I thought there was a possibility it could happen again.

To say the TE position was an unmitigated disaster last year is probably an affront to unmitigated disasters. The Hindenburg was at least an engineering marvel at one point. Kellen Davis and Co. were just shit from start to finish.

#87 Kellen Davis: 16 games, 15 games started, 19 receptions for 229 YDs, 2 TDs, 12.1 YPC, 14.3 YPG

Oh boy. I'm going to do this review in the compliment sandwich format.

Good thing about Kellen Davis: 12.1 YPC is a nice average for a tight end.

Bad things about Kellen Davis: Well, after bitching that he was misused as a blocking and red zone only tight end under Mike Martz, Kellen got a new contract and a nice opportunity to prove himself. He responded by dropping 30% of the passes thrown his way, fumbling to start the game agains thte Houston Texans, regressing as both a pass-blocker and a run-blocker, and ultimately finished as the 55th ranked TE in the NFL, according to Pro Football Focus. I can't tell you how bad that is, but according to the internet, there are only 32 teams in the NFL, so...Kellen failing to break the top fifty may be a bad thing.

The problem with Kellen is that he looks like a great tight end. He's 6'6", 260 and he runs a 4.5 40. He gets open downfield on the seam route. Everything about him screams "throw me the ball." Then, you know, he just doesn't catch it. Kellen Davis was more ineffective at catching the football than Devin Hester. His catch rate this year made Roy Fucking Williams look like Jerry Rice.

The most disappointing thing about Kellen was that last year was a golden opportunity for a tight end to make himself an indispensable part of the offense. After Marshall the wide receiver corps was a revolving door of injured or ineffective players. Tice was apparently determined not to use Forte as the receiving threat he'd been under Martz, so any tight end worth his salt could have had one hell of a year as Jay's #2 option. Instead, the Bears would have been equally well off just putting a cardboard cutout of a tight end on the field. It, too, would get open as the defense ignored it, and it would be just as useless as Kellen as the ball bounced in futility off of it's cardboard hands onto the ground.

Good thing about Kellen: he's fucking gone. Enjoy Cleveland, pal. 

#89 Matt Spaeth: 16 games, 8 games started, 6 receptions for 28 YDs, 1 TD, 4.7 YPC, 1.8 YPG.

Matt Spaeth does one thing, and he does it well. When you pass to him, you end up with shit like that awful, awful drop against the Panthers. As a receiver he's so bad and slow that they kept Kellen Davis in the starting lineup for 15 games, for the sake of f*&k.  He finished with a +10.6 rating as a blocker from Pro Football, and was their top-rated run-blocking TE. He was, however, overpaid for a blocking specialist (the last casualty of the Martz Era, you could say) and is approaching 30, so the Bears got cheaper and younger without sacrifice too much blocking by signing converted offensive tackle Steve Maneri from Kansas City to take his place.

So long, Matt. We'll always have...did you do anything we'll remember?

#86 Kyle Adams: 15 games, 2 games started, 4 receptions for 40 YDs, 0 TDs, 10 YPC, 2.7 YPG

The only tight end from last year who has survived the purge so far, Adams isn't much more than a warm body. He's slow (4.84 40 time), he was rather unimpressive blocking and catching, and seems rather superfluous given the addition of Bennett and Maneri and with Rodriguez presumably taking a bigger role as a lead blocker and a receiving option next year.

#48 Evan Rodriguez: 12 games, 5 games started, 4 receptions for 21 YDs, 0 TDs, 5.3 YPC, 1.8 YPG

Not technically a tight end, but it didn't seem fitting to give Evan Rodriguez his own article. Despite coming out of college with a reputation as a receiving-only tight end who is a liability as a blocker, Evan was one of the top-rated lead blockers in football last year but saw just eight targets all year. The West Coast Offense is one of the few that still utilizes a true fullback, particularly in the passing game, so you would expect Evan to play a bigger part next year, provided he stays healthy and avoids further entanglements with the law.

That's all for now. Next time: the annual review of the perpetually disappointing offensive line. I'll begin steeling myself immediately.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

SKO vs. Telander 4: The Pastening

When the news came out that Brian Urlacher was leaving Chicago, I was sad for a number of reasons. First, a player who had been synonymous with the idea of “Bears Defense” for a decade was leaving us to (maybe) play for someone else.

And second, because nobody at the Sun-Times was flailing around like a lunatic about it. Even Morrissey wrote a sensible, well-measured column about how this was the right decision, no matter how painful it was.

But then, like a light out of the darkness, came Rick Telander. Riding his high, high horse and holding a jar of the finest French paste aloft, he seemed to say, “Fret not, Erik. For just as I prophesied in August that the Bears could, and should, cut Urlacher for maybe having a hurt knee, so too shall I now overreact in the complete fucking opposite direction because I have the short-term memory of an earthworm.”

And lo, Telander did open his mouth, and forth spilled italics.

2012 Bears Position Reviews: Wide Receivers

In terms of total talent, the Bears wide receiver corp improved vastly from 2011-2012. In terms of production, however, the bump in total production wasn't quite what we'd hoped, with the wide receivers combining for 197 receptions for 2526 YDs and 17 TDs in 2012 vs. 159 receptions for 2369 YDs and 9 TDs in 2011. Obviously the hope is for better protection, play-calling, and most of all health from Brandon Marshall's comrades next year. I also wouldn't be surprised to see them add a speedier alternative at the slot.

#15 Brandon Marshall: 16 games, 16 games started, 118 receptions for 1508 YDs, 11 TDs, 12.8 YPC, 94.3 YPG.

Brandon Marshall is a great football player. It's amazing to see a guy like that in a Bears uniform. I never thought it possible. He can turn short passes into long gains. He can gain separation downfield and pull down desperate heaves that seem utterly hopeless at the start. He blocks with intensity and effectiveness. He is a complete receiver, and he is a Bear. That happened.

He came to the Bears with a couple of knocks, though. They said he was a headcase, a team cancer, and that he drops too damn many balls. In his time in Chicago he's been up front and honest about his personality disorder, he's been an advocate for proper mental health care for athletes and anyone else who struggles with issues like his, and he's shown nothing but respect and dedication towards his teammates, at least in the public eye. He is, without a doubt, a steal. As for the drops? Well, yes. There were several, and they sucked. But he brought in 118 f*&king passes, so lay off him, strawman-Brandon Marshall hater that I just invented.

#17 Alshon Jeffery: 10 games, 6 games started, 24 receptions for 367 YDs, 3 TDs, 15.3 YPC, 36.7 YPG

Alshon also came into the NFL with some knocks as well. For one, he was fat. That fortunately did not become an issue this year, even when he was sidelined for long stretches during the season.

The other and somewhat related knock was that he was too slow to be a downfield threat in the NFL. That issue seemed to be put to bed in his first game, when he caught a 42 yard laser from Cutler in the back of the end zone against the Colts. For the season he led the Bears with a very good 15.3 average per reception. Like Marshall, Jeffery creates big plays by using his body and ability to create separation to fight for jump balls. Outside of one miserable game against Academy Award-winning actor Sam Shields, Jeffery was everything we could have hoped for out of a rookie wide receiver when he was on the field.

The problem, of course, was that he missed much of the season with an injury and often seemed out of sync with Jay when he came back. Hopefully, considering his lack of an injury history in college, this will all be behind him next year and he can enjoy a full season as the starting wide receiver the team needs him to be, rather than descending into the black hole of squandered potential that swallowed up guys like Mark Bradley and David Terrell.

#23 Devin Hester: 15 games, 5 games started, 23 receptions for 242 YDs, 1 TD, 10.5 YPC, 16.1 YPG

Sigh. Despite what some might think, the Devin Hester experiment at wide receiver wasn't necessarily destined to fail. Hell, in 2009 he was on pace for over 1,000 yards receiving before he got hurt, although he regressed steadily after that.  The problem wasn't that the Bears tried to make Devin Hester a receiver. It's only natural to want to find ways to get the ball in the hands of a dynamic player. The problem was always this bullshit "Devin Hester is a number one receiver" bit. Even after they abandoned that nonsense by acquiring Marshall and Jeffery, there was still an unwarranted emphasis on making Devin something special. He was still starting games on the outside long after it was obvious that Jeffery and Bennett were both better suited for it. In short, the problem was that the Bears tried to make Devin Hester a great receiver, when he was always more suited to be a role player.

Now, that's not to say there's still a place for the Hester Package. The Hester Package was stupid to begin with. Hester should never have been the focus of anything. They should have made him a slot receiver and simply another read, just like everyone else. In those situations, with matchups he could have won inside the numbers, perhaps he'd have been something useful. Instead he was awkwardly forced to run bubble-screens and other gimmicks that they telegraphed well in advance. The Devin Hester Package was, in effect, the Poochie the Dog of the Bears playbook.

Then again, a guy who has never really mastered route-running and has dropped almost 12% of all catchable balls thrown his way over the last four years deserves plenty of blame for his own failures as well. The main takeaway is that the experiment is over, and it was a failure.
#80 Earl Bennett: 12 games, 4 games started, 29 receptions for 375 YDs, 2 TDs, 12.9 YPC, 31.3 YPG

My love for the BBE is well-stated. When healthy, he's a sure handed (tops in the NFL among all NFL receivers with a meager 3.15% drop rate from 2009-2011), reliable slot-receiver who is nearly unstoppable on third down.You know where this is going, don't you?

Earl is, sadly, pretty fragile. He's missed nine games the last two seasons with an assortment of leg, arm, and chest injuries. His injury this year really seemed to throw him off, as he seemed uncomfortable in Tice's offense, and, most uncharacteristically, he dropped several passes. In the end, Bennett's numbers were disappointing for the second straight year (although he had a pretty good excuse for his lack of production after Jay went down in 2011). Hopefully he can reverse the trend of declining health and production next year, or we'll have wasted a good nickname for nothing.

#14 Eric Weems: 12 games, 1 game started, 2 receptions for 27 YDs, 0 TDs, 13.5 YPC, 2.3 YPG

I'm still not sure why the hell Eric Weems and Devin Hester are both on the roster. If Hester's not going to be a receiver at all next year, that leaves over $3.5 million in cap room dedicated to two pure return specialists in a league that's practically eliminated half of the return game with the new kickoff rules. Something's gotta give here.

As for Weems' play in 2012, well, he was a good blocker when he did play at receiver, and he caught half of the four passes thrown his way all season. So, that was nice. 

#18 Dane Sanzenbacher: 4 games, 0 games started, 1 reception for 7 YDs, 0 TDs, 7.0 YPC, 1.8 YPG

Sanzenfucker is gone. Let us not speak of him again.

That's all for now. Next time: struggling to come up with the right combination of swear words to describe Kellen Davis.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

2012 Bears Position Reviews: Runningbacks

Mike Tice was supposed to return the Bears offense to traditional, ground-and-pound BEAR FOOTBAW after the team often forgot that half of the offense under Mike Martz. One would think that Tice was an improvement after the Bears finished 10th in the NFL in rushing, but they actually rushed for fewer yards (1970) in 2012 than they had (2015) the year before, just one of many disappointments that the brief Tice Experiment represented.

#22 Matt Forte, 15 games, 15 games started, 248 attempts, 1094 YDs, 5 TDs, 4.4 YPA, 72.9 YPG, 44 rec., 340 YDs, 7.7 YPC, 1 TD.

Taken as a whole, Matt Forte's numbers look respectable, and pretty similar to his very good 2010 campaign, if not the ridiculous season he was on pace for before his injury in 2011. From week to week, however, the story was quite different. Mike Tice seemed to have the not-altogether horrible idea of keeping Forte from having to single-handedly carry the offense as he had the previous year. In reality this led to Tice using Forte irregularly, replacing him with Michael Bush at awkward intervals, and ultimately giving him just 15 or fewer carries in nearly half of his starts. For comparison's sake, Forte had just 8 games with 15 or fewer carries in his last 22 games (minus the Kansas City game where he was injured) under the notoriously pass-happy Mike Martz (the Bears went 15-7 in that time).

Even worse than Tice's inconsistent use of Forte as a runner was his use of Forte as a receiver. Forte had fewer catches this year than in any other year of his career. Even worse than that, his yards per reception average dropped to a paltry 7.7, well below the 10.1 YPC he averaged in two years under Mike Martz. Far too often Tice called plays that featured Forte as a checkdown, rather than a featured target on wheel routes or screens, two plays that were successful staples of Martz offense. Hopefully Trestman will restore the runningback to prominence in the passing game, as he did in 2002 with the Raiders when Charlie Garner had 91 receptions for 941 YDs.

#29 Michael Bush, 13 games, 1 game started, 114 attempts, 411 YDs, 5 TDs, 3.6 YPA, 31.6 YPG, 9 rec., 83 YDs, 9.2 YPC.

Michael Bush's statistics may not appear to be that much better than Marion Barber's from 2011, but the impact he had on the team in short-yardage and goal-to-go situations cannot be overstated. for the first time in recent memory we had no reason to fear when the Bears needed to pick up a yard in crunch time. Of course, sometimes Tice forgot he existed and opted to go empty backfield on 2nd and inches and GOD DAMMIT ANOTHER INTERCEPTION ON A SEAM ROUTE TO KELLEN DAVIS. Unfortunately, his injury came just as the tailspin was beginning, and he was sorely missed. Hopefully he can stay healthy next year, because he's a very useful player to have.

#32 Kahlil Bell, 4 games, 0 games started, 29 attempts, 76 yards, 2.6 YPA, 19.0 YPG, 1 rec., 11 YDs, 11.0 YPC.

Bell was cut in the preseason, as the Bears gave him a new contract in the offseason solely to put the squeeze on Forte. He was re-signed while Forte was hurt and lacked the burst he had shown the year before. He's gone once more and will probably not return.

#25 Armando Allen, 15 games, 0 games started, 27 attempts, 124 yds, 1 TD, 4.6 YPA, 8.3 YPG, 2 rec., 16 YDs, 8.0 YPC.

Allen, previously an afterthought, turned out to be a swift change of pace back who provided a nice complement to the bigger and more powerful Forte and Bush. He's got potential and seems to have proven that he can be trusted with more carries, if needed.

That's all for now, next time I will salivate over Brandon Marshall and pour my scorn upon the (hopefully) last days of the Devin Hester Package.

Monday, March 25, 2013

The Well, I Guess I Am Doing This Afterall 2012 Bears Position Reviews: Quarterbacks

I told myself I wasn't going to do this awful, time-consuming position-by-position recap of the Bears roster this year. It's often depressing, I'm usually burnt out after another late season collapse, and half the people I review are usually gone in free agency by the time I actually finish it. That said, well, the draft is a long way and I'm bored, and so you get to benefit.

Starting today with the quarterbacks:

#6 Jay Cutler: 15 games, 15 games started. 255/434 (58.8%), 3033 YDs, 19 TDs, 14 INTs, 81.3 Rating, 7.0 YPA, 11.9 YPC, 202.2 YPG

More than anything else in 2012, Jay Cutler was the victim of one thing. You could say poor protection, once again, but the culprit was something other than that: wishful thinking. You see, before this year the Jay Cutler camp was pretty neatly divided into the people who have hated him since day one and always will, barring anything but a Superbowl victory, and the more rational part of the fanbase that saw him as a very good quarterback frequently struggling to overcome a supporting cast that's anything but. We'd drawn up those battle lines three years ago, and things had worked out pretty well so far.

Then Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery came along. Mike Tice replaced Mike Martz. Gabe Carimi was going to be the starting right tackle, finally. All of these things meant change, we told ourselves. We even believed that Mike Tice, who had never called plays, had to automatically be an upgrade over Mike Martz, a guy who once directed the NFL's highest-scoring offense in history, simply because he was going to eliminate seven step drops. All of us, including myself, fell into this trap and refused to accept any of the possible evidence to the contrary. The result was that we assumed the problems that ailed the Bears offense were solved before they'd even played a down, and Jay Cutler now pays for this mistake.

As it turned out, while Brandon Marshall is great, there's only so much one wide receiver can do, while Alshon Jeffery and Earl Bennett struggled to even stay on the field, Devin Hester regressed for the fourth straight year, and the tight end position was a black hole where one of every three passes clanged off of stone hands and fell to the ground. Gabe Carimi was even worse in pass protection than the turnstiles the team had thrown out there before him, and was just one of the offenders on Pro Football Focus' 30th ranked offensive line. Perhaps worst of all, Mike Tice proved to be nothing more than a slightly more ballsy John Shoop, a guy with a motley collection of plays that lacked any of the founding principles or cohesion of a legitimate offensive system who often seemed to be just throwing shit at the walls in hopes that something would stick.

But I know, I know. No more excuses for Cutler. You're tired of them. Hell, I'm tired of them. I'm not sure anymore he can be the top ten quarterback I long believed him to be, but I also know that they still haven't created an environment that would allow any quarterback to be one.

In case you haven't heard, from Rosenbloom, Bernstein, or any of the other hacks, this year the story is the same: No more excuses for Jay. Before they've even taken a snap, Jermon Bushrod and Martellus Bennett have fixed the offense, so everything that happens is to be pinned, once again, on the shoulders of number 6. Should they fail, as so many Bears free agents have before them, it doesn't matter, because they're not supposed to, and it'll be Jay's fault if they do.* This time, though, there'll be no reprieve because time will have run out.

That'll be a shame, because, all bullshit aside, Jay's still a damn good quarterback. Pro Football Focus gave him a +8.7 grade this year, his best since his Pro Bowl season in 2008. That doesn't necessarily jive with his conventional numbers, but it turns out you get a much different picture if you factor out the 12% of Jay's passes that were dropped, or consider that, with Tice calling deep balls on a whopping 15.9% of his passes, Jay didn't often have the luxury of padding his stats with routine completions. It's also impressive that he was 3rd in the NFL in completion % while under pressure, considering he was under duress more than any other QB on a contending team.

So yeah, the excuses are gone, even if the problems may not be. After years of "defining moments" for Jay Cutler that actually weren't, he will make or break himself next year. I sure hope he pulls it off, because I don't want to look back on the last five years as a waste. With just one more 3,000 yard season he'll assume his place as the leading passer in Bears history, and yet some people think they'll be better off without him. I have a hard time believing that.

#2 Jason Campbell: 6 games, 1 game started. 32/51 (62.7%), 265 YDs, 2 TDs, 2 INTs, 72.8 Rating, 5.2 YPA, 8.3 YPC, 44.2 YPG

I always wonder why the people who criticize the sometimes underwhelming numbers Jay posts as the Bears starting quarterback never bother to compare them to the numbers of everyone else who has tried starting a game for the team in Jay's absence the last three years. Sure, there's more than enough reason to believe Todd Collins and Caleb Hanie would suck even if you place them on the Patriots, but Jason Campbell has always put up respectable numbers on terrible Redskins and Raiders teams with shoddy offensive lines of their own. Even he, however, seemed completely shell-shocked, indecisive, and overwhelmed by the poor situation he was placed in in this offense. Oh well. At least the Bears sabotaged him enough to lower his asking price to a point where they can probably re-sign him to back up Jay again this year?

#12 Josh McCown

Cut at the end of the preseason and re-signed when Jay was concussed. Probably back coaching high school football again.

That's it for now. Tomorrow (maybe) I'll move onto the runningbacks.

*- I don't think Bushrod or Bennett will be disappointments. I certainly hope they won't, but we still shouldn't jump the gun, again. 

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Goodbye, Brian

As you probably know, the Bears have announced that they've moved on from Brian Urlacher. For the first time in thirteen years, the Bears will go into the season with a different starting MLB.Urlacher supposedly was given an offer of one year, $2 million and opted not to take it. We'll see how that works out for him.

Let's get the basics out of the way before I move on:

1) This was the right move. Anyone who wants to deny that Urlacher was not very good last year is a fool. His numbers were down, Pro Football Focus had him graded at -11.2, and he suffered two major injuries in two years. His on-field play was highly unlikely to return to form. The Bears could very easily replace his production from last year with a street free agent or a rookie. As for his play from 2000-2011, well, Brian wasn't going to give that to you either.

2) Phil Emery is going to take a lot of shit. The word disrespect will be thrown out a lot. Urlacher's leadership will be mentioned incessantly. His teammates will be interviewed and the locker room will be "upset." All of this was said about Olin Kreutz, and he was terrible before retiring less than half of the way through the season. None of these intangibles will add up to a good football player anymore, and none of them would justify committing precious resources to a burned-out player. As for the locker room? They'll shut up and play football because it's their fucking job. Also, understand that the same columnists and jackasses who will wax nostalgic about Brian and criticize the Bears for letting him go are the exact same people who got an entire summer's worth of work out of writing about how the Bears were foolish not to realize he was done last year.

3) I'm aware this leaves the Bears "thin" at linebacker. I have a crazy gut instinct though that they will add players before the season starts in September. This is because I am psychic and can see beyond your mortal realm.

All of the sarcasm aside, this is still sad news, even if it's not bad news. It's difficult to explain what Brian Urlacher meant to any Bears fans who are my age. Those of us who were born or grew up after the Ditka Bears had long since retired or declined spent years suffering at the hands of Dave Wannstedt and Dick Jauron without a single thing to hang our hat on. The team desperately tried to make names out of guys like Erik Kramer, Curtis Conway, and Big Cat Williams, but no one outside of Chicago truly cared.

Urlacher didn't bring respectability to the franchise, as some may say. They were still embarrassing for a good part of his career. But he did give you a reason to watch besides sheer obligation. He was exciting. He was dominant. He had a combination of speed and power that we're probably not going to see again at that position in a generation. He was a Bear worthy of comparison to the guys our Dads rooted for, and we loved him for it.

He was frequently derided as overrated, and to some extent he was. He was a Hall of Fame player, but we had nothing else and so we made him out to be even more than that. We bought his jersey in record numbers and brought him unwarranted criticism just because people were tired of hearing us talk about him even while the team was going 4-12, but he was something to root for, and we really, really needed that.

Later in his career the team really did become respectable, and unlike Sammy Sosa, the last Chicago superstar to make a living out of being the hero of a terrible franchise, he wasn't threatened by the emergence of other stars like Briggs, Tillman, Forte, or even Cutler. He wanted to win. It's a shame they never won it all with him on the roster. They were close, and no one fought harder than he did to get there.

So yes, today is a sad day. I'm sure Erik will have his work cut out for him fighting off the tidal wave of stupid this will unleash, but today we can at least agree with the meatheads on one point. It will really suck to not have Brian Urlacher anymore, even if they won't understand that the Brian Urlacher we all loved disappeared with his knee ligaments in Minnesota last year.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

And We're Back! Sadly, so is Morrissey.

First and foremost, I apologize for our extended absence from the airwaves. Red usually does some X’s and O’s shit during this period, but there seemed little point in doing so during a period of major transition. I had little to comment about in the media, as there just hadn’t been much to talk about until free agency began. Iggins! is just butthurt that nobody else around here cares about basketball, no matter how creatively he names his posts.

Anyway, as you may have heard, not one, not two, but three Chicago sportswriters came away from Tuesday’s glorious acquisitions of Martellus Bennet and Jermon Bushrod thinking “Man, we’ll finally get to blame Jay Cutler when he fails.” Seriously, it’s like they want him to lose just so they can be right.

Since he’s the most offensive, and also because we just flat-out dislike him the most, I chose to go after Morrissey’s. Did you really expect anything else? You know the drill by now, he’s in italics.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Me and Marty B: Bears Free Agency So Far

Oh, hello there. You may have forgotten we existed. That's okay. We kind of did, too. Sure, I probably should have done my yearly methodical player reviews to fill the space between our discussion of Lovie/Trestman and free agency, but there were other, more important things and I didn't feel like doing it. Sue me.

The last two days, however, have provided actual activity to discuss, so let's get to it.

As you all know by now, the Bears have made two major free agent signings: LT Jermon Bushrod of the Saints for five years and nearly $40 million, and TE Martellus Bennett for a rumored four years and $20 million. If you've been following those developments on Twitter than you also know two things: Bushrod is overpaid and was barely better than J'Marcus Webb this year and Marty B. is somewhat crazy.

Here's what I have to say about point one: Yes, if you are just looking at Bushrod as an upgrade at left tackle, he probably didn't out play J'Marcus Webb enough in 2012 to justify his contract. According to Pro Football Focus, the source of this controversy, Webb finished the year with an overall grade of -0.8 while Bushrod finished at +1.5. That's not a vast difference, certainly not one worth $7 million annually, so clearly the Bears made a mistake, right?

I disagree. Bushrod did have a slow start this year (after starting at -7.5 in his first three games, he was much closer to his 2011 form the rest of the year), but still finished with a positive grade. He also was one of the top ten tackles in all of football in 2011 at +14.0, while Webb is just a year removed from a -16.2 in 2011. That right there IS a vast difference.

Considering Bushrod is just 28, there's no reason to believe that a repeat of his above-average 2012 is what to expect going forward, rather than his stellar 2011. There's also little reason to believe that Webb, who had to make monumental leaps just to reach his slightly-below-aveage peak this year, is going to develop much beyond that. Their metrics also don't account for the fact that Webb frequently required the assistance of tight ends and runningbacks, while Bushrod was left alone on nearly 80% of Drew Brees' 697 dropbacks (the Bears attempted just 529 dropbacks). As the Pro Football Focus guys themselves said, "With a fan base baying for a change of plan at left tackle it would’ve been a very brave move to leave Webb in place for the 2013 season."

Even if Bushrod simply repeats his 2012 performance, however, that's still not an indication that the Bears were wrong to sign him. This team needed to add a proven tackle. They made a hard push for Phil Loadholt, the Vikings right tackle, before he chose to stay in Minnesota. That right there should tell you that they understand that Webb wasn't a disaster at LT this year. Once Loadholt was off the market,  the Bears were left with a market that contained more good LTs than RTs, and they realized that adding a quality tackle is better than not adding one.

Lost in all of this is that the Bears aren't cutting J'Marcus Webb, who suddenly has a strangely large and dedicate following despite years of often unwarranted criticism. Emery's already announced that Webb will compete at right tackle, if he wins the job (and sorry, Gabe Carimi, but there's little reason to believe he won't), there's plenty of reason for optimism. Webb's light years ahead of the raw, undisciplined rookie who posted a -32.5 grade in 9 starts at RT in 2010. This is a move that may have improved both tackle positions, and not just provided a marginal upgrade at one. It's a good move.

As for point two: Oh yeah,  Marty B. is crazy. That's a well-established pattern from the day at the combine when he answered a question regarding him playing both basketball and football in college with "football is my wife, basketball is my mistress." In his press conference today he referred to himself as the Black Unicorn and said he signed with the Bears because they're his second favorite animal after dinosaurs.

He's also a very good tight end. After emerging from Jason Witten's shadow in Dallas and signing with the Giants last year he caught 55 passes for 626 yards and 5 TDs. He's also what Pro Football Focus described as an elite blocker, and that factored into their statement that Bennett was undoubtedly the best TE on the market, even if Jared Cook was a flashier receiver. This is a huge upgrade over Kellen Davis (fun stat: he dropped 29.6% of all catchable balls thrown his way last year. Woof), but you didn't need me to tell you that.

The next few days and weeks before the draft will truly show us what Phil Emery is made of, as he juggles the monumental tasks of creating cap space, cutting veterans (Kellen Davis, Matt Toeiana, and Matt Spaeth all got the axe today or will in the next few days), and figuring out if/how to re-sign the teams own veterans and add a few other bargains, if possible. As Emery himself said in his press conference, the Bushrod and Bennett moves are also important in that they gave the team a great deal of flexibility in the draft. I'm sure I'll have more to say by then.

Conclusion: These were good moves. Go Bears.