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Thursday, September 12, 2013

Bits and Bites: Week 1

Welcome to this week's edition of Bits and Bites,  where I'm being crushed to death by the number of people who somehow don't think the Bears' victory on Sunday counts. But we'll get to that on the podcast, I'm sure, so I'm not going to dwell on it. Instead, I bring you the glorious gift of stupid.

First, we have the time-honored tradition of Week One Power Rankings.  Mike Florio over at Pro Football Talk had a really baffling set this week, but his Bears entry stands out as particularly stupid. He has them ranked 12th, which actually isn’t that bad. I would’ve put them ahead of the Lions and Saints, but certainly 12 is nothing to sneeze at considering it’s been one game.

It’s his description that got me. His one-sentence take on the Bears is this: “We won’t really know about this team until it encounters adversity and Jay Cutler shoves someone.”

I’m just going to tackle the first part of this statement calmly and logically and try to calm down before I get to the end.

“We don’t know” is absolutely a fair statement to make. They looked solid, they showed improvement in the most important areas against an opponent seemingly built to test their offseason improvements, but in the end it’s a single game and you can’t really know anything about a team’s seasonal prospects based on one outing.

But in what way is an 11-point second-half deficit against a stingy defense not “adversity?” Especially considering the offense had shown little inclination to pick up the pace, and Dalton had just executed an effortless TD drive. If that doesn’t count, what exactly does count as an adverse circumstance?

They got in the hole, made some adjustments, stayed calm under fire and fixed the situation. I won’t say they’ll never perform less admirably under pressure, but certainly Sunday built my confidence that they can deal with adversity.

But that’s not what Mike means. Because the last part of that sentence is there. “Until it encounters adversity and Jay Cutler shoves someone.” See, to Florio, “adversity” simply means “any scenario that gets me to see what I want to see.” They could play 14 flawless games, and in the 15th Jay could shout at a lineman and the entire football media world will say “SEE WE TOLD YOU ABOUT DIS JAY CUTLER FELLA HE’S NOT A GOOD LEADER.”

“We won’t really know about this team until we see something that allows us to confirm what we are already going to say about this team” would’ve been an accurate statement. Note the not-entirely-subtle assertion that Jay Cutler will shove someone, it’s just a matter of time and “adversity.”

He did it one time, to a player that we were all angry at. That is pretty much the only thing Jay Cutler has ever done to earn his “hothead” reputation.

On Monday night, Philip Rivers pushed a referee while arguing about a clear-cut call and earned a familiar chuckle from Jon Gruden and his usual moniker of “a real fiery competitor.” Jay Cutler shouted at a man who allowed him to be repeatedly teabagged by Thor, and people are still pointing to it a year later.

Mike Florio says “we won’t really know about this team,” but what he means is “I already know, and no matter what happens on the field I’m sticking to my only real prediction: Jay Cutler is a bad quarterback.”

Up next is former offensive lineman Jamie Dukes, who gave a very confusing interview in which he said the offense “looked like the same old Bears” in a bunch of different ways and then not-very-subtly implied that Lovie Smith got fired and couldn’t find another job because he’s black.

The whole thing was dumb, but here’s the line that really stood out: “I didn’t see anything ‘wow!’ offensively, where a unicorn popped out of someone’s head and they did something miraculously. It was the same Bears.

First, this team totally has a unicorn.

And furthermore, what?

I hesitantly assume that Jamie didn’t actually believe that Unicorns and exploding heads would feature prominently in Trestman’s offense. But that statement, coupled with the performance that he declares to be “the same old Bears” begs the question: What in God’s name was he expecting?

In a week when everyone is too busy stroking themselves while thinking about Chip Kelly to notice that the blur is just a spread where you call the plays really fast, it’s understandable that Trestman’s system isn’t exactly making waves. That does not mean that anything less than a total overhaul of the system is just doing the same old thing.

I mean yes, the quarterback still threw a ball to men who caught it with their hands and ran toward the end of the field. Yes, some men still attempted to hit him, and still more men pushed them away from him to help him throw. It seems to me like there are certain basic characteristics that can really only change so much before you’re playing a different sport.

But the offense that won Sunday’s game looked incredibly different from the offense under Lovie. They ran 30 plays out of the shotgun, targeted five different receivers, frequently checked down, used an I-formation with a lead blocker multiple times, and ran at least one package play.

I’ll admit, there was a certain deflating familiarity about the way they started the game on offense by scoring and then kind of fizzling for the rest of the first half. But here’s the thing: they fixed it. They made adjustments, stuck to the game plan, kept their heads cool and came back.

Lovie’s teams rarely, if ever, stayed cool and came back from a second-half deficit. Pretty much all the comeback wins that team got were either hard-won by the defense or came down to some Jay Cutler Fourth Quarter Magic, not a series of methodical 80-yard drives to get back on top.

See, offensive innovation, for this team, isn’t about reinventing the wheel. It’s not about using players in creative ways or running schemes that confuse the defense. It’s about taking the good things that we have and using them in safe, sensible ways to find the weaknesses in a defense and pick them apart. If that sounds like something Lovie’s Bears would’ve done to you, you might be the sort of person who implies that a nine-year head coach who missed the playoffs five times in six years was suddenly canned because his boss woke up racist one morning.

And of course we save the best for last. From seasoned dumbass and axe-grinder Hub Arkush comes this totally insensible piece of what seems to be English: One area that should get better and will have to is that we did not see the multiple weapons we expect to on a regular basis in the new Marc Trestman offense. Of Jay Cutler's 32 passes against the Bengals aimed at a specific target, 30 went to Brandon Marshall, Martellus Bennett, Matt Forte and Alshon Jeffery. The only other wide receiver Cutler tried to find was Earl Bennett on his one catch of the day.”

I normally wouldn’t do a full paragraph here, but it just keeps getting better and better as he keeps talking.

I thought it looked plenty diverse, even without going to the numbers. He threw the ball to everyone on this team I currently trust to catch it, except for Marquess Wilson. Who else on this roster could he have gone to? Eric Weems? Tony Fiametta? Does he have to throw one pass to every eligible ball-carrier to satisfy Hub’s need for offensive diversity? Maybe so.

And then Hub does bring up the numbers. Jay threw the ball 32 times to six receivers. In terms of targets, you had Marshall with 10, Jeffrey with eight, Forte and the Black Unicorn with six apiece, and Earl and Bush with one apiece. In fairness, Bush’s was that weird throw that got picked off, but it seems like he was the intended target and either he ran the wrong way or Jay though he was going the other way when he wasn’t.

People who can’t think have said the fact that Marshall got more targets than anyone else is worrying in itself. If him getting two more targets for a total of 31% of Cutler’s looks makes you worried, you do not understand what a number one wide receiver is.

The number of targets Marshall got is not the important thing here; it’s the situations in which he didn’t get targets that we should look at. Jay never forced one into double coverage for an easy pick because the pocket collapsed. He checked down to Jeffery and Forte, he used Marty B and Alshon as primary receivers on a number of plays, and he allowed Brandon to either draw doubles or punish the Bengals. The Bengals finally stopped doubling him and it cost them the clinching TD.

I have literally no idea how Hub could think targeting six, or even five receivers with such an even distribution of targets is anything other than “using multiple weapons on a regular basis.” It’s almost like he just has an axe to grind with the Bears over some ancient perceived slight and he’s going to see the worst in them whether the numbers agree with him or—

Oh. I get it now.

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