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Showing posts with label Ron Turner. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Ron Turner. Show all posts

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Back from the Depths: Phil Emery, Marc Trestman and the Re-Building of Jay Cutler

I keep going back to the game between the Bears and Cardinals in December of 2012. Following two disheartening losses to the Vikings and Packers (where Jay had been underwhelming at best) that dropped the team out of the playoff hunt, the Bears desperately needed a win against the Cardinals and some help in order to stay alive. During the game against the lifeless 5-9 Cardinals, Jay completed less than half of his passes for a measly 146 yards and looked lost. This wasn't a young, reckless, frustrated QB responding to breakdowns in protection by firing fastballs into double coverage. It wasn't even Jay forcing deep balls downfield in a futile attempt to make a play. It was just a quarterback who looked erratic, inaccurate, and lost.

Phil Emery saw the same thing. Jay Cutler was lost, and Phil had a choice to make. Keep the head coach and coordinator who was supposedly so estranged from his own quarterback that the two barely spoke and lose the quarterback forever, or replace them and dedicate one more year to trying to reclaim the talented young passer who threw for over 4500 yards and made the Pro Bowl in his last year in Denver.

As we know, Emery made the choice to roll with Cutler, and the result was a 2013 season that was, despite being cut short by injury, Cutler's best in many ways. He set career highs in passer rating, had the highest completion % of his Bears career, the second highest yards per game average of his career, and the highest TD%. Emery saw enough in Cutler's progress in 2013 to reward him with a long term contract extension. With Cutler the Bears starter at quarterback for the foreseeable future, it's worth looking back at Emery's plan and seeing how he and Marc Trestman turned Jay back into a viable starter.

1) Find the Coach: There were different reasons why the previous offensive coordinators that handled Jay in Chicago had all failed. Ron Turner's scheme was vanilla and outdated, and incapable of producing without a dominant run game.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Predicting the Playbook

The Bears are rarely a team with an over-arching offensive philosophy. While Green Bay had Mike Holmgren, a West Coast purist if ever there was one, and followed him up with two more West Coast adherents in Mike Sherman and Mike McCarthy (although McCarthy's obviously branched out and adapted many spread concepts thanks to Aaron Rodgers' incredible ability and his plethora of talented receivers), the Bears offensive coordinators throughout the years have mostly paid mere lip service to some over-arching scheme and have been pragmatic at best and clueless at worst.

Ron Turner claimed to be in the Don Coryell camp, but frequent injuries and talent deficiencies at quarterback often limited him to a more controlled short-passing scheme. Even when it worked, Turner's offense was hardly the deep-throw at all costs attack of Coryell disciples like Mike Martz. Ask any Bears fan or Bears opponent what Ron Turner wanted to do and the answer is quite simple: run the ball and throw off of play-action. It really was that simple.

Before Ron, Terry Shea spent one year trying to install Kansas City's version of the Martz offense, a more balanced and tight-end friendly alternative to Mike's original attack. It's really hard to describe Shea's offense as anything like Kansas City's at the time, since the offensive line was, recent history included, the worst in Bears history (66 sacks allowed) the receivers were, and stop me if you've heard this before, terrible, with David Terrell leading the pack, and the quarterbacks (Jonathan Quinn, Craig Krenzel, Chad Hutchinson) that came in after Rex Grossman went down in week 3 were incapable of completing even a rudimentary quick slant.

I'll not spend much time describing John Shoop's offense, since his philosophy simply revolved around avoiding turnovers and praying the defense would win the game, which leads us to Gary Crowton, the last Bears offensive coordinator before Mike Martz to have a reputation as a unique offensive mind. Crowton of course brought the spread to the NFL (well before the Patriots) and somehow got over 4,000 yds passing out of Shane Matthews, Cade McNown, and Jim Miller before the league caught on in 2000 and ran Crowton off to a disappointing head coaching career at BYU.

Considering this history, it's no surprise that the Mike Martz experiment was quite a radical departure from normal Bears procedure. Martz is nothing if not a man with his a strong commitment to his offensive philosophy, and it's one that undoubtedly produces when he has the talent to do so. In Chicago he did not, and we all know how that ended.

This long-winded digression into the history of recent Bears offensive schemes leads me up to my question today, which is: what the hell are the 2012 Bears going to run on Sundays now that they, once again, appear to be without one clear philosophy?

The only answers the media provides are somewhat contradictory. Mike Wright of ESPN claimed the Bears, thanks to Jeremy Bates, were going to use the 2008 Broncos playbook verbatim, which of course would mean that the Bears were running Mike Shanahan's version of the West Coast offense, which he developed by altering the original West Coast scheme to fit the running talents of Steve Young and later John Elway (which is also why he drafted the mobile Jay Cutler).

The offensive coordinator, however, is Mike Tice, not Jeremy Bates, and Tice has his own history on offense from when he and Scott Linehan (now the OC for the Lions) had a very productive operation going in Minnesota in the first half of the decade. So one would have to assume the Bears offense would resemble the Vikings playbook from that time period, no?

Well, that doesn't seem to be the case either. Many Bears players have noted that the playbook, with the notable exception of the recently eliminated seven step drops, still contains anywhere from 50-75% of last year's playbook. So I'm forced to wonder how all three of these influences (the Ghost of Martz, Tice/Linehan, and Bates/Shanahan) are going to gel into one coherent offensive scheme this year. I've decided to take a guess and explore a couple of run and pass concepts from all three offenses that I think the team will make extensive use of: Mike Martz's Mesh concept, Mike Shanahan's Near/Solo Left QB Keep Pass Right (in English: play-action bootleg to the right), and the Inside Zone running play from the Tice/Linehan offense.

Mesh is an outstanding concept that Martz had great success with all the way back in his earliest days of coaching. It's a play that's also been popularized in college by the Air Raid offenses of my beloved Mike Leach and his disciples. The great thing about Mesh is that, while it's a Martz staple, it's a shallow cross concept and doesn't require one of the dreaded deep drops. Here is Mesh as drawn up in Martz's offense:
The image is a little small, but basically the key to Mesh is that the X receiver (Brandon Marshall) and the Y receiver (Earl Bennett) cross paths in the middle of the field on what's known as a rub (in practice coaches will sometimes make these two receives touch hands so they understand just how close they need to get together on the play) in order to confuse the defense and get one of them open. The Z receiver (either Alshon Jeffery or Devin Hester) runs a deep curl to the middle of the field in order to draw one of the linebackers away from the X and Y as the CB goes deep to cover the RB on the wheel route. The QB then reads (as the illustration shows) right to left, from X to Z to Y. 

This play is primarily designed to beat man coverage, but it can also be used against zone since the deep curl by the Z receiver will draw the MLB and the RB threatens both the flat and the sideline with the wheel route, keeping both the corner and safety in place on Cover 2. Martz's QBs have racked up hundreds of yards over the years on this play. The addition of a big, strong receiver in Marshall means that Jay should have no trouble turning this relatively short, easy throw into a big play.

2)Near/Solo Left Fake 15/35 QB Keep Pass Right
These two plays are basically identical, with the difference being that one has a fullback in the backfield who released into the flat and another has two tight ends, with the second tight end releasing into the flat. This is a concept that Shanahan/Bates have used to great effect with Steve Young, John Elway, Jake Plummer, and Jay Cutler (One of these things is not like the other...) and I would expect, given the repeated cries over the last three years for the Bears to take advantage of Cutler's ability to throw on the run, we will see it plenty this year:
This play is pretty self explanatory, really. Cutler fakes it to Forte and rolls right, while Marshall (X) runs a deep comeback to the play side (taking advantage of the gap between corner and safety, as the corner should stay to cover the second tight end (T) or the FB in the flats and the LB should be preoccupied with the first TE (Y) running the shallow cross) and the Z (Hester or Jeffery) runs either a deep post against Cover 2  in order to draw the safety deep or a deep dig against Cover 1 in order to get the safety to "sink" on the route. 

3)Inside Zone
This is a play that nearly every NFL team runs, and one that the Bears have already had a great deal of success with under Tice the last two years, but it's also a staple of the one-back offense that Tice/Linehan run and you'll see it plenty this year as well. 

When you hear people talk about "zone runs" vs. man or power runs, the difference is what an "uncovered" lineman does. If a guard lines up and there's a defensive tackle right in front of him obviously his assignment is to block that guy. If there's not a defensive player directly in front of him, however, the offensive lineman's job is to shift towards the playside and double team the nearest defensive lineman. Once that defensive player is blocked, one of the two offensive lineman then shifts off to the nearest defender in the "zone" of the play. It's not really rocket science.

In the above version of inside zone, for example, the TE, RT, RG, and C all block the person covering them. The zone blockers are the LT and LG, who shift to block the WLB and the Nose Tackle, respectively. The runningback aims for the outside hip of the RG and shoot between the RG and the RT. If there's no opening there, he makes one cut and shoots back between the RG and the C. It's a running play that's both simple and effective, and Matt Forte and 30 other runningbacks will hear it called every Sunday. Tice has admitted in the past that it is his favorite running play, as he coaxed a 1300 yd season out of Michael Bennett and several great seasons from the two-headed monster of Fred Taylor and MJD largely off of this play during his time in Minnesota and Jacksonville, respectively. 

So there you have it. I'm guessing the Bears offense will be very similar to the one they ran the last couple of years after the annual "Run the Damn Ball, Martz" intervention, with the biggest difference being a considerable increase in the amount of play-action passes and bootlegs, and fewer screens in response to pressure. These three plays, however, will almost certainly be locks for the gameplan every week. I apologize for the length of this post, but, shit, I really don't. If you're here, I assume you came to read.

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.

Monday, June 7, 2010

The Meatheads Were Right, it was Turner's Fault

This article is obviously pretty old (and came before Jay's two game hot streak to end the year), but I found it to be an extremely good explanation of Jay's struggles last year, and why I think he'll improve this year.

While the author agrees that Jay's problems tend to stem from "the cumulative effect of a lot of things. One is an offensive line that is probably the worst in pro football. As you play more and more games, and there's more and more pressure, a quarterback who is not naturally mechanically sound, will become worse because no one likes to have people in their face all the time. Very often, when quarterbacks take shots early in games, you see them start to lose their mechanics over the course of a game, get rid of the ball too early, start to play too fast..." all of which is accurate, I found his critique of Ron Turner's abuse of Jay and terrible play-calling to be most interesting.

"But what happens to that talent if there's no room for it? Against the Vikings, Cutler came out of the box in a way that told me two things: First, the Bears' coaching staff was setting things up to eliminate risk. Second, anything but dink-and-dunk when you're looking at a Jared Allen-Orlando Pace matchup is just nonsensical. On Cutler's second throw of the game, on second-and-3 from his own 42 with 10:58 left in the first quarter, Allen got around Pace with no resistance whatsoever, and Cutler bailed out to Earl Bennett at the line of scrimmage for a loss of two yards. When Cutler hit tight end Greg Olsen for a three-yard out on third-and-five, Olsen could gain only one more yard after the catch because cornerback Cedric Griffin and linebacker Chad Greenway were playing close in, waiting for the short pass, and knowing that the Bears had admitted defeat in a strategic sense. Three quick passes, and a three-and-out.
It was difficult to know what to make of Cutler's mechanics early on -- the guy's obviously talented enough to complete quick outs -- but I was astonished to see Pace get no help with Allen on any of those plays. Offensive coordinator Ron Turner managed to combine the protection leakage of wide sets with the inflexible non-production of a quick-screen-only offense. It was mind-blowing."

One of my biggest problems last year was watching Ron Turner completely obliterate the faith that I'd shown in him before last year. Before last season I had, optimistically, chosen to dismiss the Bears offensive struggles under Turner with the notion that a "real" quarterback would fix them. It didn't. Now, Turner's problem lays not with his "predictability" or whatever lame excuse the media chose to pin his struggles on, but his adaptability. He simply has no idea how to react to changing situations. It was apparent early on that the Bears offensive line was not good enough to run the power offense that Turner wanted to run. His response was to continue calling plays as if it was, based on some miniscule hope that the line simply needed to "gel." It wasn't until Chris Williams took over at left tackle and the line play improved slightly that Turner even attempted to mix things up. During the Vikings and Lions games to end the season he did a good job of moving the pocket and taking advantage of Jay's ability to throw on the run, something the statuesque quarterbacks Turner has dealt with the in the past (Orton, Griese, Grossman, Kramer, Walsh) were unable to do.

This was a recurring problem for Turner throughout both of his tours with the Bears. When he can run the offense he wants to run, like in 1995 and the early parts of 2006 and 2008, and his offensive line blocks and the run game works well, he can score a lot of points. When teams figured him and Rex Grossman out in 2006 and started to put pressure on Rex, Turner failed miserably at adapting and adjusting protection schemes and finding ways to take advantage of the defense's emphasis on blitzing. Last year he seemed overmatched and completely unable to adjust to utilize Cutler's natural talents to overcome the schematic and protection deficiencies of the offense.

If I dare say it (and again, Every positive prediction I make about Jay Cutler and the Bears offense this year hinges on whether or not the offensive line can improve), I have hope that Mike Martz can improve both of these problems. Martz has justifiably acquired a status as a quarterback guru, as guys like Trent Green, Kurt Warner, Marc Bulger, and Jon Kitna were undoubtedly better under his tutelage then they were beforehand (or in Bulger's case, afterwards). He knows how to preach the fundamentals of the position, such as proper footwork, Jay's biggest problem area. I truly believe he can make Jay a more technically sound player.

Schematically, I think Martz is a much brighter individual than Ron Turner. He has shown an ability to adapt to poor personnel in order to generate some semblance of offense. People can criticize the Lions or 49ers win-loss records during Martz' tenures as offensive coordinator, but both teams scored significantly more points under Martz than they had without him. The 2006-2007 Lions were the only Lion teams since 2002 to score more than 300 points in a season. Martz' 2008 49ers scored more points than any 49ers team since 2003. He made Jon Kitna into a 4,000 yard passer in two straight years. I've said over and over again that he has far more talent to work with in Chicago than he has since St. Louis. He'll figure out how to utilize that talent much better than Ron ever would have.

I still don't like him, though.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Mike Martz Would Utterly Freaking Destroy Jay Cutler

UPDATE: They did it. They finally really did it. YOU MANIACS! YOU HIRED MIKE MARTZ! Ah, damn you! DAMN YOU ALL TO HELL!

A couple days ago a rumor posted briefly over at Bleacher Report stated that Mike Martz would be the next offensive coordinator for the Bears, and frankly, I shit my pants. Why? Well, Mike Martz would absolutely be the end of Jay Cutler's career. I'm not the only person saying this, his own former GM in St. Louis, Charlie Armey, has said the very same thing in recent days. Why, exactly, Martz would ruin Cutler may take some time to explain. I'm willing to give it a shot, so here's why Mike Martz' offense is a terrible, terrible thing to throw Jay Cutler into:

1. Schematically, it's very similar to Ron Turner's offense- The Martz scheme and Turner's offense were both variants of the Air Coryell offense. Granted, Turner puts the emphasis on the run game and Martz focuses on the pass, but the terminology and the routes are all very similar. If Jay truly dislikes the scheme, than that's a bad move to begin with.

2. Jay Cutler would get pummeled into oblivion, and probably die on the field- The Bears offensive line absolutely fucking sucks. No one denies this fact. You know who didn't have a bad offensive line? The Rams, from 1999-2005. They had the young, good Orlando Pace, as well as a young Fred Miller and several other quality players over the years. Yet they still gave up an average of 43 sacks a year. Martz' Detroit teams gave up 114 sacks in two years under Martz' direction, despite the fact that the Lions had given up just 31 sacks the year before Martz took over, and his 2008 49ers squad gave up a whopping 55 sacks. All in all that's an average of 42.8 sacks per year. The Bears gave up 35 sacks this year, and that seemed awful to all of us.

Why is it that Martz' teams give up such a ludicrous number of sacks each year despite the relatively high quality of his offensive lines? Because Martz' emphasis on throwing deep at all costs frequently encourages his quarterbacks to hold onto the ball and get hammered. Given the terrible suckitude of the Bears offensive line, I don't see any possibility of Cutler getting sacked fewer than 50 or 60 times in a Martz led offense, assuming he's standing long enough to take that many hits.

3. No, seriously, Jay Cutler would die- In 10 seasons as an offensive coordinator or Head Coach/Offensive Coordinator, Martz has had a quarterback start all 16 games in a season just 4 times (ironically, one of those 16 game starters was Kurt Warner in 1999, who had to take over after the original starter, Trent Green, was sacked and broke his leg in a preseason game). Broken down:

1999- Kurt Warner- 16 games started, 29 sacks (not too bad)

2000- Kurt Warner- 11 games started, 20 sacks (not good), Trent Green- 5 games started, 24 sacks (absolutely fucking terrible)

2001- Kurt Warner- 16 games started, 38 sacks (fantastic by Martzian standards)

2002-Kurt Warner- 6 games started, 21 sacks (awful, awful), Marc Bulger- 7 games started, 12 sacks (still bad), Jamie Martin- 2 games started, 10 sacks (holy shit).

2003- Marc Bulger- 15 games started, 37 sacks (pretty terrible), Kurt Warner- 1 game started, 6 sacks (Jesus Christ!)

2004- Marc Bulger- 14 games started, 41 sacks (awful), Chris Chandler- 2 games started, 7 sacks (seriously, Chris? Someone as fragile as you signed with Mike Martz??), and Jamie Martin-played one half (after Chris Chandler had been knocked out of the game) and received 2 sacks.

2005- Marc Bulger- 8 games started, 26 sacks, Jamie Martin- 5 games started, 11 sacks, Ryan Fitzpatrick - 3 games started, 9 sacks

2006- Jon Kitna- 16 games started, 63 sacks (Have I made my point yet?)

2007- Jon Kitna- 16 games started, 51 sacks (I have some serious respect for Jon Kitna's ability to take a beating).

2008- Shaun Hill- 8 games started, 23 sacks (that's bad), JT O'Sullivan- 8 games started, 32 sacks (that's worse).

4. The system encourages turnovers- Jay Cutler is already far too much of a "gunslinger," if you will. This system would actually encourage that. Whereas the terrible run game and offensive line actually forced Turner to call a pass-heavy offense that led to a mounting pile of interceptions, Martz designs his game plan to do the same god damn thing. Outside of the miracle 1999 season, where Warner threw just 15 interceptions (the 7th fewest in the league), Martz offenses have typically ranked in the bottom five in the league in interceptions. The numbers:

1999- 15 interceptions, 7th in the league (going from fewest to most)
2000- 23 interceptions, 28th
2001- 22 interceptions, 24th
2002- 27 interceptions, 32nd
2003-23 interceptions, 31st
2004-22 interceptions, 28th
2005- 24 interceptions, 30th
2006-22 interceptions, 27th
2007- 22 interceptions, 30th
2008-19 interceptions, 26th.


5. The system abandons the run, often for no apparent reason- This is the most common criticism of Martz, and its completely valid. Martz offenses, throughout his 10 year OC/HC career, have had an average ranking of 27th in the league in terms of rushing attempts. This is despite the fact that Martz has had outstanding runningbacks like Marshall Faulk, Steven Jackson, and Frank Gore, and the fact that his offenses are generally effective at running the ball, since their average ranking in terms of yards per rush attempt is 14th. This basically meants that even if the Bears somehow fixed their offensive line in the offseason and improved the running game, Martz would still abandon the run and force Cutler to carry a disproportionate amount of the load on offense.

6. It's just not that great of an offense- When the Martz offense first hit the scene in 1999, it was outstanding, and it stayed that way for several years. But the fact is, just like most offenses, talent had far more to do with its success than the scheme itself. When Kurt Warner started all 16 games in a season, the Rams were 27-5 (0.844%) and made it to two Superbowls. In seasons where Kurt Warner didn't start 16 games the Rams were 44-36 (0.550%) and went just 1-3 in the playoffs (and didn't even go in 2002 and 2005). Martz' Lions and 49ers teams went just 17-31 in his three years as offensive coordinator for those teams.

I don't know who the Bears are going to hire as their next offensive coordinator. Ted Phillips shot down the rumor that it would be Martz. Jay Cutler wants Jeremy Bates, the current USC offensive coordinator and his former QB coach in Denver. I personally think that would be the best route to go, as someone that works well with the slightly temperamental quarterback would be better than Martz, who earlier this season said Cutler needed to "grow up". Just know that if Mike Martz does somehow end up with the job, I'll be getting drunk off my ass and toasting Jay Cutler's doomed career.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

The 2009 Bears- The Bad

Well, I was going to do a player by player breakdown of the bad players from the Bears this year before moving onto the coaching staff, but with the latest coaching changes, that's worth more of a discussion, so here's briefly a list of players on this team who suck ass and should probably die:

-Orlando Pace
-Frank Omiyale
-Olin Kreutz' rotten corpse.
-Greg Olsen (most of the time)
-Tommie Harris
-Nathan Vasher
-Danieal Manning
-Zack Fucking Bowman
-Al Afalava
-Kevin Payne
-The three-headed linebacker monster of suck (Hillenmeyer/Williams/Roach)
-Pretty much anyone else on the roster besides the ones I explicitly named yesterday.

Moving on-

The Bears fired 6 coaches yesterday. Let's look at each one-

-Ron Turner, Offensive Coordinator: Anyone that reads this site will know how fervently I defended Turner before this season. His system is not a bad system, and I don't believe he himself is a particularly bad coordinator. He's not particularly good either. He's certainly not innovative. Any moron could look at the offense this year and trace every problem back to the offensive line. Turner isn't responsible for putting that together. But he Is responsible for gameplanning around that, at least somewhat. He didn't. The continued insistence on "establishing the run" over the first half of the season cost this team dearly, as did his utter refusal (until After the team had been eliminated from contention) to roll Cutler out and utilize his mobility in order to buy time to pass. His wide receiver screens, while not as pointless as those used by Crowton, Shoop, or Shea, still sucked. I won't miss him, but he doesn't deserve 100% of the blame, either.

-Harry Hiestand, Offensive Line Coach: This is completely deserved. Name one offensive lineman the Bears have developed effectively during Hiestand's tenure. The only time the line was effective was during the 05 and 06 seasons, when a veteran heavy lineup really didn't Need coaching.

-Pep Hamilton, Quarterbacks Coach: Thank god. Can you name any three quarterbacks with more easily fixable mechanical and technical issues than Rex Grossman, Kyle Orton, and Jay Cutler? Can you name anything Hamilton did to fix Any of those issues?

-Rob Boras, Tight Ends Coach: Can I blame him for my hatred of Greg Olsen? It's not this guy's fault that Olsen drops everything and can't block, is it? If it is, he should probably just kill himself.

And assistants Luke Butkus and Charles London: Other than pissing the meatheads off by firing Dick Butkus' kid, I don't think this will have any effect.

Now, I agree with all of those firings. My problem that list is that it fails to include many of the people who needed to be fired the most, namely, the defensive staff and Lovie's cronies.

I understand that it was a pipe dream to hope that Lovie would be fired, especially after they won the last two games of the season. You'd think in a normal organization three playoff-less seasons would have a bigger impact than two games that allowed a team to finish 7-9, but hey, this is the Bears we're talking about. The fact, however, is that Lovie needs to have the circle of yes men that surrounds him removed. For God's sake, Bob Babich still has a fucking job. The rumors stating that Lovie had decided to make Marinelli the defensive coordinator are fortunately untrue, but that still won't change much.

With Babich and Marinelli and his fellow Cover 2 loyalists in place, the defensive coordinator that Lovie hires (probably Perry Fewell) will be surrounded and outnumbered, if he even wishes to change things. It doesn't matter who calls the defensive plays for this team. The scheme is broken. Tommie Harris is worthless. The front four has been mostly ineffective and wildly inconsistent for three straight years. The safeties all suck, and the corners can't keep up with anybody. The defense and the defensive coaching staff needs a complete overhaul, and Lovie needs to be stripped of as much of his authority as possible. That's not happening, so this team's fucked for at least one more year.

With some actual improvements on the offensive line (which won't be forthcoming if Angelo just signs this year's Orlando Pace or Omiyale on the market) and an offensive coordinator that tailors the offense to fit Cutler's strengths (like Jeremy Bates, the former Denver QB coach and current USC offensive coordinator that Cutler is supposedly lobbying for), this team can make marginal improvements and perhaps be in playoff contention next year, but if nothing changes on the defensive side of the ball the odds of winning anything are greatly reduced. In short, give up hope. Just give it up. It's going to be another long fucking year.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Breaking Down the Breakdown

Guh. You have to say this about Bears' losses the last two years: they're the most god damned frustrating losses you've ever seen. 7 of the 9 games the Bears have lost since the start of last year have been by 7 points or less, with an average of 5 points. The missed opportunities are so god damn aggravating it could drive lesser men than me to madness. Iggins! is still piecing together his sanity after the fourth or fifth time Ron Turner called a pointless run on first down for no gain or a loss that ended up setting up Another 3rd and long.

The important thing to note is that this game was a tough loss, against a great opponent, on the road and outside of the division. When I made my initial projection of the Bears finishing this year at 11-5, this was one of the ones I marked down as a loss. There's certainly no reason to panic or throw in the towel because with most of the major contenders in the NFC (Giants, Eagles, Cowboys, Packers, 49ers, Cardinals) all looking vulnerable in many places, the wildcard is certainly still open, and even though the Vikings keep skating by, they're soon to enter a tougher part of their schedule and the division race may open up a bit. This week's game against Cincinnati has become a must win, however. If the Bears can take it to the Bengals in Cincinnati, then come home and handle two games they Should win at home against the Browns and Cardinals (although the Cardinals are certainly a dangerous team), they'll finish the first half with a very respectable 6-2 record.

I'm not going to be the Good/Bad breakdown like I usually do, mostly because no one out there (except maybe Devin Hester) had a great night, and almost everyone has something to answer for:

-Jay Cutler: for the most part last night he was the guy we've seen the last three games, and his effort was enough to keep us in the game all night long. It goes without saying that you just can't throw Either of those interceptions that he threw, however.

-Matt Forte: Hit the god damn hole, Matt, and hang on with both hands in short yardage situations. I realize that holes are few and far between for Forte, but when he gets them he almost always seems to hesitate before making his move. I can't absolve him of blame for the run game's struggles any longer. He's not the primary reason they're struggling, but he's one of them.

-Lovie Smith: I can not fathom why a guy making his second career start at MLB was left to single cover the greatest tight end of all time in the end zone. With 8 friggn' seconds left on the clock, it should have been obvious Ryan's was going to try and get that ball to Gonzalez. Roach can't be left on an island like that against a guy that easily outsmarted him. That one's on Lovie. So was the bland Cover 2 response to Atlanta's switch to the no-huddle at the end of the half. Ryan had a field day dumping it off underneath. There has to be at least some package of coverages ready in that situation.

-Nick Roach: Tony Gonzalez beat him like a drum all god damn day long. It was unfortunate.

-Zack Bowman: NBC showed an interesting statistic last night when they showed that opposing teams have a 100+ passer rating when throwing it to Bowman's side and a 40.7 rating when throwing it in Tillman's direction. Even Bowman's interception barely redeemed him as he carried the ball away from his body resulting in a fumble everyone saw coming. Fortunately the Bears recovered, but only after losing 16 yards of field position. I'm not impressed. That also goes for Nathan Vasher. I understand Lovie's scoring mentality when it comes to turnovers, but the first priority in those situations has to be HOLDING ON TO THE GOD DAMN BALL.

-Special Teams: It's really rare to see the Bears as the team that lost this category, but they did last night. The offsides penalty that renewed a late Atlanta drive (fortunately the interception reversed that, but the team still lost valuable time on the clock and 5 yards of field position), the big kickoff return that set up Atlanta's last touchdown, and Johnny Knox's decision to run Atlanta's last kickoff out of the endzone were all glaring mistakes.

-Ron Turner: I was Ron Turner's biggest defender coming into this season. I wrote two pretty long, stirring defenses of the man. But if I'm the guy grading this team, he's got a solid D right now. His short passing game hasn't been bad, as much as everyone wants to scream out "John Shoop" every time he does it, because Cutler's been able to get the ball out and allow the wideouts to run after the catch most of the time, and because its necessary to counteract the constant blitzes the passing game is facing. However, the run game is a disaster and he needs his fair share of the blame for that. He constantly runs delayed handoffs, sweeps (at the goal line? Who the hell runs a sweep at the goal line? I don't even do that in Madden.), and stretch plays when its clear the offensive line can't pull or hold long enough to allow those to develop.

The best thing for Ron to do in the run game would be to go to quick handoffs straight up the middle between Kreutz and Garza. Garza's the best lineman this team has right now. Also, did anyone notice that only time all night Cutler had a pocket to throw in was the 92 yard touchdown drive to tie it at 14? Did anyone notice how many of those passes were play action passes? That part of the offense needs to be utilized more.

This all brings me to my numero uno target of rage-

The offensive line: All of them to some degree have inspired my rage, but right now I'm just going to rank them from least hate to most hate:

-Roberto Garza: He's been beat a few times this season but he is easily the best player on the line right now.

-Chris Williams: He's hit or miss right now but the potential is there.

-Olin Kreutz: His skills are declining rapidly but not as noticeably as...

-Orlando Pace: Here's what we've learned so far about Pace: he was too tall to block Elvis Dumerville, who skirted around him all night in Denver. He was too slow to stop Brandon Chillar, who flew past him in Green Bay. He's struggled to open holes in the run game all year long, and last night he and Omiyale just fucking melted down on the last drive, culminating in a backbreaking false start where Pace, the "future Hall of Famer," clearly just didn't know the fucking snap count. I can only wonder how long Pace and Omiyale will remain untouchable thanks to their contracts, because right now, if Beekman and Shaffer could just stay still until the snap they'd be upgrades.

-Frank Omiyale: I've seen Frank Omiyale open two holes this year. Unfortunately, one was in the preaseason against the Giants, so that doesn't mean much. The other was Matt Forte's 37 yard scamper against the Lions. So nice job, Frank. The Bears give you an $11.5 million deal and a $5.5 million signing bonus, to go along with the first starting opportunity of your career, and you've been a wonderful flop. Remember the deflected pass on the slant to Johnny Knox? The one that was easily going to be the tying touchdown? Yeah, the guy that knocked that down was Omiyale's man. Son of a bitch he's worthless. Josh Beekman needs to get a look, and soon.

Well there's that. Honestly the defense played well last night. If you'd have told me before the game that they'd hold the Falcons to under 300 yards and 21 points, I'd have taken that. Right now they're getting by with one experienced defensive back, one experienced linebacker, a solid defensive end rotation, and an easily less than 100% (and probably never to be again) Tommie Harris. They're doing what they can. 21 points should Not be too much to ask of this offense. Somehow, be it through better play calling, substitutions on the line, or just scheming ways to improve the guys are already there, it needs to improve.

Well there's my take. This was a tough loss, but it was one of the one's that I had rationalized as possible and not necessarily devastating. Lovie always advocates looking at a 16 game schedule as 4 quarters. If the Bears can rally and go 3-1 in this quarter just like they did in the first quarter (and its certainly possible), this team will be set up well for the stretch run.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Kyle Orton and Cedric Benson- Lovie and Ron's Fault?

My God, that's Hideous.

I've been hearing a lot the last few weeks how Lovie Smith and Ron Turner should be under scrutiny since they seem to be the most likely candidates as to why Cedric Benson and Kyle Orton didn't perform as well in Chicago as they have in their new towns. This is Grade A bullshit, and I'll tell you why. Let's start with the Patron Saint.

I've said all along that Josh McDaniels' offense is the perfect scheme for Kyle's strength. It makes use of multiple wide receiver sets, it features a lot of underneath throws and crossing routes, it makes the most of his two good runningbacks (Buckhalter and Moreno, who've combined to give Denver the league's 4th ranked rushing attack), and his four quality wide receivers (Brandon Marshall, Eddie Royal, Brandon Stokely, and Jabar Gaffney), and his two quality tight ends (Daniel Graham, Tony Sheffler). The Broncos offense is basically the closest you'll find to a true spread offense anywhere in the NFL, and that naturally favors our friend Kyle, who ran the "basketball on grass" spread offense of Joe Tiller at Purdue.

A lot of people act like McDaniels' version of the spread, which has worked so well in New England, is the first version of it to hit the NFL. It's not. The Run and Shoot was pretty much the same attack back in the '80s and '90s. A closer version to a pure spread like the ones seen in the NCAA came to our very own Bears in 1999 under Gary Crowton. Remember 1999? The Bears actually had the 3rd ranked passing offense (yardage wise) in the NFL, which was the team's highest finish in that category in the modern era, and that was with the pathetically weak arms of Shane Matthews and Cade F%&king McNown at the helm for 13 games. That team scored just 17 ppg and went 6-10, however. The reason for this was the criticism common to all spread offenses- that they struggle in the red zone.

The problem is that when teams move from the "bend but don't break" philosophy that most defenses are forced to employ to their red zone defenses, the underneath stuff is taken away and teams have to revert to conventional out routes agains 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.

This offensive scheme worked in New England two years ago and many people took it as proof that the spread could consistently succeed in the NFL. This isn't quite true. The Patriots attack of 2007 worked because it had in Tom Brady and Randy Moss a quarterback who can make all of the throws and a holy terror of a wide receiver. This opened up countless opportunities for Wes Welker underneath and made the whole spread work. Orton, no matter his great stats, isn't Tom Brady. Teams still don't have to cover every inch of the field, and the threat of the deep ball isn't a factor on every single play. Right now the Broncos are getting by on defense, and this offense is controlling the clock and scoring just enough points to win. At some point that probably won't be enough. The Broncos defense isn't the 2000 Ravens or the 2002 Bucs. They'll need an offense that can challenge downfield to win a big game, either to get into the playoffs or to win in the playoffs. We'll see if that works out.

This still doesn't address the original point, I suppose. Why wasn't Kyle Orton as successful in Chicago as he has been in Denver? My answer: He was. Throw out Kyle's rookie season, where he played the most conservative offense I've ever seen, and for good reason, and let's just focus on 2008. As I've mentioned, the 2009 Broncos are averaging 19.8 ppg, good for 22nd in the league. The 2008 Bears averaged 23.4 ppg, good for 14th in the NFL. Also interesting to note, here are Orton's current stats:

5 games, 5 games started, 104 of 165 (63.0%), 1236 yards, 7.5 ypa, 247.2 ypg, 7 tds, 1 int, 97.4 rating.

Now compare that to Orton's stats last year before his ankle injury:

7 games, 7 games started, 143 of 230 (62.2%), 1669 yards, 7.3 ypa, 238.4 ypg, 10 tds, 4 ints, 91.4 rating.

Now, his numbers in Denver are slightly better, but there's no doubt that Ron Turner's offense wasn't the complete misuse of Orton's skills we've been led to believe. Orton's ankle injury changed his entire throwing motion and the team's fortunes. He was hesitant to step into throws, he was less mobile, the offensive line wore down as the season went on (they gave up 19 sacks in the second half of the season, as opposed to 10 in the first half), and Kyle's stats went into decline. It's true that Orton isn't the perfect fit for the vertical based Coryell offense that Turner would prefer to run, and that the Bears scheme has worked best under strong armed passers like Erik Kramer, Rex Grossman (at least Good Rex), and now Jay Cutler. But Turner isn't a moron completely incapable of handling a quarterback like Kyle. Hell, he was able to adjust his scheme enough to allow the weak armed Steve Walsh to guide the Bears to the playoffs in 1994. It's just a system that traditionally works best when it has a downfield element, as exemplified by the original Coryell quarterback, Dan Fouts.

It's true that Orton is playing great in Denver, and I for one am happy for him. The problem is in ignoring the complexities of NFL offensive systems and also in paying too much attention to yardage and quarterback rating and not to scoring. The Bears under Cutler, for example, are scoring 26.2 ppg, good for 7th in the NFL, despite their 22nd overall ranking in yardage (which should improve anyways as the year goes on and one strong or weak performance won't represent a drastic rise and fall in the rankings, as the Bears' yardage numbers were hurt by consistently playing on a short field against Detroit...which is a good thing, but I digress). I'm not denying that Orton fits better in McDaniels' system, but Turner used him just fine, and has also been quite successful with his new quarterback as well. So once more, no, the Bears would Not be better with Orton, and no, it's not Ron Turner's fault.

As for Benson, well, his problems were less to do with schemes than with attitude, and I'm saving That article for next week's buildup to the Bengals.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Defending Ron Turner, Part II, Turner vs. Shoop


Bears fans have seen some pretty idiotic offensive coordinators over the last decade. Matt Cavanaugh replaced Ron Turner in 1997 and while its not completely fair to blame him for the Rick Mirer-Steve Stenstrom-Moses Moreno debacles of the 8-24 1997 and 1998 seasons, most of us don't have a kind word to say about him. Gary Crowton came in with Jauron in 1999, acted like he'd invented the spread offense, called it "the razzle dazzle," introduced the wide receiver screen (worked for about half a season, then failed miserably for Crowton, Shoop, and Shea from 1999-2004), racked up a ton of yards at first before getting stuffed the next year, failed to score very often at all, forgot that the run game existed, and exposed Cade McNown for the fraud he was before heading off to fail miserably as head coach at BYU. Terry Shea asked for a shit ton of money, then brought a massive and ineffective playbook with him, but perhaps no mistake of his is greater than inisting that Jonathan Quinn could be an effective back-up. But only one moron rouses the ire of Bears fans to nearly Wannstedtian levels of rage. That man is John Shoop.

Shoop, the former offensive quality control assistant and quarterbacks coach under Crowton, was promoted upon Crowton's resignation in 2000. Shoop called the plays for the last three games of the season, with a 24-17 win over the Patriots, a 17-0 loss to the 49ers, and a 23-20 win over the Lions. Shoop called for a balanced offense, something lacking under Crowton, as he had a 50.6/49.4 Pass-Run ratio. His offensive was cheered by fans tired of Crowtons wide receiver screens and idiotic pass plays, and it was nicknamed the "Run'n'Shoop." Head coach Dick Jauron then decided to name Shoop the offensive coordinator on a permanent basis, and the reign of stupidity began in earnest, with the continued use of the wide receiver screen and other pass plays designed to get 4-5 yards on 3rd and 10, short dives up on the middle on nearly every run play, play action quarterback draws for Kordell Stewart, and declining offensive numbers across the board. Shoop was heckled so vociferously that Jauron was Forced to move him up into the booth, and many feel Jauron's loyalty to Shoop cost him his job.

In 2007, and at various stretches last year when the Bears offense struggled, I heard several fans derisively call Ron Turner "worse than John Shoop." While they were surely exaggerating, a thorough comparison of the two should eliminate the possibility of future comparisons outright.

So where to begin with the comparison? How about the Pass-Run Ratio. Both coordinators were criticized for running run-heavy offense, and Turner certainly does, with a career 51.4-48.6 ratio (league average 54.2-45.8). Shoop actually threw the ball more often, with a 54.7-45.3 Ratio. That ratio is heavily skewed by the 2002 Bears, however, as that team was 4-12 and were forced to play from behind early and often, requiring Shoop to put it up in the air 57.8% of the time. In 2000, 2001, and 2003 Shoop was far more conservative, with Pass-Run Ratios of 50.6/49.4, 52.6/47.4, and 53.8/46.2 respectively.

Another question worth asking is how effective each coordinator's offenses were When they put the ball up in the air, and exactly how deep those passes were. Two areas that are telling in this category are Yards per Attempt and Yards Per Completion. In Turner's career, the Bears average 6.3 ypa, while Shoop's quarterbacks averaged just 5.9 ypa. When Turner's quarterbacks have completed the passes, they've gained an average of 10.8 ypc, Shoop's gained just 10.3. Turner's numbers in this category are somewhat skewed, however, by the 2005 season, when an injury to Rex Grossman forced rookie Kyle Orton into the lineup and forced Turner to scale back the playbook drastically. When the 2005 numbers are removed, the new averages show that Turner is much more willing to throw it deep with a veteran quarterback. The adjusted ypa average becomes 6.5, and the adjusted ypc becomes 11.1, nearly a full yard more than Shoop managed.

Overall, the passing game has fared much better under Turner, with a line of

2303 comp./3993 att./57.7% comp./25,268 yds/197.4ypg/147 tds/132 ints/6.3 ypa/10.8 ypc, 75.0 Rating.

Minus the aforementioned 2005 season, those numbers jump to

2084 comp./3575 att./58.3% comp./23,067 yds/205.95 ypg/136 tds/117 ints/6.5 ypa/11.1 ypc, 76.6 Rating.

The passing line under Shoop:

946 comp. /1671 att./56.6% comp./9,788 yds/191.9ypg/57 td/55 int/5.9 ypa/10.3ypc. 71.3 Rating.

In total yards and points Turner also has a significant edge, as his teams have averaged 20.1 PPG (20.7 minus 2005) and 294.5 ypg (299.99 minus 2005), and they've also converted 36% of 3rd Downs (37% minus 2005), all better marks than Shoop's 18.6 PPG, 278.4 YPG, and 33% 3rd down percentage. Under Turner's guidance the Bears have scored at least 20 points 62 times, at least 30 points 24 times, and at least 40 points 5 times. Under Shoop they managed 20 points a respectable 29 times, but had just four games of 30 points, and never scored 40.

Last, but not least, a look at the win loss records of both coordinators. Although there are far more telling statistics than W-L record for coaches, it is still important to note that Turner is 72-56 as the Bears' offensive coordinator (40-24 under Lovie, 32-32 under Wannstedt), while Shoop was 26-25 (11-21 in 2002-2003). So, Bears fans, whatever frustrations you may have with Ron Turner, at least don't insult the man with a comparison to Shoop.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

What's the Deal With Ron Turner?

So the Bears have an offensive coordinator who has now spent eight seasons (1993-1996, 2005-2008) as the guy calling the plays. In that time the Bears average finish on offense has been 18th in Points Per Game, 22nd in Total Yards, 20th in Passing Yards, and 17th in rushing yards. Those are all below average, fairly pedestrian numbers. One would think after eight years of that a team might go in a different direction. Many fans have clamored for it, and there's even a Fire Ron Turner website (I won't link there because I don't care to give those ledge jumping morons the traffic). I'm here today to tell you why Ron Turner is a good offensive coordinator, in my eyes, and how all of his critics should wait to see what he does with Jay Cutler this year before they call for his head.

I'm the last person who should defend Turner, I suppose. After all he runs one of the more run oriented offenses in pro football, and I'm a well known fan of Bill Walsh, Dick Vermeil, Al Saunders, Mike Leach, Urban Meyer, Joe Tiller and many other advocates of pass first offenses. Not to mention the fact that as an Illini fan I should view him with at least mild disdain for his 35-57 record in Champaign. The fact is, however, that nearly all of Turners problems at Illinois had everything to do with poor recruiting and little to do with schemes.

Turner's playbook is a hybrid of the West Coast Offense and the Coryell System (named after former Chargers coach Don Coryell, the system actually predates the West Coast Offense and originally Bore that name until an article on Bill Walsh gave his offense that name). In that way its actually quite similar in scheme to the Vermeil/Saunders/Martz offenses of the late 90s-mid 00's Rams and Chiefs offenses. Turner merely utilizes the power running facet of the offense Far more than those men ever did. At Illinois it torched opposing defenses as long as Kurt Kittner and Brandon Lloyd were there to make it work. When those two disappeared, Turner failed miserably at finding their replacements, but thats hardly a knock on the scheme or the man's abilities to coach an offense at a professional level.

The key point in Turner's offense, as in most others, is the quarterback. What's also necessary is durable group of backs who can provide at least 400 carries a season. When one looks at each season in which Turner was the Bears offensive coordinator, the reasons the Bears struggled or succeeded on offense are fairly clear:

1993: 24th in PPG, 28th in Total Yards, 28th in Passing Yards, 28th in Passing Attempts, 19th in Rushing Yards, 7th in Rushing attempts. Playcalling: 45% Pass, 55% Run. Bears Record: 7-9

Jim Harbaugh struggled to adjust from Mike Ditka's offense to the new offense, and had one of his worst seasons as a professional, tossing just 7 td passes. He was benched at one point in favor of back-up PT Willis. At runningback, Turner inherited Neal Anderson, who at age 29 had already lost most of his former explosiveness to injury, he averaged just a paltry 3.2 ypc, and the offense sputtered to a halt.

1994: 24th PPG, 23rd Total Yards, 21st Pass. Yds, 20th Pass. Att., 15th Rush Yds, 6th Rush Att. Playcalling: 51% Pass, 49 % Run. Bears Record: 9-7.

Erik Kramer started the season at quarterback, and averaged a healthy 7.1 ypa and nearly 200 ypg, but was benched after a 1-2 start. After replacing Kramer with the weaker armed Steve Walsh, Turner and Wannstedt switched back to a conservative approach on offense in order to allow the defense to win games. Walsh went 8-3 while averaging just 6.1 ypa and only a 173 ypg. The Bears won a wildcard spot and a playoff game. The team still lacked a capable runningback, with halfback Lewis Tillman and fullback Raymont Harris averaging only 3.3 and 3.8 ypc, respectively.

1995: 8th PPG, 9th Total Yds, 12th Pass. Yds, 21st Pass. Att., 9th Rush Yds., 6th Rush Att. Playcalling: 51.5% Pass, 48.5% Run. Bears Record: 9-7.

The most successful passing offense in Bears history resulted from Erik Kramer and rookie Rashaan Salaam combining to give Turner the power arm and power running that fits his offense best. Kramer started all 16 games, took every snap, and threw for a franchise record 3,838 yds, 29 touchdowns, and just 10 interceptions. Salaam didn't have the best yards per carry avg. (3.6), but proved to be the workhorse back that the Bears needed, providing 1,074 yds and 10 tds.

1996: 26th PPG, 21st Total Yds, 19th Pass. Yds, 10th Pass. Att., 16th Rush Yds., 11th Rush Att. Playcalling: 54% Pass, 46% Run. Bears Record: 7-9.

Kramer struggled to recover his 1995 form, and completed just 48.7% of his passes before breaking his neck in the fifth game of the season. 38 year old back up Dave Krieg started the rest of the season, and performed about as well as could be expected for someone his age. Rashaan Salaam also suffered from injuries and lost his starting job, and the team failed to repeat their great rushing performance from the year before. Turner left after the season to take over at Illinois.

2005: 26th PPG, 29th Total Yards, 31st Pass Yds., 30th Pass Att., 8th Rush Yds., 9th Rush Att. Playcalling: 46.2% Pass, 53.8% Rush. Bears Record: 11-5

Turner returned to the Bears after being fired by Illinois, and now was the offensive coordinator for Lovie Smith. An injury to starting quarterback Rex Grossman in the second preseason game left rookie Kyle Orton in the starting lineup, and Turner was forced to scale the offense back drastically in order to prevent mistakes and allow the defense to win games. The passing numbers on the season are admittedly awful, but the run game was outstanding behind Thomas Jones, Cedric Benson, and Adrian Peterson, and the offense did just enough to allow the team to win 11 games.
2006: 2nd PPG, 15th Total Yards, 14th Pass Yds., 17th Pass Att., 15th Rush Yds., 5th Rush Att. Playcalling: 50.6% Pass, 49.4% Rush. Bears Record: 13-3

The 2006 Bears offense was the perfect microcosm of the pros and cons of Turner's offense. When Rex Grossman got off to his hot start at the beginning of the season, the Bears ran their record to 7-0, put 31.5 ppg, and averaged 231.6 passing yards per game (336 total yards per game) despite a relatively slow start from their rushing offense. During the next 9 games, however, as Grossman hit his rough stretches, those totals dropped to 22.8 PPG and 179.3 pass yards per game, although they averaged a respectable 316.3 total ypg thanks to a healthy run game that averaged 131.9 ypg in the second half. Still, the overall numbers on the season, especially the points per game, are either respectable or very good.

2007: 18th PPG, 27th Total Yards, 21st Pass Yds., 14th Pass Att., 30th Rush Yds., 19th Rush Att. Playcalling: 57.4% Pass, 42.6% Rush. Bears Record: 7-9

What went wrong in 2007? Pretty much everything, but it all started up front with the offensive line. The line, with an average age of 31.8 years old and only one starter under 30, fell apart and allowed 43 sacks and failed to open up much of anything in the run game. Rex Grossman and replacement Brian Griese both struggled with turnovers, combining to throw 14 touchdowns and 19 interceptions. Cedric Benson seemed almost sluggish at times and struggled without former partner Thomas Jones, averaging just 3.4 yard per carry. Without a run game, Turner called the highest percentage of passes in his career, a dangerous proposal behind such a shoddy line. Many began calling for his resignation during this difficult season.

2008: 14th PPG, 26th Total Yards, 21st Pass Yds., 14th Pass Att., 24th Rush Yds., 15th Rush Att. Playcalling: 54.9% Pass, 45.1% Rush.

2008, much like 2006, proved that the Turner offense works when the quarterback plays well. In the 7 games in which Orton was hot before his ankle injury, the Bears averaged 28 PPG, 226.6 Pass YPG, 109 Rush YPG, and 335.6 Total Yards Per game. After Orton's injury, those numbers dropped to 19.8 PPG, 163.8 Pass YPG, 101.1 Rush YPG, and just 264.9 Total YPG, and the critics that had silenced themselves for the first seven games came back in full force. Another serious problem with the offense was the lack of a durable back up runningback, with Kevin Jones gaining only 109 yds on 34 carries (3.1 avg.) as he recovered from an ACL tear the year before, and the most notorious problem of all was a weak wide receiver corps.

There are many statistical reasons to criticize Ron Turner, his career average unit rankings are very mediocre, and many people dislike his run-oriented nature (Turner has a 51.4% Pass/48.6% Rush ratio in his career, while the league averaged 54.2% Pass/45.8% Rush in that same time frame). Upon closer examination, however, most of Turner's struggles are more personnel oriented, with quarterback problems (1993, 1996, 2005, the second halves of 2006 and 2008), and offensive line problems (2007) being the chief culprits. During the years in which Turner's seen stability at the quarterback position (1995, first halves of 2006/2008), the team has undeniably lit up the scoreboard.

2009 will certainly be a make or break year for Turner (and perhaps Lovie Smith as well, although I doubt it), as he'll finally have the right quarterback in Jay Cutler, a healthier Kevin Jones to keep Matt Forte fresh, and a retooled offensive line to keep said franchise quarterback (hopefully) upright. I myself have no doubt that the 2009 season will be the best yet for Ron Turner as offense coordinator for the Chicago Bears.