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Bears: Can you see the light?

October 21, 2009

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Chicago Bears – Can you see the light?

Is the team underachieving or overachieving? Hopefully by the time Cutlers new contract extension expires in 2013 we will have a quality offensive line. And, here is the reality on Matt Forte in his 21 starts since entering the league: averaged fewer than 4.0 yards/carry in 67% of his games; Rushed for 100 yards only four times. Stupid penalties, wasted timeouts, blown assignments, poor scheming, inept play calling and not adjusting to what other teams are doing will lose you as many games as underachievers.

The sheer amount of flat out debacle’s this team has experienced is overwhelming. The Bears’ offensive line is getting worse when they should be getting better. I think attrition and poor roster decisions, scheming and play calling have more to do with this poor starting season than anything. I’m all for going threw the growing pains of developing players, but at what point do you say enough is enough? I think its way too early to tell if this team is overachieving or underachieving. Yet, based on stats, players are underachieving.

I still think the Bears would be better off having Rod Marinelli also coach the offensive line, because Harry Hiestand — who came to the Bears in a package deal with Ron Turner — isn’t getting it done. Since he came to the Bears, their rushing game has gone from eighth in the NFL in his first year to 15th, 30th, 24th and now 27th this season. Lovie Smith is fooling himself if he thinks people are buying his ‘getting off the bus running.” When you are first-and-goal inside the 1 yard line, you have to get a touchdown. The Bears failed in Atlanta.

There’s no use dredging up history unless it’s to help identify a full-fledged tendency. Turner’s offenses have ranked 29th, 15th, 27th and 26th in total yards since he rejoined the Bears in 2005. Even with the best quarterback the Bears have had in the modern era, they are 19th. Jay Cutler is 16th in the NFL in passer rating (86.9). He has been sacked as many times in five games with the Bears (11) as he was in 16 with the Broncos last year. This is a veteran team. They shouldn’t be playing this inconsistently and erratically in Week 6.

Of course it’s not all Turner’s fault. Jerry Angelo has had a hand in it as well. Since Angelo became the Bears’ general manager, the Bears’ offense has ranked in the bottom seven of the NFL seven times in eight seasons prior to 2009 (26th-29th-28th-32nd-29th-15th-27th-26th. The Bears are one of only two NFL teams that has not been in the top 12 in that span (the Lions are the other).

Maybe Angelo should hire a guru to oversee the Bears’ offense, because as well as he does with defensive players, he doesn’t seem to have much of a touch on offense. In 14 years as director of player personnel at Tampa Bay, the Buccaneers were never in the top half of the league in total yards. Only twice were they even higher than 20th. So in the past 22 years in the NFL, Jerry Angelo has been associated with an offense that has ranked in the top half of the NFL only once — the 2006 Bears that finished 15th. Eighteen of those 22 teams have finished in the bottom 10 of the NFL in total offense. Just a guess, but I’d say that’s a pattern.

The Kyle Orton saga is going from amusing to suspicious. Orton now (after 6 games) is eighth in the NFL with a 100.1 passer rating this season. Jay Cutler is 16th at 86.9. Don’t let anybody convince you that’s not an indictment of the Bears’ offense under Ron Turner, Lovie Smith and Jerry Angelo. Orton is protected by a line that includes Ryan Harris, a third-round pick in 2007; Chris Kuper, a fifth-round pick in 2006; Ben Hamilton, a fourth-round pick in 2001; Casey Wiegmann, an undrafted free agent whom the Bears let go 10 years ago because they had a better center in Olin Kreutz; and Ryan Clady, a first-rounder (No. 12 overall) drafted two picks before Chris Williams in 2008. With the exception of Clady, that’s not exactly an All-Star cast. If they’re better players than what the Bears have on their line, it’s because somebody made them better. It’s called player development and coaching. Some teams have it and some don’t.

Thomas Jones also became the latest player to have a career day after leaving the Bears’ offense. Jones rushed for a career-high 210 yards on 22 carries and a touchdown in the Jets’ overtime loss to the Bills in week 6. Though his acquisition eventually muddled the Cedric Benson situation (actually Benson’s acquisition muddled his situation), Jones played well with the Bears — he rushed for 1,335 yards (4.3 yards per carry) with nine touchdowns in 2005. But he’s been even better since leaving: In his last 18 games with the Jets, Jones has averaged 86 yards per game, 4.8 yards per carry and scored 19 touchdowns.

What’s wrong with this picture? The star of the Raiders’ upset of the Eagles was third-year tight end Zach Miller, who caught six passes for 139 yards and an 86-yard touchdown Sunday. Miller was the 38th pick of the 2007 draft — taken seven spots after the Bears took Greg Olsen. Miller, in an offense with the 26th-ranked quarterback in the NFL in Jamarcus Russell (51.0 rating), has 21 catches for 354 yards this season, a 16.9-yard average. Olsen, with Jay Cutler throwing to him, has 15 catches for 151 yards, a 10.1-yard average.

Miller isn’t the only tight end from the 2007 draft outperforming Olsen. The Giants, Eagles and Panthers all are getting more bang for their buck with fifth-round picks: Kevin Boss (above) of the Giants (11-161-, 14.6 yards per catch) was the 153rd pick; Dante Rosario of the Panthers (8-117, 14.6, 2 TDs) was the 155th pick; and Brent Celek of the Eagles (30-378, 12.6, 2 TDs) was the 162nd pick. Why are other teams getting a much out of fifth-round picks as the Bears are from a first-rounder?

I’ll give you a few guesses.

Over-reaction is terrible disease. I will reserve further judgment at the end of the season. Bottom line is that this is not JA or Lovie’s team. They are only temporary caretakers and will some day be long gone. What remains is the fans; the people that stick by the team all their lives. Yet, I’ve always been constant with my disgust at the ineptitude of Ron Turner, and the offensive line which has been mediocre at its best for several seasons now due to poor management by Angelo. But if we miss the playoffs again in a haze of mediocrity, it’s time for some changes.

The truth is, it hasn’t been just one game. It has been numerous games stretched over several seasons. Smith said he can’t wait to get his players back on the practice field so they can start correcting their mistakes, but if he and his staff haven’t made the necessary corrections by now, they might never. Good teams find a way to win. Too often, under Smith and Angelo, the Bears have found a way to lose.

Stay Tuned.

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