Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Bears offense ... is it broken?

I have read over and over again, how there is no excuse for the poor play by this talented group of offensive players. That based on last season, and with the talent available the Bears offense should be winning games. On paper that would make sense, but rarely what is before you on paper transcends to reality. Okay, the Bears offense is out of sorts, nothing seems to be working, or at least for a long period of time.

So now at 3-5 the  logical questions are being asked. Is Trestman's play calling suspect?  Have the defenses figured Trestman out? and on and on it goes.  Do the Bears have good offensive talent? Yes. Is Marc Trestman and Aaron Kromer good offensive coaches? Yes. Have the defenses figured Trestman out? Not really.  So what is the issue?  I have thought about this long and hard, and for a time I was stumped. Then I got reading an article about the Bears offensive issues, and in reading one of the readers comments and what this person was saying, it got me thinking, and from there dove into research.  Before I get into this, I want to disclose I am not an expert, but for this debate, I will keep it broad in concept, for there are exceptions to every situation, so here I go.

The issue for the Bears offense is not talent, and to a degree not the coaches.  It is basically the system Trestman runs, West Coast Offense, (WCO), does not fit the talent pool he is coaching.  Let me explain, and again I will be using the basics of WCO as the platform.  I am going to look at each group of the offense and try my best to explain why they don't really fit the WCO.

WCO:  For this discussion, I wanted to share the basic philosophy.  The basic premise of the WCO is to pass to set up the run, to have a horizontal passing structure, fluid pocket, quick lineman. The QB should make quick throws in a 3-5 step drop and passes are generally short in nature.  That is it in it's base format.

Offensive line:  Last season they played well, finished 4th in run blocking and 29th in pass blocking. This season so far, they are 1st in run blocking and 14th in pass blocking, even with all the injuries. So right off you will say, hey we got good run blocking O lineman, road graders, why aren't we running more?  Logic would say, with Forte and Carey, we should be, but remember the WCO standard, pass to set up the run, which is different than pro style offense.

The other challenge here is defenses know to stymie a WCO is to bring pressure, therefore, the O line needs quicker and faster offensive lineman to pickup blitzes etc.  The statistics would show that while they have done a better job pass blocking, the personal might not be fast enough often enough to make the WCO work.  This is not the weakest link, but it is certainly clear, the Bears O line is more run talented than in pass blocking.

Wide Recievers:  Here is one of the issues. AJ and BM and to a degree MB are not WCO style receivers.  They are more possession and matchup orientated that suits a vertical style of passing instead of a horizontal.  To have an effective horizontal passing game you need speed at WR, which AJ, BM and to a degree MW are not (Emery even said BM is not a fast WR).  That is why slants are not working, why defeneses are squatting in zones, for they know the Bears will go horizontal with WR that can't get separation that quickly.  In effect, they haven't figured us out per se, we are playing into their strengths.  Unless they put a Chris Williams in the slot, to get speed, our WR are going to struggle.

Running backs:  We know Forte can run and catch, he is your quintessential WCO running back.  I think this is were Trestman is tactically in error.  Last season Forte ran the mostly on 1st and 2nd down as expected in a pro style offense.  This year, there has been a change, they are throwing to him more now on 2nd down and less running plays.  The WCO states you need a good pass catching running back and Forte fits that bill, but is it the best use of Forte?  I am not so sure, there are so many variables to screens, swings, dunks to be successful, that for my money, I would just hand the ball off and let Matt run straight ahead behind an O line that does it well.  Give Forte and Carey 30-35 touches and do what we do well.

Quarterback:  Now we are at a critical point in this discussion.  I will say first off, I am a Cutler fan and will defend Jay a lot.  However, for this conversation I will take the blinders off. I will stand up and say Cutler is a good QB and should be elite, but that is a different discussion for a different day, even though I will touch on some points.  Under Trestman, Cutler statistically, in general, is better, but we have to agree something isn't right.  This has bothered me a lot, and got me thinking about Josh McCown and how he just seemed to thrive with Trestman.  I did some research and the pieces fell into place.  Josh's record in his 12 years (including this one) is 16-25 but in the 3 seasons he QB'ed in a WCO, his record is 12-12.  In 04-05, McGown QB, with the Cardinals under Dennis Green, the team was crappy, but McCown did pretty well.  Then he did nothing until last season, when he played for another WCO HC.  As many said, McCown was perfect for Trestman, because McCown plays well in the WCO.  What about Cutler?  Frankly, I am not sure what system he does well in. In his nine years he has had five different OC's, so in fairness to Jay he has not had one system to grow and learn in like the other top rated QB's.  I do know one thing, Jay played for a mediocre Vandy team in the SEC and played damn well. I would be calling Bobby Johnson, his retired ex head coach, and find out what they were running down there.  Maybe run a system that fits your QB!

In retrospect, if the Bears organization is committed to Trestman, they should have not resigned Jay, kept Josh, and drafted a WCO style QB in the 2/3 rounds for a transition.  It is not about Cutler being a bad QB, contrary, but I do think Jay will struggle in a WCO. Jay is a vertical QB that needs that running game to keep the D honest so he can have time to get downfield.

Summary:  The talent is there no doubt, but this is when Trestman needs to sit back and really be honest with himself and realize what he is doing is putting round pegs in square holes.  Last season, he ran a hybrid WCO, he should go back to that.  This is not difficult, you got the best run blocking line in the league, with one of the top RB and a rookie RB that looks darn good. Run it till they stop it and utilize your WR down field where they excel. In essence, you got vertically talented  players being asked to play in a horizontal game, which they are not talented.

(This conversation can get deeper, for there are issues with QB/WR communication in a WCO and we have seen that.  It is a complex issue but I tried my best to keep it simple. By the way, if you didn't know Kromer and Trestman were together back in the day with Bill Callahan at Oakland.)



   

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Chicago Bears ~ Bye Week Report

The Bears enter the Bye week at 3-5.  If misery loves company, we have it, for the Giants and Saints are 3-4 and the Falcons are now 2-6.  We have 8 games to play, and  like all teams your hope during this break that you can get back on track and finish strong.  Can the Bears do it?  Based purely on the schedule it looks problematic, but not impossible. I think the goal is to get back 8-8 and that is doable.  The reality of it though, is more like 6-10. Regardless, it is time to see where we are and what does it look like going forward.

Today I am going to review the defense. I don't believe in grades for that is subject and honestly means nothing.  So here we go:

Overall:

Going into this season, we knew while Emery spent money on the DL, also there were far too many concerns elsewhere to believe the D would be top flight.  The expectation was for improvement and to develop some consistency.  The consistency has been missing but the improvement is there. Last season, the Bear ranked 32 against the run, so far in 2014, they are now ranked 8th.  Pass rushing the Bears finished 31st in 2013 and now sit 24th, a modest improvement.  The one area where there has been no improvement is pass coverage. Last season, the rated 24th, currently 26th.  Overall, the Bears have improved to 19th, up from 32nd.

Coaches:

After last seasons defensive nightmare, many fans and media were calling for Mel Tucker to be fired. He wasn't but instead, the Bears made two changes to their staff. Bringing in Paul Pasqualoni on the DL and Reggie Herring at Linebacker.  After the game in NE, the hues and cries for Tucker's head are now reaching lynch mob status. Many thought, he might get fired during the bye week, and that probably won't happen.  Is it Tuckers fault?  Who knows, but I will go with Mike Ditka, when asked what would he do. His reply was there was not much you can do with the lack of talent you have.  I will say it again, you can have the greatest schemes, the best teachers but if the player can't execute it, none of it matters.

I do think conventional wisdom is, if the defense doesn't find some consistency fast, which I believe it won't, then Tucker will be the fall guy at the end of the season.

Defensive Line:

Tackles:  The brightest spot on the defense.  Ratliff is having a great season, Paea has been steady and the two rookies (Sutton and Ferguson) have played well.  Ratliff has done exceedingly well on pass rush, Sutton has been excellent against the run.  The have been overall good against the run, but not so much on pass rush.  With the loss of Houston, they are going to have to step it up on pass rush to take pressure of the DE's.

Defensive Ends:  Emery invested heavily here signing, Willie Young, Jared Allen and Lamarr Houston. So far the results have been uneven.  Young and Allen have played well against the run, Houston has not.  On the pass rush side, Allen has been a disappointment, Young has 7 sacks but has been quiet the last two games. Houston has done what was expected, he was never known as a sack man, but is excellent in getting pressure on a QB.  The challenge going forward is the Bears have lost their most productive pass rusher in Houston.  I know the fans don't like him over his twitter barrage and his injury during a celebration (which all players do regardless of score), but what they will soon realize unless Young and Allen step it up, the inconsistent pass rush will become the non existent pass rush.  Just to put it into perspective, Houston is ranked 7th in total pressures (1st in QB hits), Allen is 17th and Young 29th.  Houston had 40% of the DE total pressures.  So we now go with Trevor Scott and suspect they will bring back Austen Lane.

Linebackers:  This was a weak link going into this season, and expectations were high that Briggs had one more year in him, Bostic, Greene and McClellin would improve and Williams could find that magic again.  Well Briggs kind of has one year left depending on his mood. Bostic has improved, the other two not so much and Williams has no magic.  The bright spot has been Christian Jones and to a lesser degree Sharpton.  Now in fairness to Briggs, he rates out the most productive LB the Bears have. So going forward this is a mixed bag.  You have to start Briggs at WILL, I would like to see Bostic at MIKE but SAM is a real problem.  If you move Bostic out to SAM, then Williams plays MIKE. Sharpton is out for at least 3 weeks, Jones plays WILL and Greene is on special teams.  The only thing I can say positive about this group? Look for a 1st or 2nd round draft pick here.

Corners:  Tillman getting hurt has really hurt.  Yes, Kyle Fuller has played like a first round choice, and sits 10th with a QB rating of 60 against him. Tim Jennings has returned to his normal performance level of being an average CB. His QB rating is 110 has been burned for 3 TD's, the most of all Bears DB's.  There is no answer at nickel. Frey couldn't get it done, not sure about McManis or Hurst, both are dinged up. Louis-Jean stepped in for Fuller at NE and got chewed up by Brady/LeFell but one thing he never quit and fought tough. Regardless, we are severely undermanned here and with medicore LB play, inconsistent pass rush, sadly this group could be in for a long second half.

Safeties:  We were surprised Emery went cheap here, but while certainly not All Pro level play, it has been a shade better.  Mundy has been inconsistent, but that should not be a shock.  We knew he be decent against the run and he has been, but his coverage skills are weak which creates a liability, along with the weak coverage skills of the corners.  McCray is not the answer, Conte is busted up unfortunately. Vereen has shown he can play both against the run and in coverage.  I suspect we will see Vereen gradually take over FS.

Second half:

The defense will be facing Rodgers, Stafford (twice), Romo and Brees.  With Houston gone, it comes down to Allen and Young. If they can't get after the these QB 's our undermanned DB's and mediocre LB's will be torched up all day long. Blame the scheme, point the finger at Tucker, but like Da Coach said, you ain't got the talent none of that matters.          











Monday, October 27, 2014

Bears Press Conference ~ The questions that should have been asked

Today was the Emery & Trestman press conference, that had been scheduled before the nightmare at Foxboro. That alone should have told us nothing really illuminating would could come from it, and it was only aided and abetted but the Bears beat writers wasting most of the time asking inane questions. Does anyone really care about Urlacher's comments? or they fact the media brings up the condition of the field?  The park district of the City runs Soldier Field not Bears ownership, so asking Emery questions about it is brainless.  Go talk to the City why the Bears historically have the worse playing surface in the NFL, and you will get stonewalled.

Here are some questions that should have been asked:

1.  While nothing can be done right now, do you think you will hire Rex Ryan as DC next season to break the curse of Buddy Ryan?  For those that don't know or remember, here is Buddy's quote when he got let go ...  

 "Yea, though I go to wander the NFL for the rest of my days, the Grail of Lombardi shall not return to to Halas Hall until the Son of Ryan joins the Field of Fallen Soldiers. Until that day, your seasons will be lost in the myst of time, though you may try to Unleash the Dragon."

The Curse of Buddy Ryan 

2.  While coach Trestman, you are a WCO guru, does the offensive personnel really match up to that style of play?  I will write more on this during the week, but the basic tenet of WCO is passing to set up running.

3. With mundane performance of Peppers last season and Allen's disappearance this season, can we safely assume next UFA, you will not sign an over 30+ DE?

4. With the linebacking corps still struggling, would we not be better served in releasing Lance Briggs and DJ Williams and let our youngster live and die by the sword so they can learn for next season?

5. Is it possible you will sign Josh Freeman, and let him start the remainder of the season, so the Bear fans and us media types can finally appreciate Jay Cutler?

Those are my five "tongue and cheek" questions, but I think they would have been far more illuminating than what was asked.

Update: Wanted to share something with all those that wanted Bruce Arians. Not judging him as a coach but the statistics are Loviesque. 16 wins so far and that is impressive, but only 6 have come against teams with a winning record. Adding in his time at Indy where he was interim coach, he is 8-8 against winning teams. In 2012, O ranked 20th, D ranked 5th.  So far in 2014, O ranks 25th and D is now 5th.

So during the bye week, here is what's coming: Discussion on O talent v WCO. Mid season position review and setting an expectation for the final 8 games.



Sunday, October 26, 2014

Bears v Patriots ... wheels have come off the wagon

Well so much for that!  Here I thought the Bears would bounce off a frustrating loss to the Dolphins and give the Pat's fits.  How wrong was I.  Forget the score, this game was riff with so many issues it is almost mind boggling.  For me it started with the referees, then the poor play of the defense,  next comes the almost "quitter" attitude of Brandon Marshall, and finally the sense this team is lost.

On the positive side, there were some bright spots. There is always something good to look at even out of the ashes.  Cutler had a good game, that fumble was a bad call by the referee.  He was clearly in the grasp and the play should have been called dead for safety issues (NFL words not mine). Also, you could argue he tossed the ball forward with both hands, which another QB did last week and was called incomplete. Forte looked good as we expected and so did Martellus Bennett.  I liked what I saw from Christian Jones, Carey and Louis-Jean.

On the injury front, it looks like Slauson is gone for the year, as well as, Houston.  I am not going to knock a guy for celebrating, all do, regardless of score. Unfortunate, but indicative of this team. Also, Sharpton ham string is not too bad. Fuller said the hip pointer was hampering him too much to continue.

I dislike complaining about the referee's, I really do, but as we demand accountability from our players and coaches, we should expect the same from them.  There were 3 obvious PI's missed, a motion penalty called well after the play when the Bear stopped NE on fourth down, Gronk's TD catch when he went out of bounds and the blown Cutler fumble.  The referee's handed NE 17 points and stymied the Bears drives.  People barked at me for this complaint, but what they fail to see is a bad call can disrupt a teams momentum, change the game entirely.  I am not saying this would have changed the game but it didn't help.

The defense.  Fans want Tucker fired. Fire him then, that won't change anything. Will firing Tucker make Jared Allen get sacks, will it make our LB's better, our S better? NO.  It doesn't matter about schemes or what not, if the talent is not there its not there. We knew going into this season, that some aspects of the D would be better, and they have improved. However, the holes are still too big for any hot shot DC to have an effect.  

What did bother me the most was seeing Marshall dog it on two pass plays. It doesn't matter if they were catchable or not, he gave up. That right there says this team has issues. Briggs walking out of the locker room last week, Marshall literally quitting this week on the field spells doom for Trestman. Unless something happens during the bye week to dramatically turn this team around, Trestman will be fired.

Right now the Bears are lost. I think the media created a false level of expectation, there has been an illusion about the talent the Bears have, and the backwash of the Smith/Angelo period that still hampers this franchise.  I am still believer in Emery and Cutler but am starting to lose faith in Trestman.  So far now, we sit at 3-5. The question remains can we do anything to finish 8-8?

Update: Here is the clip of Cutler, clearly in the grasp for five seconds before other NE players converge. Rules state QB safety paramount. Cutler could have been seriously injured if the players went after him and not ball. Whistle should have been blown.   Cutler in the grasp

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Bears v Patriots ... home field who cares!

Tomorrow the Bears will square off against the fourth member of the AFC North. The will be playing in Foxboro, where the Pats have won nine in a row, since losing to the 49'ers back in 2012.  While that record is daunting, statistically speaking the law of averages are working against the Pats. So for me, its not their winning streak that concerns me, its the Belichek/Brady connection.

No matter the situation, you have to respect the B&B boys.  They have built an organization like no other, and no matter the roster they seem to win.  Now this season looks no different being 5-2, but don't let that record fool you. Three of  those wins come against teams with a combined record of 3-17.  Also, both teams lost to the Dolphins, in fact, NE got spanked by the flying fish.  Both teams beat the Jets, can argue the Bears handled them better, but lets call it even.  The only other common opponent is Buffalo. NE won we lost in overtime.  What I am getting at here, Ne has had a soft schedule and that can mask many issues.

When you look at team efficiency both teams are about equal.  On offense, NE is rated 16th, Bears 17th. On defense, NE is ranked 16th, Bears 12th.  When you dig deeper, both teams are about equal right now. Neither team is lighting it up offensively, nor doing a super job defensively. The Bears have been better against the run, and suspect that will hold true tomorrow.  Both teams pass defense is weak (Hub is consistently wrong in calming NE is #1 against the pass). NE is rated 12th and Bears 25th.  So all that taken in account can the Bears win. Yes.

For me I am more optimistic about playing NE than Miami or Buffalo.  On paper, the Bears should be able to run on the Pat's, that would chew up time and keep Brady off the field.  We should be able to pass against them as well, but it will have to be more varied.  The real weakness for the Bears is pass D. We need a overachieving game from all of them. Gronk is getting back in the groove, and TE seem to be eating up our LB's. So if there was a game for McClellin and Jones to show their value this is it.

Also, if there is a time for the Bears pass rush to explode (meaning Jared Allen) it is against NE. The rank 31st in pass blocking. There is no reason in the world not to expect a big day from Young, Allen, Houston et al.

This is a game where the defense can play a major role in defeating NE.  The match up favors our defense, we won't need a lot points to take this one home. I see a 17-14 Bears victory.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Jay Cutler ~ the worst two days in his life.


There is an old saying about boat owners, the two best days of their life is when they buy a boat, and when they sell it. Sadly for Jay Cutler, the worst two days of his life is when he got traded to Chicago and when he re-signed with the Bears.  Not that he is not good for the Bears, he is. The thing is Chicago is bad for him.  That's right, the media and fan base in general are clueless in what they have. There is little doubt, if Jay had gone elsewhere he be in the playoffs, if not, the Super Bowl.  No matter what Cutler does, the groundswell of bias against him is unchanging and myopic.

Jay will go down statistically as one of the Bears all time QB's.  The anti-Cutler will snicker and say yea, look at those INT's.  When I cite, that in the first nine years of Peyton Mannings career v Jay nine years, they have about the same number of INT (extrapolated out since Manning played more games), they get all excited and say Peyton is a winner!

True he is and so is Jay. Cutler as of today is 42-32 as a Bear QB. Not too bad in my book considering he played 4 years under one of the most inept HC in football, especially when it came to offense (Any surprise TB is ranked 30th in O this season). Then the argument is well, the defense won many games for them back then. Probably true, and we can lay the reverse claim over the last two seasons on how many games did the D and ST cost the Bears.  Under Tresteman, Jay is 8-10 and I can clearly show 6 of those losses had nothing to do with Cutler. Oh while we are at it, in last seasons loss to NO, Jay had ZERO interceptions. Debunking this media obsession currently about winning v interceptions, it is a statical anomaly.  On the winning side of it, it is a fact, the Jay has 4 GW drives to his credit. What does it really mean? That winning and losing is a team effort, not one man.

Once this is laid out they start in on the roster, look how great this offense is, blah blah. Who said it is? the media, fans? ... Be real. Like Olin Kruetz, said an offense is only good when all 11 players execute the play.  You have an aged center, a lowly rated second year tackle, one of our top guards was out hurt, our Wr's injured and hobbling, what were you expecting? Add in the media in Chicago underestimating how good the Bill/Dolphins were, you get what you get.  Right now the only players that are really performing are Forte and Cutler. Even Bennett has gotten the yipes with dropping passes. The O does have potential and does flash signs of it and in time they will sort it out.

For all those that want Cutler gone, I wish he had for his career would be better off, be careful for what you wish for, Josh Freeman is a phone call away.

(During the bye week I will write a story over at Bears Goggles On how Cutler never had a chance in Chicago)





Thursday, October 23, 2014

Random thoughts on the Chicago Bears

Been doing a lot of thinking on a lot of things about the Bears this week, so instead of a dissertation, thought I would just throw them out there:

1. I don't care what Brian Urlacher says.

2. Media questions Bears leadership. Where was Lance Briggs when things got emotional in the locker room? Oh that's right he walked out, some leadership!

3. Rotating captains is fine. GB and BALT use them. Another overblown media stunt only added by Jennings shooting off his mouth .... see a trend?

4. Jennings and Briggs ex Lovie guys causing dissension. Interesting but media ignores it.

5. Lamar Houston ranks sixth in total pressures with 25, first in QB hits with 10. But fans are down on him?????

6. During the first nine years of Peyton Mannings career he threw 139 INT for a 3.7%. Jay Cutler has thrown 119 for 3.3%. Now Peyton did play 29 more games so if you extrapolate that,  Jay will be around the same number.  Peyton is Elite (rightly so) but Jay is a bum, go figure. Or you can argue INT are an overblown stat ... take your pick.

7.  Bears in 2013 were 4-3 2014 3-4. I will say it now, the most disappointing loss was Carolina. Miami, Buffalo were better teams than first thought, GB is just a pain in our ass.

8. So far Emery's draft class outstanding: Fuller playing like a #1, Ego and Sutton contributing, Vereen getting his licks, as is Carey. Leno will get his shot in time and Fales is doing what QB's do, "look, listen and learn". Toss in FA pick Christian Jones and this could be a gold star draft.

9. Cutler ranks 3rd in accuracy under pressure at 71.4% and second in completion %  with 60.3%.

10. Bears rank 8th overall by PFF. (Last season they finished 6th)

11. NE game ... playing at Foxboro against Brady=tough game no matter how weak the Pats D.

12. BDLP ranks 10th in NFL in pass blocking efficiency, Garza 18th, BDLP sits!

Adding a few more things. Have zero interest in power rankings. Daily injury reports are worthless, it's who plays on game day that matters.  Tired of the negative Bear beat reporters asking the same old tired questions.