Kap: Lack of offense could be Lovie's doom


Kap: Lack of offense could be Lovie's doom

With the Bears struggling offensively yet again, I decided to take a look at how the top offenses year-in and year-out in the NFL were built and how they have sustained a consistent record of success.

What do they do that Lovie Smith and the Bears can only dream about accomplishing?

Anybody can put the blame on injuries, a suspect offensive line and the referees, but one of the biggest reasons lays at the doorstep of Smith and Mike Tice. I know Lovie is a defensive coach and this is Tices first year as an offensive coordinator, but Smith has only had an offense ranked in the top half of the NFL once since he became the Bears head coach nine years ago and that was a mediocre 15th in 2006.

The Bears have what they thought would be an elite quarterback in Jay Cutler who they acquired in a blockbuster trade back in 2009.

But is Cutler really an elite signal caller? Is he capable of putting a team in his back and carrying them on a deep run through the playoffs and to a Super Bowl title? Have we been so starved for solid quarterback play here in Chicago that we overlook Cutlers numerous flaws and instead are in love with his cannon for a right arm?

Here is a look at the top offenses and quarterbacks in the NFL, how they were built and why they have had a consistent record of success over the past several seasons. What do they do to put an elite offense on the field year-in and year-out that the Bears cant seem to understand how to accomplish? What makes these signal callers the best in the game season after season?

Green Bay Packers - Aaron Rodgers

Ever since Rodgers became the starter in 2008, he has been throwing to the same core of wide receivers that includes Greg Jennings, Jordy Nelson, Donald Driver and tight end Jermichael Finley. Rodgers has worked under two offensive coordinators, but the system has been the same.

Current offensive coordinator Tom Clements is in his first year at the position, but he has been working with Rodgers since he entered the league. Clements was the quarterbacks coach for Green Bay and was promoted to offensive coordinator when Joe Philbin was named the head coach of the Miami Dolphins.

This season is the lowest offensive ranking (17th) for Green Bay since 2008 but every other season Rodgers has been at the helm, the Packers have has a Top 10 ranked offense. Despite the total offensive numbers, Rodgers quarterback rating is fifth best in the league. In addition, the Packers have a roster loaded with depth, as 43 of 53 players that were drafted and developed by Green Bay.

New England Patriots - Tom Brady

The three-time Super Bowl champion has served under a number of offensive coordinators that includes Charlie Weis and Josh McDaniels (twice). With that being said, it has all been run under the same head coach, Bill Belichick, who is one of the best minds the league has ever had.

Bradys core of wide receivers has fluctuated a little bit, but ever since 2006 he has had that go-to wide receiver. First it was Randy Moss and when he left, Wes Welker took up the role and adding Rob Gronkowski has not hurt either. Since 2005, Brady and the Pats have finished in the Top 10 in offense each season.

Indianapolis Colts - Peyton Manning

The four-time MVP has worked under four head coaches and two offensive coordinators since he was drafted No. 1 overall out of Tennessee in the 1998 draft. From the time Manning joined the Colts until departing Indy for Denver last spring, offensive coordinator Tom Moore was there tutoring his prized pupil.

In 2002, the Colts added Jim Caldwell as quarterbacks coach under head man Tony Dungy which gave Manning a solid group of veteran football minds to develop his game and help him reach his full potential. Caldwell eventually became the head coach when Dungy retired, but the system stayed the same and the continuity kept Manning firmly entrenched among the best field generals of all time.

In Denver, Manning has been working with head coach John Fox with Mike McCoy as his offensive coordinator. Together, the three have created an offense based on the QBs skill set and have put in a system that Manning could feel comfortable with from the start of his time with the Broncos. In addition, Fox and McCoy worked together in Carolina from 2002-08 so the comfort level and approach that the two coaches employ has been developed over several years.

Manning has had different coaches in his career, but he has always had chemistry with each coach, a similar style of game-planning and that has built a foundation for success season after season. Since 2000, an offense run by Manning has finished in the Top 10 every season except one.

New Orleans Saints - Drew Brees

Even with the Bountygate scandal and Drew Brees struggles with interceptions -- 18 through 14 games marks the second-highest total of his career -- the Saints offense is still ranked third in the NFL and they are ranked second in passing yards per game.

Payton has been the head coach in the Big Easy since 2006 and since that time, the Saints have had only two offensive coordinators. Current OC Pete Carmichael, Jr., has been in New Orleans since 2009, meaning that over the past four years (including a Super Bowl title), the Saints have been running the same system with roughly the same personnel grouping.

New Orleans has had the top-ranked offense four times since Brees became their starting quarterback in 2006. Since that season started, Brees has been throwing to the same wide receivers, which include Marques Colston and Devery Henderson. He also had standout tight end Jimmy Graham for the past few seasons and before that, Brees had Jeremy Shockey, who was a prime-time receiver after coming over from the New York Giants.

There is no debating Brees is a great quarterback, but it also helps that he has been able to develop tremendous chemistry with his teammates for a significant amount of time and has a head coach who is an offensive guru.

Atlanta Falcons - Matt Ryan

Right behind Brees is his fellow NFL South rival. Since 2010, Ryan has finished in the Top 10 in passing yards among starting quarterbacks, and this season he is currently ranked fifth. Ryan came into the league in 2008 and he has lead his team to the playoffs every year except one. This year, the Falcons are close to locking up the top seed throughout the NFC playoffs.

Head coach Mike Smith joined the Falcons the same year Ryan did. Along with Smith came offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey, who was with Atlanta through 2011 before taking the head coaching job in Jacksonville. During his four years in Atlanta, Mularkey coached the Falcons to a Top 10 scoring offense in three of four seasons.

After Mularkey left, Dirk Koetter has picked up right where he left off and currently has the Falcons offense ranked seventh in the NFL in scoring. Since 2008, Ryan has had an outstanding group of wide receivers to throw to, led by Roddy White and future Hall of Famer Tony Gonzalez, plus a standout running game led by Michael Turner. Trading up to draft Julio Jones with the fifth pick in the 2011 draft also added another star that Ryan is able to work with.

New York Giants - Eli Manning

Yes, Eli tends to be overshadowed by Peyton, but lets not forget that Eli has won two Super Bowls compared to Peytons one. Since Elis rookie year in 2004, the Giants have made the playoffs five times and they are in the postseason hunt again this year.

Tom Coughlin became the head coach of the Giants when Eli was drafted and he added Kevin Gilbride to his staff as the quarterbacks coach until 2007, when he was named offensive coordinator. Together, Manning, Coughlin and Gilbride have led the Giants to a Top 10 offense every season since 2008.

Early in Mannings career, he was throwing to Plaxico Burress and Shockey, but now he has standouts Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks who are capable of making big plays both in the intermediate and the deep passing game.

Manning has also had Mario Manningham and Steve Smith as go-to targets during his career, but no matter who he was lining up with, he always had a reliable group of receivers.

Continuity with the offensive coaches and solid skill position players have always given Manning a chance to make plays. Add in a solid offensive line year-in and year-out and that is why the New York Giants are always in contention for a Super Bowl.

Dallas Cowboys - Tony Romo

Romo has not had the success that his division rival has had, but he is still an elite quarterback and he has been playing like one as of late. He is the major reason why the Cowboys are back in the playoff hunt after a slow start to the 2012 season.

Since Romo became the starter in 2006, he has finished with a Top 10 passer rating in every season except 2010 when he suffered a broken clavicle and was placed on injured reserve. In every full season Romo has played in except one, the Cowboys have been a Top 10 offense.

If there is one team on this list that is similar to the unstable coaching staff of the Bears, it is the Cowboys. Since Romo became the starter, the Cowboys have had three different head coaches: Bill Parcells, Wade Phillips and current head coach Jason Garrett. Garrett has been with the Cowboys since 2007, so there is a small amount of stability, but they do not have an offensive coordinator. Instead they have a running game coordinator in Hudson Houck and a passing game coordinator which is Garrett.

Despite the coaching staff, Romo has always had a wide array of weapons to throw to, including standout tight end Jason Witten who has been in Dallas the entire time Romo has been there. Terrell Owens had a brief stop and was solid. Now, Romo has Dez Bryant and Miles Austin to help carry the Cowboys to the fourth best offense in the NFL this season.

Houston Texans - Matt Schaub

Schaub became the starter for the Houston Texans in 2007 after serving as the backup in Atlanta for three seasons. It took a season for Schaub to improve and develop, but every season except one since 2008, he has led the Texans to a Top 10 offense, including an offense currently ranked third in scoring.

One aspect that helps is having weapons like Arian Foster and Andre Johnson, who is arguably the best wide receiver in the game and has been in Houston since he was drafted in 2003.

Schaub has been working under offensive-minded head coach Gary Kubiak ever since he was traded to Houston. The head coach has stayed the same, but Schaub has had to work under three offensive coordinators. But they may have found the right guy in Rick Dennison, who took over in 2010. The Texans have finished in the Top 10 in scoring each season since Dennison arrived.

Washington Redskins - Robert Griffin III

Yes, he is a rookie, but he is playing like an experienced veteran. He has the Redskins on the verge of the playoffs with two games to go. Griffin has the sixth best passer rating and is currently ranked second in total quarterback rating.

The Redskins quarterback has been working under head coach Mike Shanahan and his son, Kyle, as offensive coordinator, which gives the coaching staff excellent rapport and continuity. Griffin has led the Redskins to the fourth best offense in the league this season.

Yes, it is possible he can suffer a sophomore slump, but the Redskins have an experienced foundation of coaches which may prevent that from happening and help RGIII to be even better. If that is the case, the rest of the NFL better look out.

Seattle Seahawks - Russell Wilson

Some may argue that Andrew Luck could be in this spot, but look at the numbers. Luck has thrown a league-leading 18 interceptions, while Wilson also has a much better passer rating and total quarterback rating, where he is ranked eighth in the NFL compared to Luck, who is ranked 12th.

Wilson has been working under Pete Carroll, who was hired to be the head coach in 2010 and offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell, who joined Carrolls coaching staff in 2011 after Carroll fired Jeremy Bates, who is now the Bears quarterbacks coach.

The Seahawks are currently ranked 11th in scoring and one of the major reasons Wilson made this list is because of his ability to run. Along with Wilson as a threat by himself, he has Sidney Rice to throw to and a backfield led by Marshawn Lynch, who is second in rushing yards behind Adrian Peterson.

However, to say that the Seahawks are loaded with difference-makers on the offensive side of the ball for Wilson to work with is not accurate. He has proven to the rest of the football world that the old axiom that you cannot win with a rookie QB is no longer accurate.

Where are the Bears?

In looking at all of the teams that I highlighted and the story their statistics tell, it is obvious the Chicago Bears are a long way from being a team with a championship-caliber offense.

However, to put the blame on Jay Cutler is not entirely fair. Yes, he has made some poor decisions and some poor throws that have directly led to losses. Jay, though, is forced to play behind an absolutely awful offensive line that gives him no time to survey the field and make a decision on where to throw the ball.

Add in the fact that he has a receiver in Devin Hester, who has absolutely zero knowledge of how to play the position, no competent tight end that he can use either downfield or in a check-down situation, and no other receiver besides Brandon Marshall that he count on to make a play when a drive is at a critical point.

When you factor in that Mike Tice is completely unprepared to be an offensive coordinator -- having never held the position in his life before being promoted to the role last spring -- and the level of dysfunction on the Bears offense keeps them from being successful, it is obvious that no matter what happens during the seasons final two games, a change must be made with the head coach and his staff.

Lovie Smith has had an offense ranked in the Top 15 of the NFL only once in his nine years as the Bears head coach and that was 15th in 2006. He may be a brilliant defensive strategist, but he is sorely lacking as a head coach and at the end of this season, GM Phil Emery must clean out the coaching staff and hire the best offensive minds he can find.

That will give him a chance to find out whether or not Jay Cutler is the long-term answer at quarterback. If Smith and Tice are allowed to return, then Cutler has no chance of ever being the QB everyone hopes he can be in a Bears uniform because Smith has proven repeatedly that he does not have the ability to put an offensive staff together that can put a championship offense on the field week-in and week-out.

The Bears have had championship-caliber defensive talent for the past several seasons and unless a complete overhaul of the coaching staff is made after this season, the defense will continue to age and their window of playing Super Bowl-caliber defense will close before the offense will be at an acceptable level.

That would be incredibly unfortunate.

Jordan Carstens contributed to this post

White Sox: Miguel Gonzalez will head out for rehab assignment

White Sox: Miguel Gonzalez will head out for rehab assignment

Miguel Gonzalez will head on a rehab assignment.

The White Sox pitcher has been on the 15-day disabled list since August 12 with a right groin strain.

Manager Robin Ventura said Gonzalez pitched in a simulated game on Saturday and it “went well.”

“Everything’s good,” Ventura said. “Next step is he’s going to go out and see how that goes.”

After a bullpen session on Wednesday, Gonzalez said he felt “a lot better” and “didn’t feel anything” while throwing in the bullpen.

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If all goes according to plan, Gonzalez would be one of a few roster moves after Sept. 1.

How the White Sox will balance the rotation in his return is uncertain.

“We talk about that all the time,” Ventura said, “just being able to find the right spot to put a guy in, if a guy’s gonna come out of it, if we’re just gonna leave everybody in there and do it.”

Gonzalez is 2-6 this season with a 4.05 ERA and 78 strikeouts in 19 games (18 starts).

How walk-on Rob Regan became a secret weapon for Notre Dame

How walk-on Rob Regan became a secret weapon for Notre Dame

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — How does a walk-on safety have a Notre Dame game ball despite never actually appearing in a game?

On the surface, that sophomore Rob Regan received that family heirloom last October after Notre Dame’s win over Navy may seem weird given he didn’t play a snap that day. But to everybody who sees the work Regan puts in at the LaBar Practice Complex, especially during weeks in which Notre Dame prepares to face an opponent that runs the triple option, it’s anything but strange. 

“There’s no question about it,” defensive end Isaac Rochell said. “He deserved it.”

“I personally don’t know who we would’ve given it to besides him,” cornerback Cole Luke added. “If we didn’t have Robby, we definitely wouldn’t have been as prepared as we were.”

For Rochell, Luke and the rest of the Irish defense, Regan’s work as Notre Dame’s scout team — er, “Swag Team” — quarterback during triple option preparation was an important key to solving the antiquated-yet-confounding offense. It’s an attack Notre Dame faces more than most other Power Five schools with Navy on the schedule every year, but heading into last season, coach Brian Kelly & Co. had to double down on their efforts to stop it.

Notre Dame’s defense didn’t put up much resistance against Navy in 2013 (34 points, 5.3 yards per play) and 2014 (39 points, 5.9 yards per play), and with Georgia Tech joining the Mids on the schedule last year, fixing those triple option defensive issues was a paramount concern. Army is on the schedule in 2016, too, so for the second consecutive year Notre Dame will face two triple option offenses.

Former defensive coach Bob Elliott moved off the field into a special assistant role, with one of his chief tasks being to figure out a way to better defend the triple option. But the decision of Regan, who successfully ran a triple option offense at Hinsdale South High School in the Chicago area, to walk on to the team turned out to be a huge boost to those efforts.

In the past, Notre Dame’s scout team quarterback for triple option weeks wasn’t a natural at running it and had to read each play off a card. That lack of fluidity not only meant fewer reps for the Irish defense, but the quality of them was way off what they’d face from Keenan Reynolds or whoever the opposing quarterback on Saturday would be.

Defensive line coach Keith Gilmore said those sub-optimal triple option looks in practice are relatively common across college football, which makes sense — it’s not an offense used much at the college level. So having someone on your roster who ran in in high school can be a boon to preparing to face it.

Regan doesn’t have to read off a card because he knows the offense so well. And that means more plays and a look closer to what Notre Dame sees in games.

“It changes everything,” Kelly said.

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Of course, the scout team work can’t completely replicate game action — Notre Dame doesn’t do nearly as much cut blocking in practice as it’ll see in games from option offenses, given the injury risk involved. And guys like Navy’s Reynolds and Tago Smith, Georgia Tech’s Justin Thomas and Army’s Ahmad Bradshaw run the option faster than Regan can in practice, too.

But Regan still gives Notre Dame as good an option look as it could ask for on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays.

“You can sit and practice against Navy out here and your scout team can do a good job, but it can’t touch what that look like at game time,” defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder said. “They’re exceptional at it, it’s happening so fast. But the faster we can get it, the closer we can move it to it, the better.”

Regan doesn’t shy away from absorbing hard hits too, which helps Notre Dame’s defense play faster in practice. Former Irish linebacker Jarrett Grace marveled at how Regan was able to take so much physical punishment during practice — “I don’t know if it’s extra ice, if it’s shaking up the Space Jam water to get jacked up out there,” he said — while junior linebacker Nyles Morgan said earlier this month Regan’s role is “one of the toughest jobs I’ve ever seen."

“I like giving hits and taking hits,” Regan said. “I’m a physical guy — when I’m running the ball, I’d rather run him over than juking him out.

“I enjoyed it. It definitely took a toll on my body, but I was glad to be able to contribute to those wins.”

Regan initially played wide receiver for Hinsdale South, but was moved to quarterback two games into his junior year. Hinsdale South went 5-4 his junior year, then went 9-3 and reached IHSA 6A quarterfinals in Regan’s senior year. Regan rushed for 18 touchdowns and averaged 5.6 yards per carry in 2014.

“He’s a football kid,” Hinsdale South coach Mike Barry said. “(He) grew up playing football, has football smarts. We refer to guys as instinctual at times — he’s one of those type of players where he just has a feel for the game."

Regan was thinking about attending high-caliber academic institutions like Penn, Princeton, Washington University in St. Louis and the University of Chicago before Notre Dame came along. Kelly was in the Chicago suburbs to scout four-star Hinsdale South defensive end Joshua King — who went on to commit to Michigan State — and was pitched on Regan by Barry.

Once Notre Dame came into the picture (Regan, as you’d guess from that above list of colleges he was considering, had the grades to get in) it was an easy choice for him to head to South Bend. The combination of academics, football, location and faith made Notre Dame “the best fit for me,” Regan, who’s studying chemical engineering, said.

“(He’s) somebody that recognizes that, first of all, what a degree from Notre Dame is going to do for him, and somebody that’s got a lot of pride in playing team sports,” Kelly said. “He loves to play team sports. He knows that he’s got value.”

Regan’s ultimate goal is to get into a game before his time at Notre Dame is up — he’s hoping to get on a special teams unit, make a difference there and hope to get in a game at safety.

But he’s already been recognized by coaches with an honor only a handful of others received in 2015. Notre Dame held Georgia Tech to 22 points — 15 of which came in garbage time — and Navy to 24 points, totals that represent the kind of improvements made by the Irish in defending the option.

And Regan, the 6-foot-2, 200 pound walk-on, played a major part in those improvements. Even if he didn’t play.

“It was awesome,” Regan said of receiving the Navy game ball. “I never expected that I would be recognized like that. It wasn’t just me, it was the whole Swag Team, but I guess I was kind of the leader of that team. It meant a lot that coach Kelly took the time to recognize our hard work.”

And as for the game ball, which is in a case back home in Darien, Ill.?

“It might be a hand-me down for a couple generations,” Regan said with a smile.

For the Bears, defense can’t pick up all the pieces from broken offense

For the Bears, defense can’t pick up all the pieces from broken offense

The current state of affairs for the 2016 Bears is seriously concerning when, after adding multiple starting players and investing high draft choices, the best that can be said about the Bears defense is that it isn’t as bad as the Bears offense.

A unit predicted to contend for a spot among the NFL’s top 10 this year was pushed around for 378 yards and 23 points in a 23-7 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs. To push all of it off onto the fact that it was a preseason game won’t work, if only because the No. 1 defense allowed 239 of those yards and 20 of those points in the first half.

One mitigating fact is that the Bears offense hit a new preseason low and was coming back off the field before most members of the defense had had time to look at photos and to hydrate. Five of the Bears’ first seven possessions lasted less than 1 minute 30 seconds. Defensive players usually had time to get water or get with their coaches; not both.

And the defense did stiffen in the red zone, forcing the Chiefs twice to settle for field goals with the ball inside the Chicago 10 and a third time at the 23. And players at least bristled at the suggestion that the Bears are soft. “I take that personally,” said safety Harold Jones-Quartey. "I have never heard that word… . The first time I’ve ever heard anybody call us ‘soft’ is [now].”

Coach John Fox found some good in “the way our defense improved. We got a couple turnovers down in the lower-red area.”

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But those were scant positives in a game that saw Kansas City put together drives of 50 yards or longer five of the first six times it had the football, and those were against the supposed front liners.

The Chiefs drove 53 and 62 yards on their first two possessions, which included conversions of third-and-5 and third-and-14, part of the Chiefs converting six of 10 third downs in the first half. (“Obviously our third-and-long defense wasn’t real sufficient,” Fox allowed.)

Kansas City piled up 106 yards in the first quarter and what defensive “stops” there were might just as easily be credited to Kansas City execution as Bears playmaking. The Chiefs arguably had their initial drive stopped as much by tailback Spencer Ware colliding with blocking back Darrin Reaves on a third-and-short (2) for no gain. A fourth long drive of the half ended only when the Chiefs had a Bears blitz blocked, only to have Smith miss wide open wideout Albert Wilson inside the Chicago 10.

Special teams did the defense few favors. Kansas City punt returns of 18 and 15 yards put the ball at the KC 36 and the 50. The Bears did well to leave those possessions giving up only 3 points.

The game, in which starters and first-alternates play the longest of the preseason, had its points of player evaluation. Rookie cornerback Deiondre’ Hall, whose preseason has been marked by impact plays (not all of them good, of course), did generate another in the third quarter with an interception that thwarted a Kansas City scoring drive deep in the Chicago end. This was, however, after he had lost the ball and the receiver on a 58-yard completion the previous Chiefs possession.

And rookie defensive end Jonathan Bullard, after missing practice last week to attend to family matters, collected two quarterback hits, a sack and two tackles for loss among his three solo stops, according to initial game stats.

But rookie linebacker Leonard Floyd, who has missed practice time with three different health issues since the start of training camp, was limited in practice this week with a hamstring strain, and missed an important opportunity for much-needed work against unfamiliar competition.

“We got a chance to look at some young guys and make evaluations,” Fox said, “and that’s what preseason’s for.”