The Rick Dennison model: Rushing attack with low interceptions

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The Rick Dennison model: Rushing attack with low interceptions

Another name that has emerged as a Bears head coaching candidate is Houston Texans offensive coordinator Rick Dennison. Many are quick to link time spent with Jay Cutler in Denver as the primary reason Dennison could be tabbed as Lovie Smith's successor, but there is more to it than that.
To be an NFL head coach, you should have knowledge of both sides of the ball. Its one reason Smith was relieved of his duties as head coach. Offensive failures cannot continue, according to Phil Emery, and I dont think Bears fans would appreciate any drop-off in defensive production, either.
Dennison is an interesting candidate because he played linebacker for the Broncos from 1982-1990, with his then teammate, Gary Kubiak. But his coaching career has focused mostly on the offensive side of the ball since 1995. Dennison did serve as the Denver's special teams coach from 1997-2000, when the Broncos won back-to-back Super Bowls. It gives Dennison knowledge of roster development both offensively and defensively, but its been primarily an offensive focus -- which is normally not the case with former players who coach to crossover.
Related: Why Bruce Arians could be the right call
Regardless, Dennison has had tremendous success as an offensive coordinator in Denver, and since joining Houston in 2010. His mission statement of running the football, combined with gameplans to deliver them has been more than effective. In 2011, Houston set a franchise record with 2,448 rushing yards (153 yards per game) and 546 rushing attempts, second most in the NFL. In a pass-happy league, Dennison accomplished this goal with three different quarterbacks last year, who threw a franchise low nine interceptions while making the playoffs. Dennisons encore in 2012 was a ranking of fourth in the NFL in rushing (140.3 ypg) while the Texans now travel to New England this weekend for a Divisional Round matchup with the Patriots.
Dennisons philosophy is run and play-action pass, which is directly influenced from his coaching tree. Kubiak and Dennison are direct disciples of their mentor, former Denver Broncos and current Redskins head coach Mike Shanahan. It seems, however, the teacher is still schooling his pupils, as Shanahans Redskins led the NFL this year in rushing, averaging more than 160 yards per game.
Dennison is an ideal fit for the Bears because he will implement the same offense Cutler has been most successful running in the NFL. Keep in mind, Cutler was drafted in Denver to run this specific offense. It suits his skills well. Also keep in mind, Dennison and Cutler were in charge of the NFLs second-ranked offense during their time together in Denver.
More: Dennison has the "Cutler connection"
The only thing I struggle with is whether a grind-it-out, time-of-possession offense can win against fast-break Green Bay in the division. The Texans did not break through to the playoffs until Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning was injured and could not play. As a matter of fact, Houston had never beaten Indianapolis since the franchise's inception until last year. Indianapolis owned the Texans in the AFC South Division, much like many feel Green Bay owns the Bears in the NFC North. For good measure, Green Bay hammered the Texans this year, 42-24, in a game that was more a rout than the score indicated. Aaron Rodgers threw for six touchdown passes in the win.
Cutler has been introduced to more four- and five-wide receiver offenses during his time with the Bears, which Dennison may incorporate but that is not his base. Playing catch-up is a problem with this style of offense, which may not be in the Bears cards unless Rodgers gets hurt like Manning did.

Bears looking into Teryl Austin’s past for clues on how Lions will scheme vs. Matt Barkley

Bears looking into Teryl Austin’s past for clues on how Lions will scheme vs. Matt Barkley

The adage “play the man, not the board” seems somehow appropriate for what the Bears are doing to prepare for the Detroit Lions behind quarterback Matt Barkley.

“The man” is Detroit defensive coordinator Teryl Austin, and the Bears have been scouting him as well as his defenses, beyond just Bears games, beyond this season and last, taking in his 2014 Detroit season when Austin prepared defenses for Jay Cutler and Jimmy Clausen.

How did Austin scheme for rookie Carson Wentz when the Lions played (and beat) the Philadelphia Eagles? How did he structure is defense to stop a rookie Teddy Bridgewater when Detroit played Minnesota? (Not very well, apparently, since the Vikings won both games and scored 54 points combined in the two games).

While the John Fox Bears staff went against Austin’s Lions defense twice last year, Cutler was the Bears quarterback. When the Bears beat Austin and the Lions two months ago, it was with Brian Hoyer.

Now the Bears quarterback is Matt Barkley, who has fewer NFL games played (seven) than Cutler has NFL seasons (11), Hoyer (eight), too, for that matter.

“Different defensive coordinators attack young quarterbacks differently,” said offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains. “Some guys blitz, some guys play a bunch of zone. This group on defense there, they have a really good defensive coordinator, they're really smart, they do a bunch of stuff. On the back end, they run all the coverages.

“As a game, we'll have to make adjustments as the game goes and see what their plan to come out is early.”

Coaches and players may talk about how they prepare for a scheme irrespective of which opposing quarterback, running back, linebacker or whatever they will be facing. But in fact, preparations start with who is orchestrating the opponent’s offense or defense – play the man, not the board.

[SHOP: Gear up Bears fans!]

A risk can be out-thinking yourself trying to anticipate what a coordinator will do. The first point, Loggains said, is to start with your own strengths.

“We definitely look at that,” Loggains said. “As you go in the league long and longer, you face these guys, you see them in crossover games. We always know how a guy attacks a rookie quarterback or attacks a young quarterback, a veteran, or, in Matt's case, a guy who hasn't played as much.”

Evaluations of Barkley’s performance will broaden, particularly now that he is on tape for defensive coordinators to scheme for and scout. And while they are watching Barkley, the Bears are watching them.

Bears Talk Podcast: Is there friction between John Fox and Vic Fangio?

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Bears Talk Podcast: Is there friction between John Fox and Vic Fangio?

In the latest Bears Talk Podcast, Jim Miller joins Pat Boyle to discuss the friction between John Fox and Vic Fangio. And are there changes in store for the Bears coordinators?

Plus, Brian Urlacher and Mark Schanowski break down the play of rookie Leonard Floyd and find out which one of Urlacher’s former teammates Floyd reminds him of.

And don't miss a preview of Sunday’s NFC North clash with the Lions, who will be out for revenge.

Check out the latest edition of the Bears Talk Podcast here: