15 on 6: Painfully obvious offensive problems

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15 on 6: Painfully obvious offensive problems

Sunday, Sept. 25, 2011
Posted: 10:15 p.m.
By Jim Miller
CSNChicago.com

I think it was pretty clear watching the Bears fall to the Super Bowl Champion Green Bay Packers, 27-17, that there is a huge difference between the two offenses.

Green Bay displayed timing, precision and came into the game with a plan to execute. The Bears offense looked like a mixed bag of play calls, as if they were playing in a preseason game.

I don't think anyone should condemn the Bears' gameplan for throwing. They were not going to be able to run on Green Bay. But who were they attacking, isolating or trying to match up against?

With all the dropped balls, it's as if some Bears receivers did not even expect the ball to come their way. Here are a couple of examples of very good Packers game plan:

1. Look at the play-by-play in the game book. Aaron Rodgers lined up in shotgun for six of their first 10 plays and peppered the Bears with short, precise passes. The last play of the opening drive was the quick out to Jermichael Finley for the touchdown. Green Bay came into Soldier Field with a plan to soften up the Bears defense and expand it in order to get their running game going. They stayed in shotgun for two more series, until seeing the Bears adjust.

2. Sticking with the same personnel groupings, Green Bay went to the ground game with Rodgers under center for their "check with me package." The result: another Finley TD.

3. The Packers went back to the top of the script that started the game from the shotgun.

Finley finished the game with eight catches, 85 yards and three TD's. If you can remember Finley's last touchdown, which was a "Nod route" where he faked a quick out then turned up the seam, it was called by Mike McCarthy to specifically attack the Bears "Tampa Two" Defense. The timing of the play call was beautiful because it was set up throughout the game when Finley was repeatedly hit on the quick out.

McCarthy also came into the game knowing he would "flex out" Finley several times outside the other receivers to see how the Bears would match up. The Bears put safety Craig Steltz on him early, but quickly learned their lesson after a couple of big gainers. Everything McCarthy called was with a purpose. I'm not saying the Bears did not do this at all, but they looked limited.

About the only isolation plays I witnessed was the out-and-up interception intended for Roy Williams, a fake wide receiver screen to Johnny Knox an "Empty Set" to get Matt Forte on Green Bay's linebackers.

Two of those three are trick plays and a fudged "Wildcat" play was another. So now, basically three of four plays calls all backfired by lack of execution. This is why they are trick plays, they are not your base offense and are not practiced regularly.

The Bears struggle to execute their base passing attack so why take calculus when you haven't mastered algebra? It's frustrating because the timing and precision is nowhere near where it needs to be for the Bears.
"The Bears struggle to execute their base passing attack so why take calculus when you haven't mastered algebra?-- Jim Miller.
When Rodgers drops back and hits his back step, the ball is out! He knows his receiver is coming out of his break and where the ball is going. Conversely, Jay Cutler was waiting at the top of his drop, pumping the ball, unsure how routes were going to unfold.

To me, this was pretty obvious to see. The best example was the pump fake "out and go" to Williams that was intercepted early in the game. If you watch the play again, one, it was a terrible route by Roy, and two, the pump fake did not even marry up with Roy's route. Jay was late on the throw because he clutched the ball again before he threw it.

It was bad football and not what anyone is looking for at Halas Hall. Lovie Smith will demand execution of the basics, and has to for the offense to get going. They must plan with a purpose, practice with a purpose and play with a purpose.

The Bears aren't getting anything out of their offense right now and are still good enough to win. That is incredible when you think about it.

Jim Miller, an 11-year former NFL quarterback, is a Comcast SportsNet Bears analyst who can be seen each week on U.S. Cellular Bears Postgame Live. Miller, who spent five seasons with the Bears, analyzes current Chicago QB Jay Cutler in his "15 on 6" blog on CSNChicago.com and can be followed on Twitter @15miller.

Kyle Fuller heads to injured reserve as Bears make other roster moves

Kyle Fuller heads to injured reserve as Bears make other roster moves

The upheaval that has afflicted the 2016 Bears roster ratcheted up a notch late Tuesday when the Bears placed cornerback Kyle Fuller on injured reserve due to a knee injury and shuffled the depth chart elsewhere.

The Bears waived tight end Greg Scruggs, who was making the switch to offense from the defensive line, and linebacker Jonathan Anderson, while moving linebacker John Timu from the practice squad to the 53-man roster. To fortify the defensive line, where nose tackle Eddie Goldman is down indefinitely with an ankle injury, the Bears signed CJ Wilson, a 2010 draft pick of the Green Bay Packers who has played for the Packers, Oakland Raiders and Detroit Lions, starting 19 of 78 career games played.

Fuller, the 14th-overall pick of the 2014 draft and once identified as a building block of the Bears defense, underwent knee surgery Aug. 15 while the team went to New England for practices and a preseason game with the Patriots. He had been making significant strides in recovery as far as straight-ahead running but was still hampered with change-of-direction.

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Coach John Fox on Monday said simply that Fuller “has a sore knee. It has some medical things that kind of restrict you. When we get that healed up, he’ll go.”

The IR designation does not necessarily end Fuller’s season. Beginning in 2013, under an agreement between the NFL and Players Association, one player per team may be placed on injured reserve and later be brought back to the active roster. That player must sit out six weeks and cannot be activated for an additional two weeks.

With inside linebacker Danny Trevathan out following surgery on his thumb, Anderson had been expected to see additional playing time, possibly with the No. 1 unit. But rookie Nick Kwiatkoski started Sunday at Dallas in the base 3-4 and Christian Jones cycled in with sub packages.

Three starting points for the Bears to salvage their 2016 season

Three starting points for the Bears to salvage their 2016 season

As the noted philosopher once intoned, the past is for cowards and losers. Applied to the 2016 Bears, the latter already applies, though not wanting to look at the recent past shouldn’t be taken as evidence of cowardice, just not wanting to revisit pain.

Looking to the future is the obvious only option for an 0-3 football team.

“You’ve just got to go into every week like it’s a new week,” said linebacker Jerrell Freeman, one of the few encouraging parts of an injury-speckled defense, whose 34 tackles are approaching twice those of No. 2 Jacoby Glenn (19), with four tackles for loss vs. no one else with more than two.

“Every week is a new season regardless of whether you’re winning or losing. You can’t look back, you always have to look forward. Because if not, you won’t give the next team the respect they deserve and have another bad result.”

But the fan base can be excused for expecting a next bad result simply because the Bears have given zero indications that the future will be any better than the immediate past.

That is the signal concern: Who turns this around or, for that matter, even slows the rate of descent?

No Bears team has made the playoffs in a season that began with three straight losses. The 1932 team was winless in its first three, but those at least were scoreless ties. So postseason isn’t a relevant concept anymore except possibly as some sort of punchline.

But one vintage NFL axiom is that things from a game are seldom as bad upon later review than you thought they were at the time (they’re also never as good, either, but good hasn’t shown up yet). And turnarounds do happen.

But those do have to start somewhere. Any Bears season course correction for 2016 has three possible starting points:

A defensive 'village'

The Bears do not have elite talent on defense, meaning that the solution can come only from a marshaling of forces that makes the whole greater than the sum of the parts.

John Fox teams are built on defense, and consensus had the Bears as potentially a top-10 defense before the successive miseries vs. Houston, Philadelphia and Dallas. The Bears have zero defensive star power at this point, which is a problem, by way of understatement.

Fox’s 2011 Denver team started 1-4, then reversed itself and made the playoffs at 8-8 with Tim Tebow as quarterback. (It also had Marion Barber stepping out of bounds and later fumbling away the Bears game, but never mind that for now.) But that team had Elvis Dumervil and a rookie Von Miller combining for 21 sacks. The Bears have a total of four sacks, and players representing 1.5 of those (Eddie Goldman, Danny Trevathan) are out indefinitely with injuries.

But linebacker Willie Young cut to the chase: “We have to control the running game before we can have fun in the backfield,” he said after the debacle in Dallas with the Cowboys rushing for 200 yards. “I don’t know what was going on. All I could do is ask the guys to give me all you got. One play at a time, just give me all you’ve got.”

That would be a place to start.

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Remember the 'Run and Shoop' offense?

John Shoop might have been the object of ridicule as Bears offensive coordinator. But when he took over after the defection of Gary Crowton to coach BYU, the Bears won two of their last three by running to the point of tackle James “Big Cat” Williams, nicknaming the offense the “Run and Shoop” offense. The linemen loved it initially because Shoop simply loaded up and ran the football and, most important, stayed with the plan.

The point is not to become plodding, which Shoop’s offense ultimately became. But the Bears abandoned the run at Dallas when they trailed 24-3 at halftime, even though they had the ball to start the third quarter and with one defensive stop after a touchdown could have been working to get within one score.

“It could have flipped quickly,” guard Kyle Long said. “One drive, it turns into a seven-point game, and that’s the NFL.”

The need for the Bears to run the football isn’t really worth spending time on. Obvious. The offensive line was built for running the football. But for various reasons coordinator Dowell Loggains has not had success with what was supposed to be the foundation of the offense. The Bears cannot win by being a pass-based team, regardless of whether Jay Cutler or Brian Hoyer or Matt Barkley is doing the throwing.

The Bears will not be blowing out many, if any, teams. Their best option is to wear opponents down in first halves, live with Jordan Howard/Joique Bell/whomever netting 50 to 60 yards in a first half, then turning the two- to three-yard runs of the first half into four- to six-yarders in the second.

Shoop would like that.

Get one win

Playoff chances mean nothing. How good or bad the Bears are means nothing. All that matters is winning, not games, but one game. The next game. As Fox and other players have said, the Bears have not put together one complete game yet. That is not going to happen automatically, but one play, one quarter, one half at a time.

And they know it. “You want to win games,” Freeman said. “There’s no panic. There’s a sense of urgency, that’s for sure. We’ve got to put out this fire and put it out quick, like yesterday or the day before.”