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.

Bears establishing smash-mouth core with Jordan Howard

Bears establishing smash-mouth core with Jordan Howard

Eric Kush was in some pain after the Bears win over the San Francisco 49ers. But it was a “good” pain, particularly since part of it was inflicted by a teammate.

The teammate was running back Jordan Howard, and the Bears left guard was learning along with his linemates that when Howard is coming, “he’s a-comin’,” Kush said.

“Oh man, sometimes you’re, ‘[groan-groan-groan], and he’ll hit you right in the back, you fall and try to take your guy down with you and stick him in the snow so you’re not the only one getting soaking wet and cold. But Jordan’s a lot fun and we try to kick some butt for him.”

The rookie running back has become more than simply a draft nugget from the fifth round of this year’s draft. Howard has established himself as an integral part of a winning formula of complimentary football, the concept long favored by John Fox, Lovie Smith and coaches who operate from the foundation of a premier running game, impact defense and solid special teams.

[SHOP: Gear up Bears fans!]

The Bears’ three wins have come this season in the only games in which Howard has been given 20-plus carries: 23 vs. Detroit, 26 vs. Minnesota, 32 vs. San Francisco. Add to those the 3 pass receptions against the Lions and the 4 against the Vikings and the true centerpiece of the 2016 Bears offense is more than a little apparent.

For obvious reasons beyond simply the rushing numbers.

“Especially pass protection,” said offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains. “I think he's taken a big jump that way. When you're young in this league, those are the things that can get grey for you. You run the football, he's obviously a talented player there, but in pass pro, he's made his biggest growth.”

As a corollary to Howard, San Francisco was only the second game this season in which the Bears called fewer than 30 pass plays (the only other time was at Green Bay, when the Bears only ran a total of 45 plays, 27 of them pass plays). In that respect, the snow was viewed as an ally by some in the locker room who have been unhappy at the run:pass balance, which was just 36-percent-run coming into the 49ers game.

“It was one of these games where, with the weather, we couldn’t pass the ball like we normally do —  30 times — so we had to keep it on the ground,” said one member of the offense.

Howard’s breakout game as an NFL ball carrier came against the Lions (23 carries, 111 rushing yards, 3 receptions). The Bears, looking for a breakout of their own in the form of a first two-game win streak in more than a year, are expected to keep it simple — and in Howard’s hands.

“I always expected a lot out of myself,” Howard said. “I didn’t really think that things would happen maybe this soon or this fast. I’m definitely grateful for it.”

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.