Lovie: We're not going to back to the drawing board

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Lovie: We're not going to back to the drawing board

Monday, Sept. 26, 2011Posted: 4:45 p.m.

By John Mullin
CSNChicago.com Bears Insider Follow @CSNMoonMullin
Coaches, players and teams certainly dont admit to panic reactions (no matter how many times they drop back and pass, even when they dont need to or shouldnt). So not surprisingly, the Bears are not going to submit their offense, defense or special teams to any sort of major football niptuck procedure.

I dont think we need to go back to the drawing board, coach Lovie Smith said Monday. As you work the numbers, we lost two games where we didnt run the football.

But the thinking is that where the 52 pass plays11 runs vs. New Orleans was indefensible, the 439 distribution in the loss to the Green Bay Packers was simply the only way that made sense under the circumstances.

The offense didnt try running in New Orleans; it couldnt vs. Green Bay, and the decision to stay with throwing the ball was based on improved pass protection as well as the pathetic ground production.

We didnt run the ball enough, we didnt have enough rushes a week ago, Smith said. Im OK on the Atlanta game and the last game on what we had to do to win the football game. When you get behind, youre going to do whatever you need to do to win the game.

First game, we were in a position where we could have more of a balance. This week hopefully well start off and a lot of things will work and well have that kind of balance.

Dialing down the panic II

The hand-wringing over the notion of an undrafted rookie free agent being a significant piece of the Bears passing offense is amusing. No one seemed alarmed when another undrafted free agent Tom Waddle was doing good work with a playoff offense in 1990-91. John Randle was an undrafted, undersized free agent defensive tackle whos in the Hall of Fame. And Jay Hilgenberg wasnt bad, either, for a leftover afterthought.

By the way, can you name the four main wide receivers on the New England Patriots when they won Super Bowls in 2003 and 2004? Deion Branch was a No. 2 pick. David Givens was a 7. Troy Brown was an 8. And David Patten, undrafted free agent.

The difference? The quarterback. A sixth-round pick.

How people get to the NFL is beyond irrelevant. Dane Sanzenbacher gets that, even if not everyone seems to.

When youre targeted, Sanzenbacher said, you have to catch the ball.

It shouldnt be a big surprise that Sanzenbacher has caught more passes than any Bear except Matt Forte (which is a bigger problem, anytime your running back has more than twice as many catches 22 as any two of your wideouts combined). Roy Williams missed a game with a groin injury and Earl Bennett missed most of New Orleans and all of Green Bay with his chest injury.

Chico watch

Five years ago, in the aftermath of Super Bowl XLI, coach Lovie Smith had grown weary of then-defensive coordinator Ron Riveras annual flirtations with teams and head-coaching opportunities. Smith did not bring Rivera back in 2007 and Rivera went on to San Diego (where he blitzed the Bears senseless in the first preseason game last year and drove them to pull Jay Cutler after eight plays) and then to Carolina as head coach.

It is not a game of Rivera vs. Smith, at least in the mind of the latter.

We're excited about getting an opportunity to play the Carolina Panthers, Smith said, correcting a questioner whod inquired about thoughts coming up about matching up with Rivera. I dont think Ron is going to be out there but his football team is doing a heck of a job. They lost a couple of tough games before this one Sunday. They found a way to win. Their record is the same as ours right now. Its a football game we both need to win.

John "Moon" Mullin is CSNChicago.com's Bears Insider and appears regularly on Bears Postgame Live and Chicago Tribune Live. Follow Moon on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Bears information.

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.