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.

Good or better? Why offseason moves are making 2017 Bears better

Good or better? Why offseason moves are making 2017 Bears better

Improvement typically comes in incremental steps, not leaps. And the Bears of 2017, based on what they have done at a handful of positions, the latest being Thursday’s signing of wide receiver Victor Cruz, fit that template.

The clear organizational commitment is to build through the draft, even if injuries have undermined some otherwise apparent upgrades to starting lineups on both sides of the football. But if there is a “theme” to what GM Ryan Pace is doing to muscle up a sluggish roster, it is that the Bears are willing to take flyers on veteran players – with additions like four veteran wide receivers with injury and issue histories – that arguably point to a win-now mindset while draft picks develop and contribute.

Jaye Howard and John Jenkins. Make the defensive line “better?” Than Jonathan Bullard and Will Sutton, probably. But “good?” Mmmmm…..

The game-one tight ends last year were Zach Miller-Logan Paulsen-Gregg Scruggs. Now they’re Miller-Dion Sims-Adam Shaheen (based on a second-round draft choice). “Good?” Maybe, maybe not. “Better?” Obviously, based on Sims alone.

Mike Glennon-Mark Sanchez-Mitch Trubisky. Bears “better” at quarterback? Than Jay Cutler-Brian Hoyer-Matt Barkley, probably. “Good?” Mmmmmm…..

The decisions to sign Glennon and Sanchez to the quarterback depth chart have sparked their shares of understandable cynical skepticism. But Kirk Cousins and Jimmy Garoppolo were not available in trade, so the Pace decision was to gamble on upside with Glennon over the known quantity of Brian Hoyer (the preference of some coaches) and certainly Jay Cutler, for whom “potential” and “upside” no longer applied.

Add in the aggressive draft of Trubisky and the result was three possibilities of hits on a quarterback (Sanchez and Connor Shaw being combined here as a pair entry in the hit-possibility scenarios). All three were deemed an improvement over Cutler and/or Barkley.

The results may not vault the Bears all the way up to “good” at the pivotal position for any franchise. But “better” is sometimes all you can realistically manage.

Taking a wider-screen look at wide receiver in this context… .

Coach John Fox has cited the need for the Bears to establish the ability to get yardage in bigger chunks. Accordingly, all four of the veteran wideout signings this offseason – Cruz, Rueben Randle, Markus Wheaton, Kendall Wright –  have posted yards-per-catch seasons of 14 or longer.

All four won’t be on the opening-day roster, but all four offer the promise of major impact. Cruz, Randle and Wright have had seasons of 70 or more receptions, and Wheaton topped out at 53 in 2015 with the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Randy Moss, Terrell Owens and Jerry Rice weren’t available, so “good” was hard to achieve in an offseason in which Alshon Jeffery and Eddie Royal were expected departures long before their exits. But are Cruz, Randle, Wheaton and Wright, with Kevin White and Cameron Meredith, a “better” starting point than Jeffery, Royal, White, Bellamy, etc. of a year ago?

Obviously. But players with even moderately established NFL “names” (like Cruz, Randle, etal.) are typically available for a reason; teams do not routinely give up on talent. And none of the four come without significant shadows on their NFL resumes, whether for injury or other questions.

Cruz missed most of 2014 and all of the 2015 season, and hasn’t played a full season since his Pro Bowl year of 2012.

Randle was described as a head case by scouts and was so bad that he was let go in the Eagles’ cutdown to 75 last year, followed by disparaging comments from those in and around the organization.

Wheaton flashed promise in his 2014-15 opportunities as a part-time starter but played just three games before a shoulder injury landed him on IR last season.

The Tennessee Titans thought enough of Wright, their 2012 first-round draft choice, to pick up his fifth-year option going into las season. But by week 14 he was benched for tardiness and was a healthy DNP in game 16, announcing after the game that he already knew he was not in the Titans’ plans for 2017.

The prospect of the Bears going from 3-13 to “good” borders on fantasy. But if being among the NFL’s busiest this offseason hasn’t propelled the Bears to that level, the results point to “better.” At this point, that’s something,.

How big of an impact will Victor Cruz have on the Bears?

How big of an impact will Victor Cruz have on the Bears?

The Bears inked Victor Cruz to a one-year deal on Thursday, adding another receiver to an already crowded corps.

But it never hurts to add a veteran one to a young group, especially with a new starting quarterback.

Cruz is 30 years old and isn't the same Pro Bowl-caliber player he was before missing the entire 2015 season with a calf injury, but he surely has a lot left in the tank and can serve as a great mentor for the Bears receivers.

Just how big of an impact will he have on his new team? See what the SportsTalk Live panel had to say in the video above.