Should Bears rest starters if game is meaningless?

327844.jpg

Should Bears rest starters if game is meaningless?

Thursday, Dec. 30, 2010
10:53 AM

By John Mullin
CSNChicago.com

Hopped on The Danny Mac Show on WSCR-AM 670 as I do every Thursday but this morning it was Matt Abbatacola sitting in for Mac and Spiegs. Matt had some things on his Bears mind:

Should the Bears give starters this weekend off?

Matt was on board with a lot of his listeners who favor resting keystarters if the game in Green Bay is meaningless. I disagree.

The prime directive is to do whatever advances you toward being betterin the playoffs. You shouldnt play starters so people hit statisticalgoals (Matt Fortes 22 rushing yards for 1,000, Johnny Knoxs 40 receiving yards for 1,000). Thats idiotic.

You dont structure your lineup based on winning or losing in order toget another team into or out of the playoffs. Your team is the only onethat matters, not whether you think you match up better against GreenBay, New York or anyone else.

And you dont rest players just to preserve them. If someone like Pisa Tinoisamoahas a knee that would benefit significantly from a game off, sit him.But no one is 100-percent healthy this time of year so the only fullweekends off should go to the true health risks.

That said, I dont have a problem with treating this like a thirdpreseason game where your starters play into the second half at least.But Cutler, his receivers, the offensive line and pretty much theentire (suddenly vulnerable) defense dont need two full weeks andSundays without games. That gets no one ready for anything.

Going into this season, did I expect this Bears team to be what and where they are?

As I said (and was harangued for) before the year, I thought this team would be 10-6 or better. The reasons lay in the number of elite players (Lance Briggs, Julius Peppers, Brian Urlacher) on defense, plus very strong second-tier guys in Charles Tillman, Chris Harris and others. Put another way, I did not see how this team was going to be bad. I wasnt sure how good they would be but Ive covered bad over the years and this didnt smell like bad.

Besides, the Bears went 7-9 with Jay Cutler being terrible for the most part. If he had been simply bad, the Bears are 8-8 or better. And with Mike Martz coming in, the prospects of Cutler and the offense being exponentially better were very good. How Martzs offense played out has been a little different from even what it was in the first quarter of the season, but if the had not been improvement, that wouldve been the surprise, not that the offense turned out to be overall pretty decent, apart from statistical specifics.

Speaking of valued players, how much has Matt Forte advanced in 2010?

Forte has gone from a solid, serviceable back in years 1 and 2 (his 3.9-yard average as a rookie wasnt special) to flirting with elite status. Not as a pure runner, not as a pure receiver, but as an all-around back, and that is what the Chicago offense craves even more than any specialist.

Forte in 2011 is heading into the final year of his rookie contract and a surprise (and big mistake) will be if the Bears don't get an extension done with him prior to next training camp. Forte ranks ahead of Lovie Smith on the need-to-extend list, if only because Smiths value already has been set in the upper echelon of his job grade. Forte will cost the Bears proportionately far more if he gets anywhere close to free agency and bidding from teams like Green Bay that may have uncertain current situations at running back and could have a franchise answer in Forte, whose arrow is pointing decidedly up.

How much credit does Mike Martz deserve for his flexibility with the in-season adjustments he made in his offense?

Martz deserves tremendous credit for redirecting himself and his offense once it was apparent that the personnel was not yet at the point of being able to cash the checks he was asking them to cover.

All of the credit doesnt go to Martz, however. The change directive marks one of Lovie Smiths coaching milestones, with support from Jerry Angelo and others on the staff. If there was a surprise it was that Smith did not dictate major changes sooner than the off week but maybe it just took those three losses in four games to establish definitively what wasnt going to work.

All in all, a good visit. I usually only see Matt during training camp so it was good to check in with him. Well do it again next week after Packers Week has played out.

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.

Bad blood fueled Bears-Vikings playoff bout profiled in 'Bears Classics: Eclipsing Moon'

Bad blood fueled Bears-Vikings playoff bout profiled in 'Bears Classics: Eclipsing Moon'

From the high ground of hindsight, what unfolded in the Metrodome that day in 1995 was actually quite a big deal. But not for reasons that you could have really understood at the time watching the Bears stun the Minnesota Vikings 35-18 in the wild card round of the 1994 playoffs.

It was not so much the game alone. It was the overall context of the time for the Bears, before and after.

Though the 1995 season would get off to a 6-2 start for the Bears before their near-historic collapse, the Minnesota game would prove to be the high-water mark for the coaching tenure of Dave Wannstedt. This was the postseason, and the Bears looked to be going where then-president Mike McCaskey envisioned when he made the play to beat the New York Giants in securing Wannstedt, who was unquestionably the hot coaching prospect coming out of the Dallas Super Bowl pantheon after the 1992 season.

To fully grasp the situation, you need to understand the undercurrent of venom that had developed between the Bears and Vikings. Bears-Packers might have been the glitzy rivalry, but what had grown between the Bears and Vikings was true hostility, with little of the respect that the Bears and Packers had managed. The Vikings carried grudges for Pro Bowl slights going back almost to the Bears' Super Bowl win. One Bears defensive lineman remarked that his most hated opponent was Minnesota right tackle Tim Irwin, adding, "He's a guy that, if I ran over him with a car, I'd back up over him to make sure I got him." Dwayne Rudd's backpedaling taunt after an interception came a couple years later, but you get the idea.

What's easily forgotten looking back through the mists of time was the epic decision made by Wannstedt to make a quarterback change, from a quarterback he wanted in free agency to one he knew well from their time together at the University of Miami. That was every bit the turning point of the season and the real reason the playoff trip and win ever happened.

The Bears had been annihilated in their first game against the Vikings in the 1994 season — 42-14 — and something was really, really wrong, which become glaringly more evident just a few weeks later, even though the Bears were reaching a 4-2 mark under quarterback Erik Kramer, the centerpiece of an aggressive offseason foray into free agency. But the Bears then lost — badly — to the Lions and Packers, with Kramer throwing three interceptions against Detroit and two against Green Bay, the latter in only 10 pass attempts.

[SHOP BEARS: Get your Bears gear right here]

I talked privately to Kramer after the Green Bay game, specifically about why it was that he was playing his absolute worst against Detroit, Green Bay and Minnesota, all teams with which he was intimately familiar. My thought: You know those defenses and where their people are going to be.

Kramer shook his head: "The 'other guys' I know. It's my own guys. I don't know where they're supposed to be."

It wasn't a comment on his receivers whatsoever. It was Kramer admitting bluntly that he was not getting the West Coast scheme of coordinator Ron Turner and its timing element.

Wannstedt knew it wasn't working and made the change to Steve Walsh, who'd been the Hurricanes' quarterback under Jimmy Johnson when Wannstedt was the defensive coordinator.

That was the tipping point, and Walsh and Wannstedt are among the principals of "Bears Classics: Eclipsing Moon," airing on Monday at 8 p.m. on CSN.

Anyone with any time spent in or around the NFL knows that beating a team three times in a season is incredibly difficult. The Bears had been blown out in the first Minnesota game but had pushed the Vikings to overtime in the second and would have won had Kevin Butler not missed a 40-yard field goal try.

The playoff meeting was No. 3, and after the Vikings put up a field goal in the first quarter, the Bears scored with a Lewis Tillman touchdown in the second and just pulled steadily away from the winner of the only NFL division that produced four teams with winning records.

From there it would be another decade-plus — 2006 season — before the Bears would win a playoff game.

Bears numbers don't indicate 3-13, yet still lie

Bears numbers don't indicate 3-13, yet still lie

In doing some post-season wrapping up of my Nerdy NFL Notebook as we begin turning the page to the 2017 season, part of it involves compiling where each team finished in big-picture team offensive and defensive categories: overall ranking (total yards), as well as team rushing and passing ranks on both sides of the ball.

So if the Bears wound up ranked 15th overall in total yards gained and allowed, they should've finished…oh, 8-8, right? It adds to the deception of some of the deeper issues that focus on a lack of playmakers, which tied into their inability to make plays when it matters most. In John Fox's 9-23 start, 18 of those games have been decided by six points or less. They've won just six of those games. 

Offensively, the Bears ranked higher in total offense than five playoff teams: Kansas City (20), Detroit (21), Miami (24), New York Giants (25) and Houston (29). They wound up 17th in rushing offense, better than four teams who advanced: Seattle (25), Green Bay (26), New York Giants (29) and Detroit (30). And their 14th-ranked passing offense ranked better than the Giants (17), Kansas City (19), Dallas (23), Miami (26), Houston (29).

On the other side of the ball, they'd be even better off before allowing 109 points over the final three losses. Their total defense ranked better than Detroit (18), Green Bay (22), Kansas City (24), Atlanta (25), Oakland (26) and Miami (29). After being gashed for 558 rushing yards the last three games, they fell to 27th in the NFL against the run (better than only 30th-ranked Miami). But the seventh-ranked pass defense, despite collecting a measly eight interceptions (among only 11 turnovers), was better than nine playoff teams: Miami (15), Pittsburgh (16), Kansas City (18), Detroit (19), the Giants (23), Oakland (24), Dallas (26), Atlanta (28) and Green Bay (31).

[SHOP: Gear up Bears fans!]

What do all the hollow numbers indicate? A lack of complementary, opportunistic football, playmakers on both sides of the ball, a minus-20 turnover ratio, and a lack of quality and continuity at the quarterback position — to name a few. All of those playoff teams have more impact players (or kept more of their impact players healthy) than the Bears in 2016.

While some of the numbers aren't that bad to look at, and some even raise an eyebrow, there's still a deep climb from the most significant numbers: 3-13.