Kap: Lack of offense could be Lovie's doom


Kap: Lack of offense could be Lovie's doom

With the Bears struggling offensively yet again, I decided to take a look at how the top offenses year-in and year-out in the NFL were built and how they have sustained a consistent record of success.

What do they do that Lovie Smith and the Bears can only dream about accomplishing?

Anybody can put the blame on injuries, a suspect offensive line and the referees, but one of the biggest reasons lays at the doorstep of Smith and Mike Tice. I know Lovie is a defensive coach and this is Tices first year as an offensive coordinator, but Smith has only had an offense ranked in the top half of the NFL once since he became the Bears head coach nine years ago and that was a mediocre 15th in 2006.

The Bears have what they thought would be an elite quarterback in Jay Cutler who they acquired in a blockbuster trade back in 2009.

But is Cutler really an elite signal caller? Is he capable of putting a team in his back and carrying them on a deep run through the playoffs and to a Super Bowl title? Have we been so starved for solid quarterback play here in Chicago that we overlook Cutlers numerous flaws and instead are in love with his cannon for a right arm?

Here is a look at the top offenses and quarterbacks in the NFL, how they were built and why they have had a consistent record of success over the past several seasons. What do they do to put an elite offense on the field year-in and year-out that the Bears cant seem to understand how to accomplish? What makes these signal callers the best in the game season after season?

Green Bay Packers - Aaron Rodgers

Ever since Rodgers became the starter in 2008, he has been throwing to the same core of wide receivers that includes Greg Jennings, Jordy Nelson, Donald Driver and tight end Jermichael Finley. Rodgers has worked under two offensive coordinators, but the system has been the same.

Current offensive coordinator Tom Clements is in his first year at the position, but he has been working with Rodgers since he entered the league. Clements was the quarterbacks coach for Green Bay and was promoted to offensive coordinator when Joe Philbin was named the head coach of the Miami Dolphins.

This season is the lowest offensive ranking (17th) for Green Bay since 2008 but every other season Rodgers has been at the helm, the Packers have has a Top 10 ranked offense. Despite the total offensive numbers, Rodgers quarterback rating is fifth best in the league. In addition, the Packers have a roster loaded with depth, as 43 of 53 players that were drafted and developed by Green Bay.

New England Patriots - Tom Brady

The three-time Super Bowl champion has served under a number of offensive coordinators that includes Charlie Weis and Josh McDaniels (twice). With that being said, it has all been run under the same head coach, Bill Belichick, who is one of the best minds the league has ever had.

Bradys core of wide receivers has fluctuated a little bit, but ever since 2006 he has had that go-to wide receiver. First it was Randy Moss and when he left, Wes Welker took up the role and adding Rob Gronkowski has not hurt either. Since 2005, Brady and the Pats have finished in the Top 10 in offense each season.

Indianapolis Colts - Peyton Manning

The four-time MVP has worked under four head coaches and two offensive coordinators since he was drafted No. 1 overall out of Tennessee in the 1998 draft. From the time Manning joined the Colts until departing Indy for Denver last spring, offensive coordinator Tom Moore was there tutoring his prized pupil.

In 2002, the Colts added Jim Caldwell as quarterbacks coach under head man Tony Dungy which gave Manning a solid group of veteran football minds to develop his game and help him reach his full potential. Caldwell eventually became the head coach when Dungy retired, but the system stayed the same and the continuity kept Manning firmly entrenched among the best field generals of all time.

In Denver, Manning has been working with head coach John Fox with Mike McCoy as his offensive coordinator. Together, the three have created an offense based on the QBs skill set and have put in a system that Manning could feel comfortable with from the start of his time with the Broncos. In addition, Fox and McCoy worked together in Carolina from 2002-08 so the comfort level and approach that the two coaches employ has been developed over several years.

Manning has had different coaches in his career, but he has always had chemistry with each coach, a similar style of game-planning and that has built a foundation for success season after season. Since 2000, an offense run by Manning has finished in the Top 10 every season except one.

New Orleans Saints - Drew Brees

Even with the Bountygate scandal and Drew Brees struggles with interceptions -- 18 through 14 games marks the second-highest total of his career -- the Saints offense is still ranked third in the NFL and they are ranked second in passing yards per game.

Payton has been the head coach in the Big Easy since 2006 and since that time, the Saints have had only two offensive coordinators. Current OC Pete Carmichael, Jr., has been in New Orleans since 2009, meaning that over the past four years (including a Super Bowl title), the Saints have been running the same system with roughly the same personnel grouping.

New Orleans has had the top-ranked offense four times since Brees became their starting quarterback in 2006. Since that season started, Brees has been throwing to the same wide receivers, which include Marques Colston and Devery Henderson. He also had standout tight end Jimmy Graham for the past few seasons and before that, Brees had Jeremy Shockey, who was a prime-time receiver after coming over from the New York Giants.

There is no debating Brees is a great quarterback, but it also helps that he has been able to develop tremendous chemistry with his teammates for a significant amount of time and has a head coach who is an offensive guru.

Atlanta Falcons - Matt Ryan

Right behind Brees is his fellow NFL South rival. Since 2010, Ryan has finished in the Top 10 in passing yards among starting quarterbacks, and this season he is currently ranked fifth. Ryan came into the league in 2008 and he has lead his team to the playoffs every year except one. This year, the Falcons are close to locking up the top seed throughout the NFC playoffs.

Head coach Mike Smith joined the Falcons the same year Ryan did. Along with Smith came offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey, who was with Atlanta through 2011 before taking the head coaching job in Jacksonville. During his four years in Atlanta, Mularkey coached the Falcons to a Top 10 scoring offense in three of four seasons.

After Mularkey left, Dirk Koetter has picked up right where he left off and currently has the Falcons offense ranked seventh in the NFL in scoring. Since 2008, Ryan has had an outstanding group of wide receivers to throw to, led by Roddy White and future Hall of Famer Tony Gonzalez, plus a standout running game led by Michael Turner. Trading up to draft Julio Jones with the fifth pick in the 2011 draft also added another star that Ryan is able to work with.

New York Giants - Eli Manning

Yes, Eli tends to be overshadowed by Peyton, but lets not forget that Eli has won two Super Bowls compared to Peytons one. Since Elis rookie year in 2004, the Giants have made the playoffs five times and they are in the postseason hunt again this year.

Tom Coughlin became the head coach of the Giants when Eli was drafted and he added Kevin Gilbride to his staff as the quarterbacks coach until 2007, when he was named offensive coordinator. Together, Manning, Coughlin and Gilbride have led the Giants to a Top 10 offense every season since 2008.

Early in Mannings career, he was throwing to Plaxico Burress and Shockey, but now he has standouts Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks who are capable of making big plays both in the intermediate and the deep passing game.

Manning has also had Mario Manningham and Steve Smith as go-to targets during his career, but no matter who he was lining up with, he always had a reliable group of receivers.

Continuity with the offensive coaches and solid skill position players have always given Manning a chance to make plays. Add in a solid offensive line year-in and year-out and that is why the New York Giants are always in contention for a Super Bowl.

Dallas Cowboys - Tony Romo

Romo has not had the success that his division rival has had, but he is still an elite quarterback and he has been playing like one as of late. He is the major reason why the Cowboys are back in the playoff hunt after a slow start to the 2012 season.

Since Romo became the starter in 2006, he has finished with a Top 10 passer rating in every season except 2010 when he suffered a broken clavicle and was placed on injured reserve. In every full season Romo has played in except one, the Cowboys have been a Top 10 offense.

If there is one team on this list that is similar to the unstable coaching staff of the Bears, it is the Cowboys. Since Romo became the starter, the Cowboys have had three different head coaches: Bill Parcells, Wade Phillips and current head coach Jason Garrett. Garrett has been with the Cowboys since 2007, so there is a small amount of stability, but they do not have an offensive coordinator. Instead they have a running game coordinator in Hudson Houck and a passing game coordinator which is Garrett.

Despite the coaching staff, Romo has always had a wide array of weapons to throw to, including standout tight end Jason Witten who has been in Dallas the entire time Romo has been there. Terrell Owens had a brief stop and was solid. Now, Romo has Dez Bryant and Miles Austin to help carry the Cowboys to the fourth best offense in the NFL this season.

Houston Texans - Matt Schaub

Schaub became the starter for the Houston Texans in 2007 after serving as the backup in Atlanta for three seasons. It took a season for Schaub to improve and develop, but every season except one since 2008, he has led the Texans to a Top 10 offense, including an offense currently ranked third in scoring.

One aspect that helps is having weapons like Arian Foster and Andre Johnson, who is arguably the best wide receiver in the game and has been in Houston since he was drafted in 2003.

Schaub has been working under offensive-minded head coach Gary Kubiak ever since he was traded to Houston. The head coach has stayed the same, but Schaub has had to work under three offensive coordinators. But they may have found the right guy in Rick Dennison, who took over in 2010. The Texans have finished in the Top 10 in scoring each season since Dennison arrived.

Washington Redskins - Robert Griffin III

Yes, he is a rookie, but he is playing like an experienced veteran. He has the Redskins on the verge of the playoffs with two games to go. Griffin has the sixth best passer rating and is currently ranked second in total quarterback rating.

The Redskins quarterback has been working under head coach Mike Shanahan and his son, Kyle, as offensive coordinator, which gives the coaching staff excellent rapport and continuity. Griffin has led the Redskins to the fourth best offense in the league this season.

Yes, it is possible he can suffer a sophomore slump, but the Redskins have an experienced foundation of coaches which may prevent that from happening and help RGIII to be even better. If that is the case, the rest of the NFL better look out.

Seattle Seahawks - Russell Wilson

Some may argue that Andrew Luck could be in this spot, but look at the numbers. Luck has thrown a league-leading 18 interceptions, while Wilson also has a much better passer rating and total quarterback rating, where he is ranked eighth in the NFL compared to Luck, who is ranked 12th.

Wilson has been working under Pete Carroll, who was hired to be the head coach in 2010 and offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell, who joined Carrolls coaching staff in 2011 after Carroll fired Jeremy Bates, who is now the Bears quarterbacks coach.

The Seahawks are currently ranked 11th in scoring and one of the major reasons Wilson made this list is because of his ability to run. Along with Wilson as a threat by himself, he has Sidney Rice to throw to and a backfield led by Marshawn Lynch, who is second in rushing yards behind Adrian Peterson.

However, to say that the Seahawks are loaded with difference-makers on the offensive side of the ball for Wilson to work with is not accurate. He has proven to the rest of the football world that the old axiom that you cannot win with a rookie QB is no longer accurate.

Where are the Bears?

In looking at all of the teams that I highlighted and the story their statistics tell, it is obvious the Chicago Bears are a long way from being a team with a championship-caliber offense.

However, to put the blame on Jay Cutler is not entirely fair. Yes, he has made some poor decisions and some poor throws that have directly led to losses. Jay, though, is forced to play behind an absolutely awful offensive line that gives him no time to survey the field and make a decision on where to throw the ball.

Add in the fact that he has a receiver in Devin Hester, who has absolutely zero knowledge of how to play the position, no competent tight end that he can use either downfield or in a check-down situation, and no other receiver besides Brandon Marshall that he count on to make a play when a drive is at a critical point.

When you factor in that Mike Tice is completely unprepared to be an offensive coordinator -- having never held the position in his life before being promoted to the role last spring -- and the level of dysfunction on the Bears offense keeps them from being successful, it is obvious that no matter what happens during the seasons final two games, a change must be made with the head coach and his staff.

Lovie Smith has had an offense ranked in the Top 15 of the NFL only once in his nine years as the Bears head coach and that was 15th in 2006. He may be a brilliant defensive strategist, but he is sorely lacking as a head coach and at the end of this season, GM Phil Emery must clean out the coaching staff and hire the best offensive minds he can find.

That will give him a chance to find out whether or not Jay Cutler is the long-term answer at quarterback. If Smith and Tice are allowed to return, then Cutler has no chance of ever being the QB everyone hopes he can be in a Bears uniform because Smith has proven repeatedly that he does not have the ability to put an offensive staff together that can put a championship offense on the field week-in and week-out.

The Bears have had championship-caliber defensive talent for the past several seasons and unless a complete overhaul of the coaching staff is made after this season, the defense will continue to age and their window of playing Super Bowl-caliber defense will close before the offense will be at an acceptable level.

That would be incredibly unfortunate.

Jordan Carstens contributed to this post

Ryan Hartman returns for Blackhawks vs. Penguins

Ryan Hartman returns for Blackhawks vs. Penguins

PITTSBURGH — Ryan Hartman has played on the right side of that line for most of this season. Now back in the lineup, he knows he has to stay on it.

Hartman will play after missing Monday's game as a healthy scratch when the Blackhawks face the Pittsburgh Penguins on Wednesday night. Hartman took a few bad penalties, including an unsportsmanlike conduct, against the Florida Panthers last weekend, so he sat vs. the Tampa Bay Lightning. The rookie knows he has to get back to the more disciplined hockey he's played most of the season. 

"I don't change my game. I think you take the message and deliver the message," Hartman said. "Obviously, no one likes to not play, everyone wants to play games and no one likes to sit out games. It's definitely something that I took to heart. I'm just going to go out there and just try to play like I've been playing and get on the scoresheet. Just stay off it for the wrong reasons."

Coach Joel Quenneville said Hartman has to stay on the right side of the line.

[VIVID SEATS: Buy Blackhawks tickets]

"Know there are boundaries and sometimes you get watched a little bit more," Quenneville said. "The way they're calling the game, the way it's being officiated, be respectful. You still have to be hard to play against and find that limit, how far you can push it but you get a good feel on that early in games."

The Penguins are on a three-game winless streak (0-2-1) and are dealing with some injuries. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports that, while Evgeni Malkin (shoulder) is close to returning, he won't play against the Blackhawks.

Broadcast information

Time: 7 p.m.
Live stream: NBC Sports app
Radio: WGN 720 AM

Blackhawks lines

Nick Schmaltz-Jonathan Toews-Richard Panik
Artemi Panarin-Tanner Kero-Patrick Kane
Ryan Hartman-Marcus Kruger-Marian Hossa
John Hayden-Dennis Rasmussen-Tomas Jurco

Defensive pairs 

Duncan Keith-Niklas Hjalmarsson
Johnny Oduya-Brent Seabrook
Brian Campbell-Trevor van Riemsdyk


Corey Crawford


Artem Anisimov (left leg)

Penguins lines

Conor-Sheary-Sidney Crosby-Bryan Rust
Chris Kunitz-Nick Bonino-Patric Hornqvist
Scott Wilson-Carter Rowney-Phil Kessel
Tom Kuhnhackl-Oskar Sundqvist-Josh Archibald

Defensive pairs

Brian Dumoulin-Justin Schultz
Ian Cole-Chad Ruhwedel
Cameron Gaunce-Mark Streit


Marc-Andre Fleury


Evgeni Malkin (shoulder), Trevor Daley (knee), Daniel Sprong (shoulder), Jake Guentzel (concussion), Olli Maatta (hand), Kris Letang (upper body), Carl Hagelin (foot), Ron Hainsey (upper body)

Cubs finalize Opening Day 25-man roster

Cubs finalize Opening Day 25-man roster

Matt Szczur or Tommy La Stella on the Cubs Opening Day roster?

How about both?

Theo Epstein said Wednesday morning the Cubs plan to keep both Szczur and La Stella on the Opening Day 25-man roster with relief pitcher Brian Duensing headed to the disabled list.

Duensing, 34, has been hampered by a back issue this spring.

Szczur is out of minor-league options, meaning the Cubs would have had to either keep him on the 25-man roster or place him on waivers, which would almost assuredly mean they'd lose him to another team.

La Stella has options left and already told manager Joe Maddon this spring he would head down to the minors if asked (something La Stella was unwilling to do in August last year when he refused assignment).

The move makes the most sense for the Cubs, as the need for eight relief pitchers is not as imperative in April when the team has five off-days in the first month of the season.

Of course, the Cubs still have four days left of exhibition action, but assuming nothing else changes, here's how the Cubs roster will look Opening Night in St. Louis Sunday:


Willson Contreras
Miguel Montero


Anthony Rizzo
Ben Zobrist
Javy Baez
Addison Russell
Kris Bryant
Tommy La Stella


Jason Heyward
Albert Almora
Jon Jay
Kyle Schwarber
Matt Szczur

Starting pitchers

Jon Lester
Jake Arrieta
John Lackey
Brett Anderson
Kyle Hendricks

Relief pitchers

Mike Montgomery
Justin Grimm
Carl Edwards Jr.
Pedro Strop
Hector Rondon
Koji Uehara
Wade Davis

The Cubs figure to eventually make room for Duensing on the roster as the bullpen could use another left-handed pitcher, but those decisions often take care of themselves with either health problems or trade options, etc.

Remember, there is a 10-day disabled list this year in the MLB, so placing a guy on the DL doesn't guarantee losing him for more than two weeks anymore.