The last of the 32: Chicago
Cold, Hard Football Facts for Apr 09, 2008
We continue our team-by-team early off-season look at the NFL with the ...
Devin Hester is like a beacon of blinding, heavenly light in the infinite black hole of darkness that is offense in Chicago. Here are some Hester highlights, including from back in his days at Miami. The voice-overs, however, don't necessarily match up with the video. Still, pretty impressive either way.
show video here
2007 record: 7-9 (334-348)
Record vs. Quality Opponents: 2-5
Expected W-L (based on PF/PA): 7.6-8.4
All-time franchise record: 677-491-42 (.577)
Playoff record: 16-17 (.485)
Last five seasons: 43-37 (.538)
Best game of 2007: 35-7 home win over Green Bay (Week 16). One of the more curious outcomes of the 2007 season was that the middling Bears handed the mighty Packers two of their three losses. Chicago won both these games despite losing many of the statistical battles. The Bears, for example, were outgained in both contests. Even here, in their only blowout victory of the season, the Bears mustered just 240 yards of offense, to 274 for the Packers.
Chicago won this late-season battle the same way it's been forced to win so many times over the last couple years, during the Dark Ages of Chicago Offense: it won with explosive plays on defense and on special teams. The Bears returned both a blocked punt (Corey Graham) and an INT (Brian Urlacher) for TDs – a feat they last accomplished in 1954 – while stifling the Packers passing attack. Brett Favre was held to a 40.2 passer rating, his worst complete-game effort of the year (17 of 32, 53.1%, 153 yards, 4.8 YPA, 0 TD, 2 INT). By midway through the third quarter, he boasted just 14 yards through the air.
Silly-season activity: There's been a flurry of activity in Chicago, but nothing that looks like it will accumulate into any major snowfall of personnel for 2008. LB Lance Briggs (who not too long ago made a lot of noise about leaving) and S Brandon McGowann are back in the fold, while the team is still trying to renegotiate LB Brian Urlacher's contract (he's signed through 2011) and re-sign DT Tommie Harris before he becomes a free agent next year.
There's been a lot more movement on the offensive side of the ball. Brian Griese was, sadly, Chicago's most efficient quarterback in years. Naturally, the Bears dumped him, in a trade to Tampa for a an undisclosed 2009 draft picks, while Kyle Orton got a six-year contract extension and Rex Grossman a one-year deal. Orton and Grossman will compete for the starting job next year, while most likely continuing the long, inglorious tradition of sub-par Chicago quarterbacks.
They'll have some new faces in the huddle with them, too. Wide receivers Muhsin Muhammad (cut) and Bernard Berrian (signed by Minnesota) are gone, while Chicago has replaced them with wideouts Marty Booker from Miami and Brandon Lloyd from Washington. Booker boasted his only two 1,000-yard seasons when he played with the Bears earlier in his career.
Strength: Explosiveness. The offense struggles to the point of utter frustration, even for those emotionless observers like the Cold, Hard Football Facts. In fact, from our point of view, the only thing more frustrating than Chicago's offense was our efforts to get laid in high school.
However, Chicago is literally capable of striking at any time from any point on the field and remains one of the most explosive Big Play teams in football. This explosiveness is in large part due to the record-setting play of Devin Hester, who returned a remarkable four punts and two kicks for TDs last year. He added two more TDs as a wide receiver, one that went for 81 yards and another for 55.
The Bears were a mere +4 (11th overall) on our Big Play Index last year, but they generated 59 Big Plays – more than any team in football but San Diego and Minnesota. That's right ... Chicago generated more Big Plays than explosive powerhouses such as New England (55), Green Bay (57), Indy (42) or Dallas (46). Of course, the Bears were victimized by a lot of Big Plays, too – 55 in 2007. Only five teams, including some of the worst in football (Oakland, Baltimore, Kansas City) allowed more Big Plays. But all the Big Plays make for some pretty exciting moments whenever Chicago plays.
Weakness: Inconsistency. The black hole of offensive unproductivity is the most obvious weakness in the Bears. We – and others – have discussed to the point of physical exhaustion the quarterbacking curse that's plagued Chicago for 60 years. (One of the greatest Cold, Hard Football Facts on record is that Sid Luckman, who last saw significant playing time in 1948, remains the franchise's all-time passing leader.) And last year the offensive line was among the very worst in football, chiming in at 31st in our Offensive Hog Index.
But the real weakness of this team is its inconsistency ... both from season to season and game to game. From 2000 to 2002, the Bears yo-yoed from 5-11 to 13-3 to 4-12. In 2006, they were 13-3 and represented the NFC in the Super Bowl. Then came last year's 7-9 debacle – from a team many considered in the pre-season to be one of the class outfits in the NFL's senior circuit.
The inconsistency was evident last year as the Bears handed powerhouse Green Bay two of its three losses all season – and lost twice to the pathetic Lions.
Most underrated player: QB Brian Griese. OK, he's been traded to Tampa. But his passer rating in six starts last year (75.6) was the highest by any Chicago quarterback since the Jim Miller-Chris Chandler tandem each exceeded that mark back in 2002.
He passed last year for more yards and more TDs, with a higher completion percentage and more yards per attempt, than either Grossman or Orton. And with two 300-yard passing games last year, he exceeded the number of 300-yard games Grossman and Orton have combined for over the course of their entire careers (one).
Now 33, Griese certainly wasn't the quarterback of the future. But Grossman and Orton have given no indication that they're the QBs of the future, either. And it's hard to envision a scenario where either of the youngsters would give the Bears a better chance to win over the next couple of seasons while the organization continues its epic, Kashmir-like quest for a franchise quarterback.
Unit on the rise: Tight ends. The Bears recently gave Desmond Clark a two-year extension after a two-season stretch in which he's caught 89 passes for 1,171 yards and a 13.2 average that's tops among all tight ends over that period. And with 15 career touchdown receptions in a Chicago uniform, Clark, believe it or not, is second only to Mike Ditka himself among tight ends in franchise history (34).
The Bears must feel good about Clark, because there's certainly some pressure on him at the position. Remember, the Bears devoted their No. 1 pick last year to Miami's Greg Olsen. He was injured in the pre-season but recovered to play 14 games and start four, catching 39 passes for 391 yards and 2 TDs while finding his way onto several all-rookie teams.
Look for tight end to be a very important position for the Bears as its quarterbacks awkwardly attempt to crawl out of the oceans of futility and walk on land.
2007 Draft grade: B-. The Bears have may missed on most of their picks. But Olsen, their top selection, has the potential to turn into one of the better tight ends in the league. They may also have found a diamond in the rough in CB Trumaine McBride, a seventh-round pick (221st overall) out of Mississippi who started nine games last year after injuries hit Chicago's secondary. Pretty impressive considering that the Bears picked two DBs ahead of him in the draft. However, the Bears got virtually zero production out of their other seven draft picks, negating the overall impact of the Class of 2007 on the team, at least to this point.
2008 Draft power: 1st (14), 2nd (44), 3rd (70), 3rd (90), 4th (110), 5th (142), 6th (175), 7th (222), 7th(243), 7th (247), 7th (248)
General Draft strategy: It's an understatement to say that the Bears need to uncover a couple blue-chip prospects on the offensive side of the ball. Olsen has the potential to become one of those players, but the jury's still out and, even if he evolves into Ditka himself, you're certainly not going to muscle your way into the Super Bowl on the strength of some great tight end play. Ironically, the best offensive player the Bears have grabbed in many years may be Devin Hester – a guy drafted as a defensive back and then converted to offense because of his explosive play as a return man.
Other than that, you probably have to go all the way back to OL stalwart Olin Kreutz, a center taken in the third round of the 1998 draft, to find an offensive player Chicago grabbed in the top half of the draft who fulfilled expectations.
Offensive line is an absolute necessity for a team that can't get any push up front. The Bears were dead last in 2007, with an average of 3.14 YPA on the ground. But that's what happens when you ignore this pivotal building block area in the draft: the Bears have grabbed only one offensive lineman (Marco Colombo, 2002) in the first two rounds of the last 13 drafts. And he did nothing until fighting his way onto the starting roster in Dallas.
As far as the quest for a franchise quarterback goes, you just never know. The temptation to grab that marquee guy high is obviously tempting. But forgive the Bears for being a little gun shy. No. 1 picks Cade McNown and Grossman both failed to become "the guy." Maybe Chicago needs some franchise-changing blind luck – a late-round gift like Tom Brady, Bart Starr or Johnny Unitas to fall in their lap. But that's hardly a strategy that will give comfort to Bears fans.
Youth/experience: Age should be one of the encouraging signs for Bears fans. Its best game-breaking (and potential game-breaking) players – Devin Hester, Tommie Harris, Greg Olsen, Charles Tillman – are still very young. Seasoned and productive players like Brian Urlacher, Lance Briggs, Adewale Ogunleye and Marty Booker are still at an age where they can contribute at a high level.
Rex Grossman still has the rep of a "young" player, largely due to the fact that he's started just 30 NFL games. But he'll be 28 by the time the 2008 season kicks off and he's no longer a kid by NFL standards. In fact, he's well past the age where most QBs of any stature have already shown signs of things to come. Those hanging their hats on the evolution of Kyle Orton can at least point to the fact that he's only 25 (he turns 26 in November) and to the fact that, for his utter lack of stand-out performances, he's 12-6 as an NFL starter. That .667 winning percentage is fifth best in the league.
Coaching: Lovie Smith boasts 2005 "Coach of the Year" honors and a 2006 NFC championship after four years in Chicago. Overall, it's a pretty good resume considering the offensive handicaps highlighted above. But the Bears remain a frustrating, infuriating team to follow. And that frustration ultimately reflects upon the head coach. Somehow, someway, he must find a way to ignite an offense that has cracked the NFL's top 10 in scoring just twice since Mike Ditka roamed the sidelines. The 2006 season, in which the Bears ranked second in scoring, provided a taste of what could be. But it also proved a mirage as the offense fell off the table in 2007 (18th in scoring, 27th in total offense). Even the defense suffered in 2007.
Smith must find a way to build a complete team to uphold the promise of what appears, on paper anyway, to be one of the more talented teams in the NFL.
Otherwise, he's surrounded by a non-descript staff. Offensive coordinator Ron Turner – Norv's brother – literally has no pro coaching experience outside of Chicago. He was the team's OC from 1993 to 1996 and again since 2005. The meager offensive results speak for themselves.
Defensive coordinator Bob Babich had a disastrous first year on the job after the Bears decided to let his predecessor, Ron Rivera, walk following the Super Bowl 2006 season. Sure, injuries played a role, but the drop-off under Babich was devastating. The team ranked 3rd in scoring defense and 5th in total defense in 2006 under Rivera, but 16th in scoring defense and 28th in total defense in 2007, making it one of the worst statistical units in franchise history.
Overview: It's all pretty simple for Chicago, yet must sound like a broken record for Bears fans: it's all about the quarterback. The Bears seem to have plenty of young talent. They need to find that franchise passer that's eluded them so long that ice ages have come and gone.
Forearm Shiver: the CHFF Blog
- Hockey Announcer Gone Wild: You Want To Party (Maybe) With This Guy
- Best Pass Defense Ever: Ronde Barber And The 2002 Tampa Bay Buccaneers
- Reese Witherspoon Arrest Video: Hot, Bothered And Handcuffed
- Sam Adams In A Can, Just In Time For Summer Drinking Season
- Live From Radio City: Reporter Punks NFL Draft Fans
- The 5.0 Club: Best Rushing Teams in NFL History
- Sieves: The Worst Run Defenses In NFL History
- Monsters of the Midway: We Need The Chicago Bears More Than Ever
- Boston, Sports, Patriotism And Terror
- The 100 Stingiest Defenses In Football History
- NFL Crown Rule: Will It Dethrone Rushing King Adrian Peterson?
- Year Of The Offensive Tackle: Not Always The 'Safe' Draft Bet
- Draft Habits: NFL Teams Covet LBs, Duped By False Temptress WRs
- Big Tease: 2012 New England Patriots And NFL's History Of Offensive Failures
- Epic Fail: The Wide Receiver Draft Class Of 2012
Must See Videos