Anyone who bore witness to this turkey realizes that it will take nothing short of a miracle to get the 4-7 Bears to the playoffs. With a longer week off, and some timely circumstances, the Bears can make a few changes to not only help them with their current state, but also with an eye for the future.
Most of what needs to be addressed relates to the offense. While we can all agree that there are some holes in the defense, it's not the problem. The same can be said of the special teams. So, what can be done over the last 5 games that can help the offense not only now and for the future? First, let's understand the problems. Then we'll look at the changes that can be made.
To even the most untrained eye, the Bears are doing many of the things that lead to losses. They turn the ball over. They struggle running the ball. They get sacked, intercepted, and fumble when they pass. All of these are happening at a rate that has me off the cranberry sauce and onto the spiced wine. To only blame the offensive line would be simplifying a systematic relationship. The root there is system, and while we're thinking about it, perhaps the coaching staff should be held accountable, too. Let's forget the injuries for now, and think of them as opportunities.
At quarterback, both Jonathan Quinn and Craig Krenzel have struggled to deliver the football to their receivers in good time. Not only does this lead to sacks and fumbles, but it also ruins the timing of the routes run by the receivers. On a five step drop, when you see the quarterback hit his fifth step, the football needs to be thrown within a count of hitting that last planted step. It's not happening. What's worse, teams are stacking up against the Bears' running game. This means there should be single coverage on the receivers on the outside. It's a crime that the quarterbacks don't see this at or before the snap and simply throw the ball to a spot before the receiver makes his break. It is this kind of pattern that can also be run from a three step drop. Everyone knows the three step drop can help the line avoid sacks to keep drives alive. Rollouts haven't been an answer. For whatever reason, Krenzel and Quinn have not been able to accurately throw the ball when they have gotten out of the pocket. The screen pass Quinn threw on Thanksgiving was so acutely off target that Thomas Jones watched it sail over his head, the bevy of blockers in advance of him, and into the embrace of a Cowboys defender (who couldn't come up with it).
With Krenzel out with an ankle injury, there is no reason to endure the Jonathan Quinn experience any longer. It's time to figure out whether or not Chad Hutchinson deserves to have a roster spot next year. For Krenzel, the only thing he's earned the right to is a hand in the battle for the third string quarterback next year. No matter how Hutchinson plays the rest of the way, Jerry Angelo will need to add a veteran quarterback to the mix in the off-season. He'll need someone capable of leading the team in the event Grossman cannot make it all the way back, gets hurt again, or proves to be ineffective. There is no need to worry about how Grossman might feel about the prospects of a competition. Anyone who thinks it may affect the young quarterback's confidence or that he'll be looking over his shoulder needs to keep one thing in mind. If you were worried about your starting quarterback's confidence, you didn't have a good quarterback in the first place. Since Angelo has beaten me to this column by adding Jeff George before I could publish this, let's hope we get to see some of George in addition to Hutchinson down the stretch.
Marc Colombo appears to have won the left tackle spot back from Qasim Mitchell. He should stay there for the remainder of the season, especially since that's where he is envisioned to play next year. With both next year and this year in mind, let's think about left guard. Veteran Ruben Brown is out with a neck injury. It's time to move Rex Tucker back to his more familiar left guard position. He's looked like a fish out of water on the right side. Much of this is likely a combination of coming off an elbow injury that has stolen his strength and two years of rust. Again, if we envision the left side next year to be Colombo and Tucker, there's nothing stopping them from putting them there now. Olin Kreutz isn't going anywhere, and remains the glue in the middle. At right guard, a decision needs to be made between Qasim Mitchell (who they just gave a big contract to), consistent swingman Steve Edwards, or Terrence Metcalf. Edwards is not under contract after this season, but has proven to be very steady at guard, and is one of the more valuable players on the line. While Edwards came into the league as a tackle, he's struggled whenever he has played there (I was covering my eyes with drumsticks as Dallas' defensive ends were running past him like he was staked into the ground), and proved quite competent at guard all of last year and in spot starts this season. Retaining him should be easy. He should get the right guard position, and should be allowed to stick to one spot and grow with it. John Tait should remain a fixture at right tackle for next year. If he's too hurt to play at any point in the remainder of the season, it gives Mitchell a chance to play right tackle, where his skills might be better suited. It will also show if he's good enough to be a swing tackle, which isn't an easy thing to do. While Aaron Gibson played surprisingly well at right tackle last season, he would be a last resort. However, it's not that far fetched to see them down to that if their other options fall through. Can Metcalf play some right tackle? There's no reason to think he can't, since he was a tackle in college.
It doesn't appear the duo from Michigan have a future here. Anthony Thomas has whined his way into making it seem he's doing the coaches a favor if he's called upon. He's not a leader, or a team player. Thomas' contract is up after this season, and he will play elsewhere. Adrian Peterson should be getting significant playing time on the offense, to prove he's worthy of spelling Thomas Jones or even starting if an injury occurs. The Bears have no way of being completely sure that Peterson can be a second string running back for next season without doing so. Not knowing will impact their draft day plans. Peterson has played very well on special teams, and has earned the right to get some "breather" carries for Jones. Jones isn't at full strength (toe) anyway.
David Terrell's three drop performance at Tennessee was the whip cream on a pumpkin pie's worth of disappointment. Critics of the previous coaching regime felt there wasn't a way to accurately assess Terrell's talent because he had so few opportunities. We've seen it under Lovie Smith's regime. We've seen enough. It's time to determine if Justin Gage and Bernard Berrian can be answers. Terrell has had his chance, and has not proven to be special. Maybe he's good enough to keep around as a second receiver. The decision might not be so tough for Jerry Angelo when he looks at the salary cap and compares his investment versus his return.
From a coaching perspective, it's time for Terry Shea to get the offense to the point where drives are sustained, first downs aren't anomalies, and the defense is allowed to rest more than 3 downs at a time. The defense is producing turnovers. Turnovers are opportunities for the offense to put points on the board. Shea needs to commit to the running game. The Bears need to take a page from the Pittsburgh Steelers. They need to commit to consistently running the ball 35 times per game. They need productive passes. The passes need to be set up based on timing, and more emphasis should be made on the shorter drops. It shouldn't be difficult for big targets like Justin Gage or Desmond Clark to catch a ball against single coverage. It's just a game of catch and timing. It's a simple thing. Why is Terry Shea making it look so difficult? It's time to strip a few layers of complexity off the onion of his offense. Noots, you've lost your mind, comparing an offense to an onion. Uhm…no. What we've seen so far stinks. It's time to demand more.
The previous regime drew criticism because it supposedly was too rigid to fit the system to the players. The Bears have gone out and gotten as many players as possible for Shea's system. If the system isn't working, it's time to adapt it to the talent still standing, or to find the things one can be successful at. What can the Bears be successful at? Running the ball. Not just a rumor, but really doing it. It wasn't that long ago that Gary Crowton was here. He claimed every week that he would run more the next game, yet ran less and less. The more the Bears passed, the more they turned it over and lost. One of the reasons why the Bears were 13-3 in 2001 under Shoop's offense was because they were dedicated to the run.
Most of the players who needed to get looks on defense are already being rotated into action. On the line, perhaps Tank Johnson should get a little more time at tackle, and Michael Haynes at end. Haynes has made some big plays in his limited chances. If he takes some time from Alex Brown, it might not be the worst thing that could happen. It would allow the Bears to see what they would have in Haynes and Adewale Ogunleye at the ends if Brown cannot be retained in the off-season.
In looking back on the changes suggested herein, they aren't wide sweeping, some are the result of necessity, and all give the Bears a fresh look. They aren't playing for tomorrow and throwing the towel in for this year. They're playing for both today and tomorrow. They're also playing for some sense of pride after being humiliated on offense again and again. Here's to hoping we see at least a couple of these garnishes in the weeks to come.
I hope everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving weekend. Noots' Notes will return to its regular format next week.