A Chain Reaction

Nothing went as planed for the offense in 2004. The Bears started four quarterbacks and because of that found no continuity through the air. Without a treat in the passing game the run suffered and so on down the line.

After No. 1 quarterback Rex Grossman suffered a season-ending ruptured ACL in the third game of the season, the Bears couldn't move the ball through the air or on the ground. Offensive coordinator Terry Shea and line coach Pete Hoener took the fall, replaced by Ron Turner and Harry Hiestand from the University of Illinois, where Turner was fired in November.

Turner also coordinated the Bears' offense from 1993-96 with some success, and he and Hiestand are expected to produce a more effective ground game than Shea, who often abandoned the run or never tried to establish it at all.

Head coach Lovie Smith wants to run the ball more but especially run it more effectively. The 5-11 Bears finished tied for 25th in rushing yards and 26th in average gain per rush. Those numbers are unacceptable to Smith although they are outstanding compared to the Bears' passing game, which suffered from the absence of a ground attack and many other inadequacies.

The Bears were dead last in passing yards, average gain per pass, sacks allowed, first downs and third-down efficiency, and as a result of their inability to throw the ball, they were also last in points and total yards.

Even without a viable passing game, running backs Thomas Jones and Anthony Thomas both performed fairly well when given the opportunity. Jones had four 100-yard games and led the team with 56 receptions. When he missed three games with a toe injury, Thomas rushed for 280 yards.

After Grossman went down for the count, the Bears turned first to career backup Jonathan Quinn, who came to them in free agency highly recommended by Shea, which proved to be another mark against the offensive coordinator. Quinn's robotic nature resulted in him being sacked 15 times while throwing just 98 passes. Through 10 quarters of play, Quinn was sacked 10 times, while the offense produced 12 points.

Enter Craig Krenzel, a fifth-round pick who wasn't supposed to do much more than carry a clipboard during his rookie season. Because of a better-than-average defense that showed a penchant for takeaways and the ability to score when it forced a turnover, the Bears won Krenzel's first three starts. But he got sacked more often than Quinn -- five times in each of his first three starts -- and he also lost five fumbles, three of which resulted in touchdowns for the opposition.

After both Krenzel, as the starter, and Quinn, in relief, were awful in a Thanksgiving Day loss to the Cowboys, the call went out to Chad Hutchinson. The former St. Louis Cardinals pitcher, who had been cut by the Cowboys just before the start of training camp, had been languishing along the Bears' sideline since the end of September. Hutchinson showed more mobility and a better arm than the two quarterbacks who preceded him, and he won his first start, beating the Vikings with a three-TD performance. But four straight defeats closed out the season as Hutchinson's play fluctuated from mediocre to inadequate.

Hutchinson also couldn't avoid the deluge of defenders that regularly poured through an offensive line that failed miserably to live up to high expectations. Hutchinson was sacked nine times in the final game of the season, leaving the Bears with a league- and franchise-worst 66 sacks.

All the blame doesn't belong on the quarterbacks or Shea. The offensive line was a sieve. Sure, injuries forced 10 different players to start up front, but Pro Bowl center Olin Kreutz started all 16 games. Qasim Mitchell, another in a long line of inadequate left tackles, started the first 14 games until Marc Colombo was given a shot after a two-year rehabilitation from a dislocated kneecap. He didn't appear to be the answer, either. Right tackle John Tait, a $33.6 million free-agent acquisition, started all but three games. Depth was supposed to be a strength on this unit, but it wasn't.


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