Time for Another Swap on Offense?

Benching Rex Grossman in favor of Brian Griese at quarterback didn't solve all the Bears' problems on offense, but it did make the passing game better. Could replacing Cedric Benson with Adrian Peterson in the backfield do the same for the rushing attack?

Replacing Rex Grossman with Brian Griese hasn't done much to improve the Bears' playoff chances, but it did give their dormant offense a much-needed bounce. Now it's time to make another major change on an offense that last week fell back into the rut in which it spent the first three weeks.

It's time to unleash Adrian Peterson as the featured running back. If he gets 20 touches a game as Cedric Benson has, there's a pretty good chance Peterson will eventually bust a run longer than 16 yards, which seems to be the maximum capability of the 2005 fourth-overall draft pick.

More importantly, when the Bears throw the ball to Peterson, which they have with much greater frequency than ever this season, there's a much better than 50-50 chance he'll catch it. The same cannot be said of Benson, who has had some of the worst drops in a season marred by butter-fingered receivers.

Benson is averaging 3.1 yards per carry. No one in the NFL with 80 carries or more has a worse average.

For almost six years, Peterson has quietly gone about the business of becoming one of the NFL's better special-teams players and a reliable third-down back – proficiently picking up the blitz, in addition to catching the ball. But the former sixth-round pick also has averaged 4.7 yards per carry, 10th best in the NFL at the start of this season although he's had just 161 career chances.

Compare their production and forget one guy has a five-year, $35 million deal. Who would you start?

The Bears obviously trust Peterson with the ball since he's their third-leading receiver with 24 catches and is averaging a commendable – for a running back – 8.0 yards per catch, almost twice what Thomas Jones averaged last season.

Peterson would also show a little enthusiasm, which isn't a prerequisite for greatness or success but is something this sad-sack Bears team is in desperate need of right now. And Peterson, should he struggle, wouldn't use the ridiculous excuse that opponents are playing seven or eight men in the box as Benson frequently does.

RB Adrian Peterson
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

That particular defensive ploy isn't unique to Bears opponents. Almost every decent running back in the NFL sees seven or eight men in the box on running plays. With a quarterback crew of Tarvaris Jackson, Kelly Holcomb and Brooks Bollinger, you think the Vikings' Adrian Peterson has seen anything but eight in the box all season?

The key to running against an eight-man front is making one tackler miss, which is one more than Benson has been able to elude on most runs this season. It's probably too soon to call Benson a bust. He deserves a little more time and a little more running room. But it's not too soon to predict he'll never be anything special. Maybe it's complacency after getting the big bucks before he ever got hit in the NFL. Maybe it's a lack of desire. And maybe losing his job will motivate him. It's worth a shot when you've got $35 million invested and a season on the line.

At 5-10 and 210 pounds, Peterson may not have the size to withstand the punishment that an every-down back has to absorb, but Benson's just an inch taller and 10 pounds heavier. Peterson doesn't have to get every carry, but he deserves an opportunity to get most of them.

One year and one day ago, the Bears offense scored 24 points in the first quarter against the 49ers including three touchdowns. In the 17 games since, the Bears offense has scored one touchdown in the first quarter. That was last Dec. 17 against the Bucs.

They have almost two weeks to figure out a way to get started more quickly.

"That's why it's good to have those bye weeks, where you look at all those things and try to find some different solutions to that problem," head coach Lovie Smith said. "But I just wouldn't [talk about] the way we've started offensively. When you're 3-5, you haven't done a lot of things well. And that's where we are. It's just not offense. It's defense, special teams, everything."

Quarterback Brian Griese would settle for being able to utilize the run game for a full four quarters and maintain the offensive balance that he says is necessary for success. The Bears have been outscored 20-10 in the first quarter this season.

"From my perspective, the one thing that's really killed us is we haven't scored many points in the first halves of games, the first quarters of games," Griese said. "Offensively, we just haven't started very fast and we've been coming from behind. Because we haven't scored any points, it doesn't give us a chance to use the balance that we need to get on offense. Cedric is really taken out of the game in the second half because we have to throw the ball, come from behind, and that's just not a recipe for success in this league." …

Last season, coach Smith encouraged Super Bowl talk from his team that started off 7-0. This year's 3-5 Bears team has to defeat the Raiders in Oakland after the bye to keep faint playoff hopes alive. Only 10 NFL teams have started 3-5 and made the playoffs, but that's still one of the Bears' goals.

"Our focus is always on the next game at hand," Smith said. "[But] I still think everyone that's playing football should have one goal in mind at the end of the season. That's still our goal. All of our same goals, we still have. We still want to beat Green Bay, and we'll have an opportunity to play them again. Our goal is still to win the division, and of course it's still to end up in Glendale playing for the Super Bowl championship there. But in order to do that, it's about our next game – Oakland." …

The Bears have already lost three games at home this season, as many as they lost in the previous two seasons combined. They were 6-2 last season and 7-1 in 2005.

"Losing at home, of course, is troubling," Smith said. "You have to win at home, especially division games. So, the second half, that's something that we'll have to do."

BY THE NUMBERS: Minus-10 – The Bears' turnover differential, which is tied for 30th in the league. The defense has forced just 13 turnovers after getting a league-leading 44 last season.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "Our formula is ball security and taking the ball away on the defensive side of the football, and we haven't been able to do that." – Bears coach Lovie Smith, whose team has tossed 16 interceptions, tied for worst in the NFL with the Rams.

INJURY IMPACT: LB Brian Urlacher (back) did not practice Wednesday before the bye, but he is expected to play in the next game vs. the Raiders on Nov. 11. CB Nathan Vasher (groin) is expected back for the Week 10 contest in Oakland, as is backup S Brandon McGowan, neither of who practiced Wednesday.

LB Brendon Ayanbadejo, a Pro Bowl pick for his special-teams play last season, leads the Bears with 14 special-teams tackles this season. … DT Darwin Walker, who signed a five-year, $25 million contract after being acquired in a training-camp trade, has two tackles in the past four games, two of which he missed with a sprained knee. He also has no sacks after getting 26 1/2 in the previous five seasons. … WR Mark Bradley has two catches this season for 26 yards, as his career continues to regress. … WR Bernard Berrian is on pace for 1,036 receiving yards but has just one TD catch. … TE Greg Olsen has led the team or tied for the team lead in receptions in three of the last four games.

  • Comparing Urlacher to Butkus and Singletary
  • "New" Soldier Field vs. "Old" Soldier Field
  • Reliving the 61-7 win over Green Bay in 1980
  • An excerpt from Cindi Dammann's Tailgating Tales
  • Getting to know LB Jamar Williams

All of that plus much more in the latest issue of ...

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