According to general manager Jerry Angelo, the Bears' eight-month free fall from Super Bowl XLI to a team in disarray has been a collective effort.
But based on his nearly 30 years in the NFL, Angelo isn't shocked by the rapid demise.
"Nothing surprises me," he said after last Wednesday's practice. "Every year your team takes on its own identity. You don't look at what you did last year, whether it was good or bad and say, 'Well, we're going to pick up where we left off.' That's not the case. Each team has to establish its own identity. It's an intangible.
"It's a unique dynamic in sports, particularly in football because it's such a team sport. Did we expect this? Certainly not. It's certainly not where we thought we would be, but we're here. We're dealing with it, and we still have hope."
The Bears' offense has plummeted to No. 31 in rushing yards and dead-last, 32nd, in average gain per running play. The Bears are also at the bottom of the NFL in interception percentage. None of those stats reflects very well on Angelo's first-round picks in 2003 (quarterback Rex Grossman) and 2005 (running back Cedric Benson).
No runner in the NFL with 80 attempts has a worse average than Benson's 3.1 yards per attempt, and Grossman was benched after three games and a passer rating of 45.2 with six interceptions and one touchdown pass.
"It's disappointing, but I'm not going to pin it [on] that they can't play," Angelo said. "Are you saying that they're the guys that we're winning because of? Obviously that's not the case, at least thus far. You win as a team. It's not one player. You don't build a team around one player. We didn't last year, and we're not this year.
"Cedric is performing to the best of his abilities," the Bears' general manager continued. "He's giving us top effort. That's all I could ask of any player."
Angelo's first-round pick this year, tight end Greg Olsen, is the team's leading receiver over the past four weeks with 18 catches for 217 yards. 2004 first-rounder Tommie Harris has seven sacks, more than any other defensive tackle in the league. But the bottom line is the Bears are 3-5, four games behind the Packers and three behind the Lions.
The defense, which propelled last year's team to the Super Bowl, has played just as poorly as the offense, which was expected to make strides with the addition of Olsen and converted cornerback Devin Hester. The offense is No. 26 in total yards, and the defense is No. 26 in total yards allowed. Angelo downplayed linebacker Brian Urlacher's back condition and declined to discuss postseason plans, such as re-signing free-agent-to-be linebacker Lance Briggs or upgrading at quarterback, but he admitted there are problems on both sides of the ball.
"For whatever reason, it's just not happening on either side of the ball," Angelo said. "Offensively, the turnovers, the inability to really sustain the kind of running game that we need. All those things have really come back and have bitten us all year. Defensively, we're not creating the turnovers that we normally do."
Only one team, the 0-8 Rams, has more turnovers than the Bears' 23. And the Bears' defense has taken the ball away just 13 times for a minus-10 turnover differential. Again, only the Rams at minus-13 are worse. Last year the Bears had 24 takeaways after eight games, and they finished with an NFL-best 44.
TE Greg Olsen
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
"We've let teams control the ball on us more than in the past," Angelo said. "It's just not clicking. There's no real rhythm to either side of the ball."
Poor starts, especially on offense, have taken the Bears out of the comfort zone the enjoyed last season. The offense hasn't scored a first-quarter touchdown all season and has just one touchdown in the past 17 games.
"We've been playing from behind, so our game plan has altered," Angelo said. "We're throwing the ball much more than what I thought we'd be throwing this year."
Last year, 51.7 percent of the Bears' offensive plays were passes, including sacks. This year, that number is up to 61.0 percent, not what anyone expects form a team that gets off the bus running the football.
"That's part of it," Angelo said. "The turnovers tie into it, too. We've had five six- minute drives against our defense. That kills time of possession. That all impacts the running game. It's not one person, and I would hate to think that you're going to single out one person and say, 'This is the reason why they can't run the ball.' It's a team sport." And it's taken a team effort to go from 7-1 at the midway point last season to the current mess.
NEWS & NOTES
DE Alex Brown, a backup on both sides, got almost twice as many reps (about 40) as usual in Week 8 and led all defensive linemen with eight tackles. Even if Brown doesn't regain his starting spot from Mark Anderson, he'll play more reps than he had been. … Anderson may or may not lose his starting job, but he is expected to lose reps to Brown, who has outperformed him the past four weeks. … WR Mark Bradley has just two catches for 26 yards but coaches insist he's played well when he's been on the field, although there's really no evidence to back up those claims. … Hester is expected to become more involved in the offense in the second half of the season. He's caught just six passes so far, but he's averaged 24.0 yards per catch. … WR Muhsin Muhammad has just 19 catches for 248 yards, but he leads the Bears with three touchdowns from scrimmage.
- 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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