Get Off the Bus Passing the Football?
But with the way the rules are set up in today's National Football League, rules that call for pass-interference penalties on defensive backs if they so much as make eye contact with receivers, are the Midway Monsters playing an outdated version of the game? Both the Cardinals and Steelers, who will face off Sunday in Super Bowl XLIII, threw the ball much better than they ran it this year, as evidenced by the fact that we've heard more about quarterbacks Kurt Warner and Ben Roethlisberger this week than running backs Edgerrin James and Willie Parker.
However, the Bears seemingly relish this three-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust way of doing things, even though they were only 24th in the league running the ball this season at 104.6 yards per game. That number almost matched Pittsburgh's 105.6, while Arizona's 73.6 was dead last. The difference is the Steelers have a tough possession target in Hines Ward and a deep threat in Santonio Holmes, and the Cardinals feature without a doubt the best pair of starting wideouts in the game: Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin.
Former Bears passer Jim Miller agrees that receivers have all the advantages over enemy secondaries these days, but he still thinks Smith's philosophy is sound.
Miller says the Bears should continue to be a running team. (Rick Stewart/Getty Images)
"The rules are set up for the fans [and] for the excitement," Miller told me before his on-air obligations with Sirius NFL Radio. "It's geared toward passing the football. But there's a part of you that when you're running the football, you're controlling clock. Obviously, you're keeping the ball away from your opponent, and that's the foundation of football."
Playing in a city like Chicago no doubt has an effect on the organization's steadfast commitment to the running game, as Soldier Field features a poor surface and the winter cold can be brutal at times.
"I think weather factors into it," Miller said, "especially late in the year. When you're talking about December and when you're looking to make the stretch and the push for the playoffs, yeah, you have to have the ability to run the ball. Because some days it's just not conducive to throwing. It becomes tough, so you've got to be able to pound it."
Smith is not going to change the way he tries to win games, so he would be wise to beef up along the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball this offseason.
Bears Defense Not so Monstrous Anymore
There is plenty of blame to be shared by most everyone at Halas Hall, from general manager Jerry Angelo to head coach Lovie Smith to the three assistants that won't be back in 2009. The players themselves also need to re-evaluate how they go about their business, as it's been suggested repeatedly that too many of them put their game on cruise control after working Angelo for those big contract extensions. Even the scheme on D, Smith's beloved Cover 2, has been called old hat.
Fox color analyst Brian Baldinger believes calling the Bears a Cover 2 team now is a "misnomer" because they play a lot of eight-man fronts these days, but their lack of pressure up front should be their primary concern.
Anderson hasn't been a factor since a great rookie year. (Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
"You can't call them the Monsters of the Midway right now, because they're not," Baldinger told me Thursday afternoon. "... They are trying to play this style of defense that they're not good at. Their pass rush is invisible, so the only way they really can get after you is by stacking the line of scrimmage and putting seven guys up there, really mugging the line of scrimmage with the linebackers and coming after you, but then they give up a lot of yards in the passing game."
While Baldinger remains a big fan of Brian Urlacher even though he isn't what he once was, Chicago's defensive line in particular is holding back what used to be one of the best defenses in the NFL not too long ago.
"I don't know what happened to Mark Anderson," he said. "His rookie year he was dynamite. Now he's invisible. And they can tell me all they want about Tommie Harris, but you can count the number of games on one hand Tommie Harris played well in."
Smith's system has always been predicated on creating turnovers, but Baldinger says those turnovers simply don't come often enough when the enemy quarterback has time to throw.
Expect to Draft Forte Early in Fantasy
Even though he was selected after the likes of Julius Jones and Jamal Lewis in most every fantasy draft this past season, Forte went on to be one of the most consistently productive players in the league from week to week. He finished seventh in the NFL in rushing with 1,238 yards, led all backs with 63 receptions, and scored a total of 12 TDs – eight on the ground and four through the air.
Forte went off the board in the fourth or fifth round of most drafts a year ago, but according to ESPN.com fantasy expert Matthew Barry, the former Tulane Green Wave should go No. 3 overall in 2009.
Forte will be highly coveted in fantasy drafts next year. (Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
"The guy was involved in the entire offense," Barry told me Friday while making the rounds at Radio Row at the Tampa Convention Center. "He's an amazing pass catcher, so even when he was getting stopped as a runner, he was still a huge part of the passing game – in fact, the leading receiver on the Bears. People don't realize how good a receiver he is out of the backfield, especially if you didn't play in a PPR (points-per-reception league). I have Michael Turner and Adrian Peterson, in that order believe it or not, as my 1 and 2 next year. But going into next year, I don't know how Matt Forte isn't a top-5 back."
The Bears' defense and special teams unit has been a very popular choice among fantasy players the last few years because they force turnovers and Devin Hester can score at any time on a kick or punt return, but Barry doesn't believe they are an elite unit anymore.
"I'm a big believer in defenses are defenses are defenses," he said. "Generally speaking, there will be defenses every week that win you the week, but predicting which defenses those are is kind of a crap shoot. I think the Bears need to be drafted, I think they need to be owned, so I wouldn't say they're like an add/drop kind of situation. But I also don't think that they're a team that you spend an early draft pick on."
Barry went on to say that no defense, not even the Steelers or the Ravens, should be taken with an early pick.
John Crist is the Publisher of Bear Report and a member of the Professional Football Writers of America. To read him every day, visit BearReport.com and become a Chicago Bears insider.