It's too bad the Bears' offense is such a disaster because the defense is playing well enough to lead a team with even an average offense into the playoffs.
Come to think of it, if the Bears' strived for average on offense they'd be better off because then coordinator Mike Martz wouldn't be force-feeding a steady diet of passing plays down the throat of an offensive line that is at a competitive disadvantage against most NFL defensive lines when it come to pass protection.
The offensive line has largely been ignored in the draft for eight years. That group represents nearly one-fifth of a team's starting lineup, but Bears general manager Jerry Angelo seems to believe that talent isn't as necessary on the offensive line as it is at the other positions.
"It's not about getting great players, it's about getting the same five players playing well together," Angelo said on WBBM-AM during the team's flagship pregame show last Sunday. "When you lose a player, or players in our case, it makes it tough on the other guys because one player affects the other four."
Angelo makes a valid point that the Bears' offensive line has been hindered by injuries, which prolongs the jelling process necessary for effective offensive line play.
After starting the first two games at left tackle, Chris Williams missed almost four full games with a hamstring injury and then was re-inserted at left guard, taking over for Roberto Garza, who missed the past two games following arthroscopic knee surgery. A knee injury knocked Lance Louis out of the lineup after four starts.
Williams' injury led to Frank Omiyale's move from right tackle to left, with veteran backup Kevin Shaffer taking over for two games at right tackle. But coaches decided seventh-round rookie J'Marcus Webb was a better alternative. Louis' injury ushered Edwin Williams into the starting lineup.
But the bigger problem, and the one which no one at Halas Hall wants to acknowledge, is that none of the players who have been shuffled in and out and back and forth are difference makers.
There's a reason Webb lasted until the seventh round, Louis lasted until the seventh round last year and Edwin Williams was available as a street free agent after being cut by the Redskins: No one else thought they were very good.
The Bears have been forced to replace mediocre-to-average players with other mediocre-to-average players on the line because they have ignored the foundation on which the offense is built for eight years.
Williams is the only offensive lineman the Bears have drafted in the first round in eight years, and the coaching staff doesn't even believe he's the team's best left tackle anymore. Williams is the only offensive lineman the Bears have taken in the first three rounds of the last eight drafts. They used a fourth-rounder to take Josh Beekman in 2007, but he was cut Sept. 4, and they took Tyler Reed in the sixth round in '06.
So, with a total of 68 draft picks since 2003, the Bears have selected just nine offensive linemen, and six of them were taken in the seventh and final round. That's why they can't protect the quarterback.
You'd think Martz would have realized that by now.
—DE Israel Idonije added another sack last week to his team-best total of 4.5, and he also forced a fumble and had two QB passes defensed.
Sunday will be the first time the Lions take the field under the glare of the NFL's spotlight on helmet-to-helmet hits and coach Jim Schwartz has turned the issue into a teaching point.
"The big point we made was, we're not asking anybody to slow down," Schwartz said. "We want everybody to go fast. We want everybody to be definitive with their hits and we want them to hit as hard as they want. Just lower the strike zone and try to eliminate the hits to the head."
The Lions have one repeat offender, and that's free safety Louis Delmas. He was quite militant about the league's stance last week, saying he wouldn't let the league dictate how he played and if he had a chance to make a big hit he wouldn't let the threat of fine or suspension slow him down.
Upon some introspection, however, Delmas has amended his stance. He first said he regretted what he said last week and then had cooler-headed teammate Jonathan Wade issue his amended statement on the issue.
"I am just going to play as hard as I can and give it everything I have," said Wade, with Delmas nodding his agreement. "We wear helmets and we attempt to protect ourselves, but this is a physical, violent game and those things (the head shots) unfortunately come with the territory."
Defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch said the league's emphasis will be in on his mind on Sunday.
"I think you saw last weekend players adjusting the way they play," he said. "As a player I am probably as old-school as they come. But you understand the reasons for these things. We've had our share of concussions on this team and it's scary. There are a lot of injuries you can come back from but brain injuries, those are especially scary."
Safety C.C. Brown, though, has the opposite mindset.
"I am still going to play how I play," he said. "If it ends up being a head-to-head, it is what it is. I can't change the way I play because of some rule. That would just make me soft. It doesn't change anything for me personally. It might change other people, but not me.
"Sometimes plays just end up like that (helmet-to-helmet) and sometimes guys go looking for a play like that. At the end of the day, you just play. You can't worry about a rule. If they are going to fine you, they are going to fine you."
GREEN BAY PACKERS
The Packers are coming up on the 10-year anniversary of Allen Rossum's 92-yard kickoff return for a touchdown against the Indianapolis Colts on Nov. 19, 2000.
Why is that play still significant?
It's the last time a Packers player returned a kickoff to the proverbial house. Since then, Green Bay has been mired in a drought of 165 games (including the playoffs) without a touchdown return on a kickoff, the longest active streak in the NFL.
Will Blackmon was the best bet to end that dubious distinction — he scored on three punt returns his first four years in the league - but he never made it to the start of this season because of a recurring knee injury.
Neither receiver Jordy Nelson nor cornerback Pat Lee has proved to be a home-run threat through the first seven games. Consequently, the Packers rank 25th in the league with a kickoff-return average of 20.9 yards, in stark contrast to the No. 2-rated clip of 29.6 yards by the New York Jets, Green Bay's opponent Sunday.
After enduring two fumbles by Nelson on returns in the narrow Week 4 win over the Detroit Lions, the Packers are relying on Lee to provide a spark. So far, the third-year player has struggled with an average of 19.8 yards, including an anemic 7-yard return to start the Week 5 loss at the Washington Redskins.
Lee, though, did break free for a 30-yard runback in the 28-24 victory over the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday night.
Head coach Mike McCarthy went so far as to say Monday that Lee has done a good job since he took over the primary duties from Nelson in the last two games. Lee had a long return of 28 yards in the Oct. 17 loss to the Miami Dolphins.
"He is pouring it up in there," McCarthy said. "He is hitting the course, and he has done a nice job the past couple of weeks."
The Packers seemingly are turning Lee into a specialty player on kick returns. The 2008 second-round draft pick doesn't have a role on defense.
Nelson, conversely, has been needed on offense more since fellow receiver Donald Driver has been slowed by a thigh injury in recent weeks. Nelson averaged 23.4 yards in 21 kickoff returns.
Special teams coordinator Shawn Slocum said he is sticking with Lee on kickoffs.
"Right now, I think he's doing a good job (and) adding some juice to the return unit," Slocum said. "I like the way he ran the ball into the returns (Sunday). He's got some ability to make an impact there."