Extra Meatballs

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I love the Bears. And football is probably my favorite sport, if we’re going by the metric of “Will I watch a relatively meaningless regular season game between two teams I have no actual tie to?” Fortunately and unfortunately, most of the city of Chicago feels the same way. It’s a Bears town the way Boston is a Red Sox town (so I’m told) which leads to two things:

1.       Lots of people get completely irrational when talking about Bears football

2.       The local media feeds this demand with almost non-stop coverage

 

Some of the people being referred to in #1 are just run-of-the-mill overzealous fans that want a coach fired after every loss, regardless of sport. That’s part of the territory. The problem lies with a sizable group of Bears fans that believe the 1985 team walks on water and would rather see the Bears lose playing “Bears football” (i.e., running the ball and “tough” defense) than win playing any other way. These are people that were incensed with the Bears in 2006 as they rolled to a 7-0 start because they were throwing the ball too much (it should be noted this was well before Rex went totally insane and regularly unleashed the Dragon). For all that’s made about the Bears QB woes and the accompanying revolving door at the position, there are plenty of people who want it that way. For these people, 2001 was an affirmation. “See? Jim Miller – that’s a quarterback! Sure, he’s got a middling arm and the mobility of Ernest Borgnine, but we’re running the ball, he’s rocking a beard and OMG THE DEFENSE!” Of course, that team got steamrolled by the Eagles at home in the playoffs, but they played “Bears football” (it should be noted that “Bears football” does not have an overwhelming success rate). Boers and Bernstein call these people Meatballs, which is as good a name as any.

You could imagine, then, what I braced myself for when Mike “Pass Shamelessly” Martz was brought in to be the Bears’ offensive coordinator. And sure enough, here it is. Because a by-product of #2 is that once the media develops a narrative of “how to fix the Bears” it gets churned around and around by other media, fans, the players and coaches themselves, in this miserable toilet-like cycle. Apparently, the Bears problem is that they need to run more – not necessarily because the run will be successful, but because they need to “bring balance” to the playcalling. Why? Is there some kind of bonus that I’m not aware of the closer you get to a 50/50 spilt?

See, I don’t care if the Bears were to run every down, or pass every down, or do a high long-snap to Devin Hester every down, if those things were working. Maybe it’s a lifetime of Big Ten basketball viewership speaking, but I don’t care about the aesthetics or the concept involved. Just do what works and what puts you in a position to win.

Here’s the thing – the Bears offensive line is so bad, they can’t pass or run block. “But what about that Carolina game!?” you ask. SPOILER ALERT – the Panthers are the worst team in the NFC and maybe the NFL. Let’s not collectively freak out because the Bears shoved around a team that also let the Bengals, Giants and Saints put up triple digits on the ground (if you’re keeping score at home, that’s every team the Panthers have played except the Bucs). If you take that game out of the equation as an outlier, the Bears have done nothing on the ground this year. But everyone from Ditka on down is suggesting that just calling run plays will result in positive results, as if running the ball in the NFL is simply a matter of “want to” and the Bears – specifically Martz – just don’t want it enough.

But wait! There’s a voice in the wilderness crying out, talking sense! And it’s coming from….Rockford? Yes.  Matt Trowbridge, everyone (emphasis mine):

The Bears rank higher in the NFL in rushing attempts (19th) than they do in passing attempts (21st). Their opponents have thrown 55 more passes than the Bears and run only four more times.

 This doesn’t count Chicago’s 27 sacks or Jay Cutler’s 15 scrambles. Still, Chicago’s opponents are passing more than the Bears. Were the Bears not supposed to come out throwing against Seattle’s No. 31-rated pass defense? Really?

The Bears’ problem isn’t how often they run, but how poorly they run. When they are not playing the worst team in the NFL, Matt Forte has averaged 2.9 yards a rush or worse. In every single game.

 

Preach on, brother!

The Bears don’t need to run more. Nor throw deep more. They just need to find a way to gain 10 yards every three plays. More first downs, even if they are passing first downs, will eventually lead to more runs. So throw more quick slants. Or draw plays to Taylor.But you can’t put Forte before Cutler. Trying to force feed runs with a back who can’t average 3 yards only works against the Panthers.

 

Yes. If you can’t a) run block for more than a 2.9 YPC clip or b) protect the QB against even the most straightforward blitz (might be giving them too much credit – the Giants didn’t even need to blitz that much), then it doesn’t matter what plays are being called. You won’t be able to use the run to keep the defense honest, because the run is not working. They don’t need more run plays or more pass plays. They need more successful plays. Unfortunately, most plays hinge on the offensive line for success, and the Bears’ is a sieve.

 

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