Friday, January 19, 2007

In The Line Of Fire: Bears Linemen

Cliche Alert: Football games are won and lost in the trenches.

As true today as it was when it was first said, probably in some Harvard vs. Yale game a hundred plus years ago. Cliches are often based in reality, with a solid foundation in the truth. That is why they became cliches. The same goes for generalizations and stereotypes. There are exceptions, of course. This week just won't be one of them.

The Chicago Bears are a very good team. It is hard to reach the Conference Title game by even being mediocre, let alone outright sucking. The team is not without weaknesses, however. Run defense, for instance. Against the Seattle Seahawks nobody except probably A. Ogunleye had a really good game for the defensive line. The other defensive linemen, T. Johnson, I. Scott, M.Anderson, and A.Brown, all got pushed around far too much; especially on run plays. Brown got pushed around by a Seahawk tight-end W. Heller. A defensive end should be able to handle a tight-end with regularity, no? More interesting is that the other option, the rookie Anderson, is mostly just a pass-specialist. Case in point, the Seahawks ran right by Anderson for six yards behind Walter Jones. Thus the Bears don't/won't/can't leave him for long in run situations. Scott, on the other hand, isn't asked to do to much on pass plays because of the scheme that the Bears employ. The problem is that last week he didn't make plays versus the run either. For a defensive tackle, that doesn't bode well. The team desperately misses the injured Tommie Harris, with Johnson being the closest thing the team has. Johnson is, as far as can be genetically proven, not Harris however. Aside from the timely sack got, he only had one other tackle in the game, and it was on a draw at the end of the first half. Don't be surprised if the Saints run at Johnson this next game. In fact, on obvious run plays, especially the short yardage kind, the bigger, bulkier A. Boone might be the better option. Ogunleye had a very big sack, and even fell back into pass coverage to give Seattle different, confusing looks. Adding to the problems for the line is the continued absence of Mike Brown's run support. It doesn't help that the best linebacker in the league will sometimes disappears when a fullback is sent to block him. Not the line's fault, but it is their problem. Add to that native son/Saints head coach Sean Payton aggressively calling plays all year long.

On the other side of the ball, the Bears are a very good running team. The issue is the passing game. While a fair share of the fault/blame can be said to lie with the quarterback, it would be unfair to lay the entire matter at the feet of Rex Grossman and his inconsistent play. It might even be partially negated due to his offensive line. To be fair all the way around, pass blocking is inherently a thankless, uphill battle of a job. Run blocking is typically easier. Blow off the line, straight ahead, plow the road, is a different animal. Compare that to: hang back, block more guys coming in than you started with, and try not to get caught holding the guys who can use his hands. Still, if Grossman had another half to full second sometimes, he might not have so many oops moments. Sure, it would help if he could learn to move up (or forward) in the pocket, as opposed to running backward into trouble. It would help if he could be trusted to think after the snap, not just react. Since that seems unlikely to change this week the offensive line will have to concentrate that much harder. There is a reason the Bears don't use a lot of seven step drops. There is a reason the team does use (and have success with) quick slants. It is easier on the QB, but also the line. Without a great "game-managing" quarterback (think the good Manning brother) to make adjustments at the line of scrimmage, more pressure is put on O. Kreutz, and company to keep this signal-caller upright. It isn't that this is a bad unit, they just face a little more work and a bit more of a challenge. Even the Bears' last Super Bowl team, blocking for the great Walter Payton, couldn't keep Jim McMahon healthy all year.

If this team has any hope of advancing to the Super Bowl (as their talent would indicate they should) it will be in large part to their control of the line of scrimmage. Pressure on MVP runner-up Drew Brees by the D-line will be a good start, along with at least containing the dual threat in the Saint backfield. Letting T. Jones and C.Benson wear down the Saints while keeping Grossman standing long enough to pick on the depleted Saints secondary will pretty much insure victory.

Hopefully, Bears fans can tune in next week for an update of the Cliche Alert: Turnovers.

Until next time, be good.

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