Football fans comparing the Chicago Bears against other pro clubs this year have been struck by one obvious difference: The Bears have the least sophisticated pass offense in the league.
The problem is more than the Bears' simple insistence on running the ball repetitiously. Clearly, their coaches also lack a deep understanding of what modern pass offense is.
They could, of course, improve some Sunday at Detroit, where they're favored over a team with a long current history of losing.
By kickoff time, thanks to a bye in their schedule, the Bears will have had two weeks to change gears.
In the season's first five games, though, they offered little hope for much improvement. Starting 2-3 as a defending division champion, the Bears regularly presented the opposite of a well-oiled, well-coached offense. With some above-average receivers plus Anthony Thomas at running back and Jim Miller at quarterback, the Chicago talent structure is adequate. But on a daily basis, the Bears, plainly, don't practice pass plays enough. And with any game on the line, they don't pass enough to learn what an effective passing groove is. They don't really compete.
Brees, Tomlinson Do It Right
FOR A FOOTBALL team to win its share of 2002 games, the requirement is an offensive system that on most plays challenges the defense with a double threat: running and passing both. The Bears instead usually line up and run the ball with Thomas. Or, on third and long, they stand back and throw it with Miller. In other words, they tell the defense what's coming and then do just that. It's a measure of how good Thomas and Miller are that they're separately proving that if they were coupled as an integrated threat, they'd really excel. The winning teams this year are doing it with a twin threat.
San Diego, for instance, threatens with young quarterback Drew Brees and running back LaDainian Tomlinson. To win last week, 35-34, the Chargers confused Kansas City's defensive players on most snaps by threatening simultaneously with tough runner Tomlinson and able quarterback Brees, the San Diego passer who put it up 41 times for 319 yards — on a team coached by Marty Schottenheimer, the plucky former conservative. The Bears, if they understood what's been happening to them, could do the same. Their passer, Miller, has the ability of a top-five NFL quarterback. Their runner, Thomas, could run forever against a defense anticipating Miller. Bear fans need just that.
___ Favre, Green Do It Better
THE CLASSIC EXAMPLE of a 2002 pro club that knows how to integrate running and passing is a ballclub in Chicago's own division, Green Bay. At the moment, the Packers are playing the best football in the league with twin threats Brett Favre and Ahman Green, who, so far this fall, have been respectively the most effective quarterback and running back in football.
Realizing that NFL defense is better than ever this season, the Packers, however, don't just line up and run with the league's best running back Nor does Favre necessarily throw on every passing down.
On a typical snap, the Green Bay preference, instead, is to fake a pass, then run. Or fake a run, then throw.
Characteristic of the Favre-Green offense Sunday were the two plays that led the Packers to their 21-3 touchdown in the third quarter and on to a big victory against a team that had been outplaying them. Both times — on plays executed several moments apart — Favre faked to Green sweeping right, then rolled left to get a timely completion. That is integrated offense.
Sunday's final score (Green Bay 28-10) doesn't accurately reflect a game that seemed to belong to New England through most of the first half. Only in the last three minutes of the half, after a tremendous break — an errant Patriot lateral that put the Packers on the Patriot eight — did Favre finally get the upper hand with an eight-yard touchdown pass, 14-3.
That throw went to Green, who, in a running set, had begun as a running-play threat as usual, confusing the Patriots on both ends of the play. The ball was thrown on first down — a down on which, in Chicago, the Bears are usually busily running the ball with Thomas. And Favre threw it from a point inside the opponent's 10-yard line, where Chicago, like all conservative teams, always seem to be running on first down.
Ahman Wins the Knox Trophy
AHMAN GREEN — how's that for the name of a Green Bay star — is often overlooked when football fans talk about runners like Ricky Williams or Emmitt Smith. Yet Green has been the making of the 21st-century Packers. He has not only exceeded 1,000 yards as a ground gainer in each of his two seasons at Green Bay, he's also led the club both times in receiving as well as rushing.
Speaking of classic examples, Green, who used to belong to the Seattle Seahawks, is this year's candidate for what should be an annual Chuck Knox trophy. When Knox was coaching the old Los Angeles Rams to a record five consecutive division titles, he always said: "Absolutely the worst mistake you can make is to cut a good player."
Thus after reviewing player performance at length, Knox made every cut at the last moment, if not later.
The Seahawks, despite their record for soundness, were apparently not that thorough this time. Although they knew enough about Green to draft him after his junior year at Nebraska, they gave up on him after only two seasons at Seattle and traded him to a place where, with that name, he belonged all the time.
He is one of the most unusual of NFL running backs. At 6-0 and 217 pounds, Green doesn't overwhelm in any of the six respects — power, speed, quickness, moves, slashing ability, or receiving ability — but he ranks close to first in the league when you average all that out. Most significantly, in an integrated pass-run world, he makes Favre better than ever.
Dolphins Win Truman Trophy
THE WORLD-CHAMPION Patriots, who are spending their bye week regrouping before the Denver Broncos appear at Foxboro Oct. 27, have fallen two games behind a Miami team that expects to be in a Super Bowl preview Nov. 4 in a big Monday nighter at Green Bay. By then, the Dolphins feel they will have worked quarterback Ray Lucas into the attack that offensive coordinator Norv Turner has improved considerably.
Lucas and Miami starter Jay Fiedler, who will be out awhile with a broken thumb, are this year's co-leaders for what could be called Harry Truman trophy recognition. Of Truman it was said, in the era when he became a great President, that he proves anybody can be President. Of the two Miami quarterbacks it might be said they prove that anybody can be an NFL quarterback. Both players, minus NFL talent, are wondrous performers.
The Dolphin question as the season started was whether Turner — who broke into pro ball as an adventurous offensive coordinator — or the head coach, Dave Wannstedt, a notorious conservative sort, would call the tune offensively at Miami. So far, Turner seems to have prevailed.But the nearer the Dolphins get to the playoffs, the more you have to remember that Wannstedt is in charge.
Receiving Problems Plague Patriots
THE RESULT OF a New England-Miami rematch in Foxboro next Dec. 29 — the Patriots lost at Miami the other day, 26-13 — could well depend on whether Patriot Coach Bill Belichick can by then get more production out of his corps of receivers. Receiving breakdowns beat him in the Green Bay game.
The only reliable New England catcher is Troy Brown, who is one of football's finest but relatively ineffective now, for him, with what appears to be a very bad knee. Otherwise last Sunday, even veteran little Patriot receiver David Patten was among the many dropping quarterback Tom Brady's passes or otherwise running the wrong way or misplaying the ball or failing to fight for it.
Belichick, whose football instincts are beyond question, knew enough this year to improve New England's receiving after winning the Super Bowl with not much besides Brown and Patten. But so far he has been unlucky in his additions — a thing that often happens in pro ball when a team goes for need.
Patriot free agent Donald Hayes, the 6-4 receiver whose last stop was at Carolina, has the size Brady needs but doesn't seem nifty or fast enough. Rookie Deion Branch has the speed but at 5-10 and 193 not the size or strength. The new tight ends, Christian Fauria and Cam Cleeland, have helped some but not enough.
The upshot in the Green Bay game was that Brady could outplay Favre in the first half, controlling the ball on twice as many plays as Green Bay ran off, though in the end he became a victim of the Patriots' many errors
Lion Rookie Harrington On His Way
Lost in the commotion over Minnesota's first win this year — which, as Detroit fell, 31-24, in Week 6, was also the first win for controversial receiver Randy Moss — was rookie quarterback Joey Harrington's big game for the Lions.
On a 309-yard passing day, 25 for 41, he led veteran Viking quarterback Daunte Culpepper for three quarters. Only on his last long drive did Harrington throw his interception at the end, when as the quarterbacks all say, they have to try to make something happen.
In a 43-27 fight, another rookie quarterback, Patrick Ramsey of Washington, also had a 300-plus yard day in a game-long catchup effort against the much better New Orleans Saints, the only conqueror of Tampa Bay this season. The Tampa Bay-New Orleans rematch winner Dec. 1, pairing two teams now 5-1, plans to take the 5-1 Packers out of the Super Bowl.
Plainly, the Lions and Redskins both have more problems than they've confessed to with new quarterbacks. Their quarterbacks are starting fast. The employers aren't.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times