Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Bear Belly

I'm back from a work and illness filled start to the week. Because I have a shortened week in which to express myself, and a short week to come as well, I'm going to put together a bit of a random thoughts column, focusing on the Bears.

Rex Grossman had 339 yards and, for the second week in a row, two touchdowns and no picks. All is well, right? Well, the Rams are the 29th ranked pass defense and the Bucs are the 30th ranked pass defense. Next week won't tell us much more because the Lions are ranked 28th. Still, when it comes to regaining confidence and rhythm it's been mission accomplished.

Of greater concern is that the Bears' defense is suddenly giving up big games to opposing quarterbacks. I know some of you want to pile on by pointing out that the most recent big game was given up to Tim Rattay. But Rattay is actually pretty good. He averaged 7.3 yards per attempt as the 49ers starter in 2003, and threw seven touchdowns against just two picks. Those are good numbers. Rattay's problem has been injuries more than anything else. Still, 20 of 35 for 268 and three touchdowns in relief is worrisome. I'm hoping Nathan Vasher's eventual return will help settle this situation.

One cause or effect -- I'm not sure which -- of Grossman's resurgence is Desmond Clark's resurgence. Clark had seven catches on 10 throws his way for 125 yards and two touchdowns. It was the second best week of any wide receiver or tight end in the NFL. In fact, Clark is having the best season of any tight end in the NFC. He and Jason Witten deserved the Pro Bowl spots over Jeremy Shockey and Alge Crumpler (who's name is much greater than his game).

Speaking of the Pro Bowl, the Bears are sending three special teamers to Honolulu. It's well deserved. While special teams almost cost the Bears the game against Tampa, overall special teams have helped carry the Bears this year when other components of their game have struggled. The Bears are on pace for the best all-around special teams season since the 2002 Saints (Football Outsiders, not I, are the one's with the time and dorkiness to know that). The Bears have had better than average seasons in all five components of special teams: kick coverage, kick returns, punt coverage, punt returns and place kicking. They have the best kick coverage and punt return units in football.

Those special teams are a big reason why the Bears are the second best team in football. The Chargers are number one. But the Bears rank again of their AFC mirror image, the Ravens, because of special teams. The Ravens are good on special teams; the Bears are special. And the Colts, who are the bizarro Bears and Ravens -- all offense, inconsistent defense -- play terrible special teams.


Anonymous Hideki Matt Suey said...

A short Bears rant:

Maybe I'm just too much of a homer, but I've got an issue here with the lack of respect the Bears are getting on a national level. See I share Lovie's shoulder chip on this. Bottom line is, good teams win games they are supposed to win, and also find ways to win when they don't dominate. But the Bears take crap for not dominating, or not being the Bears of 1985. Give it a rest.

All we heard after week six, at which point the Bears had done nothing but decimate their opponents, was that they hadn't played anybody yet. Now that they finally played "anybody" and largely beat them, all anybody can talk about is the fact that Rex Grossman has been inconsistent. See Tony "one note" Kornheiser for more on that front. Blah blah blah "would you want to take a quarterback with a 1.3 rating into the playoffs"? Hell yes! He's had stretches this year where he's been the best quarterback I've ever seen on the Bears, and this is a team that, when all pistons were firing, was stifling on defense, dominating on offense, bludgeoning on special teams and just appears to be bigger, stronger and faster than anyone else. More importantly, the team is behind Rex. They want him there, and that has to count for something.

Have question marks arisen since those early days in the season? Hell yes -- Grossman didn't return from two horrible injuries to play like Joe Montana for a full season. Only September. Is the defense a brick wall? No, they've always had vulnerabilities, and those are on display now that their top corner is injured and they're three-deep on the safety depth chart. The secondary is a mess.

Through it all, though, they've found ways to win football games. Still, rather than getting credit for winning despite adversity, injury, inconsistency from a young quarterback who's playing his first full year and has flashed brilliance, we're largely hearing complaints.

Good teams win, bottom line. The O picks up the D when the D falters, and vice-versa. This is looking like a 14-2 team, and we know what they can do when fired up, when healthy and when everything's clicking. The only team that scares me is the Chargers, but if we're playing them, the critics will already be wrong.

4:19 PM  

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