NFL Total Access: Chicago Bears state of the franchise

Just about anytime you have media types talking about the Chicago Bears they’re going to open with questions or comments about the quarterback. This was no different when then NFL Network did it’s team update segment they call the state of the franchise. The focus Friday night was the Chicago Bears and where they are at as a team.

The opening segment was high lights from an interview with Lovie Smith focused on Kyle Orton. Smith went into specificst as to why he has so much current and future confidence in Kyle Orton as the starter for his team, this team, OUR team, the Chicago Bears.

Smith states “Kyle last year of course it was not like there was musical chairs or anything at the quarterback position, he was our guy. Until he had the injury I’d seen a lot of signs from Kyle being able to take that next step. Great leader, great leadership qualities, can throw the football. But I see Kyle leading us to a lot of wins this year.”

Rod Woodson then steps up to give his analysis on Kyle Orton and the Bears franchise stating that while Kyle Orton might be the guy, the Bears should possibly look into bringing in a veteran to push Kyle. Not open up the QB competition to Orton and a veteran, but bring in a player like Byron Leftwhich who has a stronger arm and some big upside. The thought would be to bring in a veteran to put pressure on Kyle Orton with Rex Grossman gone, so that Orton continues to develop.

The next take is on how the wide receivers aren’t really there, how they have a fantastic running back and that the defense is still solid. This from Woodson’s analysis.

My take the defense was solid against the run in 2008, but the lack of a pass rush was evident throughout the year. Apparently this aspect of the Bears’ struggles isn’t as magnified as the QB position’s productivity. It seems the overwhelming theme STILL remains the Bears have one of the best defenses in the league and still struggle mightily to get production from their QB. The fact of the matter is in 2008 it was almost opposite. The production from the QB position was there, but the defense survived purely on reputation alone rather than actual production. Once teams realized the Bears were getting zero pressure in the front four or from a blitz they picked the Bears apart. This happened in four of the first seven games in which the pass defense was deplorable. The Bears were ahead and in a position to beat the Carolina Panthers in the second game of the season, but the pass defense collapsed and Carolina rallied for a win.

Against Tampa Bay in overtime Brian Griese was able to lead the Bucs to a game tying and then comeback victory with zero pressure getting to the QB. Rookie Matt Ryan looked like Dan Marino in the prime of his career, in leading the Falcons to a literal last second victory. The Vikings rang up 41 points and Brad Johnson looked like a savior for them, and the Bears eeked out a win.

Yet somehow on a national media level the defensive reputation seems to remain intact. The fact is before Kyle Orton’s high ankle sprain which is one of the most notoriously non surgical repair related injuries a player can suffer, Orton was on target to be one of the top passers in the league. Without his health Orton’s injury hampered his drive on the ball, hampered his ability to throw the ball and even his accuracy. His mechanics for the rest of the season were completely flawed from an ankle injury.

National media attention though still continues to focus on the lack of Pro Bowl production from the QB position. This will be Orton’s year to get it done, it’s the last year of his contract and even if he doesn’t stay healthy he likely won’t get a break from the front office. One year to be THE GUY and prove that he has what it takes, if not the Bears will likely be in a position to get a Sam Bradford or a Tim Tebow, or Colt McCoy or any one of another top QBs likely to emerge from the draft class of 2010.

The state of the franchise segment then shifted to Devin Hester being the primary big play making option the Bears have had. How his transition from returner to primarily a receiver severely limited his production. They show the stats graphic where Hester went from a punt return average of 14.1 yards per return for two years in the league down to 6.2 yards per return in 2008. From there they focus in on his kick off return average being down from 23.2 yard per return to 21.9 and how he went from 11 punt and kick off returns to ZERO in 2008.

Rod Woodson jumps straight into the topic of Devin Hester’s ability being hurt by saying “Mushing Muhammad said Chicago is a place where receivers go to die.” He then goes on to wax poetic about Hester’s demise in the return and how it’s a direct parallel to him playing WR on offense. Woodson feels as though Hester should not be as much of the focus on offense if it’s going to severely limit his productivity as a return. He does play devils advocate on himself a bit by stating he understands get Hester more touches and making him a bigger threat on offense, but not at the expense of his return abilities.

Diving into the defensive discussion Woodson is questioned about the defense and how far it fell off in 2007 and how it improved somewhat in 2008. Woodson chooses to focus on the CB play and their lack of man to man coverage capabilities. He thinks the defense’s struggles came more from the lack of talent or ability from the CBs. It’s the fault of the secondary more than the lack of a pass rush.

Which goes against what most die-hard Bears fans are aware of. The pass rush was anemic, one of the worst in the league last year and the lack of pressure led directly to losses the kept the Bears from the playoffs. My take likely to stir some debate if the Bears have even a marginal to above average pass rush they likely win the Carolina game, the Tampa Bay game and the Atlanta game. A three game difference in wins and losses which puts the Bears at 12-4, division champs a first round bye and a playoff game at Soldier Field where ANYTHING could have happened. It is hard for most Bears fans to comprehend being THAT close to such a lofty playoff seeding and possible return to the NFC title game scenario.

Where coaches are supposed to put forth a non stop positive face on the franchise and given Lovie Smith’s habit of undying positive outlook this is the thought process Smith undoubtedly uses when he made the statement that stirred up a hornet’s nest of media and fan criticism. Lovie Smith’s famous “we’re close” comment.

Given that football is such a game of inches it is undeniable of just how close the Chicago Bears were to returning to the playoffs, and being in a position to make a serious playoff run. But in the same formula of inches the Bears were equally close in not being a factor at all. Six victories the Bears had in 2008 that were decided by seven points or less. Take away those six victories and the Bears are staring at 3-13 just as easily as they are staring at a deep playoff run.

The 2009 Chicago Bears as they currently are situated with the idea of the season starting tomorrow would be close to disaster just as easily as they are close to that near identical 2006 playoff scenario. The ultimate question is, what is going to happen between now and the start of the season that puts the team in a position where they are closer to success, than they are to near ultimate failure.

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