Is anyone really comfortable with the wide receiver rotation we have in place right now? Three drafted rookies, Juaquin Iglesias, Johnny Knox and Derek Kinder dot the roster currently. The equivalent of two second year men are the starters in Devin Hester and Earl Bennett, and former Arena-League football star Rashied Davis rounds out that corps. Hester yes is in his third year as purely a WR but he’s really only developing in the role for the second year in his career.
So why then is Jerry Angelo and the Bears’ coaching staff speaking so highly and confidently regarding this crop of receivers? There’s not one receiver who has even come within 300 yards of a 1,000-yard receiving season in his career. Nothing with this group inspires even the slightest bit of confidence from fans and the media in Chicago.
However there is one thing that we as a fan base seem to be forgetting in all the media driven fear we have regarding the wide receiver position. That is the reliance upon the receivers within this offense is pretty minimal almost down right non-existant and yet that strategy has been effective so far in helping the Bears win football games.
For proof look no further than the ’05 and the ’06 season, seasons in which the Bears won the division and were in the playoffs. Bernard Berrian for all the money showered upon him and the gaping hole he seemed to leave behind in the offense after he signed with the Vikings, never has had a season of 1,000-yards receiving. He’s come close, twice last year he had 964-yards, and the year before with Chicago 951-yards. Sure to most it would seem to not matter that he came up short, but it misses the point of what the Bears’ offense needs to be successful.
The Chicago Bears offense is built around the running game first and foremost. The tired and redundant statement that the Chicago Bears get off the bus running is accurate, but more about a philosophy. The run and a strong running game will set up the pass here. The Bears will not ever go to a three wide receiver spread set like the Colts, or any offense coached by Mike Martz for that matter. So the reliance upon the receivers takes it’s first credibility hit.
This offense needs to be efficient, it does not need to be one of the most dangerous offenses in the league. It needs to be effective and what it primarily needs to be effective in is running the football. Sure the addition of Jay Cutler to the offense gives it a new dimension, and the chance that it will be more explosive, but this team will still rely heavily upon the running game.
This in turn leads back to the title of this article. The back-up running back situation here in Chicago. The Bears are relying on a back up who has been completely ineffective throughout his career due to injuries. Kevin Jones is the second strong option behind Matt Forte and a player who has yet to prove he is fully recovered from reconstructive knee surgery. Matt Forte was fourth in the league in carries last year at 316 on the season. That’s quite a load of work for a rookie, on top of the 63 receptions from a year ago Forte represented a large chunk of the offense.
What this means is that the Bears need likely need a more effective back up running back than they do a big time play maker at receiver. So long as Lovie Smith is running the show, this team will be a defense first team and an offense team second. Compounding the philosophy is that the passing game is a third option for this team. Even with Jay Cutler in the mix the Bears are not suddenly going to turn into the Broncos from last year of the Saints. Throwing the ball all over the field and relying on their passing game to win football games. Will that be a part of the offense and a part of the reason the Bears win games this year? Certainly it will be, but this offense will be able to have success with the players in place and will be even better off if Kevin Jones is more effective.
Look no further than the Super Bowl seasons when the Bears led the league in rushing both times in ’85 and ’06. This is where the Bears need to be effective is in running the football. The engine that drives this offensive machine will not be Jay Cutler. Could Cutler be the engine that drives this offense? Most certainly he is that good of a quarterback, but sticking to the ground game is always a better strategy.
The Bears will be a better team by running the football more than they pass the football. To understand this point look no further than the pass-happy New Orleans Saints’ offense under Sean Payton. The Saints’ best year to date under Payton is the 2006 season in which they had a record of 10 wins and six losses. That year the Saints had a stronger rushing attack than they did passing attack and their offense benefited from it. Their win loss record reflected it in that 55-percent of their plays were passing plays. Conversely the following two seasons in which Saints record fell to seven wins and nine losses their passing game made up 62-percent of their offense in 2007 and 61-percent of their offense in 2008.
The same typically holds true for most of the offenses in the league that rely more on the run than they do the pass. So yes there is a very important aspect that the wide receivers will play in the Bears’ offense in 2009. Equally or perhaps more important will be the success of the rushing attack and the health of Matt Forte.
With the addition of Jay Cutler and the continued health and success of Matt Forte the Bears offense can be effective enough for the Bears to go to the playoffs. Further illustrating the point even with the anemic offense that was led by Kyle Orton and the borderline tackling dummies that made up the receiving core last year, it was the defense that cost us this team the playoffs.
When the offense had a lead in the fourth quarter in games against the Panthers, Falcons, and Buccaneers due to the offense primarily putting the points up on the board, it was the defense that failed to generate a pass rush that directly led to last minute drives that lost the games.
Winning championships seems to always come back to the old worn out cliche, running the football and playing good defense, will in the end be what it takes to be successful.