Matt Trowbridge: Strong finish means Bears won’t make major changes
So much for blowing up the Bears.
Back-to-back dominating wins over the Packers and Saints means the 2008 Bears will look a lot like the 2007 team.
Sunday’s wire-to-wire 33-25 win over the Saints gave the Bears (7-9) their first back-to-back wins of the season. It also left them, in coach Lovie Smith’s view, “looking like the Chicago Bears of old.”
That means Smith sees no reason to make a change at either offensive coordinator (Ron Turner) or defensive coordinator (Bob Babich).
“No,” he said flatly. “I don’t.”
He sees no reason for major changes of any kind.
“We’re close,” Smith said.
That will surely make some Bears fans tear their hair out in frustration, but it says here that Lovie is right. Chicago can’t be as static as the last two years, when it was the only NFL team to bring back all 22 starters in 2006 and then returned 20 of last year’s 22 Super Bowl starters. All Chicago really needs is two new offensive linemen, a new safety and stability at quarterback.
Chicago doesn’t need new players. It just needs to use those players in new ways.
Like it did Sunday, when Kyle Orton threw deep. The former dink-and-dunk king threw a 55-yard TD pass to Devin Hester, saw Mark Bradley drop another 50-yard bomb and barely overthrew Hester on what could have been an 89-yard TD.
“We left a few yards on the field,” Orton said.
Orton wasn’t very accurate (12-for-27), but he averaged 15.8 yards per completion. That helped the NFL’s second-worst rushing offense; Adrian Peterson ran for 91 yards on 21 carries.
“It always does when you back them up,” center Olin Kreutz said. “Even when you don’t catch it, when you get behind a defense, they get scared.”
Orton also helped his offensive line pass block. Rex Grossman was sacked once for every nine pass attempts this season. Brian Griese once for every 17.5 attempts. Orton went down once every 38.5 pass attempts.
“Kyle’s not the fastest guy in the world,” Ron Turner said, “but he’s got good pocket presence. … It’s crucial. You can’t play at this level if you don’t have it.”
Orton probably isn’t the answer at quarterback, but he’s at least a cheap backup. And he showed the Bears the kind of answer they need, a quarterback who won’t get sacked or turn the ball over. Grossman does both, and Griese only slightly less so.
And Alex Brown, stuck behind Mark Anderson most of the year, showed the Bears they are better off with him at defensive end. Brown, the last two weeks, combined for two sacks, one interception, one forced fumble, one recovered fumble, four passes defended, four quarterback hurries and eight solo tackles.
With Brown in the lineup and Brian Urlacher (an interception for the third week in a row) making big plays again, the Bears took early leads and forced seven turnovers in the last two games.
“If you get a lead, your defensive line can go pin their ears back and play,” defensive tackle Tommie Harris said. “We played relentless football today.”
There’s no reason the Bears can’t be relentless all next year. Then, again, there’s no good reason they didn’t do so this year.
“We might have been tight at the beginning of the year,” Kreutz said. “You have to learn how to play with expectations. Obviously we didn’t handle it very well this year.”
If they learned that lesson, there’s no reason the right tweaks couldn’t put essentially the same team – with better quarterback play and a healthier secondary – back on top of the NFC North.
“We’ve been on a roller coaster,” Tommie Harris said. “The thing about a roller coaster is the ride ends. We ended it today. We’ll go on to the next roller coaster and we’ll see how far that ride takes us.”
Assistant sports editor Matt Trowbridge can be reached at: 815-987-1383 or email@example.com