Analysis: Bears need to figure out who they are
Philadelphia’s famed defensive coordinator Jim Johnson died of skin cancer, but the Eagles’ exotic blitzes remain the same.
“That’s just what they are,” Bears coach Lovie Smith said of the Eagles, who play at Soldier Field on Sunday night. “Every team has a personality. Philly has taken that approach to playing defense since Andy Reid has been there. We’re prepared for it.
“It’s the same system. That’s what they believe in. New guys are running it, but we’re seeing the same thing.”
Nor will the Eagles’ offense change without Brian Westbrook, their No. 2 all-time leading rusher who is out with a concussion. The Eagles always pass first. Andy Reid has passed 57 percent of the time in his 11 years as coach, the highest percentage in history for a coach with 100 career wins, according to ESPN.
“They are a West Coast offense; that’s what they want to do is pass the ball,” Bears safety Nathan Vasher said.
Being known for one thing isn’t a bad thing.
“You’ve got to figure out how your team is built and stick to it,” Bears quarterback Jay Cutler said. “That’s how Andy Reid does it. He’s not going to go against that philosophy.”
So, then, what’s the Bears’ identity?
“That’s a good question,” Cutler said, rubbing his chin and pausing. “We’ve struggled running the ball. We’ve been in situations where we’ve been forced to pass.”
Forced to. Not chosen to. There’s a big difference.
“If we get into a one-dimensional game, defenses know that,” Cutler said. “They use different coverages and the front four doesn’t have to worry about much (besides rushing the quarterback). Those are tough situations.”
The Bears, who try to run until it’s too late and they are forced to pass, have thrown a league-high 17 interceptions. The Eagles, who want to throw first, have seven.
The Eagles have also reached five NFC title games in 10 years by throwing 57 percent of the time.
“I went to BYU,” Reid said on a teleconference. “I know what the passing game can do. I also have a great feel for the run game.
“There’s all kinds of ways to win games, whether you are running or throwing. There is no right way or wrong way.”
Maybe, but passing first and running second increasingly looks like the winning road in today’s NFL. The top four passing teams are 29-7 this year. The top four rushing teams are 15-21.
“It’s turned into a passing league,” Vasher said. “Look around the league; all the teams that are passing the ball are doing really well.”
And not just at passing. The ironic twist is that Andy Reid’s devotion to the pass has made the Eagles a better running team than an organization known for “getting off the bus running” long before Lovie Smith became head coach.
In Reid’s 11 years as coach, the Eagles, despite throwing 57 percent of the time, have outrushed Chicago 10 times. Most of that is due to how flat-out dreadful Chicago’s run game has been.
The Eagles have ranked in the top 10 in rushing only three times in those 10 years, but the Bears, despite declaring their devotion to the run, have finished in the top 20 only three times, and only once better than 14th.
The Bears try to run, but you can’t run if you keep running into three-and-outs. Chicago has ranked 22nd or lower in yards-per-carry eight of the last 11 years, including the bottom six the last three years.
But by passing first and passing well, Donovan McNabb has consistently helped create room for the Eagles to run when they do elect to stay on the ground. The Eagles have ranked in the top in yards-per-carry nine times in 11 years.
“If you are very effective in the pass game, you can show some different wrinkles of running the ball and with screen passes,” McNabb said.
The Bears finally tried throwing more screens last week and Matt Forte delivered with career-highs of eight catches and 120 yards.
“Screens get people out in space and linemen get on their blocks,” Forte said.
Cutler said that was merely taking advantage of Forte’s great versatility.
“I always try to play to our guys’ strength and don’t put them in positions of weakness,” offensive coordinator Ron Turner said. “That’s part of coaching. If he doesn’t do something quite as good as somebody else, then you try not to ask him to.”
The Bears can’t run, ranking Nos. 30, 24 and 30 in rushing the last three years. Yet that remains Lovie Smith’s first choice.
“We’re a running football team, but we’ll do what we need to do to win football games,” Smith said.
Smith added the Bears “need to do both to win games.”
You can’t do both before you can do one. The Eagles’ successful passing/blitzing identity sets up everything they do. The Bears don’t have an identity yet. They want to do one thing, but get forced into switching to another in midstream.
Remember Curly’s Law? Jack Palance said in “City Slickers” the secret to life was: “One thing. Just one thing.” But you have to find out what that one thing was for you.
The Bears don’t know. They haven’t even started to look.
Matt Trowbridge can be reached at (815) 987-1383 email@example.com.
Passing to run
The Eagles have passed 57 percent of the time in Andy Reid’s 11 years as coach, yet they’ve still outrushed run-first Chicago more than 90 percent of the time. Here’s a year-by-year comparison with total yards, yards-per-carry and NFL rankings and the only year Chicago ranked higher in bold:
Year Yds Rnk Avg. Rnk Yds Rnk Avg Rnk
2009 102.1 23 4.5 10 85.2 30 3.8 27
2008 106.1 22 4.0 24 104.6 24 3.9 27
2007 123.4 8 4.7 2 83.1 30 3.1 32
2006 124.0 11 4.8 5 119.9 15 3.8 23
2005 89.5 28 3.9 17 131.2 8 4.3 7
2004 102.4 24 4.4 10 101.5 25 3.8 26
2003 125.9 9 4.8 5 110.2 18 4.0 19
2002 138.8 7 4.5 8 84.0 32 3.5 30
2001 111.1 14 4.3 7 108.9 17 3.7 25
2000 117.6 15 4.7 4 108.5 21 4.2 12
1999 109.1 17 4.1 9 86.7 26 3.5 22