- Peyton Manning‘s arm is shot.Yeah, I know. He threw a dramatic game-winning touchdown. And he also threw a number of other nice passes. But he also threw quite a number of balloons, especially in the first half. When everything is perfect for Manning and he’s got his feet underneath him with a clean pocket, he’s fine. But he’s no longer the playmaker that can make up for other team deficiencies. Which brings me to the next point.
- The Broncos need to adjust to Manning’s obvious physical deficiencies. He’s still a smart, savvy quarterback who is one of the best in the business pre-snap. But he’s not going to be able to completely adjust to head coach Gary Kubiac‘s new offense by continually getting under center and running play action. At least not yet. Manning was a different quarterback when Kubiac put him into the shotgun more often and/or when he was in the two minute offense. Suddenly Manning was reading the blitz and getting the ball out before the Chiefs could touch him. Kubiac is going to have to shelve some of his offense, at least temporarily, until Manning gets his feet back under him.
- The Chiefs have a pair of very good tight ends, at least one of which has come out of nowhere. Travis Kelce I’d at least heard about but James O’Shaughnessy was a complete surprise. Both of these guys are athletic and dangerous. It should be fun watching them this year.
- These are two of the best defenses in the NFL – we knew that going in. But, even given that, I’m very concerned about both of these offensive lines, especially Denver’s. The Broncos gave up three sacks and the Chief gave up four. Most significantly, Denver had only a paltry 60 yards rushing. That ‘aint good, folks.Denver did a lot of shuffling alone its offensive line in the offseason and its possible that they will gel as the season goes on. But for now, a bad offensive line combined with a physically limited Peyton Manning isn’t a good mix.
- On a related note, someone has to settle the Broncos down as they gave away so many personal foul penalties in the first half that all Kansas City had to do was collect them and, as former Chiefs coach Hank Stram put it, “matriculate” their way down the field. I appreciate physical play but you still have to make them earn it, boys.
- Also on a related note, is there any doubt that Denver defensive coordinator Wade Phillips is one of the best in the game? He does nothing but win everywhere he goes. He’s one of those guys who is simply born to be a coordinator instead of a head coach. He won a chess match last night against a great offensive mind.And that brings us to Andy Reid. I’m beginning to wonder if Reid also isn’t simply a born coordinator. He certainly doesn’t appear to be a big game coach and some of the decisions he made from the sidelines last night were head scratchers. I appreciate aggressiveness but putting the game in the hands of Alex Smith by throwing the ball, especially right before half time, was bad news. Reid may have taken the Chiefs as far as they’ll ever get with him as the coach.
- Turnovers kill. Jamall Charles and Alex Smith. Protect football. ’nuff said.
- Mark Potash at the Chicago Sun-Times points out that Adrian Amos had a generally solid NFL debut against the NFL’s best quarterback. I was surprised that the Packers didn’t challenge him more. But maybe they had so many other spots to exploit that they couldn’t get to them all.
- Kevin Fishbain and Arthur Arkush do an exceptionally nice job of breaking down the Bears in this video (which, unfortunately, they won’t let me embed). They quickly hit all of the major problems to be corrected in the coming weeks – red zone offense, downfield passing, getting off the field on third down and getting pressure on the quarterback. Plenty of things to watch for and plenty of room for improvement to look forward to with this team.
- Sunday’s most significant accomplishment? Probably the play of tight end Zack Miller, who went 1,429 days between appearing in regular-season games.
- Dan Wiederer at the Chicago Tribune does a nice job of breaking down the Bears problems in the red zone. Look at it here, it appears that the problems were varied and its hard to put it down to one particular thing. Tough there’s no doubt in my mind that they needed to be able to run the ball more down there. Perhaps trying to get the ball to tight end Martellus Bennett, a large red zone target, would have helped as well.
- Quarterback David Fales was added back on to the practice squad as predicted here.
- Those who find their way into MetLife Stadium during a New York Jets game this season can now enjoy a breakfast bagel for the low, low price of $50.
- Giants players are sticking up for quarterback Eli Manning after running back Rashad Jennings let it out that Manning had told him not to score in the final drive of their game against the Dallas Cowboys. Manning did not know that the clock wouldn’t start again after a declined penalty within 5 minutes of the end of the game. He therefore assumed that the Giants would be able to run down the clock as long as they kept possession.What really made this maneuver dumb was that had the Giants scored a touchdown, they would have made it a two score game with about a minute left. They should have taken the touchdown under any circumstances where that is the case.
- If you’ve got a strong stomach you can see photos of Jason Pierre-Paul‘s hand here.
One Final Thought
Peyton Manning‘s teammates are calling the media reports questioning his arm strength “blasphemy”. What can I say?
Some quick observations on some of the games that I caught late in the day after the Bears game was over.
Broncos – Ravens:
There was a huge question about Peyton Manning‘s arm before their game against the Ravens this weak. Manning has been struggling with his arm strength all preseason and has put up some ugly game tape. Pre-game reports that he’d been putting more zip on the ball after starting to wear a glove on his throwing hand, something he didn’t do in the preseason. However, I’m inclined to attribute more of it to the huge windup he’s developed in an effort to get more behind his throws. He was also much more inaccurate than he has been in the past.
Manning actually didn’t do too badly. But that long release may haunt him all season, as it did on a Jimmy Smith pick six on Manning’s first throw of the second half.
On the other side Denver constantly harassed Joe Flacco with a ferocious pass rush. Both Denver and Baltimore struggled to protect their quarterbacks and I’m now officially concerned about both of these offensive lines.
Finally, Terrell Suggs‘s torn achilles will keep him out for the year. That’s bad news for my Ravens Super Bowl pick.
Titans – Buccaneers:
The Jameis Winston–Marcus Mariota match up looked very much like you’d expect it it.
Mariota looked far more pro-ready, being in command of the offense the entire game against that nice, standard cover-two defense. He threw four touchdowns in the first half alone.
Winston was far more up and down, mostly down, as he was in the preseason. Winston has quit a way to go before he’s going to be a competent NFL quarterback and its going to be a long season for the Bucs.
Another thing to keep an eye on is that Buccaneer running game, which looked very effective. If Winston develops at all, he’s going to get a lot of help from some wonderful running by Doug Martin.
The Bears play the Buccaneers on December 27.
Chargers – Lions:
Preseason reports had people wondering if Chargers first round running back Melvin Gordon was headed towards bust territory. I wouldn’t say that Gordon looked bad so much as he looked disappointingly nondescript. But as expected, the Lions Ameer Abdulla was the guy to watch in this game. His tendency to accelerate through his cuts and continue to gain momentum is rapidly putting him into an upper class of running backs.
There should be concern about that Lions defense without Ndamukong Suh. The Chargers dissected them in the second half both in the running game and with the pass. They made it look far too easy for any Lions fan comfort. Or for the comfort of the Bears, who are going to be visiting San Diego in November.
I’m not entirely sure what was wrong with Matthew Stafford but he looked awful in this game. You might generously say that he wasn’t on the same page with his receivers but his accuracy was very suspect. This is a situation to keep an eye on in the competitive NFC North.
Cardinals – Saints:
The Bears next opponent is the Arizona Cardinals. My initial impression watching them beat up on the New Orleans Saints is that this is a rough, tough team up front on both sides of the ball. If the Bears run on this team like they did on the Packers in the first half, more power to them. I have my doubts.
The Saints looked completely flat. I’m really surprised as offseason reports indicated that they were muscling up to become more physical. If they did, they didn’t show it. Sean Payton didn’t have this team prepared to play in this game. The Saints have to pick it up.
Cowboys – Giants
Tony Romo had ages to throw the ball in this game. That Dallas offensive line is a wall. No one got close. And they road graders blocking the run. Honestly, I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a better offensive line.
The Cowboys are a tough team. Which why I was shocked that the Giants were actually ahead at half. They were badly out played and the statistics were sick – they only had the ball for about 8 minutes of the half. But the Cowboys kept shooting themselves in the foot with turnovers and but you have to give the Giants credit. They hung tough.
The Giants offensive line wasn’t nearly as impressive as the Cowboys but Erik Flowers looks like he’s going to turn out to be a pretty good pick at left tackle. And of course, they have Odell Beckham, who drew a safety rolled to his side all night. I was also impressed by their coverage teams on special teams. But they were out classed you figured that they were eventually going to lose – and they did. But the Cowboys did everything they could to give it away.
One of the more interesting things to keep an eye on tomorrow will be the performance of Peyton Manning once he hits the field for the Broncos. Chris Wessling at nfl.com takes an in depth look at the issues surrounding Manning’s age and arm strength here.
Doubts about Mannings arm strength have run rampant around the NFL. Albert Breer quoted a number of scouts and executives in his article on the same topic in January:
“From an AFC executive: ‘Saw a lack of velocity, declining arm strength. No juice or zip on throws. Shelf life.’
“One NFC scout said: ‘It’s sad watching him, even more sad how Denver treated one of the greatest. Arm looks shot, sad seeing him look like that, knowing how big a competitor he is.’
“An AFC scout: ‘Missed deep ball, routine throws were getting knocked down because he couldn’t drive the ball, timing was off. Never looked like he could get in a routine. He couldn’t dictate the game like normal because he just couldn’t make the throws that needed to be made.’
“And an NFC exec: ‘Terrible overthrows and incompletions. He may be hurt.'”
Lest you think only those who won’t put their name to the reports are saying these things, Wessling quotes NFL media analyst Brian Balldinger:
“‘When you watch some of these throws, you can’t believe it could possibly be the same guy,’ Baldinger said. ‘… You just (wonder) is it the arm, is it the new offense, is he thinking too much, is that possible? … those plays are lay-ups for Peyton Manning.'”
In fairness, some NFL veterans, including Manning’s own wide receivers, continue to defend Manning as a quarterback with plenty of zip on the ball. But recent video of the Broncos preseason games tells a different story. Manning can no longer drive the ball down the field and when he’s forced to make some of the tougher NFL throws, you could go get a beer from the fridge and come back and the ball still might not be there, yet.
OK. I could be exaggerating. Maybe.
To me the question is no longer about Manning’s arm. Anyone can see the difference now. The question is whether veteran savvy from one of the most intelligent and most prepared quarterbacks to ever play the game can compensate. Those who look at quarterbacks and favor intelligence over physical prowess will be rooting for Manning to overcome these deficiencies. But Manning is likely to severely test that tendency in anyone who watches.
- Did someone tell the ESPN crew that there was no smiling allowed on the set? I’ve never seen a more somber first round telecast in my life.
- There seems to be a belief around the league that second overall pick Marcus Mariota might have been an owners pick. The Titans aren’t supposed to be for sale but the general belief appears to be that they are. There’s a theory that interim president Steve Underwood put pressure on the Titans front office to draft Mariota in order to make the franchise more valuable.
- I’m not surprised that the Redskins decided that they didn’t want to draft the consensus best player in the draft, Leonard Williams. But I am surprised that they couldn’t find a way to trade pack. Brandon Scherff adds to an offensive line that general manager Scot McCloughan evidently wants to make tougher as they look to become the kind of ground and pound running team that the Cowboys were last year. But I’m having a hard time believing there was no market for that pick. Scherff has short arms and isn’t considered to be a great offensive line prospect, especially if he’s going to be put at right tackle. The Redskins should have been able to pick up Scherff or another lineman later in the round.
- The Browns pick of Cameron Erving at 19 overall as a guard appeared to be a puzzler. Erving was generally considered to be a potential Pro Bowl center but his performance at tackle when he played the position was not considered to be good and he doesn’t necessarily project as a guard long-term. But a look at current center Alex Mack‘s contract clarifies things. His contract is player voidable in 2016 and apparently, like so many other people associated with the Browns organization, he intends to get out as soon as he can.
- On the other hand, I’m still having a hard time figuring out the Andrus Peat pick by the Saints. Terron Armstead seems to be a lock at left tackle. Right tackle Zach Strief is entering his 10th season with the Saints. I suppose he could be the future at that spot but I don’t see an immediate need there. The other positions along the offensive line seem to be similarly set. All I can assume is that Peat was the best available on their board and they took him.
- I love the Bears’ apparent free agent signing of Shane Carden. Many will remember that I put up a post on Carden questioning why he was considered only a low round prospect. Now we’ll find out first hand how full of it I am.
- I thought it was funny that ESPN‘s Ben Goessling‘s opinion of the Vikings draft so closely mirrored my own of the Bears’ saying, “This draft could be tough to judge for several years thanks to the number of talented, yet unrefined, players the Vikings took.”
- Many were surprised by the fall of so many pass rushers so far in the draft. I was not. I thought all of the pass rushers after Dante Fowler were being over-rated by the media in large part because, well, they were pass rushers. The only one I thought was worth a top ten pick other than Fowler was Randy Gregory and he blew his chance with off the field issues. It says here that Shane Ray and Vic Beasley, who went right after the Bears pick at number eight to Atlanta, both have bust written all over them. Bud Dupree might be an average starter by the time he’s developed.
- Speaking of pass rushers, its going to be interesting to see how things pan out for Fowler in Jacksonville. Fowler thinks he’s going to be the Leo linebacker (the primary pass rusher) but that doesn’t seem to fit his skills as he would be more suited to the Otto role (strong side linebacker who turns into a pass rusher on obvious passing downs). How he develops there may largely depend upon whether they choose the correct way to use him.
- One big loser in the draft appears to be former Bears prospect Matt Blanchard. The Packers drafted developmental prospect Brett Hundley. Scott Tolzien is currently entrenched as the back up. Unless Blanchard shows a great deal of potential or the Packers aren’t as committed to Tolzien as they appear to be, Blanchard would seem to be the odd man out.
- There’s a big part of me that likes the Rams’ first round pick of Todd Gurley. He’s the kind of runner that will fit in well in St. Louis and there’s no doubt that the Rams are planning to beat the rest of the NFC West by further overpowering it’s best teams. That means a big time running game and with the selection of Gurley followed by two offensive tackles, they may have added the personnel to do it.
The problem is that head coach Jeff Fisher is under some pressure in St. Louis to start winning now after a string of seasons in which the team has under-performed. And with Gurley coming off of a very bad ACL injury, he might not be ready to contribute right away. Despite good reports on the condition of the knee, Gurley won’t be ready to practice until halfway through training camp, losing valuable reps to learn things like pass protection. Even worse, players with knee injuries have a bad habit of not getting all the way back to where the were before until the second year after the injury. You have to wonder if the Rams wouldn’t have been better off selecting Melvin Gordon, who is very close to Gurley in terms of how the experts had them ranked and who I actually liked better than Gurley anyway.
- Will Brinson at CBS Sports rates wide receiver David Terrell as the worst Bears first round draft pick in the last 25 years. I don’t see how he beat out Michael Haynes and Cade McNown but it must have been close.
- Hub Arkush at chicagofootball.com continues to claim that the Bears have a “screaming need” for a number one receiver. I’m not too sure that they don’t have one in Alshon Jeffery. In fact, I’m going to be mildly disappointed if he’s not. I look around the rest of the league at what other teams have and I’m not too sure the need at receiver is as great as some Bears commentators seem to think it is. Dan Wiederer at the Chicago Tribune agrees here. Don’t get me wrong – another playmaker would be welcome and you won’t hear any complaints from me if they draft one. But with Marquis Wilson and Eddie Royal, with Martellus Bennett at tight end and Matt Forte at runningback, I think that the Bears have plenty of receiving talent. The “need” might be for depth.
- Arkush has the Bears selecting runningback Todd Gurley in his latest mock draft. I would hope the Bears would desperately try to trade back if Gurley is their guy.
Arkush has been pushing runningback as an underrated need for the Bears for quite a while now. He’s got a point but this might be over doing it. The draft has plenty of depth at runningback and Stanford OT Andrus Peat, Iowa OG Brandon Scherff, Michigan State CB Trae Waynes and West Virginia WR Kevin White – picks 9-12 in Arkush’s mock – all look like better picks to me in that spot.
The guess here is that Arkush is just having a little fun with it and that he doens’t seriously believe that the Bears will take Gurley at seven.
- The Bears best free agent signing? For my money its linebacker Mason Foster, signed from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (profiled here by Adam L. Jahns at the Chicago Sun-Times). Foster wasn’t a great fit for the cover two but I think he’s perfect for an inside linebacker in a 3-4 defense. Football outsiders points to the Bears struggles at linebacker in coverage as a major problem in 2014, one that they think Foster could help solve. Jon Bostic in particular looked lost in space last year.
- Rob Rang at CBS Sports says that the Dolphins are exploring the possibility of trading up into the top ten. The guess here is that the Bears would be a more than willing trade partner. They want a receiver and the guess here is that either Amari Cooper or Kevin White might very well still be there at seven. The problem that the Bears have is that the Jets are picking at six and they probably want to trade down, too.
- Chase Goodbread at nfl.com addresses the possibility that quarterback Marcus Mariota may fall a long way in the draft if he gets by the Jets. This is something I’ve also been thinking about for quite some time. Goodbread addresses the possibility that Mariota could go to the Saints, the Browns, the Eagles and the Broncos but not the Bears, who have at least as big of a need as any of those teams. I doubt Mariota gets past the Saints at 13.
- On the opposite side of the coin, first we had Mike Mayock moving Mariota ahead of Jameis Winston on his list, now Ron Jaworski thinks that the Buccaneers will pick Mariota first overall instead of Winston. Nobody knows until the party gets started, I guess. Via Darin Gantt at profootballtalk.com
- Lester Munson at ESPN does a good job of describing the closing arguments in the Aaron Hernandez murder trial. The verdict wasn’t known at the time. Hernandez has now been found guilty of murder.
- Former NFL scout Daniel Jeremiah and former Bears wide receiver Curtis Conway identify some diamonds in the rough for the draft. I know nothing about Illinois State tight end James O’Shaughnessy but presumably the Bears do. This is the only video I could find of him:
Its possible that if Illinois State is close enough to Chicago that O’Shaughnessy was invited to the workout that all teams are allowed to have local prospects attend. He might be a name to keep an eye on.
- Rams area scout Evan Ardoin describes the process of scouting E.J. Gaines for stlouisrams.com. This is a good article for those wondering how the national scouting services work.
- Somewhat to my surprise, the Packers have matched an offer sheet put forth by the Raiders for safety Sean Richardson. Richardson is strictly a backup and one year, $2.55 million sounded like a lot to me for that. Perhaps the Packers are planning to promote him sooner rather than later. Via Gantt.
- I’m sure the thought of the Packers developing quarterback Matt Blanchard after the Bears gave up on him thrills you as much as it does me. Via Mike Wilkening at profootballtalk.com.
- You just got picked in the first round of the NFL Draft and your Mom calls. She tells you that the bill for raising you was $1 million, and she wants it paid back right away.
Yeah, I’d say that Phillip Buchanon probably wasn’t raised in much of a nurturing environment.
One Final Thought
For those of you wondering what Brit McHenry did to get herself suspended from ESPN, the video of this media darling is below. McHenry’s car was towed by a company that is, by most accounts, pretty shady. Note that she is warned immediately that she is on camera.
I get that she’s upset and I would be, too. But taking it out on the employee at the front desk, especially in this manner, is not a good look.
Andrew Mason at denverbroncos.com quotes Hall of Fame offensive tackle Gary Zimmerman on the benefits of running a zone blocking scheme. The Bears will do at least some zone blocking this year:
“‘It’s going to take a lot of pressure off [Peyton Manning], for one. In the past, the [offense] was one-dimensional, it was pretty much a throwing team, and that’s what everyone prepared for, and all the pressure was on Peyton, so when you have a zone-blocking game, if the run’s not working, you go to the pass, and if the pass is not working, you go to the run,’ Zimmerman said in an interview for a story posted April 2.
“‘I think the biggest thing in the zone blocking is that the defense has a lot more to think about, because a lot of plays look alike, and there’s a lot of pass plays that look like run plays. It kind of puts a little more thinking on the defense as in the previous years, where they just lined up and played, and knew that the pass was coming. Now they’re going to have to first determine if it’s a run or a pass, and then go from there.'”
Zone blocking often involves taking a side step or a bucket step and reacting to the direction the defensive lineman takes. I’ve always been a fan of firing off of the ball at the snap, myself, because it allows the use of the only advantage offensive linemen have – they know the snap count. But I can see Zimmerman’s point.
All linebackers are told to watch the offensive lineman as a key to whether the play is a run or a pass. But because zone blocking often involves the same kind of movement that pass blocking involves, a run can look an awful lot like a pass to a defender. They therefore are more likely to hesitate and wait for other keys to tell what’s going on. That can be a great advantage in a game where speed is everything.
Assuming the Bears do what Broncos did last year, they are going to run a combination of blocking techniques. If the lineman can master them all, it could make them very formidable. If they can master them all.
Troy E. Renck at the Denver Post says that the Broncos are going old school under new head coach Gary Kubiac by bringing back the fullback:
“‘Everyone wants to be an innovator. No one thinks you can get a head coaching job if you are just turning around and handing the ball off. It’s not sexy. But when you need to run out the clock and get those tough first downs, some of those spread offenses can’t do it,’ [Broncos fullback Howard] Griffith said. ‘You have to be able to run. Some people consider it old school. It’s just football, and you need a fullback.'”
I think most teams agree.
The power running game is still healthy and ever-present in the NFL and it just makes sense to attempt to overload the point of attack with blockers. There’s no better way to position a man to do that than to line him up in the backfield where he can read the situation and provide help at the most effective point. Renck elaborates:
“Griffith found himself in an unusual position with the Broncos. He was an electric college running back at Illinois but embraced a selfless role. His vision as a runner helped him as a blocker for Davis. He anticipated how plays would develop, freeing him to pick up weakside defenders off the script.
“‘It’s funny, because I have run into O-line coaches, and they want to know what our calls were on the backside plays. There was never any calls made. We just knew from the defensive alignment where I would go,’ Griffith said. ‘It happened by accident in practice, and where I picked up the most dangerous guy on a play, and we just kind of took it from there.'”
The “disappearance” of the NFL fullback is overrated. It’s true that more than ever teams like to spread the defense out with an extra wide receiver or run more double tight end sets, which puts the big men in a better position to run a pass route. But 23 teams still used a fullback last year and of the teams like the Bears who are left and who don’t list one on their roster, almost all still have plays that call for one. They just line up a “tight end” in the backfield who they have designated to be the fullback on those plays. That would be Dante Rosario on the current Bears roster.
No matter what you call it, the fullback isn’t going anywhere. Except where the ball is.
Michael David Smith at profootballtalk.com is surprisingly definitive after highlighting former 49er Jeff Garcia‘s comments on the current state of the team:
“Garcia said the decision of [owner Jed] York and [general manager Trent] Baalke to fire Harbaugh reminds him of his own playing days, when York’s father and then-General Manager Terry Donahue decided to fire Steve Mariucci after a 10-6 season. That turned out to be a disaster, as the 49ers wouldn’t have a winning record for the next eight years — until they hired [Jim] Harbaugh.”
I can only agree.
The capacity of team management to make a mess of a good thing all over the league amazes me. In this case, pride and control were undoubtedly the major factors. Harbaugh (left) and Baalke (right) are both the kind of men that simply refuse to compromise. It ruined their relationship and is well on its way to ruining the team.
Though the differences were likely more fundamental you have to wonder whether former Broncos and now Bears head coach John Fox (left) and Broncos General Manager and Executive Vice President of Football Operations John Elway (right) didn’t do the same thing. The guess is that Fox wanted to return to his roots – a run oriented defensive team, while Elway wanted to remain the high-flying passing team that the Broncos became through 2/3 of last season until quarterback Peyton Manning got hurt. The parting was amicable but the effect may be the same – I think it’s unlikely that new head coach Gary Kubiac will be as good at it as Fox was nor do I believe that the loss of offensive coordinator Adam Gase will be without effect. Add in the loss of defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio to the Raiders as head coach and you’ve got the recipe for a serious decline.
The relationship between Fox and Bears general manager Ryan Pace (left) seems to be off to a good start. Philosophically they seem to share the same vision. That might what Elway and Fox started with but Fox likely subordinated his vision to Elway with the acquisition of Manning. Baalke and Harbaugh probably got off to a good start, too.
Those who ignore history are destined to repeat it. The key to prosperity will be that both Fox and Pace be reasonable people (unlike Baalke and Harbaugh) who are both very good at what they do. That will engender respect and that will lead to continued willingness to compromise without loss of quality. They also need to stay in agreement philosophically through seasons of change. A dose of early success wouldn’t hurt.
That all seems like a lot to navigate over a course full of obstacles. But if the Pace and Fox do it, they’ll be set up for the kind of long-term success that has eluded some wonderful relationships that started so well and then went south to the ruin of all.
Like many Bears fans, I was saddened to see center Roberto Garza released (via Dan Wiederer at the Chicago Tribune). I can still remember meeting WSCR‘s Mike Mulligan briefly at the Chicago Bears convention downtown in 2005 when he asked me as a fan what I thought of the signing. I said, “The guys missing a ligament in his knee, right?” Mulligan threw his hands up and said, “I know! The guys got no ACL!”.
We should all be so lucky. ACL or not, Garza started 145 games over 10 seasons in Chicago.
We can only speculate as to why the Bears decided to replace Garza. My first thought was age but Will Montgomery, who at least for now replaces Garza in the starting lineup, isn’t exactly a spring chicken at 32. The Bears will evidently be drafting a center some time soon but they probably could have stuck with Garza for another year if all they wanted was a veteran to stand in for a year. Hub Arkush at chicagofootball.com apparently agrees.
One thing that’s evident about the 2015 Bears is that if they’re going to carry out head coach John Fox‘s plan to run the ball, they’re going to have to do something about the offensive line. Former Bears head coach Marc Trestman was roasted for not running the ball enough but my strong suspicion is that it wasn’t that he didn’t want to run it. It’s that he didn’t think they could block it. How much of that had to do with Garza, I don’t know. To me, Garza always passed the eye test but there’s no denying the Bears has a lot of trouble moving guys out of the way and running up the middle to get tough yards. Statistically he had a mediocre player rating of -1.3 at profootballfocus.com but his pass blocking efficiency was well above average. That leads me to believe that his weakness in their eyes was run blocking.
It probably isn’t a coincidence that run blocking is Mongomery’s strength. Montgomery is also familiar with the blocking scheme the Bears will be using after playing to offensive coordinator Adam Gase and Bears head coach John Fox last year. At least some of that will likely be zone blocking, something that could improve the performance all along the line with this group, which shows more finesse and athleticism overall than power. I found Montgomery’s comments about it to be intriguing. Via Patrick Finley at the Chicago Sun-Times:
“They can run zone, man schemes, power schemes. I think they do gameplan-specific things as well. I don’t know if I’m the exact fit for this offense — I think I’m a fit for a lot of offenses. It is fun to play for these coaches.”
Diversity is nice but whatever they do, it had better fit their talent (or lack there of).
Debate about Garza aside, whatever else the Bears do this offseason, I hope they do more to improve the offensive line. Garza may or may not have been a weakness in the run game but to my eye both tackles definitely are. Brad Biggs at the Chicago Tribune appears to believe that former seventh round pick Charles Leno may have a shot somewhere along the line. If they’re going to take the game out of quarterback Jay Cutler‘s hands, they’re going to have give it to Matt Forte and the other runners. And they’re going to have to ride the backs of the boys up front.