Do you think it's a coincidence that the Bears' running game is not as good with Stanley Pritchett at FB as it is with Daimon Shelton? I think good FBs are totally under-hyped. Good fullbacks (Griffith in Denver when Davis was awesome, Moose in Dallas when Emmitt was great, to name a few) are good running backs first, making the right decision, cut, that will maximize the yardage on the play. I don't know why analysts don't pick up on that. Your thoughts? --Don Svec, Algonquin, Ill.
Very good observation, Don. Pritchett has done a very solid job but Shelton is as good as it gets for a lead blocker. And Shelton is a strong character guy who has the nickname "Rock" from teammates, which tells you a little about how they regard him. The Bears don't use a fullback all that much, but tight end Fred Baxter is hurting (ankle) and the offense needs a physical blocker. As Jauron says, Shelton is not what linebackers like to see, either blitzing or filling a hole against Anthony Thomas and his "escort."
Is Jim Miller allowed to change the plays that the coaches send, if he is fairly certain another play would work better? --Patrick Watson, Chicago
Yes, and the Bears have check-with-me's that have Miller going to the line with two plays called and he decides which is better when he sees the defense. The Bears are obsessed with playing faster, though, and audibles slow things down. The way the offense is set up, receivers run their assigned routes hard (very little decision-making, a change from Gary Crowton to John Shoop) and it is Miller who makes the adjustments with his reads. Miller, not the receivers, adjust to "hot" reads.
I was wondering why the Bears use Leon Johnson on kick and punt returns. With the exception of Sunday, he does have very good hands. Looking at him though, he looks like a fullback waiting for the ball. He isn't the fastest or the quickest. I'm sure they have someone who is quicker and more agile with some good acceleration who could do the job. So why don't they turn to that player to maybe get some more yards on returns? --Eric Jameson, Huber Heights, Ohio
You identified the coaches' reasoning yourself. The hands. Johnson is averaging a pretty creditable 8 yards per return too, three more than opponents against the Bears, so it would be wrong to just view him as a plodder. And this isn't the first time the Bears went for "hands" in the return game over speed. Jeff Graham in '94-95 was frequently back to field punts and did exactly that: field 'em. The offense was good enough that they didn't want to risk giving opponents a short field. Same thing now. Just give this offense the ball and they will get to work pounding people; a botched punt return is a huge momentum-changer. By the way, Eric, I'm a UD grad and have been through Huber Heights a few hundred times.
I just watched the Saints game yesterday, and I can't remember a time when the Bears had so many key breakdowns last season. Sure, they lost games, but arguably Green Bay, Philadelphia, and Baltimore just flat out beat the Bears last year. The game against the Saints, the Bears beat themselves. This seems like a new thing for this team, any idea how the coaches are approaching next week in light of this? --Brad Marsh, Santa Rosa, Calif.
The Bears have one of the most fundamentally sound-thinking coaching staffs in the NFL. Dick Jauron is a straightforward thinker and coordinators Greg Blache and John Shoop are students of their own players as much as any opponent. What that translates into in this situation is an emphasis on what the Bears do best rather than gimmickry. Shoop conceded that he would rather have just handed the ball to Anthony Thomas on the immortal third-and-2 miss, instead of the flanker screen that was blown (more by execution than by design,but Shoop is not one to hang his players out). Coaches know what their players can do and do best and they stay within those parameters as well as any team. So this is time for basics, not for getting aberrant. The Bears are smash-mouth on offense and will let the offensive line win the game in the fourth quarter; on defense they are cognizant of what Drew Bledsoe can do, how banged up they are and are concentrating on their assignments so that there are fewer gashes for someone like Bledsoe to exploit. They don't want to run with the Bills.
Particularly disturbing about the Bears' loss to the Saints on Sunday was the fact that the defense, in prevent mode, allowed the Saints to drive the length of the field, kill most of the clock, and score the winning touchdown in the fourth quarter. What's your opinion on the prevent (the win) defense and it's use by Greg Blasche against New Orleans? Thanks. --Keith Gottsleben, Columbia, Md.
I don't like the prevent defense and I know Blache doesn't either. But the defense could get little pass rush with Bryan Robinson hurting and Phillip Daniels out, the physical inside guys in their preferred rush front. Without a pass rush (Rosie Colvin is a force but Bryan Knight and Alex Brown are still too green) there is no preventing anything. And those are the situations in which you appreciate how valuable R.W. McQuarters is and why the Bears did a $21 million deal to keep him. You need a lock-down corner who can be left alone in single coverage and McQuarters is the only one of those they have at this point. No pass rush, no shut-down corner - hard to make prevent work. But Blache had to go with the personnel grouping that he did because it's as much of a rush/coverage unit as he can field with Daniels and McQuarters out.