Sir, step away from the panic button. . .
I was at last Sunday's victory over the Kansas City Chiefs. Yes, I saw Good Rex (pulling a disappearing act on the hard charging KC D-line, rolling out, hitting Berrian on the sideline). Yes, I saw Bad Rex (two second half INTs that made you go, "Why?!?"). Yet the Bears doubled up the Chiefs in a 20-10 victory that rarely seemed in doubt. The defense was nearly as stifling as it had been Week 1 vs. San Diego. The Bears special teams got back to being special; Robbie was once again as good as Gould, the coverages were rock solid and the team even blocked a field goal for the second straight week. And then there was the return game. More on this later. Still, one comment continues to ring in my ears, days after the win.
"After a game like this, I feel like we are 0-2."
Just so we can clear this up early on; the Bears are not, in fact, 0-2. They are an entirely predictable 1-1. One loss in a tough Week 1 draw on the road. One win against a team that looks to be one of this year's punching bags.
The only question mark in Chicago follows the noun "offense". Many a Bears fan will morph this term into the proper noun "Rex", but thus far this season, that may not be appropriate. Yes, QB Grossman is putting up ratings in the 50's. But if there is anything that a Chicago fan can take solace in, it is this: after two weeks, Grossman's below average performances can not be laid solely at the maligned passer's feet. The Bears have struggled woefully in pass protection. The receivers have not created space for themselves. Although the (almost) equally maligned Cedric Benson had a rock solid 100-yard effort against Kansas City, the running game has looked far from dominant. And yet there has been no Rex implosion the likes of the oft-cited contests from last year. That, believe it or not, is encouraging.
On another website, this sort of analysis has earned a clever moniker. "Rexcuses". I prefer to think of it as an objective presentation of facts. Then again, I would think that; I am, after all, writing this piece.
But no, I make no excuses for Rex Grossman. He has not played up to the standards mandated by the talent surrounding him. Few thus far have met that bar on the offensive side of the football. Which brings me to another popular phrase amongst our faithful.
"This offense is not good enough to win a Super Bowl".
On September 20, yes, that statement is 100% accurate. But here is the thing: the Super Bowl is played on February 3rd.
In the four-month plus interim, there are signs that this offense can improve. Devin Hester, that wunderkind on roller skates, saw far more offensive action in Week 2 than he did in Week 1. I know he hasn't seen the ball yet, but expect this trend to continue. Sooner or later, Hester will be making plays on offense. Maybe not a lot, but as he has shown as a specialist, he usually only needs to make one. Greg Olsen, who many believe to be the biggest seam stealer in Chicago since a fella named Ditka, likely returns this week. These two parts will be worked into the gameplan slowly, as they should. The more they learn and prove that they can be relied upon, the more of the burden that they will carry. Both provide something sorely needed on this offense: explosion.
Likewise, I am not nearly as dismayed as some by the play of the offensive line. Most of our offensive line parts are old and more than a little bit creeky. But over the past few years this line has posessed two admirable qualities: continuity and effectiveness. The run game was ineffective in Week 1, but Week 2 does provide some hope that this had more to do with a very good Chargers run defense than a very bad Chicago run offense. But we all know that the real worries stem from pass protection and blitz pickup. And I believe that there is a logical explanation.
Last year, Thomas Jones was entrenched as a three-year starter at running back and an absolute given in passing situations. Over those three seasons, he had built a relationship with an equally veteran line, and the unit had an understanding of who needed to be where when the linebackers came. I am not here to talk about whether TJ should still be a Bear. Rather, I point out the past to illustrate the present. Adrian Peterson and Cedric Benson are being asked to fill an unfamiliar role: blitz pickup. And I do not believe they are incapable. I do think it may take a couple of weeks. Again, there is still plenty of time for this area to improve.
Unconvinced? One needs only look back one year ago today. As Chicago pasted opponents left and right, Bears fans still managed to bemoan an ineffective running game averaging far less than four yards per carry. By the end of the year, that same group was one of the more effective running attacks in the NFL. Without significant additions, the Bears merely improved over time. While it is by no means a given, I expect more of the same.
So yeah, I think the offense will get there, even if it takes a month or two. Of course, even if Bears fans are forced to take the Good Rex with the Bad Rex, there are still two very good reasons to like this team's chances deep in the playoffs.
Defense and special teams.
Isn't this always the formula in Chicago?
Well, guess what? The recipe today is almost as flavorful as it has ever been. Bob Babich has got the D positively humming early; switching coverages, sending blitzers and shutting down All-Pro running backs. Even without Dusty and the incomparable Mike Brown, the defensive line and secondary are actually on par with the best linebacking corps in the league. This has to be the best Bears defense any of us have seen in quite a long time.
And then there is Devin Hester. Any fears of a sophmore slump were assuaged on Sunday. This offseason, I decided to change Hester's college nickname of "Anytime" to "Everytime". As in a threat to score every time he touches the football. As in E.T. for short. As in extra-terrestrial. As in this man is not of this world; he's not human. Which is exactly what I exclaimed every time he touched the ball Sunday. He is the next evolution. At some point this season, we will have to discuss the origins of one Devin Hester. For now, take comfort in the fact that the Bears possess a youngster who is the most unique and exciting weapon in all of football.
That, my friends, is reason enough to come off the ledge.