There is a lot of chatter among Bears fans about what an awful move it was to trade Thomas Jones and let Cedric Benson take over as the featured back. Well, here are the stats for both running backs right now:
Cedric Benson: 101 attempts, 20.2 attempts per game, 3.0 yards per carry, 60.6 yards per game, 2 TDs, 3 fumbles, 9 catches for 57 yards.
Thomas Jones: 88 attempts, 17.6 attempts per game, 3.3 yards per carry, 58.0 yards per game, 0 TDs, 1 fumble, 9 catches for 61 yards.
The only glaring difference I see here is in TDs and fumbles. So, what would the Bears have gained by keeping Thomas Jones? Two less fumbles and two less TDs? Big deal. Statistically, it doesn't look like the Bears have lost much. But statistics don't tell the entire story.
I understand why the Bears did what they did, but I don't like the decision at all. Here's why: Benson is missing something. A lot of Bears fans are pointing to the scouting report on Benson that was found on SI.com, and I think there's something very important in there:
Conference: Big 12
Ht., Wt.: 5-10.5, 222
40 Time: 4.55
BIO: 2004 Doak Walker Award winner and a unanimous All-Conference choice after posting 326/1,834/19 on the ground and adding 22/179/1 as a pass catcher. Junior totals included 258/1,360/21 after 305/1,293/12 as a sophomore. Originally broke the century barrier as a freshman when he burst onto the scene totaling 223/1,053/12. Has led Texas in rushing the past four years.
POSITIVES: Big, powerful ballcarrier who controls games or breaks them wide open. Patient back who displays vision at the line of scrimmage or down the field, waits for blocks to develop, then follows them. Possesses some wiggle and juke in his runs, sets up defenders, making them miss at the point. Runs with good lean, possesses excellent first step quickness and plays with outstanding balance and body control. Has a burst of speed, runs with authority and gets a good degree of momentum going. Very tough to bring down, squeezes through the small holes in the defense and at the same time a quick footed runner who avoids defenders. Quickly cuts back against the grain or slides off tackles. Strong, carries the pile and picks up close to 50 percent of his yardage off initial contact. Helps the quarterback sell play action passes, immediately becomes the hot receiver on blitz situations and possesses solid hands catching the ball.
NEGATIVES: Gives minimal attempts blocking. Seemingly goes down rather easily at times or finishes the play running out of bounds. Experienced fumbling problems this season. Made some very selfish comments prior to his junior campaign when asked to share the load at running back.
ANALYSIS: An outstanding athlete who gave up a career in baseball, Benson has all the physical skills to be a premier NFL back. Has the abilities to be a three-down player effective in passing situations. Must pick up the tempo of his blocking and does not always show a fire in his belly, yet when hitting on all cylinders a franchise running back.
[Emphasis added by Sneaky Pete.]
Fans are obviously focusing on the negatives, because it's what we've been seeing from the entire offense lately. However, the final analysis states that Benson has what it takes to become a franchise running back. And I've seen plenty of the positives in Benson too. He has truly come as advertised to the NFL, good and bad. So what's the real problem?
I think the issues start with the O-line. Any running back is going to struggle a bit without a line opening creases for them. And trust me, they haven't been opening much of anything this season. Another part of the problem is that Benson still doesn't block well. This means he's going to be pulled on third down passing situations. As a power back, he needs lots of carries to wear down a defense. He's hurting his own cause by not blocking well and getting himself taken out of situations where he could potentially get more touches. If he truly wanted to be a franchise back, he'd have improved his blocking in the off-season, right?
I pulled a "Sneaky Pete" during the Bears-Packers game. I questioned Benson's "fire" after he ran out of bounds rather than take on a CB one-on-one... Five seconds later, John Madden did the same thing. Benson had at LEAST twenty pounds on that guy. Get your pads low and drive the defender back! He's 230 pounds and he runs out of bounds more often than Devin Hester does! That really bothers me. I don't think Benson really understands (or cares) what is expected of a Chicago Bears halfback.
Here's the only piece of advice I can offer: Sit Benson down in front of a TV and put in the Pure Payton tape. (Is it available on DVD? If so, the DVD is an acceptable substitute.) Hit play. Make Benson take notes. Tell him that's what he's expected to live up to in Chicago. If he isn't moved by that video, I say he has no heart. If he has no heart, he needs to sit and he needs to be traded at the end of the season. A franchise running back needs to have that stubbornness that drives him to fight for every possible inch on every play. That's what Benson is missing. And that's the biggest difference between Thomas Jones and Cedric Benson, by the way. Jones has it.
One little line on the scouting report says it all: "...does not always show a fire in his belly." That means more to Bears fans than any of Benson's physical attributes. Those of us who are old enough, remember that some "experts" laughed at the Bears for drafting Walter Payton. The naysayers said Payton was too small and too slow to play in the NFL. But Walter Payton would've bashed his way through the gates of Hell to get an extra yard.
Benson? He won't run into a DB for an extra yard. Maybe he should've stuck with baseball. Someone on the Bears' staff needs to tell Benson to light that fire in his belly--and keep it lit--or take his show somewhere else. There are two other backs on the team who would love a shot at being the featured back.
Never Die Easy. There, I said it and I'm glad.