Most NFL teams, at least the good ones, have a philosophy, a plan of attack that they adhere to when searching for players and for drafting up a set of game plans. Last year, the Bears strategy was to run the ball, control the clock, and play excellent defense. The Bears relied on their defense to set up the offense with good field position, as well as force turnovers. Last year, Chicago milked the clock running the ball with Anthony Thomas, and struck on big pass plays off of the playaction fake. The defense and the offense were working hand in hand with neither side having carry the load, which led to victories, a whole lot of them.
This year, everything has gone awry. Injuries and free agency have rendered an excellent team to nothing more than a group struggling to keep their heads above water. General manager Jerry Angelo, head coach Dick Jauron, and the rest of the Bears coaching staff seems to be in agreement in their team philosophy. Sure everyone would love to have a Brett Favre, or any other pro-bowl quarterback on their roster to lead their offense. Fact is though, that it’s quite hard to acquire a game-changing player at any position.
Therefore, teams have to adjust their game plans and choices to fit into a particular philosophy that can work for the players they have and are able to acquire. Fortunately for the bears, they do have what is perceived to be a lot of talent on the defensive side of the ball, therefore, instead of treating Jim Miller like a pro-bowl quarterback, their offense is suited to maintain field position, chew the clock, give the defense some much needed rest, while wearing out the other teams defense. Their hardcore running attack with the powerful and hard to take down Anthony Thomas is supposed to wear the opposing defense down, and then strike while using the playaction pass to throw the intermediate to deep ball.
Sounds like a good philosophy, and it can be, but injuries can cause major cramps in attempting to pursue this with some success. Brian Urlacher is one of the best middle linebackers in the NFL; he is especially good when he is not getting double-teamed on blocks by offensive linemen easily reaching the second level of their defense. Pro-bowl defensive tackle Ted Washington was lost during the second week of the season due to a severe ankle injury suffered versus the Atlanta Falcons. His absence has allowed opposing offensive linemen to make blocks on the second level. No longer are two offensive linemen occupied by Washington, thus adding pressure on Urlacher.
At the start of the season Urlacher, Rosevelt Colvin, and Warrick Holdman were considered the best linebacking core in the game. However, Holdman is out for the season after suffering a serious injury to his knee. The defense in total is under added strain, with early injuries to CB R.W. McQuarters and DE Philip Daniels still lingering. Reserves are being forced to play and perform in situations they are not accustomed to. A philosophy is great and it can work, but you need the players to execute, injuries have hampered their plans thus far.
Free agency has also taken its toll on the Bears. Last offseason the Bears were forced to make some tough decisions. Numerous players were up for free agency, key contributors from the NFC Central division championship squad. In the end, essentially, the Bears chose to bolster their offense, resigning center Olin Kreutz and WR Marty Booker to big money long-term deals. They also signed QB’s Jim Miller and Chris Chandler to run the offense in 2002. The price was defensive starters Tony Parrish and Walt Harris left via free agency. Parrish, now with the 49ers, already has three interceptions, and is considered one of the better safeties in the NFC. Harris, a former first-round draft choice had a career year in his final season with the Bears. After struggling to live up to his star potential for much of his career he looks to be continuing his resurgence in Indianapolis. He is on pace for eight interceptions this season.
The Bears philosophy is based on ball control and a good defense forcing turnovers. Last year they were the third best team in the NFC in turnover differential, this year they are in the bottom half of the league in turnover differential at plus 1.
Moreover, for the Bears to come attain their winning form of last year, they must come up with a formula for winning despite the losses of key players. Their philosophy for winning is time tested and proven, but the players must be there to execute the plans.