Larry Mayer, the senior writer at Chicago Bears.com, is a buddy of mine. We trade old jokes about Bryan Robinson and classic lines from Caddyshack pretty routinely up at Halas Hall, usually when the locker room is empty on Thursday afternoons and we’re both scratching our heads wondering what we’re going to write about that day. Especially during a brutal 7-9 campaign like the one we just witnessed.
But Larry really made me laugh this week, and this time it wasn’t for assuring me that, like Judge Smails, I’m a tremendous slouch.
The headline for a story he had written on Thursday caught me off guard the first time I saw it: “Potent Passing Attack Posted Big Numbers in `07.”
Personally, there are many words I would use to describe Chicago’s passing offense this season, but I must say that “potent” is well down the list.
“Average” sounds a little better to me considering the Bears finished the year at 231.1 yards per game through the air, good for 14th in the league. About 70 yards less than the league-leading Patriots (303.7) and about 70 yards more than the bottom-feeding 49ers (167.8), so potent appears to be quite a stretch.
“Costly” is also an appropriate assessment when you factor in those 21 interceptions, which tied for fourth most in the league. The seven teams that threw the least amount of picks this season – the Colts, Steelers, Seahawks, Redskins, Patriots, Buccaneers, and Jaguars – all made the playoffs, by the way.
“Sterile” comes to mind since the Monsters of the Midway had three quarterbacks – plus one tailback, Adrian Peterson – combine for only 18 touchdown passes, which tied for 20th in the league. Only nine teams had fewer TD tosses – the Chiefs, Raiders, Jets, 49ers, Ravens, Vikings, Dolphins, Bills, and Titans – and only Tennessee managed a (short-lived) postseason invitation.
Nevertheless, according to Larry’s research team, the 3,701 yards passing accumulated in 2007 is good enough for third best in the 88-year history of the Chicago Bears Football Club.
Third best in history, yet the team’s leading passer in terms of both yards and touchdowns, Brian Griese, was 23rd in the league in passer rating at 75.6. Billed as a high-completion-percentage guy who takes care of the football, Griese completed this throws at a 61.5 percent clip – good for 20th. Moreover, his TD-to-INT ratio of 10-12 was worse than the likes of Joey Harrington (7-8), Kyle Boller (9-10), and the killer Kansas City combination of Damon Huard and Brodie Croyle (17-19).
Third best in history, yet the team’s leading receiver in terms of both catches and yards, Bernard Berrian, was not among the league leaders in either category. 25 players hauled in more than his 71 receptions, including two running backs (Brian Westbrook and Reggie Bush) and one non-starter (Shaun McDonald). 26 players racked up more than his 951 receiving yards, including four tight ends (Tony Gonzalez, Jason Witten, Kellen Winslow, and Antonio Gates) and one rookie (Dwayne Bowe).
Rex Grossman, Brian Griese, and Kyle Orton
Third best in team history, yet Peyton Manning of the Colts has averaged 4,163 yards passing per season over the course of his 10-year career.
Not a fair comparison? Perhaps. Manning does play at least half of his games indoors, is always surrounded by Pro-Bowl talent, and has been in the same offensive system pretty much since he left Knoxville for Indianapolis.
Well, Brett Favre doesn’t play indoors in Green Bay, and he’s topped 3,701 yards passing 12 times in his career – including eight years in a row from 1994 to 2001. Young wideouts like Greg Jennings and James Jones have made him better than ever this season, but he had nobody completely reliable outside of Donald Driver in `05 and `06 and still surpassed the 3,800-yard mark both years. He’s certainly worked with his share of offensive coordinators, too.
OK, maybe that’s not a fair comparison either since Favre is the most prolific passer in terms of statistics the game has ever seen.
Then let’s go to Cleveland, where Derek Anderson had played in a grand total of five NFL contests before taking over for Charlie Frye in Week 1. But he threw for 3,787 yards this season and kept first-round golden boy Brady Quinn on the sideline carrying a clipboard. Anderson plays in the cold, had next to no experience, and didn’t even win the starting job in training camp.
Suddenly, that potent passing attack in the Windy City is looking a little, well, impotent.
But wait. Doesn’t this team “get off the bus running the football,” as head coach Lovie Smith comically reminded us so many times this season? Actually, the Midway Monsters stumbled off that bus week in and week out, producing only 83.1 yards per game on the ground – 30th in the league.
In other words, the Bears were forced to fly the (un)friendly skies out of pure necessity and not because said passing game was pleasantly potent. It’s much easier to rack up yards through the air when you’re trailing by double digits in the fourth quarter, and the enemy defense is in a soft zone just trying to prevent a big play.
To complicate matters even further, the organization really has no idea who will be leading this supposedly potent passing attack in 2008. The aforementioned Griese may not be back next season. Rex Grossman is a free agent, and even if GM Jerry Angelo does try to re-sign him, it’s no guarantee that he wants to return anyway. Kyle Orton played reasonably well in a three-game audition to close out 2007, but the coaching staff didn’t so much as give him a chance until the playoff window had been just about shut. And seemingly every mock draft you can find has the team taking yet another quarterback in Round 1 this April.
The Ivy League isn’t going to be impressed with the third best student in summer school. Just like nobody should be impressed with such a pedestrian passing yardage total no matter where it may rank in the franchise’s all-time record book.
Feeling nauseous, Bears fans? How about a Fresca?
John Crist is the Publisher of Bear Report and a member of the Professional Football Writers of America. To read him every day, visit BearReport.com and become a Chicago Bears insider.