Bears Inside Slant: December 20

The Chicago Bears are a 5-9 football team and beginning to sound like it, too. With speculation about next season brewing already, the focus has shifted to the likes of Ron Turner and Lance Briggs and whether or not either of them will be back in 2008. Get the Inside Slant from the NFL experts at Scout.com.

INSIDE SLANT
Lovie Smith's first offensive coordinator, the wacky Terry Shea, gave himself a B-plus when he was asked to assess his performance near the end of the 2004 season in which the Bears finished dead last in total offense and passing yards.

Not surprisingly, Shea was one and done, replaced by Ron Turner who has, in turn, become a favorite target of critics. With the Bears' offense ranked 29th in total yards and last in rushing heading into Sunday's rematch with the 12-2 Packers at Soldier Field, many are calling for Turner's job. The criticism is fair according to Turner, who doesn't sound as if he'd give himself a B-plus. But, he said, when you're 5-9 and struggling to move the ball, nobody is immune from criticism.

"When you're not winning, not scoring points, yeah [it's fair]," Turner said. "Sure. It's everybody. It's not just the players, it's not just [the coaches], it's not just the play-calling, it's everything combined. We're not getting it done."

The Bears have scored fewer than 20 points in six of their past eight games. Turner has been ripped in general for his play-calling and specifically for not getting the ball to the team's two biggest playmakers, wide receiver Devin Hester and rookie tight end Greg Olsen, down the field where they provide quick-strike potential.

"I haven't read a paper all year or any of that," Turner said. "But even if you hear things, we believe in what we're doing [and] the way we're doing it. We're just going to keep doing it that way. Just keep coming in every day and working hard and doing the things we believe in and not pay attention to it."

In the past six games, Hester has caught 13 of his 18 passes, but they've accounted for just 90 yards – an average of 6.9 yards per catch. It looked as if Olsen would become a focal point of the offense in the second quarter of the season, when he caught 19 passes for 217 yards (11.4-yard average) and two touchdowns in four games. But in the six games since then, Olsen has 15 receptions for 109 yards (7.3-yard average) and no touchdowns.

But considering the Bears have the worst running attack in the NFL, one that is more a detriment to the passing game than a complement, how much should Turner be blamed? Throw in the fact that the offensive line has been as effective as a screen door in a submarine, and you wonder if the late Bill Walsh could have made the 2007 Bears offense work.

"Listen, it's tough to call a game when you've got so many penalties and you're not executing the plays that are called," current quarterback Kyle Orton said. "We've got to do a good job of just giving ourselves a chance on each play, and that's [by avoiding] pre-snap penalties, that's making the throws when they're there, that's running the right route, that's a lot of things. And until you do that, you don't give yourself much of a chance in the NFL. That's football. Whatever play is called, you go out and execute it."

That hasn't been Bears football for much of the season. Dropped passes reached an epidemic stage earlier in the year, and the running game has gone from bad with Cedric Benson as the main man to worse without him.

Penalties have come in waves, especially the frustrating false-start calls that have hindered an attack barely stumbling along to begin with. The Bears were flagged 11 times for 95 yards against the Vikings, and seven of the infractions were on the offense for 50 yards. Four of the penalties were false starts.

The NFL average for penalties through 14 games is 83, but the Bears have been busted an even 100 times. It all adds up to a lack of execution that results in an absence of offensive continuity.

"It's been the same theme all year long," Turner said. "When you're getting first downs and you're making plays, then you get in a flow. You get in a rhythm. You can set things up. I can't tell you the number of times up in the press box we've said, 'All right, we get this first down, we're going to go to this, we're going to do that.' But we don't get the first down. We've all got to do a better job."

NOTES & QUOTES
Odds are LB Lance Briggs will be playing his last two games with the Bears the next two Sundays, but the three-time Pro Bowler has had plenty of time to contemplate his departure.

"I've thought about that for the last three years straight, [that] this may be the last year here or what's going to happen if we have to move on," said Briggs, who will be a free agent after the season. "Right now, that's really out of my hands. All I can do is play football and worry about that stuff in the offseason. Every football season, I try to handle football, and then every offseason, try to handle the business side."


LB Lance Briggs
M. Spencer Green/AP Images

Briggs' business dealings with the Bears have been contentious in the past two years. He turned down a six-year, $33 million offer in the spring of 2006 and then initially balked when the Bears made him their "franchise" player last offseason, which kept him off the open market of free agency but guaranteed him a 2007 salary of $7.2 million – a 1,000 percent increase over his 2006 compensation.

That history doesn't bode well for any future agreement, but Briggs claims he's not shutting any doors.

"I can see myself in a lot of uniforms," he said of the 2008 season. "Honestly, I can see myself in a Chicago uniform. If things work out that way, which I hope they will, then I'll be back. I know that I've definitely given my heart to Chicago, and I wouldn't trade it for anything. I've had the best time. I've never been around a city that's so in tune with their team. It's been amazing. It's been a great ride." …

Only eight teams in the NFL have worse records than the Bears' 5-9 mark, yet Chicago still managed to place four players in the Pro Bowl.

Return specialist Devin Hester and coverage ace Brendon Ayanbadejo upheld the lofty reputation of Dave Toub's special teams by being honored for the second straight season. LB Lance Briggs and DT Tommie Harris both made it for the third consecutive season, even though the Bears defense is 29th in total yards allowed out of 32 teams. LB Brian Urlacher, a Pro Bowl pick in six of his first seven NFL seasons, was not selected for the first time since 2004 when he missed seven games with injuries. Urlacher leads the Bears with 138 tackles, 11 more than Briggs, and in interceptions with three and is tied for third with five sacks.

"We're 5-9, so you don't expect to get a lot of honors when you're 5-9," head coach Lovie Smith said. "So let's leave it at that."

C Olin Kreutz's string of six straight Pro Bowl-paid trips back to his home state also was snapped.

Hester is second in the NFC with a 14.3-yard punt-return average and has an NFL-best three punt-return touchdowns and a league-best five combined kick-return touchdowns.

"What would a Pro Bowl team be without him on it?" Smith said. "He's had an outstanding season, as have the rest of our players who were selected by their peers."

Ayanbadejo has a team-best 24 special teams tackles and is on pace to match last year's total of 28. He's also forced two fumbles on special teams. Harris has seven sacks, but none in the past six games.

"Four players going to the Pro Bowl, that's a positive note on our football season," Smith said. "It's hard to really get fired up about awards like that when we're 5-9, but we have to congratulate those players for being selected." …

Rookie DT Matt Toeaina was signed a week before the Vikings games but tackled Adrian Peterson for a loss twice after getting thrown into the mix with just a handful of practices. Former first-rounder Jimmy Kennedy also saw immediate action inside and added a tackle in limited reps.

"Lovie said he was going to throw me into the fire upon me arriving here," said Toeaina, who was signed off the Bengals' practice squad. "Whenever he threw me in there, I tried to make my reps count. I tried to do whatever I could to help the defense. My main priority was just to stop the run."

Toeaina, a sixth-round pick, hopes to stick around beyond this season, and he made a great first impression on Smith.

"Whenever you get two tackles for a loss as an inside player, that's good," Smith said. "I thought Jimmy Kennedy, too, both of those guys weren't here a week ago, but they came in and gave us some big plays."

QUOTE TO NOTE
"Every game I go into, you guys want to turn it into a numbers game. And every game I go into is, 'Are we going to win the game?' That's the one stat that I care about. Whatever you have to do." – Bears QB Kyle Orton

PLAYER PERSONNEL NOTES

  • WR Devin Hester has caught 13 of his 18 passes in the past six games, but they've accounted for just 90 yards – an average of 6.9 yards per catch.
  • TE Greg Olsen caught 19 passes for 217 yards (11.4-yard average) and two touchdowns in four games in the second quarter of the season. But in the six games since then, Olsen has 15 receptions for 109 yards (7.3-yard average) and no touchdowns.
  • RB Adrian Peterson has 49 receptions and needs just eight more to establish a franchise record for running backs. He had eight catches last week for 51 yards.
  • DT Tommie Harris made the Pro Bowl for the third straight season, even though none of his seven sacks have come in the last six games. He had zero tackles Monday night against the Vikings and has had two tackles or fewer in four of his last five games.
  • LB Brendon Ayanbadejo was voted to the Pro Bowl for the second straight season as a special teams player and needs four more special teams tackles to match last season's total of 28.

  • Could Cedric Benson's reign in the backfield be over?
  • Same problems on offense despite coordinator carousel
  • A look back at the Fog Bowl against Buddy Ryan's Eagles
  • Remembering legendary Hall-of-Famer George Musso
  • Getting to know rookie cornerback Corey Graham
  • All of that plus much more in the February issue of ...

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