Saturday, December 10, 2005

Bears - Steelers Week 14 Preview

Who was the better rookie: Orton or Big Ben?
Kyle Orton: 9-3 as a starter this year (pictured left)

I think my writing colleagues and I are in full agreement that the Bears are going to kick the shit out of the Steelers in week 14. Yet for those of you of little faith, I will happily back up my prediction. The Steelers are reeling of late as they are coming into the game with a three game losing streak. The Steelers' defense has been raked like the back side of Tara Reid in the last three weeks (26.7 points per game against last three weeks v. 18.8 on the year), and their running game has significantly stalled (123.6 on the year v. 86.0 per game over last three weeks). Considering that two of those three games have marked the long-awaited return of Ben Roethlisberger, the Steelers are forced to question their effectiveness of late. After dominating the regular season in 2004 with a 15-1 record, they are currently one game out of the 6th seed in the AFC playoff picture with a 7-5 record. No team has ever won 15 games and then missed out on the playoffs the following season. A loss here would really leave the Steelers' playoff hopes in trouble. Is it possible that NFL teams are starting to figure this Pittsburgh Steeler team out a little bit? Their recipe for a strong running game and defensive play hasn't been successful of late. Teams are trying to force them to rely on the pass, and that is not how Head Coach Bill Cowher wants to win games. Last week, Big Ben was forced into three interceptions.

Big Ben: 13-0 as a rookie in 2004 (pictured left)

If you're a Steelers fan, this is the wrong time for the Chicago Bears to come into Heinz Field, as they will be facing the second hottest team in the NFL (eight game win streak). Sure, the Bears will be without starting safety Mike Brown and starting right guard Metcalf in tomorrow's game, leaving the Bears with only two of their starting defensive backs. Yet they should have more than enough weapons to compensate. The Steelers are a conservative run-first offensive team, and that should play right into the Bears hands. Offensive teams like the Colts and Chargers, who are effective at mixing up the run and pass, figure to be more troublesome to a defense like the Bears. Offensively, the Bears only have scored two touchdowns in the last three weeks. Yet that hasn't prevented them from winning. Quarterback Kyle Orton is in a bit of a slump (even for his standards), producing only 405 yards, 2 passing touchdowns, and 4 interceptions in the last four games. Considering that those two touchdown drives comprised a total of nine yards, the Bears have clearly relied on their defense to win games. Against the elite teams like the Steelers, Seahawks, and Colts, a strong defense with little to no help from the offense (68 passing yards and 1 pick versus Green Bay) may not be enough to win games. That is why Bears' coaches may soon be forced to look elsewhere at the quarterback position.

The Bears are probably one of the first teams ever in NFL history to have a quarterback controversy while on an eight-game win streak. Even though Kyle Orton is firmly entrenched as the starter heading into week 14, and without any indication of subbing Orton by the coaching staff, a controversy is definitely brewing in Chicago. The player that the Bears have been building the offense around in the last three years, Rex Grossman, is back from an anke injury that he suffered in this year's first pre-season game. Grossman was elevated from third-string to backup this week, and he is fully ready to play. Coaches question his durability, but that is seemingly insignificant at this point. The real question is whether the coaches are willing to unsettle the success and chemistry that has slowly developed with Orton under center. Yet it may be worth the gamble if the coaches are certain that Grossman gives the Bears a better chance of going to the Super Bowl.

The numbers are very similar between the two quarterbacks. Although Grossman is a third year player, he has actually played fewer games than Orton. In six games as a starter, Grossman has produced a 3-3 record, a 71.1 rating, 3 touchdowns, and 4 interceptions. Compare that to Orton who has a 60.2 rating, 9 touchdowns, 13 interceptions, 11 fumbles, and a 9-3 record in 12 games as the the starter. Although Orton has been carried by a better defensive effort, he has done what has been asked by him by not making the big mistake. In my opinion, if one looks beyond the statistics, it is readily apparent that Grossman is the better player. His poise and maneuverability in the pocket is very good, he has a very strong arm, and he came out of a very successful Florida program. As the Bears' first round pick, he has all the credentials to be a all-pro player in the NFL. Both Orton and Grossman are praised for their leadership skills, but Grossman shows more comfort in the pocket and more ability to get the ball down the field. Orton is more of a manager of the offense, whereas Grossman has the characteristics of a gun-slinger.

For those who think that the Bears are one-dimensional, I say look at the 2000 Super Bowl Champion Baltimore Ravens. While both defenses are dominant, the 2005 Bears are only a Trent Dilfer from being a Super Bowl team (but that may be saying a lot). Trent Dilfer was a very reliable player for that team. In eight games as a starter and 11 games total, he produced a 76.6 rating, 12 touchdowns, and 11 picks. His 2000 rating is not far superior to Orton's or Grossman's career ratings, but Dilfer was very reliable in the playoffs with 153 yards and a touchdown in Super Bowl 35. If you ignore the passing game for the moment, the 2005 Bears' running game is 6th in rushing yards (compared to 5th for the 2000 Ravens). With above-average starters at the running back and wide receiver positions, only Orton keeps the Bears from being considered a Super Bowl team. If Orton or Grossman can average 200 yards and two touchdowns a game, there is no doubt that this team can get to the Super Bowl this year. The 2000 Ravens were ranked 23rd in passing yards, whereas the Bears are currently ranked 32nd.

The 2000 Ravens were dominant in the playoffs. They beat Denver 21-3, Tennessee 24-10, Oakland 16-3, and New York 34-7 in the Super Bowl. Compare that to the 1985 Bears who only had to play three games. They shut-out the Giants 21-0, they shut-out the LA Rams 24-0, and they dominated the Patriots 46-10 in Super Bowl XX. That was one of the most dominating games that I have seen at any level of play. The Bears' defense mauled the opposing offensive line and suffocated the passing game. As soon as the Patriots' quarterback dropped back, he was instantaneously under intense pressure. Also, consider the 1985 Bears three game stretch in weeks 10 through 12. They beat the Lions 24-3, then went to Dallas and won 44-0, and came back home to beat Atlanta 36-0. Clearly, this 2004 defense which is only allowing 10.6 points a game compared to 10.3 for the 2000 Ravens defense is on par with those two teams. The Bears have only allowed 127 points with 4 games to go. The record low was set by the 2000 Ravens with 165 points. Therefore, the Bears can only give up 9.5 points a game if they wish to break that record. Considering that they only allow 10.6, it is within reach. Also, consider that the Bears have only allowed 11 touchdowns in 12 games, which is an average of .92 a game. Obviously this 2005 Bears' defense is one of the best of all time. However, can the offense do just enough to take us the distance?

The Bears are averaging 16.8 points per game on offense. The 2000 Ravens averaged 20.8 points per game. The 1985 Bears on the other hand had a more than reliable offense finishing 6th in total offensive yards including being 1st in rushing yards in the NFL. Considering that Jim McMahon only threw for 15 touchdowns and 11 picks, Orton's numbers of 9 touchdowns and 13 picks don't look so miserable.

The Bears' 8 game win streak is the best since winning 12 games in a row in 1985. Is this a team of destiny? Can they win it all on the 20th Anniversary of Super Bowl 20? I'm not so sure...but I know that Pittsburgh is nothing more than a small bump in the road.


Blogger Michael said...

this tells you all you need to know about the bears.

2:18 PM  
Blogger Cory said...

Was that supposed to be the defense everyone is talking about? Once again, the second city has a second-rate team.

7:09 PM  
Blogger Greg said...

Yeah, you boys were kind of exposed. Also, is it possible that the Favre apologist "Justin" was Levandoski?

10:08 PM  
Blogger Greg said...

Yeah, you boys were kind of exposed. Also, is it possible that the Favre apologist "Justin" was Levandoski?

10:08 PM  
Blogger Michael said...

how would dowski know about the site?

who would've thought we could touch on grabowski and dowski in the same post?

3:12 AM  
Blogger Cory said...

It definitely was Dowski.

8:17 AM  

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