Running Backwards?

Walter Payton ( one time the NFL was made up of times that were as good as their featured running back.  The days the Bears could dominate with Walter Payton seems to have gone backwards.  Watching the playoffs, this season has been marked by teams that are able to dominate with a passing game.  The Green Bay Packers, New England Patriots, Indianapolis Colts, and Dallas Cowboys all rely on their passing game to set up a running game.  The likes of Julius Jones and Ryan Grant don’t impose fear in opposing defenses, but when the focus is on the passing game, they are able to sieze the opportunity.

The only team left with a dominant running game is the San Diego Chargers due mostly to the ability of LaDainian Tomlinson to take over a game by himself.  Even the Seattle Seahawks with ex-NFL MVP Shaun Alexander has developed into a pass first offense and put the ball in the hands of Matt Hasselbeck when the game is on the line.  I thought the Jacksonville Jaguars would lose this weekend due to their one-trick pony running offense.  Ironically, they won because of a run play… their quarterback.  When the Steelers defense dropped back to defend the pass they left a bowling ball lane for David Gerrard to run through and burn them. 

Lovie Smith’s Season (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)So where does this leave the Bears?  With an offense that is struggling in every aspect they need to figure out in a hurry how they are going to identify themselves.  Lovie Smith talks about getting off the bus running on opponents, but the trend in the NFL is to get off the bus passing.  When you look at all of those teams they have a few things in common.  They all have quarterbacks that stand confident in the pocket and are ready to make big throws and lots of them.  They all also have runnings backs that are very opportunistic and make plays when they do get the ball.  So far the Bears are 0-2 on the list. 

Last year at this time we were all riding on the highs and lows of the Rex Grossman adventure ride through the playoffs.  He is amazing at times and frustrating at others.  It sounds like the Bears are willing to give Grossman another shot and it may be the Bears best chances of winning.  As much as Grossman is frustrating to watch, there is not much else out there.  The cries for Donovan McNabb are only pushing up his value and could require giving up massive talent to bring to Chicago.  It doesn’t help that word is coming out of Minnesota that the Vikings are going to try to put together a package to convince the Eagles to trade them McNabb.  Just as the Bears are not willing to commit too much to Briggs, it could cost the Bears too much as a team to obtain an often injuried McNabb.

The Bears best option this off season may be letting go Lance Briggs and putting the franchise tag on Bernard Berrian to save money and keep one of their top receiver threats.  Re-signing Grossman will likely include an incentive heavy deal if he can perform.  That would leave money to shore up three positions that are more important to building a winning team, running back, offensive tackle, and safety.

Say what you will about Rex Grossman but the biggest reason for the Bears lack of offense is Cedric Benson.  He shows no burst coming out of the backfield, no ability to shed tackles, and no big play ability.  He is best suited as a back up running back.  That means the Bears need to solve their problems through draft or free agency.  Depending on how the first round plays out, the Bears should try to grab one of the offensive tackles coming out this year.  It is a good looking crop and could make an immediate impact.  The second round will be open for either a running back or safety, again depending on the level of talent left on the table.  As we have seen, draft day can leave big suprises open in the second round and maybe the Bears can get lucky. 

Free Agent Michael Turner (Photo by Donald Miralle/Getty Images)I think the best option would be taking tackle and safety in the draft and signing a running back.  After watching the Chargers game I’m loving the thought of Michael Turner in a Bears jersey.  His hard running style would suit the Bears offense well and can pick up where Thomas Jones left off. 

There has been a lot of talk of bringing Pittsburgh guard Alan Faneca to Chicago.  I’m actually indifferent towards this one.  As you can tell I love lineman and they are the core of every team.  However, I also understand this is a business.  Faneca is an amazing guard and would be a big boost for the Bears, but their need is at tackle, not guard.  Roberto Garza and Ruben Brown are great veterans.  Brown had a rough year and tried to play out the season with essentially one arm due to hiding an injury.  When fully healthy he is a great lineman and leader.  He basically told the Bears he will come back and play for any offer they want to give him.  The only problem is Brown is already old and would be a short term fix as opposed to Faneca that is four years younger.  This one comes down to money.  Signing Faneca would be a great long term fixture, but signing Brown would give room to make a bigger free agent splash.  We’ll have to wait and see what the Bears decide.

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Tags: Alan Faneca Bears Draft Bears Football Bernard Berrian Cedric Benson Chicago Bears David Gerrard Donovan McNabb Julius Jones LaDainian Tomlinson Lance Briggs Lovie Smith Matt Hasselbeck Michael Turner Rex Grossman Roberto Garza Ruben Brown Ryan Grant Shaun Alexander Walter Payton

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