"We get off the bus running the ball." -Lovie Smith, following virtually every Bears game over the past five years.
While the Bears have been a run-first team for pretty much the duration of their existence, they haven't really had steady enough quarterback play to break from their traditional offensive style. That is hopefully no longer the case after the acquisition of Jay Cutler.
And while the idea of a quarterback in the Bears system slinging the ball around the field with great success seems foreign, it shouldn't, as the franchise was just removed from an, albeit brief, stint with one just a few seasons ago.
When Rex Grossman opened the 2006 season on a roll, he did so with the aid of speedy, but unproven wideout Bernard Berrian. The combination of each players strength; Grossman's arm, and Berrian's speed, made them an exciting combo to watch.
Through the first five games of the season, the duo proved to be an electric tandem, connecting 19 times for 413 yards (a massive 21.7 YPC) and four TD's.
People seem to forget how exciting this offense was because, as we all know, it didn't last. Rex is now looking for work and Berrian, fed up with Chicago's QB inconsistencies, left for Minnesota where he became free to play with the always reliable lineup of Tarvaris Jackson, Sage Rosenfels and Gus Frerotte. Oh, and $42 million.
I bring this comparison up because despite what they may say, Smith and offensive coordinator Ron Turner may actually have a more pass happy streak in their offensive mindset than they would ever let on, as the aforementioned argument illustrates.
It would seem fitting if this "gunslinger" style of offense was implemented in the coming season, as many of the same components from 2006 are there. A strong armed quarterback in Cutler, and a lightning-quick, if unpolished receiver in Devin Hester. The only difference is Cutler is much more proven than Rex was.
Now I admit I have been as stinging in my criticism of Bear wideouts as anybody, but in my more optimistic moments (which are sadly few and far between), I think this offensive style could work very well.
With last year essentially being Hester's first season as an offensive player, he took more positive steps forward than I anticipated he would. And if Larry Mayer's "Chalk Talk" column on chicagobears.com is any indication, he is well on his way to even further progression this season.
Now there are different components at work that could affect this philosophy. For one, Berrian knew the position better as he was not a converted defensive back.
Also, while I hesitate to compliment Muhsin Muhammad for the constant drops and poor attitude he displayed in Chicago, he was still a helpful veteran presence the Bears don't currently have in their receiving core.
Lastly, the Bears will be entering the season with a better running game than they did in early '06. Thomas Jones wasn't in game shape because of a preseason injury, and Cedric Benson, as well all know, is and was, just a worthless human being.
There's nothing to indicate Matt Forte won't be good to go out of the gate, which means the running game should be strong.
So, with the lack of depth at receiver, and a generally solid running back, it would be silly to suggest the Bears abandon their running game.
But with a stud quarterback who won't melt down at the first sign of trouble, and a dangerous receiver whose strengths could best be utilized by said quarterbacks arm, why not use this combo to strike fear into opposing defenses?
What better way to do this than a quick strike; like say, a 49-yard TD bomb on the seasons opening drive, not unlike the Rex to Bernard play opening week 2006 at Lambeau Field? Refresh my memory, where do the Bears kick off the 2009 campaign?
Would a genuine, pass-first overhaul put an end to the "off the bus running" line? Doubtful. Lovie has seemingly become so attached to that verbal chestnut the only way to remove it from his postgame press conferences would be for him to swap personalities with Mike Martz.
Also, I don't feel the word "overhaul" is the right word as largely decreasing the role of Matt Forte would be outright foolish. But I think it would be silly to think the Bears wouldn't be open to a wide expansion of their playbook, because we have seen in the past that they are.
If Hester jumps out of he gate with a few deep scores early in the season, it makes teams more honest, thus creating more open space for Forte and the one-two Tight End punch of Greg Olsen and Desmond Clark.
I think we have seen enough of Cutler to know he isn't going to Grossman out mentally, and thus wouldn't need the playbook altered to work around his mental misfires.
If the Bears can make a habit out of finding the right way to use his massive arm with Hester's lightning quick speed and (hopefully) improved fundamentals, it could give the Bears offense a much needed aura of excitement.
They may get off the bus running, but if they can make the Cutler/Hester mash-up work, maybe they can get in the end zone through the air.
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