Thursday, December 08, 2005

Bears To Play Without Quarterback On Sunday

The Chicago Bears have been the NFL’s biggest surprise this season with a 9–3 record.  The league-best defense has been so dominant, the Bears have flourished despite a nonexistent passing game.  The formula has worked so well, the team has officially abandoned any plans to throw the ball this week.  Chicago will take on the Pittsburgh Steelers this Sunday without a quarterback.


Due to a preseason injury to Rex Grossman, rookie Kyle Orton has started 11 games for the Bears this season.  Most quarterbacks, even well-regarded ones, struggle as rookies, and Orton is no exception.  He ranks dead last in the league with a quarterback rating of 60.2 – roughly equal to the average number of shots attempted by Kobe Bryant in a game.  The Bears average the fewest passing yards in the NFL with a paltry 122.1 yards per contest.


However, Chicago is fifth in the league in rushing yards per game, and the defense has allowed fewer points and total yardage than any other unit.  Therefore, Orton’s role has been to “manage the offense.”  This phrase is code for “You are NOT Peyton Manning!  Don’t try to be a hero, and as long as you don’t throw a pick-six, Brian Urlacher will let you live!”  One broadcaster noted that it is not Orton’s job to make plays.  He then used the phrase “make plays” 46 more times in accordance with NFL commentator guidelines.


Last week’s win over Green Bay showed exactly how irrelevant the quarterback position is to the Bears.  Orton completed 6 of 17 passes for 68 yards, with one interception.  Their only touchdown came on a 45–yard interception return by Nathan Vasher.  Realizing that the team’s eight-game winning streak required no contribution from the quarterback, head coach Lovie Smith decided to do away with the position this Sunday.  Instead, Vasher, who earlier this season returned a missed field goal for a record 108–yard touchdown, likely will line up as the extra man in Chicago’s backfield.


The Bears defense is on such a roll, the move figures to make little difference in the team’s game plan.  The unit has allowed just five touchdowns during the winning streak and a league-low 127 points for the season – 35 fewer than #2 Indianapolis.  As a result, the defense has drawn inevitable comparisons to the legendary 1985 Bears – absent the lousy rap video.  The one downside is that the unit is so fearsome, it has even intimidated the Chicago offense.


Sunday’s matchup in Pittsburgh will be a test.  The Steelers are desperate for a victory to boost their playoff hopes.  Also, the Bears are 1–2 versus the NFC North this season, with early losses to the Bengals and Browns.  Yes, the Browns – I’m not kidding.  Seriously, look it up if you don’t believe me.  Anyway, this time around, Chicago is a wiser team – one that knows better than to play a quarterback.