Chicago's offense can play a bit, too
[size=13pt]Chicago's offense can play a bit, too[/size]
Bears coach Lovie Smith has made his reputation with tough defenses. But the team's 2-0 start shows he's no slouch on offense.
Mark Craig, Star Tribune
Last update: September 20, 2006 â€“ 10:51 PM
Bears coach Lovie Smith made a case that he's still the NFC North's leading defensive guru when he designed and called quarterback Rex Grossman's game-breaking, 41-yard touchdown pass to Bernard Berrian in Chicago's 34-7 victory over the Lions at Soldier Field on Sunday.
"He knows the weaknesses of some of the defenses that are very similar to ours," said Grossman, referring to the Tampa-2 scheme that was installed by the Lions and Vikings this offseason. "That was the first time he's done that, and he's 1-for-1 with a touchdown, so that was fun to see him get involved with the offense."
Watching film of the Lions' season-opening loss to Seattle, Smith noticed that Detroit's back-side safety had a tendency to step toward the line of scrimmage whenever Seahawks quarterback Matt Hasselbeck executed a play-fake to the running back. Smith put the deep pass in the game plan Thursday, and the Bears practiced it for the first time Friday.
"If the back-side safety jumped up, I was going over the top," Berrian said. "He jumped up, and I ran past him. Six points."
When is the last time a Bears receiver was able to say that? Then again, this isn't a typical Bears team that will play the Vikings at the Metrodome on Sunday.
The defense is still stout, ranking tied for second in points given up (seven). But it's the offense, which is seventh overall (372.0 yards per game) and third in scoring (30.0 points per game), that has some believing the Bears finally have the kind of balance that could result in Chicago's first Super Bowl title since the 1985 Bears dominated the league.
Grossman is the league's No. 1-rated passer (128.7). He's completing 71.7 percent of his passes while his yards per attempt (10.4) leads the NFL by nearly 1Â½ yards.
"Rex is playing great and spreading the ball around so that teams can't focus on any one single guy right now," Berrian said. "It's a tremendous confidence-builder for the team because we no longer have to worry that the defense has to carry the offense."
Berrian is third in the league in yards per catch (23.0). No. 1 receiver Muhsin Muhammad had his first 100-yard game as a Bear two weeks ago. And pass-catching tight ends are back in vogue in the Windy City for the first time since Mike Ditka was wearing cleats.
Smith stays focused
Smith said he likes his team this year but was quick to downplay a 2-0 start that saw them beat Green Bay and Detroit by a combined score of 60-7.
"We haven't done anything this year," Smith said. "For me to say we've done anything more than win two games where we were the favorites, I can't."
Smith also brushed aside his role in spotting a weakness in the Lions defense, perhaps out of respect for Lions rookie coach Rod Marinelli, a close friend from their days on Tony Dungy's Tampa Bay staff.
"I'm normally not on the offensive side of the ball," Smith said. "I just try to give some support, and that's all I did the other day."
The Vikings don't sound concerned that Smith probably has spent this week looking for a weakness in their version of the Tampa-2. One could argue the Vikings are doing the same with defensive coordinator Mike Tomlin, but the Bears have been in this system since 2004.
"If you execute it properly, it doesn't matter if they know what's going on," Vikings safety Darren Sharper said. "But the pressure is on us this week to execute, because they do know what we're doing."
Options in passing game
The Bears' 17th-ranked running game has been mostly effective this season, but the passing game has been outstanding. Berrian also caught a 49-yard touchdown pass against the Packers. And last week, tight ends John Gilmore and Desmond Clark combined for seven catches for 93 yards and three touchdowns.
"You could say the tight ends are helping the receivers or the receivers are helping the tight ends," Smith said. "But we're still a running football team, and it all starts with that."
Unless, of course, Lovie spots a weakness in the Tampa-2 again this week. Then the speedy Berrian could torch a division opponent for the third consecutive week.
"Is the word out on me?" asked Berrian, repeating the question. "I hope not. I'm hoping it stays a secret for the whole season, to be honest."
Sharper, a three-time Pro Bowl player and 10-year veteran, didn't sound worried.
"You ever see me get beat from behind?" he said. "We'll be OK."
TOP BEARS RECEIVERS
Player Rec. Yds. Avg. TD
Desmond Clark (TE) 10 162 16.2 1
Muhsin Muhammad (WR) 10 161 16.1 0
Bernard Berrian (WR) 6 138 23.0 2
Jason McKie (FB) 6 41 6.8 0
Mark Craig â€¢ [email protected]
Re: Chicago's offense can play a bit, too
"He knows the weaknesses of some of the defenses that are very similar to ours," said Grossman, referring to the Tampa-2 scheme that was installed by the Lions and Vikings this offseason.
So does Tomlin.