Playing time figures add up to trouble
Bears have too many players on field too much or too little
Falcons QB Matt Ryan is sandwiched by Israel Idonije and Julius Peppers in the 2nd quarter. (JosÃ© M. Osorio, Chicago Tribune / September 11, 2011)
By Brad Biggs, Chicago Tribune reporter 3:48 p.m. CST, February 11, 2012
In the 28 regular-season games since the Bears released Mark Anderson, the third defensive end on the roster has produced two sacks. (This should be important to those who don't believe another pass rushing DE is a huge need )
Corey Wootton ended Brett Favre's career prematurely in 2010 with a crushing sack at TCF Bank Stadium on the campus of the University of Minnesota and journeyman Chauncey Davis, signed Nov. 14, got Tim Tebow for one Dec. 11 in Denver.
Davis played more than any of the other third ends last season with 104 snaps. Mario Addison and Nick Reed, who began 2011 on the roster, were both gone before Week 12. Production was minimal, at best, and it added up to another heavy workload for starters Israel Idonije and Julius Peppers. (This is what I've been trying to point out. These two are getting worn out by seasons end so what will they be like if they have to play 3 or 4 more games? The Giants have four great pass rushers so that doesn't happen. We have one and a half. Help is needed. We're far from being set at this position and spending a #1 pick here is every bit as important or more than spending it on a WR or OT. Defense still wins championships)
Idonije led Bears defensive linemen in playing 84.6 percent of the time and Peppers was just behind him at 82.1 percent. According to NFL-generated playing time statistics the Tribune acquired, only two other teams in the league had a pair of starting ends play more than 82 percent of the time the Vikings' Jared Allen (94.3) and Brian Robison (84.4) and the 49ers' Justin Smith (91.1) and Ray McDonald (83.5). Allen led the NFL with 22 sacks and Smith had 71/2 in what might have been the best of his 11 seasons as a two-way end.
The playing time statistics only highlight the Bears' continuing need to find help at defensive end even if Idonije, 31, is re-signed as an unrestricted free agent. In 2010, Peppers led Bears linemen at 87.9 percent and Idonije was at 80.2 percent. Peppers' career-high was 94 percent for the Panthers in 2008.
But he turned 32 last month and if the Giants reinforced anything in winning Super Bowl XLVI it's that you can't have too many linemen with the ability to get after the quarterback. Right now, the Bears have Peppers and Henry Melton, a developing under tackle. Idonije never has been viewed as a pass rusher. (I rest my case)
Statistics show that weak-side linebacker Lance Briggs was accurate in calling himself and middle linebacker Brian Urlacher "vintage" when each was named to the Pro Bowl. Briggs was on the field for all 1,081 defensive snaps and Urlacher missed only 14.
The question isn't so much about age. It's rather: How long can they continue to perform at an elite level? (Somtimes I think we run the risk of wearing guys out before age catches up with them. So far these two are elite but like Biggs says, for how much longer?)
Cornerback Charles Tillman, who turns 31 this month, reached the Pro Bowl for the first time in his career. He missed 11 defensive snaps over the course of the season and was on the field for 152 special teams plays, the 12th-highest total on the roster. (Lotta plays or a guy who has to maintain both speed and stamina)
No one is suggesting these players are at the end of their careers, but all are on the back side and concern is natural. When one starts to slip will the others follow quickly?
"I've heard rumblings there is age on our roster," new general manager Phil Emery said at his introductory news conference. "(But) it's not a numerical number. It's whether you are making plays. If it was just a numerical number and number of gray hairs, I wouldn't be standing here."
Turnover in the secondary, where the Bears used eight starting safety combinations, was apparent. Rookie Chris Conte led playing time at safety at 54.9 percent followed by Major Wright at 53.8. Brandon Meriweather earned $3.25 million to play 37.6 percent of the time and veteran Craig Steltz was at 37. Coach Lovie Smith has struggled finding safeties who can remain on the field and that storyline continues into 2012. (Lovie is addicted to picking up Safeties. Even bad ones as Archuleta and Meriweather have proven. Someone needs to take those picks away from him. He misses too often)
The turnover behind running back Matt Forte didn't do anything to ease his workload. Marion Barber replaced Chester Taylor but Forte was near 75 percent of offensive plays when he suffered his season-ending knee injury and missed the final four games. He played 70.2 percent of the snaps in 2010. It's clear Forte isn't going anywhere, but will restricted free agent Kahlil Bell return as his primary backup? (I've made the point before that Forte is a high mileage back and that will play a part in his negotiations and Bell has earned the right to come to camp as his #2 man IMHO)
The biggest indictment offensively when reviewing playing time statistics is pretty clear Roy Williams led wide receivers in snaps with 600. That was 79 more than Johnny Knox, who missed the final two games on injured reserve. Undrafted rookie Dane Sanzenbacher managed 379 snaps and Sam Hurd had 201 before his Dec. 16 release. (This is about as indicative of Martz's stupidity as anything when your worst WR gets 79 more snaps than the guy who leads the team in yardage and is 2nd in the NFL in ypc. Damn I'm glad he's gone and RWill should follow just as soon as we pickup a decent WR in FA)
Surely, Emery didn't have to make it through tape of all 16 games to see the Bears must address the situation at wide receiver and seek a defensive end who can stick around more than a couple of months. (There you go. Getting one each in FA and the draft is a virtual must. Biggs is the second Bear columnist that rates the need for a DE at least equal or greater than a WR)
All he needs to do is look at the numbers.