Mike Tice did an interview with the folks at ESPN 1000 radio, the afternoon saloon show and spoke at length regarding the offensive line as well as the running game the Bears plan to implement in Mike Martz's offense. Two specific questions that I'll cover in depth in this blog do a lot to define what the 2010 Chicago Bears' running game will look like as compared to the old Ron Turner offense from last year.
Will there be a whole new flavor to the 2010 running attacking or will the emphasis be on some of the aspects of the running game that the Bears excelled at under Ron Turner? Mike Tice does a lot to answer these questions in this interivew and I do my best to explain what this means for the Bears and how does it fit their personnel and how does it match up against the two main threats in the division race.
Tice covered the progress of the two second year offensive guards on the Bears' roster, Johan Asiata an undrafted free agent from UNLV in 2009 who spent the year on the practice squad and Lance Louis a seventh round draft pick who looked good in training camp and solid in the pre-season games and earned a spot on the active 53-man roster.
The interview can be heard in this podcast, but you have to grab the little shuttle button at the bottom of the player and slide it forward to the 13 minute 19 seconds mark for the start of the interview with Mike Tice.
The question that caught my attention the most was the type of running scheme/plays that Tice plans to implement into the Mike Martz offense. The person that asks the specific question is John Jurkovic who is a former defensive tackle for the Green Bay Packers as well as the Jacksonville Jaguars and Cleveland Browns. Jurkovic knows his football and knows what questions to ask a coach like Tice so his question commands respect from Tice who knows Jurko from his playing days etc.
Jurko asks specifically what is going to be featured (in the Bears' running game) is it going to be the G (one of the Bears' bread and butter plays under Ron Turner) the OT, the toss, zone running plays, what can we get a heavy dose of? Cause like Lovie Smith we get off the bus running, what's it going to look like this year?
"Well we're going to be able to run the football, I can promise you that, and we're going to have a number of different areas we're going to be good at and we're going to excel in. We're very athletic and we're going to try and get our guys out in space. I think we'll be really good in the draw game. I know we're going to be able to run the inside zone, in my tenure everywhere I've been we've always been able to run the inside zone. So we'll be able to run the inside zone, we'll dabble a little bit with power, but probably not as much as they ran it here last year. It wouldn't necessarily be on my priority list; on our priority list, but we'll certainly have it. I think what happens is, and Mike and Mickey and I talked about this at length. You put your plays in, and believe me we have plenty of plays, we put the plays in and we think we know what the guys are going to be good at. But until you get the back in pads and the guys in pads (the offensive linemen) and find out what the back is good at and the linemen are good at, what combination blocks they excel at, that's going to define who you are in the running game."
From there Tice goes into a story about his time in Minnesota which really isn't relevant to the Bears as much as the follow up question by Jurko:
Isn't it so important then to have that center that can help you on the combination block and get up to the second level, it almost starts there, if there's a weakness there, then you might have issues the rest of the way down the line. How important is it for either Olin (Kreutz) to get back, or for (Josh) Beekman to establish himself?
Tice's answer is different than what might have been expected:
"See I disagree with you I think the key to all good running teams are cutting off the play on the back side. I think you have to establish that you're going to cut off that back side, that pursuit on the back side (typically the weak-side linebacker). In this league it's all about speed on defense, and you gotta be able to not have those guys go over the top and make the play on the backside. I think you have to be able to CUT the defense somewhere, and each play is designed....the way we've designed our running game...each play is designed to cut the defense in TWO AREAS. That's the power of the play that the running back understands that where we're trying to cut the defense and that's where we're trying to hit the football, at least to start out with and then we go from there. And I will say this if you can't handle the nose tackle in the run game at any level, college, high school, little league, NFL you gotta be able to handle the nose tackle, and that's not always the center that could be the guard also."
Now with this information in hand you can see where the Bears are going to primarily focus their running game and it will primarily be with the isolation plays, the inside zone plays as well as the stretch zone plays. Meaning an offense more like the Denver Broncos' running game instead of the Ron Turner offense which focused more on the sweep and running the football to the outside.
Turner's offense featured a lot of sweeps, pulling guards and offensive tackles to the outside, pitch the football to the outside, toss sweeps, which are all different than the zone blocking schemes you get up front where you want to try and get the defense to over pursue or attack the wrong gap or get too many players in the wrong gap there by opening up a cut back lane for the back to hit. That cut back hole is something that Matt Forte should excel at because Forte is an excellent cut back runner and has excellent vision.
Now the question is can the Bears' offensive line do well in a isolation zone blocking scheme that forces them to be stronger in a one on one isolation battle with a defender? Do the Bears need to be strong enough to hold up at the point of attack in the isolation schemes or will there be enough flexibility to have the O-Linemen utilize their quickness and speed to stretch the defense out more.
The key in the case of an Olin Kreutz will be for him to continue to do what he does best, technique and block angles....get the nose tackle to attack the wrong gap and then to seal him off from or block him at angle away from the right gap.
From there though the question becomes can they get the nose tackle in a two-gap scheme like the Packers run to attack a gap or will they hold up too well in defending both gaps that it causes problems for Kreutz.
A point could be made that a zone blocking scheme could hurt the Bears' ability to run the ball against a team that is strongly built around a two gap scheme like the Packers because the job of a Johnny Jolly or a B.J. Raji is to simply not attack a gap but occupy more than one O-Lineman so that a LB can make the play.
A fair question is can the Bears have more success by making the big fat two gap players pursue the play further to the outside with tosses, sweeps and powers to the outside, or are they doomed to struggle by trying to attack the two gap players in a smaller area of space?
To Tice's point in his answers regarding the running game, defenses in the NFL being built on speed, that is true in most cases but in the case of the Green Bay Packers and the Minnesota Vikings their defensive linemen are built on size and strength and being fat bodies. Meaning they will excel at playing in smaller spaces and in eating up the inside-zone and isolation game. These defensive linemen constantly command double teams, so it could be a recipe for disaster if Tice attacks the Packers and the Vikings using isolation blocking schemes.
The point of the two gap scheme and big fat DTs is simple occupy as many blockers as possible so that your linebackers can make the play. That means the backside linebacker or even one of the front side inside linebackers is in position to make the play. There fore the defense can't be cut off because there offensive linemen are too busy trying to hold up the big fat bodies.
I'm sure though there will be specific game plans in which Tice will account for the two gap schemes and big fat bodies on the D-Line of the Vikings and the Packers.
However to the point of emphasis, the Bears as of right now are going to be more of an inside zone running team that is going to run e the ball inside more in between the tackles and try to get the defense to over commit so that they have more cut back lanes for Matt Forte to take advantage of.
This new running game will be different than the G-Power, Toss Sweep, Power Sweep, outside the tackle box running game that was the bread and butter of the Ron Turner running game. Turner preferred to pull a guard, pull a center, pull two guards, pull a guard and a tackle together in his running game. This isn't to say the Bears didn't run isolation and zone under Turner, they did, but Turner's preference and the Bears' emphasis was always on the outside running game.
What does this new change in direction in the running game mean for the Chicago Bears? How will this ultimately help to define their offense, or with Mike Martz in charge will this really define their offense at all and will the Bears primarily be defined by the passing game.
My guess? Expect the latter in 2010.