Friday, February 15, 2008

The Quarterback Quiz: Chicago Bears

Sorry about skipping last night, as I was out at my friend Matt's theater production. Seeing as I am currently unattached, there was nothing much else to do for Singles Awareness Day, and I got back too late to really want to do a quiz; I needed to half-assedly finish up some actual homework and hit the sack. But I am back in the saddle now to examine the Bears, and I have to say, it's a great tragedy that Rex Grossman may be leaving. The world is now a little less sexy. Sob. I'm sure, however, what with so many unsettled quarterback situations, the Sex Cannon will find another field on which to unleash his mighty Throwgasms if he doesn't stay at Soldier.

Chicago Bears (7-9): Kyle Orton/Brian Griese/Rex Grossman

Now that Rex's contract has expired and he is off to jizz up some other doleful joint, the job of filling his shoes (and other parts, I'm sure) is left up to third-year player Kyle Orton and veteran Brian Griese (who was briefly considered as Elway's Heir in Denver before Jake the Snake came along). However, Grossman has expressed a desire to re-sign with the team, so although he's an unrestricted free agent, he may not be gone just yet. He's been with the Bears for five years, yet in the first three of those, he started only 7 of 48 games due to a mixture of injuries and incompetence. He started all 16 games of the Bears' 2006 NFC-winning campaign, where he played the part of Eli Manning and had the same result -- minus the Super Bowl ring at the end, as the Bears got beat by the other Manning's Colts. Rex's numbers were a 54.6% completion percentage, 3,193 yards, 23 TD, 20 INT, and a 73.9 rating, which were almost exactly identical to Eli's 2007 line of a 56.1 CP, 3,336 yards, 23 TD, 20 INT, and 73.9 rating.

Playing at the University of Florida, Grossman lost the Heisman by a whisker to Nebraska's Eric Crouch in 2001, threw 77 TD passes for 9,164 yards and a 146.77 rating, was drafted 22nd overall by the Bears after his junior year, and yet he became, well, a running NFL joke. (This should serve as a cautionary tale to current star Gator QB Tim Tebow). Amusingly enough, Grossman won the Ed Block Courage Award in 2006, which is given to an athlete embodying "sportsmanship, spirituality, and professionalism" and who serves as an "ideal role model." Evidently, all the top-tier quarterbacks had busy schedules. Grossman's "Fuck It, I'm Going Deep" tagline comes from his desire to emulate his mentor Brett Favre, who also consistently likes to go for long passes, but needless to say, Grossman doesn't do this quite as well and as such struggles with shorter passes. This is a bit of a problem, as consistently airing it out leads to the picks that Grossman constantly amasses, and short, high-percentage completion schemes tend to work better than always unleashing bombs. Yet it offers amusement, so why stop him? Shhh.

A various assortment of injuries and lackluster play derailed Grossman's promising career, however, and in 2007, he started with a 45.2 rating and 10 turnovers through the first three games. Lovie Smith gave him the boot and installed Griese instead, but Griese promptly got injured in November and gave Grossman the job back. Yet, continuing this entertaining roulette, Grossman got injured as well, Griese replaced him, and then they both yielded in favor of backup Kyle Orton. As you can imagine, a number of Bears-affiliated personnel have expressed their desire to get the passing game stabilized, and since none of their options immediately inspire much confidence, the Bears may be very well be looking to target a quarterback at some point during the upcoming draft.

If Grossman leaves, they'll be left with Griese and Orton, and it's very unlikely that they'll be able to compete over the course of a season with those two seeing the majority of playing time. Their hated rival, the Packers, will be the power in the division again if Favre comes back and will still be formidable with Rodgers, the Lions will be the Lions, and the Vikings will offer a stiff challenge, so the Bears don't have the luxury of sitting pat. They finished last in the North, 7-9 (they lost both head-to-head matchups against the Lions) a year after their NFC-championship 13-3 season. Their 15th-ranked passing game (210.1) wasn't as much the problem as was their 30th-ranked running game (83.1) but either way, they still want to make a choice, stick with it, and ideally have the same guy back there for all 16 games. They can't count on Devin Hester running back every single damn kickoff for a touchdown, as much as that seems to happen (or maybe it's just because it is Bad Memories for a Broncos fan).

Griese, who made it to the 2000 Pro Bowl as a member of those same Broncos, has also seen time with the Dolphins and the Buccaneers (interestingly, his successor as Michigan's starting quarterback was none other than a fellow named Tom Brady). He signed a five-year contract with the Bears in 2006, and has put up ratings of 62 (6 games, 0 starts) and 75.6 (7 games, 6 starts) in his two years thus far. This year, the 75.6 was supplemented with 10 TD, 12 INT, 1,803 yards, and a 61.5 completion rate. Griese has his moments, and has shown he is capable of starting a whole season, but that is already several years behind him. He, like Grossman, is prone to interceptions, and he has below-average arm strength as well. Still, due to his experience and contract situation, he'll certainly be in the mix for the starting job next year.

Kyle Orton is a 25-year-old backup who was drafted by the team in 2005 after an impressive collegiate career at Purdue. He started four consecutive bowl games (Sun, Sun, Capital One, Sun) tied ex-Boilermaker (and current Saints starter) Drew Brees' record of 522 passing yards in a game, and was rated as the third All-American quarterback behind Matt Leinart (now with the Cardinals) and Jason White (now out of football). In 2004, Orton started the team out 5-0 with 18 TD and no interceptions, but was injured and missed the rest of the season. He was nonetheless taken by the Bears next year, and got immediately into it, which is rare for a just-out-of-college prospect, but ol' Rex was injured again and Orton started 15 games as a rookie. But he didn't precisely impress -- finishing just 51.6 percent of his passes with 9 TD, 13 INT, and a 59.7 rating must have made the Windy City faithful want Grossman back, which is hard to do. However, the Bears coaching staff asked the rookie to let his defense and his rushing take most of the grunt work instead of trying to establish an aggressive passing game, and they won 10 of those 15 games, so it could be counted a success anyway.

With Griese's signing to be the second-stringer and Grossman's return, Orton failed to see a snap throughout the 2006 season. His start on December 17, 2007, was his first in almost two years, was serviceable from a personal standpoint (22/38, 184, 0/1, 59.5) but not as good for the team, as they were dropped 20-13 by the Vikings. But he redeemed himself the next week by leading a 35-7 massacre of the archrival Packers at Soldier Field -- completing 9 of 15 passes for 1 TD, no INT, and a 103.2 game rating, in arctic conditions that Brett Favre (unsuccessfully) tried to blame for his own poor performance. (Um, Brett? You play in Lambeau. Yes, thank you). The Bears closed out their season with a Week 17 win over the Saints, 33-25, in which Orton finished only 12 of 27 passes but also came up with a pair of touchdowns, one interception, and a 77.7 rating, which left his overall 2007 tallies at 3 TD, 2 INT, 478 yards, and a 73.9 rating in three starts.

As they look to get back to contender status next year, the Bears will have to take all of this into account. They have Hester, who excels at returning kicks but still can use some work on being a full-time wide receiver, as he's prone to dropping passes. They also, ironically, have a running back named Adrian Peterson, but he's not as good as the Vikings model, finishing with 151 carries, 510 yards and 3 TDs against Purple Jesus' 238 carries, 1,341 yards, and 12 TDs. The Packers are good, the Vikings are tough, the Lions are bad, and the Bears are going to have to figure out where they fit in, either by making a commitment to one of the guys named above and seeing if he can be trusted to get them through a whole season, or by shooting their fortunes with the talented quarterback class available this year. They need help across the board on the other side of the ball, with a 27th-ranked pass defense and 24th-ranked run defense, but don't be surprised if Chicago goes quarterback-hunting either.

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