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SportsMonday: Bears Now Hogs

On the first play in the red zone at the end of the first drive of the day Sunday, the entire Bear offensive line broke to the right as quarterback Todd Collins turned to make the handoff. Except Collins held onto the ball and then made his best pass/pitch of the day to Matt Forte as he sprinted back against the grain toward the left side. Forte was far too speedy for the defensive end who was responsible for containing him and soon he was busting through to the end zone.

Shortly thereafter, Forte again broke into the open, this time thanks to a crisp cutback and an awesome block from tight end Brandon Manumaleuna. There was no catching him on his way to the 68-yard touchdown that put the Bears in command for the rest of the day. Thanks to a very stingy defense and a banged-up and struggling Panther offense, the Bears' foes would never again pull closer than 11 points on the way to a 23-6 decision. Now let's talk about that awesome first touchdown a bit more.

The Bears almost never employ misdirection in the running game these days, and they haven't for a long time. It is clear that the trap plays (ones in which linemen feint in one direction, causing defenders to move that way and set themselves up to be sealed off as running backs cut back behind their blockers) and their relatives that work great against college and high school defenses don't get the job done against NFL linemen and linebackers who are too quick and too powerful.

And really, no one in the NFL has successfully committed to misdirection power football as a primary offensive scheme over a long run since Joe Gibbs' great Redskins teams in the 80s and 90s that were led by the offensive line known as, yep, it's coming back to you now, the Hogs.

Those teams' signature was often the classic Counter Trey. That was the play that started with a surge to one side by everyone but the center, guard and tackle on that side. The quarterback hesitated, turned and then handed the ball to the back who was heading back against the grain toward the other side with those three powerful blockers in front of him.

The play was almost as important to the Redskins as the power sweep was the Lombardi's Packers. But since then it has become obsolete.

Surely there is still a place for this sort of trickery, isn't there, at least slightly more frequently than once every couple years? Perhaps the Bears could even put Forte and Chester Taylor in the same backfield . . . sending one in one direction and the other in the other? Get on it, Mike Martz.

Big Mo! The Bears' initial momentum -and my goodness the first 10 minutes of this game were about as good as football gets for Bears fans - officially ended with the very irritating series of events that took the 10-yard score away from Chester Taylor shortly after Devin Hester's awesome 50-yard punt return. And didn't Hester look dangerous all day Sunday? But for a series of great kicks by Carolina punter Jason Baker, kicks that went directly out of bounds but didn't do so until they had covered a respectable distance, I'll bet Hester would have posted at least one more huge return.

Despite two officials signaling touchdown (thank you play-by-play man Sam Rosen for that observation) at the end of Taylor's run, referee Mike Carey rushed in and convinced everyone Taylor's knee was down before the ball broke the plane of the goal line.

That meant that when the inevitable video review was requested, in order to change the call officials had to find irrefutable evidence that the ball had broken the plane rather than vice versa. Then Carey added one final twist by mis-spotting the ball after the review. No way the football should have been more than a foot away from the goal line but instead it was almost a full yard back. And if we know anything around here this year it is that in short yardage situations, every inch counts.

Back to the return game: Let's all get on board for the foreseeable future with Danieal Manning handling kickoff returns and Hester focusing on punts, okay? Many have questioned not putting Hester back there for kickoffs as well but Manning achieves top speed in a hurry and is dangerous every time he touches the ball. After the offense effectively took advantage of Manning's big return, Forte's big run and tacked on a field goal after Julius Peppers' ridiculous interception, the Bears were in position to essentially put the game away after Hester's slick little sideline return, even if Taylor's touchdown was taken away.

Crappy Collins: But then Collins went to work, seemingly doing his determined best to bring the Panthers back. I've been pondering it for a while and I think I've come up with the best word for the quarterback's performance on Sunday: execrable. Synonyms for that term, as listed by my word processing program's dictionary, include "terrible, appalling, disgusting, repulsive, deplorable" and I think that just about covers it.

Three of Collins' four interceptions were absolutely inexcusable. The first one, my gosh, how could he throw that pass . . . right to a defensive lineman . . . with the Bears in position to take a comfortable 17-point lead if they kicked the field goal that would have followed a third-down incompletion?

So perhaps we could have forgiven one terrible mistake. But the second pick happened when Collins' wounded duck pass flew way over the intended receiver into the hands of a waiting defensive back. What made that pick special is that Collins had thrown virtually the exact same pass, another wobbling monstrosity that was way off the mark, for an incompletion the play before. Any observer would have pointed out that the last thing Collins should have been doing at that point was heaving up another pathetic attempt.

Collins' third pick was a tipped ball and it capped off a play in which the offensive line allowed significant pressure. In other words, it was far from all his fault. Oh by the way on all three of those picks, Bear offensive players turned around and made real good tackles, stopping what could have been a series of big returns before they could start.

And finally, Collins heaved one last no-hope flutterball deep down the field. I'm confident the Panther defensive back who picked it off has never had an interception nestle so softly into his hands. I've got another synonym: atrocious.

The killer is that the Bears sacrificed Dan LeFevour for this stiff. And no, Mr. LeFevour, the local guy who excelled at quarterback at Benet Academy and Central Michigan before the Bears made him a sixth-round pick earlier this year, is not available for re-signing. The Cincinnati Bengals snapped him up after the Bears cut him at the end of the preseason to make room for Collins. Argh.

In the end, though, the Bear defense not only wouldn't let Carolina back into the game, they wouldn't even let them make it close. Panther quarterback Jimmy Clausen struggled, especially on that brutally underthrown bomb that should have been an easy touchdown and on those out-pattern passes late, but mostly the defense dominated.

Israel Idonije, come on down! Early indications are that you are the guy best prepared to take advantage of the fact that just a decent rush opposite Peppers will almost certainly result in sack opportunities all season long. Otherwise there were almost too many great plays to count. The Panthers never did get anything significant going offensively.

They should have tried the Counter Trey.


Jim Coffman brings you SportsMonday every week in this space. He welcomes your comments.

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