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SportsMonday: Breaking Bears Assumptions

So many assumptions, so little justification:

The sports commentariat assumes it is a good idea for all NFL teams to essentially take the fourth exhibition game off. Teams must avoid injuries at all costs, the thinking goes, except of course for the fact that if that were really the only concern in the preseason then no stars should play a snap. I would call it a rip-off for fans but this practice has become so widespread that anyone who is not aware of what he is getting for the price of a fourth exhibition game ticket isn't worth consumer protection.

Why on God's green gridirons is not playing the starters in the fourth pretend competitive game set in stone? What about when a team obviously needs more work, like say a certain local football franchise? Wouldn't it make far more sense for Jay Cutler and whichever Bears receivers are able to walk this week to take the field for at least a half on Thursday evening against the Browns? They could continue to work on, I don't know, maybe a half dozen plays that won't be complete disasters?

They can mix those plays in among other boilerplate calls to ensure that no one will even begin to sniff out the Bears' plans for the season-opener against Green Bay the weekend after next. Given the restrictions that coach John Fox has put on video recordings of Bears preseason practices, we know the coach is very sensitive about other teams getting a sense of the team's plans for that side of the ball. The problem at this point is that all future opponents know one critical thing about the Bears offense: it is not competent enough to present any sort of a significant schematic challenge.

Observers assume that because a defensive coordinator has employed successful taller cornerbacks in the past, that tall corners are part of his "system."

As a Bears fan, I am praying that the height of a cornerback doesn't matter to Bears defensive coordinator Vic Fangio. What matters is whether a cornerback can cover someone! Come on people! Tim Jennings, who is not a tall cornerback, fell down the depth chart and out of the Bears' plans in the last week. I prefer to think it is because he didn't distinguish himself as considerably better than other, cheaper Bears cornerbacks and that the Bears can get a little salary cap relief by releasing the relatively highly paid veteran.

Far more important than whether a cornerback is a couple inches taller than another cornerback is whether whatever cornerback is smart enough to put himself in good position against an opposing receiver and athletic enough to go up and make a play. Two years ago, despite his horribly deficient stature, Jennings played well enough to lead the team in interceptions. Last year he didn't play as well and the picks went away.

And finally, outsiders assume that because John Fox was a defensive coordinator before he was a head coach and because the Bears do not have a superstar quarterback, his team will make the running game the first priority. The team will do so in large part to make sure its own defense isn't overwhelmed when other teams have a huge edge in time of possession.

A couple of things: first of all, if an offense isn't competent, the other team will pile up an advantage in time of possession if the Bears go three running plays and out or if they go three passing plays and out.

Second, Fox and offensive coordinator Adam Gase know this, i.e., they will deploy a scheme that gives them a chance to put together a few first downs and get the offense rolling on early possessions in every game. In order to get the offense going and to thereby get the clock rolling, they will have to call plays that play to the Bears' strength and that acknowledge what other teams are doing defensively.

So if other teams decide to do everything they can to stop the run and have nine guys in the box, the Bears will pass the ball to set up the run. That is the way football works.

We now return you to the regularly scheduled pretend competitive football preseason. Please continue to find ways to remind yourself nothing matters until the regular season opener.


Jim "Coach" Coffman is our man on Mondays. He welcomes your comments.

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