Solving a Crisis: Redzone Edition

I thought about calling it "My what big bodies you have" but didn't want the inuendos going crazy and missing the football points, and the scope is wider than that anyway. The Bears have had Redzone woes for years, but the question is, have we really fixed any of them?

I am going to hit this topically, and then leave plenty of room for my fellow Bears fans to come to their own conclusions.

Offensive Line Performance: Still worried here. Last year our rushing totals got great yardage but still stalled in short yardage/goal to go situations, as evidence by our 20 rushing TDs over 2 years (11 teams had 15+ last year alone) and our 32% 3rd down conversion rate (27th in the NFL). Our line might do better for a number of reasons - play calling, TE/RB help, new skill players to ease the burden...but in the end, it didn't improve much, if at all, and while they were good outside/pulling/edge blocking for the running game (2000+ yards), they didn't get it done in short or goal situations. We don't "maul" and "push" as a line. Maybe Carimi and Louis, who have the size and physicality for it, change that dynamic this year, but this is still the least certain point. In my opinion, our rushing production in short/goal situations isn't going to improve drastically this year, but the passing conversion rates in the Redzone might, more because of improved options than improved line play.

Running Back Performance: The O-Line plays into this a lot, but we have to isolate and evaluate players at some point without a ton of game film, so here is my layman glance at relevant factors. This article highlighted in the Den today highlights Michael Bush's Redzone/short yardage/Goal to Go capability. Bottom line: as the #2 back in Oakland, Bush has 15 TDs from 10-11, while our team had a total of 20 rushing TDs, with 9 from Forte. The Bears were bad at 3rd and short and 4th and short conversions last year, but is Bush better in those situations than Forte/Barber/Bell? Its hard to prove. I can find TEAM stats for converting 3rd and short/goal to go sometimes, but no luck with individual players...However, I do know Oakland used Bush more as a short yardage/goal line back the last two years, and on 414 carries he has generated 15 TDs (3.6%) and 85 First Downs (20.5%). Forte in 2010-2011 had 440 carries for 9 TDs (2.0%) and 82 first downs (18.6%). Barber in 2011 gave us 114 carries for 6 TDs (5.2%) and and 26 First Downs (22.8%). Do I think Barber is a better short yardage back than Bush? Not at all - I think their opportunities differed a lot, especially in 2011 when Bush became a starter do to injury - case study? Bush in 2010, primarily as a 2nd/short yardage back - 158 carries, 8 TDs (5%), 32 First Downs (20.2%)...and Bush did it averaging over 4 YPC. Also notable? Bush had 1 fumble in those 414 touches. No turnovers, high 1st down/TD conversion rates, great addition. I think we are better at RB in 2012 than in 2011, and that Bush will be equal to or better than Barber in the Redzone.

Receiving Option Performance: We all know the old Bears "issue" for receiving options in the redzone bordered somewhere between "height", "physicality", and pure talent. Our receivers were primarily small/speed players, which in a shortened field only helps with near-perfect routes. We didn't have a "go up and get it" receiver - has that changed? Alshon Jeffery has 17 TDs over the last two seasons in the SEC and many of his scouting reports indicate he is everything you want in the Redzone - Beats press coverage, has big size and physicality (6'3"+, 220 lbs+), has amazing leaping ability and very reliable hands. He will "go up and get it". Even if he doesn't learn the whole playbook, his opportunity to help in the Redzone could be astronomical, not to use too much hyperboyle. Marshall is all of that, except the hands (his only downside in my opinion, and he's not RW bad) and a little taller. He averages over 6 TDs a year as a starter over the last 5 years, and if you just look at Denver time that goes up to over 7 as an average. He will "Go up and get it", but surprisingly this isn't his forte - he has historically had lower Red Zone production than he has all over the rest of the field; still, he has performed better than Knox/Hester/Bennett/Roy Williams in the Redzone throughout his career. Kellen Davis was our leading Redzone threat last year and returns after putting up 5 TDs last year (the only Bears receiving option to top 5 TDs in recent years was Olsen in '09 - we now have two receivers who can do it regularly). In my opinion our big change here is size - 6'4"+ Marshall, 6'3"+ Jeffery, 6'7"+ Davis, 6'7"+ Spaeth, 6'2"+ Thomas, 6'2" Evan Rodriguez and proven TD production with Marshall and Jeffery each averaging over 6 TDs a year as starting receivers despite terrible QB situations for both at times.

Quarterback Performance: Cutler has been ripped for redzone production his whole career, going back to Denver days, and even with Marshall back, I don't know how much this is going to improve. Cutler takes risks, we all know it, and the margin for error is much smaller in the Redzone. We didn't make any changes with players here, so I think this is mostly a "wash", as even Martz didn't call 7 step dropped in the Redzone. Still, the upgrade of options and his experience SHOULD have some effect, right? Cutler could have a close to career year, and definitely a career year as a Bear this season, but I still don't know if he has the elite field vision to ever put up those 36+ TD seasons like Brady/Manning/etc...I'd love to be proven wrong, but Cutler is a play action, bootlegging passer - meaning he will always need more running game support than the master air attack guys like Brady, Manning, Brees, and even Rodgers.

So what do you think Bears fans? Is our Redzone pontency going to be noticably better this year?

P.S. if you have access to data on individual player performance in short yardage and/or Redzone situations, feel free to enhance this dialogue greatly!

<em>This FanPost was written by a Windy City Gridiron member, and does not necessarily reflect the ideas or opinions of its staff or community.</em>

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