Can Mike Tice bring some familiar magic to the Bears offense?
The Chicago Bears and former offensive coordinator Mike Martz departed ways at the end of the 2011 regular season and in 2012 Mike Tice will take over the reins. Can he recapture the offensive magic from his Minnesota days?
Say what you will about the somewhat troubled tenure of Mike Tice as the Vikings‘ head coach, but he and offensive coordinator Scott Linehan had a three-year run of offensive dominance. In 2002, the Vikings led the NFL in rushing, and by 2003, they led the league in total offense. They stayed equally hot in 2004, riding their fourth-ranked offense into the playoffs and then embarrassing Brett Favre in the Wild Card to the tune of 31-17. While we don’t have Favre to kick around any more, nothing would please Bears fans more than Mike Tice once again taking it to Green Bay. Flip below the fold to see the strange similarities between the Vikings of yore with the Bears of today. Trust me, you don’t want to miss this cruise ship!
Tice’s recipe for offensive success was simple. Take advantage of his quarterback’s strong-arm and mobility by moving him out of the pocket, forcing the defense to either commit to him as a runner or stay in coverage and give up easy running yards. Feed your top-notch wide receiver with touchdown after touchdown, and take advantage of your other receiving threats if the defense puts him in double coverage. Use a three-man rotation at running back to keep players healthy and defenses guessing. Use your tight ends to block, sure, but also use them to take advantage of the soft spots that develop in defenses keyed in to stopping the rest of your weapons. Next week, I’m going to break down the Vikings @ Packers 2004 playoff game to look more specifically at play calls, but let’s see how the Bears compare with Tice’s best offensive weapons.
Quarterback – Jay Cutler as Daunte Culpepper
Strange as it may seem at first glance, these two QBs actually have quite a bit in common. Both can throw on the move, are willing to take risks downfield, and have a bit of a turnover problem. Jay’s not going to suddenly double his rushing attempts to Culpepper-like levels, but Tice will certainly take full advantage of Cutler’s mobility using shotgun snaps and designed roll-outs. With the addition of a real wide receiver, Cutler can easily match the offensive production of Culpepper. Speaking of wide receivers…
No. 1 Wide Receiver – Brandon Marshall as Randy Moss
Jay can’t be Daunte without someone to play the role of Randy Moss, and Marshall’s got that part covered. Both are 6’4″ wide receivers with elite speed who command respect whenever they take the field. And the Moss-Culpepper connection averaged only a few more yards a game than Cutler and Marshall did together in Denver. Both receivers also have somewhat sordid personal histories and get upset if they don’t get the ball, but just as a Tice and Culpepper found in Minnesota, the easiest way to keep your diva happy is to keep them in the game. With both his best friend Cutler and his new best friend Devin Hester keeping an eye on him, Marshall shouldn’t run into trouble off the field, and with Cutler throwing him the ball again, he should cause plenty of trouble on the field.
No. 2 Wide Receiver – Devin Hester and Nate Burleson
Nobody can compare to Hester when it comes to the return game, but he and Burleson match up pretty well as receivers: shorter speedsters who can take advantage of single coverage they get when coverages are rotated over their team’s No. 1. Can Hester and Marshall combine for close to 2000 yards between the two of them they way Burleson and Moss did in 2003 and 2004? Hester and Marshall say so, and Mike Tice knows how to draw it up to make it happen.
Running Back – Matt Forte as Moe Williams
While Moe Williams was never the guy the way Matt Forte is, the two play with a very similar style. Neither are power backs, but instead rely on their blockers to open a lane and then hit it hard. When defenses loaded the box to stop Williams, Tice would send him out on receiving routes: the goal was always to get the ball in your playmaker’s hands, not to “get off the bus running.” And, if you line up the two statistically, the similarities are pretty strong: both average 4.2 yards a carry and about 9 yards a reception. Forte can obviously outdo what Williams did in terms of sheer production, but Tice knows just what to do with a player that has Forte’s rare skill set.
Tight End – Kellen Davis as Jermaine Wiggins
I know I’m not the first person to hope that Davis can do what Wiggins did in 2004. A career journeyman going on his fifth season – just like Davis – something clicked for Wiggins in ’04. He doubled his career statistics in a single season, reeling in 71 receptions for 705 yards and four touchdowns. Davis is a far more impressive physical specimen – his 6’6″ frame towers over Wiggins’ 6’2″ – but Davis has the same chance to step up his game this year and post career-best numbers. When the linebackers have to decide whether they are staying home to watch the quarterback in case of a bootleg or sneak, playing zone coverage to defend the No. 2, watching for the running back to sneak out of the backfield, or covering the tight end man-to-man, Davis will have his chances.
Every coach has a system, and that system always works best with “his” guys in place. It’s why the Bears have been desperately trying to find the next Mike Brown at safety – the last time we had a player of his caliber in the defensive backfield, Lovie Smith found himself coaching in the Super Bowl. While Tice was never able to get the cursed Vikings to the big game, his teams posted beastly numbers on offense when his pieces were in place. As I see it, Tice is stepping into a perfect position to succeed: the Bears have all the right players for Tice to capture lightning – and beat the Packers – yet again.