The Chicago Bears Offense 1979-2007
Through the first four games of the 2007 season, the Chicago
Bears offense has been abysmal. As of this writing, the Bears rank 30th
overall, 27th in rushing and 32nd in passing. In early October 2006, Rex
Grossman and his offense were blowing the NFL away. One year later, Grossman is
benched, his Bears career seemingly in doubt, and every facet of the offense is
What better time to take a look back at the offensive eras of
the Chicago Bears since 1979. Brace yourselves, Bear fans, this aint' pretty.
Neil Armstrong Era 1979-1981: Armstrong's
offensive coordinators were Ken Meyer through 1980 and Ted Marchibroda in 1981.
Apparently, Armstrong revamped his offensive coaching staff for the 1981
season, bringing in former Head Coach Marchibroda for his final season. I don't
know how else to describe Armstrong's offense other than they consisted of
three plays. Payton right, Payton left, Payton middle, then punt. Seriously, I
do remember some Vince Evans dropping back and drilling his receivers with the
ball thrown so hard it would knock them backwards. Armstrong's offenses did
rank in the top five in rushing before '81, when they fell to 11th. Booth or
Early Ditka and Hughes Era 1982-1985: Ditka
was hired in 1982, and immediately brought in Ed Hughes as his coordinator.
Hughes was a former NFL player, and worked with Ditka in Dallas in the early
1970's. It was immediately obvious that Ditka and Hughes patterned their
offense directly after Landry's. Even Landry's patented move, the offensive
line standing in unison before they set pre-play, was brought to Chicago. But
it looked comical early on in '82, when the line couldn't even get their
stances in synch. Chicago's offense made a huge improvement in 1983, ranking
4th overall in the NFL (best in the modern era). By 1985, they finished second
in the league in points scored while they won the Super Bowl. The early
Ditka/Hughes offense was heavy on runs by both Walter Payton and Matt Suhey,
often led by pulls and traps from a young, outstanding offensive line. This
Bears offense led the NFL in rushing four years straight, from 1983-1986, but
averaged 20th in passing. Ditka and Hughes' offense implemented the (modern)
shotgun formation for the very first time in Chicago. Booth or Sideline? Ed
Hughes always prowled the sidelines with Ditka.
Late Ditka and Hughes Era 1986-1988: According
to Armen Keteyian's unauthorized 1992 biography of Ditka, Monster of the Midway,
Ditka began to tinker personally with Hughes' offense starting in 1986.
According to Keteyian, Ditka wanted to put his stamp on the unit by
implementing a ton of pre-snap shifting and motion. In fact, this was Landry's
stamp on his first Dallas offenses in the early 60's. Hughes' take was that
Ditka did this as a sly way to control quarterback Jim McMahon's penchant to
audible, which frustrated Ditka to no end. But according to Hughes, that was
exactly the quarterback's strongest skill-reading the defense and adjusting to
it. And per Hughes, Ditka wanted to take it away. McMahon's departure, along
with the trading of receiver Willie Gault, Walter Payton's retirement and the
aging of Matt Suhey signaled the end of an era. Booth or Sideline? Ed
Hughes always prowled the sidelines with Ditka.
Greg Landry Era 1989-1992: After the
trade of Jim McMahon to San Diego in August 1989, Hughes was "promoted" to the
role of consultant (meaning he was demoted) and would resign soon after. This
opened the door for offensive assistant, former longtime Detroit and Bear
quarterback Greg Landry to take over. Landry presumably ran Hughes' offense
through the '89 season, then in the following offseason completely revamped it.
As he was installing his new offense, Landry came down with a case of viral
encephalitis so bad it nearly killed him. As the 1990 campaign opened, Landry
was barely recovered but busy finishing the job. The new, unnamed offense still
focused on a two-back running game, but emphasized on getting the ball to backs
and tight ends on short routes in the passing game. This played to the
strengths of the Bears weapons: quarterback Jim Harbaugh and running backs Neal
Anderson and Brad Muster. Landry's signature play brought either of the backs
in motion, drawing out a defender and leaving a single back to carry the ball.
As with all of Ditka's offenses, the line utilized traps and counter plays
heavily. Harbaugh set records for consecutive completions without
interceptions, and had the best passing year of any Bears quarterback in 10
years in 1991. But by 1992 the entire organization was in disarray and Ditka
and Landry were fired following the season. Booth or Sideline? Landry was
overwhelmingly on the sideline, but late in the 1992 season Ditka sent Landry
upstairs and wore a headset for one game, at Houston, in an effort to shake
things up. It didn't work; the Bears lost 24-7.
Ron Turner Era I 1993-1996: Offenses in
the NFL were changing by the early 90's. Most teams ran some variation of Bill
Walsh's west coast offense, which ironically was designed to counter attacking
defenses such as those employed by the Bears of the 80's. New Bears coach Dave
Wannstedt, the hottest prospect available, hired San Jose State Head Coach Ron
Turner, brother of Dallas offensive coordinator Norv, to install a completely
new scheme. Wannstedt declared the new Bear offense would borrow heavily from
San Francisco with a Dallas running influence. And the NFL running game had
certainly changed. Instead of two running back sets each getting the ball
frequently as Payton/Suhey and Anderson/Muster did, the flavor of the day was
to have a halfback pound the ball up behind a massive fullback that rarely
carried. Traps, counters and sweeps with pulling guards began to disappear as a
result of enormous leaps in the speed of defensive linemen and linebackers.
Turner's new offense was a disaster in its first season, largely due to poor
talent. By 1995 with the addition of quarterback Erik Kramer, Chicago improved
to 9th overall. But after Kramer was injured in 1996, the offense crashed.
Turner resigned to become Head Coach at the University of Illinois late that
season. Booth or Sideline? Wannstedt always had his coordinators in the
booth. In fact, defensive coordinator Bob Slowik was rarely seen or heard from.
Matt Cavanaugh Era 1997-1998: Cavanaugh,
longtime NFL backup quarterback and then QB coach at San Francisco, was hired
to replace Turner. Much as the 2007 Bears pin their offensive hopes on
maximizing the talent of Devin Hester, Garrett Wolfe and Greg Olsen, Cavanaugh
committed to getting Raymont Harris, Rashaan Salaam and Curtis Conway on the
field together. This happend for exactly one play in 1997. The following year
Salaam and Harris were gone, and after that, so were Wannstedt and Cavanaugh.
As of this writing, Cavanaugh serves his old boss as offensive coordinator for
the Pittsburgh Panthers. Booth or Sideline? Cavanaugh was always in the
Gary Crowton's "Razzle Dazzle Offense" 1999-2000:
Kansas City Chief head coach Gunther Cunningham's words were prophetic
following an opening day loss to the Bears in 1999. "This razzle-dazzle
offense, once it's figured out, won't be anything." Crowton certainly put some
dazzle in a historically bland Bears offense. A longtime college coach,
Crowton's offense featured five wide receivers and the shotgun on first down,
tight ends split out wide, receivers lining up at running back, to three tight
end sets. And Crowton blew the NFL away with his wide receiver screens, thrown
to young, emerging receivers such as Marcus Robinson and Marty Booker for long
scores. Soon the entire NFL was using Crowton's signature play. Though
Crowton's passing game ranked 3rd in the NFL, best of any Bear team in the
modern era, it had a problem. It racked up huge yards but didn't score
consistently, as Chicago ranked 25th in that category with 17 points per game.
Prior to the 2000 season Crowton crowed (sorry) that he was just getting his
offense in gear in his second season, and began to install heavy pre-snap
motion packages. Then thanks to the NFL doing just what Cunningham had
predicted, along with poor QB play from Cade McNown, the razzle-dazzle offense
ground to a halt. And Crowton departed before the end of the season to take
over as head coach at Brigham Young University. Crowton was fired from BYU
following the 2004 season and now is offensive coordinator at LSU. Booth or
Sideline? Crowton alternated between the booth and the sideline,
depending on his feel for that particular game.
John Shoop Era late 2000-2003: Want to
see the hair stick up on a Bear fan's neck to this day? Just say Shoop.
Following Crowton's departure, Head Coach Dick Jauron elevated his young QB
coach for the remainder of the season. In the first game he called, against New
England, Chicago pounded the ball and QB Shane Matthews set a Bears record for
consecutive completions in a 24-17 win. Fans lauded the "Run and Shoop" offense
as a welcome counter to Crowton's plays that had been neutralized effectively.
Then Shoop became villian #1 to Chicago football fans when his offense never
ranked higher than 23rd. Jauron remained intensely, and strangely, loyal to
Shoop to the end, which may have helped hasten his departure when he was fired
following the 2003 season. Booth or Sideline? Shoop always preferred the
sideline, but in 2003 was moved to the booth, literally to get him out of
earshot of heckling fans at Soldier Field. Seriously.
Terry Shea Era 2004: Terry Shea, we
hardly knew ye. Shea was Lovie Smith's first choice in 2004 to install a
high-powered Kansas City/St. Louis offense. And the Chief QB coach held out for
a salary the Bear organization didn't want to pay, but finally relented. Shea's
offense was filled with an enormous amount of plays and was ultimately
unsuccessful, without talent to run it. Shea was dismissed immediately
following the disappointing 2004 season. Booth or Sideline? Shea sat in
Ron Turner II 2005-Present: How the
mighty fall, as could easily be said about the 2007 Bears as of this writing.
Turner's return had a stabilizing effect, and his strong running game coupled
with conservative game plans helped rookie Kyle Orton to win 10 games in 2005.
In 2006, Turner interviewed for several head coaching jobs, respected for
powering a seeming resurgence in the Bear offense during their Super Bowl year.
But in 2007, here we are again, apparently repeating a long and frustrating
history of impotent Bears offenses. Booth or Sideline? Always upstairs.