July 28, 2010
The Juggernaut Index is our annual ranking of NFL teams for fantasy purposes. Repeat: FOR FANTASY PURPOSES. This is not an NFL power ranking. We're not predicting wins and losses here. Instead, we're reviewing each team's projected fantasy contributions — that's it.
When you arrive home from the store with your new Mike Martz offense, the first thing you'll notice is that it's packaged in a really big box. The playbook is several hundred pages long. It weighs six pounds. Alex Smith has described it as "never-ending."
The next thing you'll notice are the grim warning labels: "Manufacturer assumes no responsibility for interceptions, rushing yards, damaged quarterbacks."
The instructions are absurdly detailed, and the parts-list seems to be incomplete. There's no traditional fullback, no pass-catching tight end. There's no indication anywhere that a gun-slinging quarterback is needed or desired. The system relies entirely on timing, protection, passing accuracy, quick decisions, perfect route-running. It's loaded with four-receiver sets and seven-step drops.
If you're the Chicago Bears, it should immediately become clear that assembling this thing is going to be rather difficult with the pieces currently at your disposal — not impossible, but definitely tricky. This is a curious match of system and personnel.
"In the West Coast [offense], you can see [the open man] and let it fly. But this system is total trust. You have to trust the receivers. You have to trust the call. You have to trust the spots. If you don't, if you don't let it fly when it's supposed to, it's going to be an interception.
"You take your seven steps, you identify the coverage and let the ball go. The receiver is supposed to be there."
Atop the Bears' depth chart at receiver, we find a pair of kick returners (Johnny Knox(notes), Devin Hester(notes)) and a practice squad vet who's now with his fifth team in five seasons (Devin Aromashodu(notes)). Those are the wideouts who are "supposed to be there" at the conclusion of precise, perfectly choreographed routes. Behind those three, Earl Bennett(notes), Rashied Davis(notes) and Juaquin Iglesias(notes) are waiting. It seems foolish to completely write off any of the No. 4-6 receivers here; Martz has transformed ordinary wideouts into fantasy starters before (think Mike Furrey(notes) in 2006). If Knox and the Devins can't master the system, they'll lose snaps.
Of course Hester and Knox can absolutely fly, and Aromashodu was a late-season revelation in '09. (In Week 16, Antoine Winfield(notes) couldn't have stopped him with a Taser and a giant net). There's clear fantasy upside with each player, and none of the three carry a frightening ADP. Do yourself a favor and draft one of 'em, because the Bears' offense should be endlessly entertaining, even if it's not a clinic at all times. The safest of these wideouts is likely Aromashodu, the highest ceiling belongs to Knox (4.34 speed, 6 TDs as a rookie), and the big contract is Hester's (four years, $41 million).
If you're worried about the possibility that this team can't support three ownable fantasy receivers, here's an interesting Martz fact provided by Doug Farrar (via Bear Report):
In 2008, the 49ers ran formations with three receivers 61 percent of the time, good for seventh in the league, and four or more receivers 24 percent of the time, which was good for second in the league. The 2006 Lions’ numbers were very similar — 61 percent of the time with three receivers, and 21 percent with four.
If history is any guide, then three additional things will undoubtedly be true about the Bears' passing game in 2010: Greg Olsen(notes) won't have a serious role, Cutler will continue to throw picks, and the QB will get sacked beyond the limits of human endurance. Tight ends simply haven't played a major part in this attack, at least as receiving weapons. Martz generally prefers to use them as in-line blockers, which helps explain the signing of Brandon Manumaleuna(notes) (five years, $15 million). And even the most faithful Martz devotees will concede that interceptions and sacks are basically part of the game script.
Check out this system's dark side:
2008 Niners - 55 sacks (1st in NFL), 19 INTs (5th)
2007 Lions - 54 sacks (3rd), 22 INTs (3rd)
2006 Lions - 63 sacks (2nd), 22 INTs (4th)
2005 Rams - 46 sacks (6th), 24 INTs (2nd)
2004 Rams - 50 sacks (5th), 22 INTs (3rd)
2003 Rams - 43 sacks (4th), 23 INTs (2nd)
2002 Rams - 46 sacks (5th), 27 INTs (1st)
2001 Rams - 40 sacks (13th), 22 INTs (6th)
2000 Rams - 44 sacks (11th), 23 INTs (4th)
1999 Rams - 33 sacks (25th), 15 INTs (22nd)
OK, so there really wasn't a dark side to the Rams in '99. That team was awesome.
But in every other season in which Martz has directed an offense — even in the great years — his quarterbacks have sustained a beating, and they've thrown an uncommon number of picks. It's almost unavoidable in such a high-volume passing game, particularly when so much is demanded from the offensive line. (This would seem like the appropriate time to mention that the Bears' line is no better than a league-average unit on its best days, despite the presence of six-time Pro Bowler Olin Kreutz(notes)). Cutler is one of the most physically talented QBs in the game, but, again, this offense is built on trust, timing, and precision. He could play at an extremely high level in 2010 yet still throw 22 picks and get dropped 50 times.
Thus, when evaluating Cutler in fantasy terms, your scoring format is everything. We know he's going to pile up touchdown passes — he threw 27 in a much more conservative offense last season — but we should also assume a large number of negative plays. If your league awards six points per TD pass and doesn't penalize severely for turnovers, then Cutler may finish among the top-five at his position. But if you play a format that offers four points per TD and deducts three for INTs, he could very well finish 20th. Know your settings; draft Cutler (or don't) accordingly.
The Chicago running game will not, in all likelihood, lead your fantasy team to anything but despair. Matt Forte(notes) is coming off a disastrous season relative to his fantasy ADP. He rushed for just 3.6 yards per carry and 58.1 per game while reaching the end zone only four times on 315 touches. When the Bears approached the goal line last season, Forte became even less effective. Here's another dose of Mr. Farrar:
The 2009 Bears didn’t just rank last in the NFL in Red Zone DVOA (-44.8, which was almost twice as bad as the 31st-ranked Rams), but Matt Forte put up the worst expected performance numbers in the 10-year range of our numbers. Given the situations Forte was put in near the goal line, the league-average running back would be expected to score 7.65 touchdowns in a 16-game season.
This isn't at all surprising to Bears fans, nor to Forte owners. He scored only two touchdowns on 19 carries inside the 5-yard line in 2009. Forte was of course a fantasy star in his rookie season, thanks largely to the 379 total touches, but as an actual NFL talent he appears to be just another guy. He still hasn't averaged 4.0 YPC over a full season, and it may not happen this year. He certainly looks like a runner who needs an outstanding O-line and an old school lead-blocking fullback; in Chicago's offense, he'll have neither. Don't be surprised if he loses short-yardage responsibilities to BYU rookie Harvey Unga(notes).
The Bears also signed 30-year-old Chester Taylor(notes) to a four-year, $12.5 million deal back in March ($7 million guaranteed), further complicating the workload situation for Forte. Even though Taylor's best years are behind him (3.6 YPC in '09), he's a capable receiver who will no doubt earn a significant share of the touches.
In PPR leagues, this backfield will deliver a few useful games, but Chicago's RBs clearly aren't ideal fantasy starters in standard formats. At Forte's current Mock Draft Central price (ADP 42.8), I'll never own him.
We conclude, in typical Juggernaut Index fashion, with the defense. This unit was often horrible last year, particularly in the losses to Cincinnati and Arizona. Lovie Smith's squad allowed 23.4 points and 337.8 yards per game, ranking in the bottom half of the league in both categories. However, there are reasons to be moderately hopeful. Linebacker Brian Urlacher(notes) will return from the wrist injury that cost him nearly all of 2009, and Pro Bowler Lance Briggs(notes) is still in the team picture. The Bears also signed Julius Peppers(notes) to a massive deal in the offseason, and they reacquired Chris Harris(notes) (the DB, not the fantasy expert) via trade in April. These players are all IDPs of interest, as is safety Danieal Manning(notes). Chicago's team defense deserves a look in fantasy leagues, but understand that the NFC North is loaded with offensive firepower, and the Cowboys, Eagles and Giants are on the schedule, too.
And that's a wrap, gamers. This was the most difficult JI of all. If you believe the 2010 Bears deserve a more optimistic spin, then by all means give it to us in comments. Or let's just share some Noah Jackson memories. The floor is now yours…
Photo via AP Images
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