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Pro Football : McMahon Is Missing, but All the Pieces Are Still There for Chicago

September 17, 1987|Bob Oates

CHICAGO — Before Monday night's game, Lionel Aldridge, a former Green Bay Packer defensive star, said of the Chicago Bears: "This year, they don't need a great quarterback to win."

On defense, he said, the Bears still have excellence at almost every position, from Mike Singletary to Richard Dent.

And on offense, after beating the New York Giants, 34-19, at Soldier Field, the Bears looked like a complete football team--with two receivers instead of one, now that Ron Morris has joined Willie Gault, and two backs instead of one, Neal Anderson joining Walter Payton.

"All you need at quarterback now is a guy who can get the football to all those fellows now and then," said Aldridge, who played on the Packers' Super Bowl championship teams 20 years ago.

There are two kinds of National Football League quarterbacks--passers and winners--and the Bears' Mike Tomczak is in the latter group. Tomczak, who has replaced the injured Jim McMahon, is somewhat from the mold of past standouts Bobby Layne or Billy Kilmer. As a passer, Tomczak's accuracy is questionable, except on the easier down-the-middle throws. His reactions and courage, especially in the face of the Giant blitz, are not.

Defensive teams use single coverage in the secondary when they rush the passer with linebackers or deep backs. And in those circumstances, one good option of an alert quarterback is to force the pass to a good receiver, even if that receiver seems to be closely guarded by a good defensive back.

This takes nerve, because no passer likes to chance needless interceptions. Tomczak played the percentages well. And he won the game by forcing his big passes to single-covered receivers who, at the point of attack, showed the speed and skill to outplay the defense.

Phil Simms of the Giants is a different type quarterback. By far the best passer on the field Monday night, Simms was beaten not so much by the defensive rush of the Bears as by his own hesitancy in the pocket.

Simms knows that a good quarterback doesn't throw to a double-covered receiver. His hangup Monday night was that, when the Chicago blitz was on, he wouldn't even deliver into single coverage.

It might have seemed to Bear fans that the team's secondary was thwarting Simms, giving him limited area in which to throw. But it wasn't quite the case. The No. 2 Giant quarterback, Jeff Rutledge, illustrated the possibilities when he came in and promptly threw down the field to wide receiver Stacy Robinson.

Rutledge is a Tomczak-type quarterback. And on that play, as Rutledge saw, Bear cornerback Vestee Jackson was guarding Robinson one-on-one. At the point of attack, Robinson had Jackson beaten, though the pass fell harmlessly because Rutledge doesn't have Simms' accuracy. You can't have everything.

Against the Chicago defense--one-on-one with any Bear--New York receivers Robinson and Lionel Manuel were usually either open or in position to beat the defensive people if Simms had only let go of the ball. He lost when he wouldn't even try. Instead, Simms stood around and took seven sacks, five of them unnecessary.

There are major differences between the Bears and Giants.

For one thing, the Bears operate in the 4-3 defense. The Giants prefer the 3-4.

Does that really matter?

Head to head, it seemed clear in this game that the 4-3 is more productive, when the key performer is a middle linebacker as gifted as Mike Singletary.

"Our linebackers are more versatile than theirs, and I think that's important," Singletary said the other day at the Bears' Lake Forest, Ill., camp.

The best two illustrations of differences in versatility are Singletary and Giant linebacker Lawrence Taylor.

Singletary, the anchor in the Bear defense, has made himself equally competent in all three linebacking areas: pass coverage, pass rushing, and run defense, to either left or right. On successive plays against the Giants, Singletary tackled running back Joe Morris at the line of scrimmage, reached Simms behind the line for a sack, and broke up a pass thrown into a zone on his side.

Taylor excels, by contrast, only in pass rushing. The master of this tactic, he is possibly the quickest and most brutal quarterback hunter ever. But strangely, Taylor lags in both pass coverage and run defense. Though he has the speed to run along the scrimmage line and catch a ballcarrier as far away as the other end, he isn't exceptionally strong when the running play is directed at him. And the Bears tended to run at him wherever he was.

"Taylor is really a stand-up defensive end," Bear safety Todd Bell told Chicago writers.

The three Bears--Singletary, Otis Wilson and Wilber Marshall--are traditional linebackers. In this game at least, that seemed the best way to go.

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