Possibly the closest Super Bowl matchup in history also poses the question: how much does it mean when certain aspects of an NFL team improve dramatically in the second half of the season?
15 Sep 2004
By Michael David Smith
Two quick conclusions after watching Adewale Ogunleye on every play of his first game as a Chicago Bear:
1. He's going to be a great fit in Lovie Smith's defense.
2. He's out of shape after missing training camp.
I've always felt that when it comes to pass-rushing defensive ends, the stats never tell the story because of an over-reliance on sacks. Ogunleye's performance in the Bears' 20-16 loss to the Lions is a case in point. With all the buildup Ogunleye had when he arrived in Chicago, it sounds like a disappointment to say he finished his first game without a sack. But on 3rd-and-9 late in the first quarter, Joey Harrington took the snap in the shotgun and Ogunleye blew past Lions right tackle Stockar McDougle, forced Harrington to run, and brought him down from behind after a one-yard gain. Not a sack, but just as good, as the Lions were forced to punt.
Here's why I'm sure Smith loved that play from his new defensive end: It showed that Ogunleye can adjust on the fly. That tackle of Harrington took place on the Lions' 10th offensive snap, and on the first nine Ogunleye had been ineffective. He had tried to speed rush to the outside, which is no doubt exactly what McDougle expected, and McDougle had no trouble simply riding Ogunleye out of the play. At the start of the 3rd-and-9 play, Ogunleye again broke to the outside, and McDougle probably started to think, "Hey, blocking Pro Bowlers is easy." But then Ogunleye quickly darted to the inside, leaving McDougle grasping at air as Harrington hit the ground. Mixing up his approach on an important third down tells me that Ogunleye isn't just an athletic player; he's also a smart one. Once he's had time to grasp Smith's defensive schemes completely, I think he could be league's best pass rusher.
He's not there yet, though, and that's why I think missing training camp was costly. Two big plays in the fourth quarter lead me to believe that Ogunleye isn't in good enough shape yet: On 1st-and-goal with 10 minutes left in the game, McDougle kept Ogunleye in check, Harrington rolled right to where Ogunleye should have been, and the result was a touchdown pass to give the Lions the lead. And on the Lions' next series, on 3rd-and-1 with 7:24 remaining and the Lions hanging on to a six-point lead, Lions running back Kevin Jones ran directly at a tired-looking Ogunleye, and McDougle manhandled him. The Lions got the first down and took three more minutes off the clock on the drive.
Ogunleye also gave up on a few second-half plays when he didn't get a good first step. That looks like the result of a lack of conditioning. Fortunately for the Bears, Smith was always known in Tampa Bay and St. Louis for demanding that his players get into shape and hustle on every play. When Smith breaks down film he has a stat he calls "loafs." If a player is going at anything less than full speed at any time between the snap and the whistle, that's a loaf. Ogunleye loafed a couple of times in the second half, but Smith will coach that out of him.
And yet, even though he looked exhausted, Ogunleye had enough left at the end for one last big play. As the Lions tried to run out the clock with 2:18 remaining, Artose Pinner took a handoff on a play identical to the previous play when Jones got by him for a first down. But this time Ogunleye shed McDougle's block and brought Pinner down for a one-yard loss. It was a strong play, it shows that Ogunleye won't get beaten the same way twice, and, in all likelihood, it was a sign of things to come.
The final question, then is whether the Bears made the right decision by trading Marty Booker and a third-round pick to acquire Ogunleye. In my opinion it was a good move. The coming season doesn't appear to be a good one for the Bears. Losing at home to the Lions isn't the way to start. But Smith needs time to build his team, and Ogunleye is going to be a big part of that. I see a bad season but a bright future for this team.
Each week, Michael David Smith looks at one specific player or one aspect of a team on every single play of the previous game. Standard caveat applies: Yes, one game is not necessarily an indicator of performance over the entire season. If you have a player or a unit you would like tracked in Every Play Counts, suggest it by emailing mike-at-footballoutsiders.com.
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