Tony Gonzalez had 5 catches for 72 yards and was the lone bright spot for a dismal Atlanta Falcons team on opening day. Jimmy Graham had 6 catches for 79 yards and it seemed every ball he caught was on a big spot third-and-long. Jermichael Finley had 7 catches for 85 yards. 3 touchdowns. While it is difficult to reach conclusions from the first three weeks of any NFL season, one thing is abundantly clear: the Bears are being dominated by opposing tight ends.
We know all the reasons. The Tampa 2 leaves a giant hole in the middle of the field, patrolled only by Brian Urlacher it seems. (He has done a brilliant job of that thus far in 2011.) The Bears have been down to their third and fourth safeties at times as they face this crop so they’ve been unable to put a capable player in a man coverage situation. And if you’re thinking they should line third corner D.J. Moore on Graham or Finley, think about how Moore’s 5’9″ would stack up against their 6’6″ and 6’5″ respectively. You also need an accurate QB to make the tight end work against this system and Rodgers, Brees are two of the most accurate in the sport.
Enter Greg Olsen. The Jersey-born, “U”-bred, first round draft pick of the Chicago Bears was unceremoniously shipped to Charlotte this offseason under the guise of “not fitting the Martz system.” (One might wonder why the remainder of the skill players sans Matt Forte weren’t also shipped out.) This won’t be Olsen’s first time contributing for the Panthers against the Bears, however. In 2008 he fumbled the ball twice in a desperate attempt to help the Bears abandon their 17-3 lead. They did so after a huge catch by tight end Jeff King in the fourth quarter put the Panthers in position for a one-yard TD run. You could argue Olsen’s tenure with the Panthers started that afternoon. His love affair with many Bears fans certainly ended.
Does Olsen have an axe to grind? Who knows. Will he be attempting to prove a point at Soldier Field? Absolutely. And head coach Ron Rivera will be pleased as punch to shove the Olsen decision down the throats of former bosses Jerry Angelo and Lovie Smith. With Peanut spending a majority of the afternoon (hopefully) tracking Steve Smith’s wherabouts, I’d expect the Panthers to use Olsen as Cam Newton’s primary target. They’ll want the ball out of their rookie QB’s hands as quickly as possible.
The Bears should approach Olsen as what they know he is: a wide receiver. If he is on the field he should be attended to by whichever of the starting corners is not on #89. Failure to recognize Olsen as the second most viable receiving threat for the Panthers will only lead to another 5-10 catch, 75-100 yard, multiple TD effort from an opposing tight end. Treating him like a starting wide receiving, like an elite receiving talent, wil force Cam and the Panthers to beat them by throwing the ball to Brandon LaFell and Legedu Naanee.
I’m much more comfortable with that. Aren’t you?