By Steve Silverman-
(CBS) The chess match remains a big part of winning in the NFL.
The talent gap is often so small that it comes down to a battle between the head coaches to see who is more effective at deploying his athletes.
Forget the inspirational speeches or the Bill Parcells threats to the players’ income, it’s the gameplan that matters. Coaches who can influence their opponents by putting them on their heels or two steps out of position have a better chance to win that those who lack that ability.
That’s why balance is so important in the NFL. The meaning of balance has changed quite a bit when it comes to professional football. There was a time, perhaps as recently as the mid-1990s, where many coaches wanted to run the ball as much as they passed it. They really wanted a 50-50 ratio.
That’s no longer the case and it hasn’t been for a long time. Winning teams like to pass the ball 57 percent of the time or more.
However, teams that don’t have the threat of a credible running game can’t throw the ball with the same effectiveness as those that do.
Perhaps we are getting ahead of ourselves. The key to winning in the NFL is passing the ball effectively, as Peyton Manning has done in every game this year for the Denver Broncos and so has Russell Wilson of the Seattle Seahawks.
Through the first three weeks of the season, they are two of the six NFL quarterbacks with passer ratings of 100.0 or better.
Manning and Wilson both have solid running attacks and they lead two of the best teams in the league. The Broncos have a credible running game with Knowshon Moreno, while the Seahawks have Marshawn Lynch. Both can tear up a defense that doesn’t take the running game seriously.
Look at both of those offenses. Manning can change the play any time he wants. If he sees a defense is vulnerable to the run, he can easily change his call and shovel the ball to Moreno who will either run through the tackles or streak to the outside for five yards or more.
Wilson doesn’t have Manning’s freedom, but when he sees that the defense is vulnerable to the run, he has the option of checking out of the pass and getting the ball to Marshawn Lynch so he can go “Beast mode” and attack the defense.
Manning’s brother Eli does not have the option of a credible running game and the Giants are off to a disastrous start. Second-year running back David Wilson has explosive speed, but head coach Tom Coughlin has no confidence in him because he can’t hold on to the football. The Giants signed retread Brandon Jacobs because he was once the thunder in New York’s “Thunder and Lightning” backfield that also included Ahmad Bradshaw. However, Jacobs has little left in the tank.
That brings us to the Chicago Bears. Jay Cutler does not have a passer rating with the top quarterbacks in the league thus far. He is sitting at 94.2, which ranks 10th in the league, just behind Ryan Tannehill of the Miami Dolphins and just ahead of Andy Dalton of the Cincinnati Bengals.
But the Bears are undefeated and Cutler has done his part with some brilliant fourth-quarter throws. He has been made even more effective by running back Matt Forte, who is giving the Bears a running attack that is averaging 105 yards per game.
This is not an amount that ranks among the league leaders. The Bears are 17th in rushing yards per game.
However, what makes the Bears special is the way they used Forte. In addition to his 225 yards on the ground, Forte has caught 18 passes for 138 yards. Forte’s receiving yardage total is not impressive, but it tells you how they are using him.
Forte is a safety-valve receiver most of the time. Cutler is getting the ball to him instead of trying to throw the ball into a tight window or taking a sack.
This is why the Bears are winning. They are relying on Forte to get positive yards and make first downs as a runner or a receiver.
He is giving them balance because opponents don’t know whether he will get the ball on the run or through the air. They are back on their heels.
Marc Trestman has won the chess match three weeks in a row, and he appears to have an edge in a battle of wits with Detroit’s Jim Schwartz this week.
Once he gets past that game, it will only get more difficult from here.
Steve Silverman is an award-winning writer, covering sports since 1980. Silverman was with Pro Football Weekly for 10 years and his byline has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, Playboy, NFL.com and The Sporting News. He is the author of four books, including Who’s Better, Who’s Best in Football — The Top 60 Players of All-Time. Follow him on Twitter (@profootballboy) and read more of his CBS Chicago columns here.