Quick Game Comments: Bears at Vikings 1/1/17

Defense

      1. Minnesota came out mixing it up and did a lot of damage with big plays on the Bears young defensive backs.  Cre’Von LeBlanc gave up a big catch to Cordarrelle Patterson as he let him get too far behind him while training him – which seems to be a habit with him.  Adrian Amos missed a tackle on Jerick McKinnon which allowed him to score the touchdown.

        The sequence highlights one problem with the Bears.  Yes, they’re playing lots of young players.  But are they really any good?  You wouldn’t know it by this series.

        In any case, despite some better play from both of these guys in the second half, I have very serious doubts about the future of both with the Bears.

      2. I’m really tired of seeing missed tackles play after play from these guys.  Something needs to be done about this.
      3. The Bears struggled to get pressure on Sam Bradford through a totally miserable Vikings offensive line.  That exposed a young and evidently less talented than people think Bears defensive backfield.  Very disappointing.
      4. The Vikings evidently decided that they could attack the Bears linebackers and safeties.  Bradford fed the ball effectively to the running backs and the tight ends, especially Kyle Rudolph who it seems the Bears simply couldn’t cover.

Offense

      1. Dowell Loggains apparently decided to quiet critics by running the ball more.  The first 3 plays and 10 of the first 12 plays were runs.  They ran the ball 22 of 31 total plays in the first half and were very successful at over 6 yards per rush.It was really nice to watch Howard run today as he broke the Bears rookie rushing record.  He broke tackles everywhere and ran with great vision.
      2. The Vikings evidently decided to let Xavier Rhoades cover Jeffery man-to-man.  The Bears tried to take advantage but Barkley and Jeffery had trouble getting on the same page.
      3. Had a great time watching the pass from former college quarterback turned receiver Cam Meredith to current quarterback Matt Barkley.  Some how I don’t see them risking that with Jay Cutler.  In any case, it’s the kind of fun play you run to keep everyone interested in the end of a crappy season.
      4. The Bears frequently looked to me like they weren’t concentrating and offensively they just weren’t always on the same page.  But there  were a couple of plays where Vikings ran right past Bears blockers to disrupt plays in the backfield that were especially bothersome.One was a miss of Eric Kendricks, where he ran right past tight end Daniel Brown in the red zone to disrupt a play.  Everson Giffen disrupted a Howard fourth down run that ultimately didn’t make it after running right by Charles Leno.  This supposedly was a missed block by Cameron Meredith but in any case Griffen was barely touched.

        These plays were either poorly designed, poorly executed or both.  They were very costly and very annoying.

Miscellaneous

      1. Dick Stockton, David Diehl, and Kristina Pink were your announcers.  I didn’t think they added anything special to the broadcast.  But I won’t say that they injured it, either.  Sometimes I guess you have to just be happy with that.
      2. Not a good day for Bears special teams.  Marcus Sherels had a 36 yard punt return to the Chicago 42.  Braylon Addison fumbled a punt late in the first half in Bears territory.  That set up a Viking touchdown.Deonte Thompson did have a very nice 60 yard kick return with 9 seconds left in the first half.  That set up a field goal.
      3. Drops weren’t a major issue.
      4. Six penalties for 49 yards isn’t a terrible game but it wasn’t good, given that the Vikings only had 2.Willie Young was off sides near the goal line early in the second quarter.  The Bears held but it could have been pretty damaging.

        The Bears sustained a long drive at the end of the first half for a touchdown despite a couple of holding calls on Bobby Massie and Josh Sitton.  Part of me was disgusted and part of me was glad to see them over come the problems to score.

      5. Very disappointing to see Matt Barkley throw an interception at the goal line on only his second pass of the game.   The pass was under thrown and behind Alshon Jeffery.  He followed that with another one in the red zone on the first drive of the second half. Both were his fault and both took points off the board.  Finally, he had a fumble in the fourth quarter that was returned for a touchdown.It was critical for Barkley to adjust after miserable showings the two previous games to demonstrate that he could protect the football.  If there’s one thing John Fox won’t put up with, its turnovers from his quarterback.  Barkley may not be back in any capacity next year.  Frankly, I don’t think he should.

        Jeremy Langford did his future no good by fumbling early in the second quarter in Bears territory.  The Vikings turned it into a touchdown.

        The Bears did (finally) get one back as Cre’Von LeBlanc did pick one off in the end zone.

      6. It isn’t very hard to figure this one out, boys and girls.  You can’t turn the ball over like this and win football games.The Bears keep saying that effort isn’t a problem.  Great.  But does it matter if you can’t play smart?

        Sorry.  It’s not brilliant analysis.  It’s just the truth.

 

In Defense of John Fox

The easiest thing to do as the Bears wrap up what is currently a three win season is to call for a new head coach.  Steve Rosenbloom at the Chicago Tribune has basically been making his living doing it for weeks.  Here’s the most recent example:

[John] Fox always says this is a production-based business, but his production is worse than Rex Ryan and Jeff Fisher, two coaches who have already been fired and still have more wins than Fox.”

It’s not Rosenbloom’s job to be a balanced observer and so its not a surprise that he would constantly write such things (over and over again).

Fox is dealing with a complete tear down of the Bears roster that lacked cohesion and was full of front runners when he arrived, something that could be said of neither Ryan nor Fisher.

To a segment of the population, I’m sure this is entertaining and, after all, that’s really what Rosenbloom is there for.

But when Mike Mulligan, also at the Tribune, starts to imply that maybe replacing Fox wouldn’t be a bad thing, you sit up and take more notice.

“Belief is not a permanent state. Without it, a program is lost. So you have to establish it, nurture it and nourish it. If anyone in town still believes in Fox, well, let’s just say they’re waiting for a thunderbolt to strike.

“If the emperor isn’t entirely unclothed, he’s certainly nearing an inappropriate state of undress.”

Perhaps this makes me a fool but I still believe.

It would be totally unfair to let him Fox before he had the chance to prove that he can help build the talent back up from scratch.  But life isn’t fair and I’m not suggesting that Fox should be retained simply because he’s should be allowed to be in a better position before the decision is made.  I’m suggesting that he should be retained because he’s simply a better head coach than anyone else the Bears would possibly hope to hire.

For years this franchise labored under head coach Lovie Smith.  Smith was a good head coach and he had a knack for getting the most out of his players.  But he lacked one thing and it was a fatal flaw – he wasn’t connected enough around the league to attract a top notch coaching staff.

In fact, there were times when you wondered if Smith passed up better candidates for those who wouldn’t threaten his job if they did well.  But more likely, he was like everyone else.  He wanted friendly people that he knew and trusted like Bob Babich rather then more talented coordinators like, for instance, Ron Rivera, who he let walk away rather than re-hire after the Bears last Super Bowl run.

This is the mark of a good head coach.  He manages players but, perhaps even more important, he coaches the coaches.  Fox is much better connected around the league and, as a result, has attracted a top notch coaching staff.

Adam Gase could have gone anywhere after he failed to get a head coaching position in 2015.  He stayed with Fox.  Fox attracated the best defensive coordinator on the market in Vic Fangio along with a wonderfully talented group of assistants.

Neither Smith nor a number of other current head coaches including Gase could have put together such a staff.

Fox evidently has to make a decision on offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains.  Rather than look outside after Gase left, he chose to promote a young, promising coordinator from within in the same way that he hired Gase and Mike McCoy before him.  Whether Fox keeps Loggains or lets him go, I’m history tells me he’ll make the right decision.  And if he lets him go, history tells that he’ll be able to attract a good candidate to replace him.

How many other franchises can say that about their head coach?

NFL Points of View Week 16

Parts of this article were originally published to Phinmaniacs on December 23.

Here are some thoughts on he state of the NFL entering week 16


1.  The major issue in Buffalo right now is whether Rex Ryan will keep his job.  Reports for weeks have indicated that he will be fired any time now as the team will look to get an early jump on the market for coaches in the offseason.  However, one report in particular is more puzzling than the rest.
Adam Schefter of ESPN has said that the Bills are not only “preparing to move on from Ryan” once the season comes to a close, which would end his run with the team after two years, but that 1)  Ryan is aware of this and 2) general manager Doug Whaley will remain and will hire the new coach.

Both aspects of this report defy logic.  Let’s concentrate on the first.

If ownership had, indeed, decided to fire Ryan there would be no reason to tell him or, if they did, it would only be to, you know, fire him.

No one could expect a head coach to do his job optimally under conditions where he already knew he was gone and there would be no reason to expect him to.  Bills owners Terry and Kim Pegula would surely pick an interim coach.

It is possible that ownership has, indeed, decided to fire Ryan but would rather see him coach out the string than give an interim coach a chance simply because they want a fresh start and don’t want an interim coach to make a case that he’s earned the job.  That would be understandable but there would be no way you would tell Ryan if that were the case.


2.  I also find the second aspect of this report, that Whaley will remain, to be less that logical.
Sure, it’s possible that Whaley has a good relationship with ownership and that they’d be more comfortable with him staying on. But good owners won’t let that stop them from making a change where the evidence indicates that its necessary.  The suggestion that Whaley should be given the opportunity to blow a third head coaching hire is less than sane.  Whaley also hired Doug Marrone in 2013.

The question here is what has Whaley ever done to deserve the loyalty of ownership?  He’s been with the team since 2010 and general manager since 2013 and the team has seen nothing but misery ever since.

Most importantly, Whaley’s draft record has not been exactly stellar.  For instance, he was integral in convincing the organization to draft E.J. Manual in the first round, far above the value most people put on him.  All agree it was a major mistake that crippled the franchise for years.

More recently in 2016 he took Shaq Lawson despite the fact that NFL teams had flagged his shoulder injury during medical checks at the Combine in February. Lawson was eventually shut down for half the season as the shoulder required surgery.  One league source told Pro Football Talk that, “His shoulder was so bad it would have dislocated tying his shoes.”  And yet the Bills still drafted him.

It also didn’t help that second round pick Reggie Ragland landed on IR before the season started after he tore his ACL.  Third round pick Adolphus Washington has been only so-so with 12 tackles and 2.5 sacks.

Whaley, himself, said before the season that he bears responsibility for the performance of his draft classes.

“If they don’t perform, then they’re not going to play,” Whaley said. “We’re going to play the best people. We think they’re the best people, and if they come in and don’t perform that well, then we didn’t do our job right. So that’s on us. I have no problem with that.”

And yet here we are with Ryan shouldering the blame for a lost season while Whaley reportedly escapes Scott-free.  Go figure.


3.  The Dolphins have been emphasizing that the declining production from running back Jay Ajayi is “not his fault” over and over again through the last couple of weeks. And I could not agree more with this message.  It is, in fact, no one’s “fault”.
No matter who the team is and no matter what their position, one message that defensive players repeat constantly is that they have to stop the run.  Running plays are generally “safe” and assuming the running back can simply hold on to the ball, few bad things can come from doing it.  No defense can afford to allow an offense to simply run over them.  It is a sure path to defeat.

Because of this, teams must concentrate on stopping Ajayi and the Dolphin running game, usually by bring an extra man into the box (i.e. close to the line of scrimmage where he can be more effective at helping against the running game).  That leaves one fewer man to cover receivers deep.  So the harder a team has to concentrate on stopping your running game, the more it opens up the pass.

That is why Dolphins head coach Adam Gase has stuck with the run despite its apparently lack of success.  Against the Jets they ran the ball a staggering 60% of the time despite gaining only 2.5 yards per carry.  The game before that it was 55% and only 2.7 ypc in a win against Arizona.  And perhaps not coincidentally, they ran the ball only 16 times and 29% of the time in their only loss in the last three games against the Ravens.

Yes, a really great offensive line like the Cowboys could run the ball effectively against an eight man front and ideally you would like the Dolphins to have that.

“We don’t want [Ajayi] to be frustrated because we haven’t quite got the results we are looking for,” Gase said. “We’ve run into some tough defenses. We have another one ahead of us this week. They are going to try to stop the run and make us one-dimensional. That’s what most teams have tried to do with us the last nine games.”

Nevertheless, no matter how many yards it results in directly, the more Gase sticks with the run, the more good things will happen.

On Saturday, Ajayi faces a Buffalo team that he trampled for 214 yards on 28 carries (a 7.6 average) in their Oct. 23 meeting.  “We’re going to make some adjustments,” Bills head coach Rex Ryan said. “He’s a heck of a back.”

And better news the Dolphins could not have received.


4.  One more Buffalo note. I find their situation with quarterback Tyrod Taylor to be interesting.  He’s on what amounts to a contract year.
The Bills’ extension with Taylor, signed in August, already puts the quarterback under contract for $27.5 million in 2017 — a salary that is guaranteed if Taylor suffers an injury that prevents him from playing next season. The Bills have until March 11 to exercise an option on Taylor’s contract that would trigger the 2018 through 2021 years of the deal, paying him $15.5 million immediately and lowering his 2017 salary to a fully-guaranteed $12 million.

If the Bills do not exercise Taylor’s option by March 11, then the entirety of his $27.5 million salary in 2017 becomes fully guaranteed March 12, and Taylor would be slated for unrestricted free agency after the 2017 season.  But it’s highly unlikely that the Bills will do that so under the current deal it comes down to 1) trigger the 3 year option or 2) release Taylor before March 11.

There is, of course, one other consideration – they could try to renegotiate the contract.  The Bills probably will want to do this but the question is, what would it take on Taylor’s end to motivate him to agree to a change?  The answer is, the same amount of money or more that he’d get as a free agent.

There are going to be a number of teams looking for a quarterback in the offseason including the New York Jets, Cleveland Browns, Chicago Bears, San Francisco 49ers, and potentially the Jacksonville Jaguars and Denver Broncos.  In 2016 through 14 games Taylor has completed 62% of his passes at 6.8 yards per completion with a passer rating of 91.  He’s also gained over 500 yards on the ground.

Those numbers are pretty average and they belie Taylors vexing inconsistency.  The Bills have found that the quarterback that they have in quarter 1 will often not be the same as the one that they get in quarter 4.

So they are stuck with an interesting conundrum.  Paying Taylor what he’ll get as an average starting quarterback on the free agent might be more than they would like.  On the other hand, not paying him means starting over with someone else who may well not be as good.

It will be interesting to see how Taylor does against the Dolphins defense, one that isn’t exactly the ’85 Bears but on the other hand can cause you some serious headaches with a defensive line that is finally starting to perform up to its reputation. In other words, it’s a defense that a quality quarterback should be able to perform against.


5.  The Chicago Bears and injured 2014 first round pick Kyle Fuller find themselves having an interesting but common problem amongst NFL teams. Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio summed things up in an unusually candid way for a modern NFL coach.
“Any time a guy’s hurt, there’s three stages to getting back to the field,” Fangio said. “One is you’ve got to get medical clearance. Two, the player’s got to say he’s ready to go and feels confident and he’s champing at the bit to go play. And then the coaches get involved and see if he’s better than what the other choices are and if he really is back to being able to play. A has happened. B hasn’t. So C is a non-issue.”

Translation: We think he can play but he doesn’t want to.  The Bears eventually gave up and put Fuller on IR this week.

The problem is that you can’t climb into the head of a player and figure out what the issue is.  Fuller is a former track star and there is some thought that perhaps he just doesn’t want to play unless he’s close to 100%.

Tracy Porter summed up the attitude amongst most NFL players, one that most teams would prefer was the predominant one.  “If doctors or trainers say it’s not going to damage you in the long run, then if you can tough it out, that’s what some guys try to do.”

“Overall, it’s a very fine line trying to be tough versus trying to be responsible and (not) further damage yourself and your team.”

But that doesn’t appear to be what’s upper most in Fuller’s mind.  Presumably, being medically cleared, he can’t damage his knee further by playing.  But he’s still not on board.  His comments on the matter are interesting.

Said Fuller: “I just listen to my body. It tells me what I can and can’t do. Right now I can’t go out there and play. That’s the line, I guess.”

I suppose.  But I really wonder how many players “listen to their body”.  And I wonder if they do, how many times it says, “don’t play football” but they do anyway.  My guess is a lot.  Once you’ve played one game in the NFL, my bet is that every player in the league has a body telling him not to play.  That’s professional football.

Availability is a talent.  Football is going to punish your body and there’s no getting around that.  If you don’t accept it, you don’t’ play.  And if they don’t play, Fuller and those like him aren’t going to be around long even after they’re healthy.


6.  I mentioned last week that players like the Seahawks Richard Sherman, who fans and media insist are intelligent despite the ridiculously stupid things that pour out of their mouths, irritate me.
Sherman has again inserted himself into my consciousness as he abused Jim Moore of ESPN 710 in Seattle, one of the members of the sycophantic media I referred to. The exchange came as a result of a sideline exchange where Sherman screamed at Seattle offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell after the Seahawks had tried a pass play at the goal line rather a run play. The play choice stirred up dark memories of Seattle’s goal-line interception in Super Bowl XLIX.

Sherman: “You don’t want to go there. You do not. I’ll ruin your career.”

Moore: “You’ll ruin my career? How are you going to do that?”

Sherman: “I’ll make sure you don’t get your media pass anymore.”

Moore: “Is that right?”

Sherman: “Yes, it is.”

Sherman later apologized but it was too late.  Setting aside whether Sherman could actually see that Moore never gts another press pass (my guess is that he could), he once again showed his stupidity in, like so many players, looking at the working press as the enemy.

Sherman fails to understand that most reporters are actually fans.  If not fans of the team, then fans of the sport.  Virtually all of them are happier when they are writing positive things.  But they need help from players and coaches in order to do that.

Moore was giving Sherman an opportunity to explain himself and put the incident in a positive light )if possible).  Responding with threats instead of quotes leaves reporters with no choice but to put the most negative spin possible on this incident and those like it.

Players and coaches would do well to treat reporters as partners rather than adversaries.  Many of the truly smart ones know that and many are treated well far past the time that they deserve to be when they act upon that knowledge.  Rams head coach Jeff Fisher lasted far longer than his record would have indicated that he should have because his relationship with the press was excellent and many refused to attack him for years because of it.

Unfortunately Sherman has once again proven to be less than the intelligent person that his fans insist that he is.  In fairness, he is unfortunately far from alone.


7.  The Cleveland Browns are becoming more and more likely to be the second team in NFL history to go 0-16 and not win a game. The experience is obviously wearing on head coach Hue Jackson.
Jackson reportedly spoke with Browns Executive Vice President Sashi Brown for an extra 30 minutes after a recent loss to the Giants before addressing the media.  When he emerged from his office, his eyes welled up with tears in his postgame press conference while explaining that being winless “is probably the hardest thing ever.”
It is evident that this season is getting to him emotionally and that he’s seeking answers from the front office for how things will be different going forward.

I hope Jackson’s not holding his breath.  Browns owners Jimmy and Dee Haslam recently held a full staff meeting at the team facility in Berea, OH and preached continuity.  Speakers at the meeting also included Brown and Chief Strategy Officer Paul DePodesta.  The meeting was intended to calm the waters and boost morale of a staff that’s lived through the Browns 3-30 record since the end of 2014.

For the record, continuity is a good thing.  If you’ve got the right people in place, that is.  But whether the Browns do is highly, highly questionable.  The two men in charge are Brown, a lawyer, and DePodesta, a statistician who helped oversee the “money ball” success of baseball’s Oakland As.  And that has to be leaving the well-regarded Jackson feeling like he’s been cut a drift in strange NFL waters with no land in sight.

Haslam is trying an admittedly innovative, analytics-based front office model but there’s no evidence it’s working. In fact, there’s data to the contrary — the Browns’ winless record and a lackluster 2016 draft class.

You feel for Jackson but, similarly, you have to feel even worse for the fan base.  Dolphin fans can certainly identify to some extent as they prepare to break out of their own streak of seasons without a playoff win.  This writer follows the Chicago Bears who haven’t won a Super Bowl since 1986 and have only sniffed the playoffs once in the last ten years.  Before that I grew up with the old St. Louis Cardinals. Try following a team that would typically select a player in the first round only to have draft rooms around the league break out into open laughter.

But all of that pales in the face of the brutal way that the Browns franchise has treated its fans over the course of more than 50 years.  The NFL lives by selling its fans hope for the future.  The Bears in Ryan Pace have a real general manager in charge who was previously with a reasonably successful franchise in the Saints.  The Dolphins are run by executive Mike Tannenbaum but at least general manager Chris Greer, with 17 years experience with the Dolphins, is right there with him.

Imagine what it’s like knowing that the only way your franchise of choice is going to be able to build is through a draft run by two guys who have never worked in an NFL personnel department.  This might be the most incredible thing I’ve ever witnessed in a league that produces incredible things almost for its living.  That Browns fans manage to hang on in quiet desperation year after year is a testament to either their fortitude or their stupidity.  Probably both.

In either case, both they and their head coach deserve better.  But I don’t see how they’re going to get it any time soon.


8.  The Jacksonville Jaguars joined the Los Angeles Rams by firing their head coach last week in order to get an early jump on finding a new coaching staff. The Jaguars (2-12) fired Gus Bradley after the franchise’s ninth consecutive loss Sunday. Bradley went 14-48 in four seasons in Jacksonville, the worst winning percentage (.225) of any NFL coach with at least 60 games.
General manager Dave Caldwell said Monday that former New York Giants Tom Coughlin “would be somebody we’d be interested in talking to” about the team’s coaching vacancy.

The 70-year-old Coughlin was Jacksonville’s first head coach, leading the Jaguars to a 68-60 record in eight seasons (1995-2002). Coughlin resigned last January after 12 seasons with the Giants, but has made it clear he wants to return to the NFL. He is currently serving as a senior adviser to the league’s football operations department.
Caldwell could give him a shot at getting back on the sidelines.
“Tom’s a great man and a great person, and we’ll see where it goes,” Caldwell said. “There will be a lot of guys we’re interested in talking to.”
There are plenty of hot young names that are undoubtedly high on the Jaguars list.  Current interim head coach Doug Marrone will undoubtedly get a good look.  Former San Francisco 49ers coach and current University of Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh, Detroit Lions defensive coordinator Teryl Austin, Dallas Cowboys offensive coordinator Scott Linehan, Atlanta Falcons offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan and Pittsburgh Steelers offensive coordinator Todd Haley should get varying degrees of consideration.

But in some ways, Coughlin does make a great deal of sense.  His history with the franchise would make him a popular hire despite his age.  He’s also an offensive coach with some history developing quarterbacks, most recently and famously, Eli Manning with the Giants with whom he won two Super Bowls.  Fixing young Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles, who has regressed dramatically this year, will be the first and most important thing on the agenda for a new head coach in Jacksonville no matter who they hire.

There is some talent on the Jaguars that may make potential hires feel that they can win immediately in a very weak AFC South division if they can get the quarterback situation squared away quickly.  This will be a popular job amongst the candidates and it’s one to keep an eye on.


9.  With the Jaguars job and the Rams job now both open, here’s one absolute dead solid guarantee that I will make. There is no way on heaven’s green earth that Jim Harbaugh is leaving the University of Michigan to take an NFL head coaching job.  It’s possible he’ll do it someday.  But absolutely not this year.
Why?    He hasn’t beaten Ohio State and he hasn’t won a national championship.

When Harbaugh was at Stanford he flat out hated Pete Carroll at USC once actually prodding the normally easy going Carroll to exclaim, “What is your problem?!”  I sense the same passion when it comes to Urban Myer and the Ohio State Buckeyes.  Harbaugh is on a mission and he’s not going to be side tracked by the NFL now that he’s got his teeth into the rivalry.

In my opinion he’s well on his way to accomplishing both goals as Ohio State didn’t so much beat Michigan as Michigan beat itself this year.  The less talented but more disciplined team won the 2016 match up but that won’t last long and if Michigan isn’t in the national championship playoff next year, I’ll be surprised.  If Harbaugh ever gets to the point where he’s actually won that playoff a couple times, yes, I can see him taking on the challenge of an NFL job.

But he’s got plenty of time in the future for that.  Ohio State is right now and that’s all that’s driving him.

No Game Comments: Washington at Chicago 12/24/16

Sorry.  Traveling for Christmas and won’t see this game against the Redskins until Christmas morning at the earliest.

I know a lot of you are pulling for a loss to get a higher draft pick but I’d rather see the team finish on the upswing.  I’m going to go so far as to buck the odds and predict a victory.

Go Bears.

Management

 

 

Quick Game Comments: Packers at Bears 12/18/16

Defense

  1. Two third downs on the first drive, two blown plays by Nick Kwiatkowski as first he missed a sack on Aaron Rogers and then he gave up a catch to tight end Jared Cook on 3rd and 11. The Packers eventually scored a touchdown on the drive.I know he’s just a rookie and he needs time.  But you’ll forgive me if I say that I have my share of doubts about this guy.
  2. Aaron Rogers looked good moving in the pocket early in this game as he did a nice job of eluding the Bears pass rush. However, its worth noting that the Bears were getting pressure and it wasn’t always because they were blitzing.
  3. Also speaking of the pressure, Rogers didn’t do the Packer offensive line any favors. He held the ball an awful long time on some of his drop backs hoping (apparently) that someone would get open.  How much of that was Rogers and how much of that was the Bears defensive backs is debatable but I’m guessing it’s a combination.  When Rogers is at his best, he’s dropping back and getting rid of the ball quickly to a receiver somewhere.
  4. Aaron Rogers looked good moving in the pocket early in this game as he did a nice job of eluding the Bears pass rush. However, its worth noting that the Bears were getting pressure and it wasn’t always because they were blitzing.
  5. Also worth noting was how well scouted the Bears had the Packers. For instance, in the first quarter on third and two but the Bears apparently knew from the formation that a pass was coming and kept only 6 in the box.  And a pass it was.  It was like that all game.
  6. I’m impressed by Ty Montgomery as a running back. He’s really quite a patient runner for a wide receiver playing running back.  I like him and at the moment I’m thinking he’s the best running back on the roster including the injured players.
  7. The Bears initially did a nice job against the run. The defensive line got good penetration and the linebackers attacked the line of scrimmage.  I’ll give Montgomery and Christine Michael some credit for breaking tackles but some awful tackling on the part of the Bears led to some big runs that totally ruined the effort here.  As a result, the Packers had a big day on the ground.  Very frustrating to watch as a Bears fan.
  8. J. Wilson had a good game today with 3 tackles, 1 for loss, and a sack. You have to wonder if he’s on the Bears radar for the future.
  9. Pernell McPhee finally pulled a sack out this game as he had two and he also had two tackles for loss. He needed to start producing. 

    The­­­re’s no more guaranteed money on McPhee’s deal and he’s due a $200,000 roster bonus June 1 with a base salary of $6.95 million for 2017.  That’s a lot to pay for a guy who has shown a lot of potential but who has really only had limited success for the team.”It’s going to be serious, especially me,” McPhee said. “I am coming back. I have a chip (on my shoulder) bigger than, I don’t know what. This offseason, I am going hard. That is going to be my focus. Just going to make sure I give it all I have the rest of this season and then go this offseason and get my whole body right. It’s going to be a transformation.”

    Outside linebacker Lamarr Houston is on injured reserve and he is due $6 million in 2017.  He will likely be released after the season.  That could help McPhee as they likely don’t want to be down two pass rushers going into the offseason acquisition period.  They don’t’ exactly grow on trees.

  1. Many will point to the offense for coming back to make this a game. As far as I’m concerned, big kudos are to the defense are in order.  Their fortitude in the face of multiple turnovers from Barkley was admirable.

Offense

  1. In contrast to Aaron Rogers, I thought Matt Barkely’s accuracy and ball placement was off in the cold weather and I’d say it was a big factor in the interceptions that he overthrew to receivers.Barkley is a California boy and if he sticks with the team next year I think he may need to adjust to the brutal Chicago weather.
  2. It took a while but Matt Barkley finally connected with Alshon Jeffery with 6 catches for 89 yards and a touchdown in the fourth quarter.Jeffery never really established that connection with Brian Hoyer at any point. A good part of that was Hoyer’s tendency to go where the coverage dictated and, given that Jeffery was the best receiver on the field and frequently double covered, he was rarely the first option.

    Barkley seems to be cut from the same cloth but Jeffery found himself in some soft coverage with the Packers protecting a big lead and Barkley took advantage.

  3. Nice stiff arm from Josh Bellamy on Demarious Randall on the first Bears touchdown. I was impressed by the fact that he got in after taking a wide receiver screen behind the line of scrimmage more than 10 yards out.
  4. Dowell Loggains was frequently criticized for not running Jordan Howard enough last week with only 13 carries. Several weeks ago, the Packers held Howard to 22 rushing yards on a mere seven carries. He also didn’t have a catch. It was Howard’s least productive game since he took over as the starter in Week 4.Before the Packers went up 17, the Bears had only run the ball 11 times compared to 23 passes.  However, in fairness to Loggains the Bears were going nowhere on the ground for most of the game up to that point. They had about 4 yards per carry at that point and Howard had some nice runs but the truth is that the Packers stopped him cold at the line of scrimmage most of the time.

    The Bears won’t go far in that kind of weather without running the ball better.

Miscellaneous

  1. Kevin Burkhardt, John Lynch, and Pam Oliver were your announcers. Lynch isn’t the best color man in the league but he isn’t the worst.  At least he comments on the most relevant material given to him, missing very little.  But having said that, he didn’t teach me much and I found his relentlessly positive commentary when describing both teams to be irritating and he had a bad habit of describing missed penalties as “good plays” by the player who committed them.  Burkhardt was irritatingly overly enthusiastic as well and both.
  2. Special teams on both sides were fine. Josh Bellamy downed a punt at the one yard line on a nice play and that was the highlight for the Bears.
  3. The Bears had their share of drops but Aaron Rogers was absolutely victimized by his receiver’s inability to hold on to the ball. Jordy Nelson dropped a long gain in the first quarter and Devante Adams dropped not 1 but 2 touchdowns.  I actually laughed when Lynch called the Packer receivers “normally sure handed” when, in fact, they are normally anything but.  Having said that, this was ridiculous.For the Bears, Alshon Jeffery dropped a pass in the first quarter that may or may not have been a first down.  Cameron Meredith dropped a first down in the third quarter.  He was interfered with but he still should have had it. He also had a potentially big one in the fourth quarter with the Bears driving on their comeback. Bellamy dropped yet another pass, this time at the end of the third quarter.
  4. Killer holding penalty on Tracy Porter in the first quarter gave the Packers a first down when they were backed up in their own territory.
  5. Barkley threw an interception in the first half that I may have been a little underthrown. But he threw two more that were definitely overthrown in the cold.  Julius Peppers came around practically untouched past Charles Leno to cause a strip sack deep in Bears territory.  He also recovered the fumble.
  6. I thought the Bears put forth a good effort today and I saw a lot of good things, especially after they came back from the dead to score 17 points in the fourth quarter to make a game of it.  But no one can be surprised by this result.  When you give the ball away 4 times and you get no turnovers yourself, what do you expect?

Quick Game Comments: Bears at Lions 12/11/16

Defense

  • The Bears came out playing man to man defense.  The Lions did a good job of passing against it.
  • Matthew Stafford came out ready to play.  He was accurate, he got rid of the ball quickly and on time.
  • I was also impressed with Stafford’s mobility this game.  He did a nice job of avoiding the rush, all things considered as he made hay outside the pocket.
  • The Bears did a nice job of holding the defensive front early and they did a nice job of both stopping the run and getting pressure on Stafford.  The Lions offensive line is certainly nothing to write home about and the Bears did a nice job of taking advantage of that.
  • Leonard Floyd, in particular, really looked good today.  He and Akiem Hicks seemed to be living in the Lions offensive backfield.

Offense

  • Everyone wondered how Lions defensive coordinator Teryl Austin was going to attach Matt Barkely.  It became evident early on.  Though they mixed it up a bit, they blitzed him quite a bit the whole game.  He wasn’t perfect but I thought he handled it reasonably well all things considered.
  • The Bears response was to run the ball and stick with the short passing game and they didn’t do a bad job of it.  Eventually the Lions stacked the box and dared Barkley to beat them through the air.
  • The offensive line did a pretty good job of moving the Lions defensive front and the Bears found some success in the running game.  They protected Barkley pretty well despite the blitzing up until the fourth quarter when Barkley started to see a lot more pressure.
  • Having said that, I thought Barkley’s ball placement eroded a bit in the after the first quarter.
  • Barkley did a nice job early of getting the ball out quickly and accurately to the right receiver.  He also showed some all important pocket movement to find throwing lanes that we haven’t seen before.
  • Barkley tried hard to throw an interception when under pressure in the second half.  It reminded me a great deal of his first start.  He’s going to have to get out of the habit of just chucking the ball up every time he gets in trouble.

Miscellaneous

  • Spero Dedes and Solomon Wilcots were your announcers.  I don’t have a problem with these guys in that they are professional and clear.  They hit all of the high points and do a good job of describing the action.  But if you are waiting for those, “Gee, I’ve been watching football for forty years and I never thought of that” moments, you aren’t going to find many.  I didn’t learn much from them today.
  • Special teams were OK on both sides.
  • I like Josh Bellamy as an underdog well enough.  But I’m getting tired of watching him drop balls.  Having said that, it was really the Lions who dropped far too many balls today.  That, along with their penalties really hurt them.
  • The Jeff Triplette officiating crew held to form today, calling a lot of penalties as is their habit.  The Lions (7 for 55 yards) shot themselves in the foot with wit too many penalties at critical times and the man to man coverage that the Bears were running caused them to commit a number of damaging pass interference penalties that hurt them badly.  The had 11 total for 139 yards and a couple holding penalties on the final Bears drive in the fourth quarter were killers.
  • The Bears finally came up with a turnover as Demantre Hurst intercepted a ball in end zone in the fourth quarter with a big play.  That was follwed by a pick six by Cre’Von LeBlanc that put the Bears up 17-13 midway through the fourth quarter.  Now it has to go from being a miracle when they get one to something we see regularly.
  • This wasn’t the prettiest game you’ll see but the Lions clearly played better when it counted today.  The Bears had their chances and couldn’t get the job done.  Clearly learning to finish is one more thing that this team needs to do before they will climb out of the cellar to win more football games.

Quick Game Comments: 49ers at Bears 12/4/16

Defense

  1. The 49ers came out mixing it up but it was evident form the beginning that they were going to be much better running the ball and before long that’s what they concentrated on. The blocking up front in terms of this aspect of the game was excellent.One of the questions of the day was whether, with Jerrell Freeman and Danny Trevathan out, Nick Kwiatkowski and Jonathan Timu would be able to stop Carlos Hyde and the 49er running game. The answer as far as I could see was “no”. Thought Kwiatkowski made the occasional play, both linebackers were generally were well blocked and they certainly struggled to play downhill and attack the line of scrimmage. Yards per run.
  2. The blocking was not excellent when it came to the pass rush and the Bears got good pressure on Colin Kaepernick. The Bears had 5 sacks and 4 quarterback hits through three quarters on Kaepernick. They had six for the game including the one for a late safety on Blaine Gabbert.
  3. The 49ers had Timu spotted as a weakness in coverage right off the bat and they were targeting him by sending the running backs out wide as receivers. It looked to me like it might have worked better on a day when the passing game was clicking. That might be womething we see other teams do in the future.
  4. Akiem Hicks had 10 tackles and two sacks and was all over the place. He kept the Bears in the game almost single handedly in the first half.
  5. Colin Keapernick has been performing at very high level. It’s hard to say that his performance today was consistent with that. Kaepernick entered the game with 8 TDs compared to just 2 INTs and his passer rating was 96.0.The problem is that neither team threw the ball much in the first half so Kaepernick was largely reduced to a runner. Of course, he’s athletic and he did a decent job of that.

    In the second half when both teams threw the ball more, Kaepernick’s accuracy was pretty awful. He either missed, underthrew or overthrew a number of wide open receivers in the snow and cold weather. I’d say he took a step back. At the end of the third quarter, the 49ers had -21 yards passing and Kaepernick was 1 of 5 for 4 yards. He was replaced by Blaine Gabbert in the fourth quarter.

    The Bears might have won this game doubly by losing if Kaepernick had looked good. Not would it have put them into a position to draft ahead of the 49ers in 2017 but Kaepernick’s performance would have been one more reason for the 49ers to believe that he’s their future answer at quarterback and it would have given them one more reason not to draft one in the early rounds.

    As it is, the question of what the 49ers will do at the quarterback position next year remains up in the air.

  6. There were pre-game reports that Willie Young might not play due to a knee injury. But he did play and, like the rest of the front seven when it came to the pass rush, he played well doing his part to get pressure on Kaepernick. He had a sack.

Offense

  1. Like the 49ers, the Bears came out running the ball against one of the worst run defenses in the league. It seemed evident from the beginning that was the plan.Of course, the problem with that plan, as with the 49ers, is that you have to execute. The Bears were constantly finding themselves in situations where it was third and long due to penalties and mistakes.
  2. There was almost no passing for almost the entire first half. Then the Bears went into the two minute drill and suddenly they come to life, pass their way down the field and take the lead at half time by scoring a touchdown making it 7-6. Apparent this is Matt Barkley’s specialty and they should run the offense like that all the time.
  3. Perhaps the best quality that Barkley possesses is that he seems to know where the ball needs to go and he gets rid of it quickly to the right spot most of the time. Barkley doesn’t hold on to the ball long. It was hard to say after the first half that he showed that again today just because there was so little passing. But where they did throw, especially I the second half, he generally looked like he did when he was at his bet last week.I thought outside linebacker Willie Young’s quote on Barkley was interesting. Young was a seventh round pick and a long shot to be in the league as long as he has been.

    “Guys like me are few and far between. But if we get an opportunity, the only thing we know how to do is take advantage of it. Whatever happens after that, happens. I play on the edge. I honestly feel like [Barkley] played on the edge also.”

    Despite that, I have to believe that Barkley’s physical limitations probably will keep him as a backup in the NFL and my impression is that is what the Bears see him as. But if they have only found a solid back up, at least it puts them one step closer to having a plan for the position as a whole.

  4. After dropping last week’s game winning touchdown and then another easy catch for a big gain early in the second half, you had to wonder if Josh Bellamy was going to collapse under the weight of his own failures. But he didn’t. He came back to make a nice catch on the same drive that he dropped the ball, setting the Bears up on the 49er 11 yard line. He then made several nice catches on the next drive, one of which brought them to the 49 six yard line. Both drives resulted in touchdowns.
  5. Credit the Bears patchwork offensive line for doing a decent job protecting Barkley. He was only sacked once.
  6. One of the younger players that has caught the Bears attention is tight end Daniel Brown, an undrafted free agent with the Ravens last year. Brown is a pass catching tight end who is a converted wide receiver. He had 3 catches for 24 yards last week in place of Zach Miller and 2 catches for 13 yards this week. Perhaps his best play was when he drew a pass interference call in the endzone that set the Bears up on the 49er one yard line near the end of the half. They scored the touchdown.You get the impression that the Bears think they’ve found something in Brown (he played in 54 of the 81 snaps last week) but its too early to tell whether he will pan out. So far so good.

Miscellaneous

  1. Kenny Albert, Daryl Johnston, Laura Okmin were your announcers. I thought that Johnston did a good job of providing insight into what was really a dog game no matter how you look at it. Kudos to this team for not simply phoning it in.
  2. It wasn’t a good game for Bears special teams. It started on the opening kick off where the 49ers returner bobbled the football but still got beyong the 25 yard line and didn’t get better from there.A blocked punt resulted in the 49ers getting the ball on the Bears 4 yard line. Fortunately the 49ers are as undisciplined as the Bears are and an unsportsman-like conduct penalty pushed them back to the 19. The 49ers settled for a field goal. Paul Lasike also dropped a kick off that ended up leaving the Bears deep in their own territory near the end of the first half.
  3. The Bears didn’t do too badly with only 5 penalties.  But the 49ers had far too many with 11 and some, like the pass interference in the end zone that set up the Bears first touchdown, were very damaging
  4. Jordan Howard entered the game leading the league with 7 dropped passes this season. So its good news that he didn’t drop any today that I thought he really should have had. Despite making some good catches as mentioned above, Bellamy still had two bad drops. That really has to stop. The 49ers had some awful drops in the second half as well.
  5. A fumbled kickoff return by Deonte Thompson gave the ball to the 49ers the ball at the Chicago 37 yard line. This was immediately following the blocked punt that handed the 49ers a field goal. So not a good sequence.  Other than that, turnovers weren’t much of a factor this game except that the Bears, one again, didn’t get any.
  6. I thought it was interesting that the 49ers came out “cold” in this game in more than one way. After playing well against the Dolphins last week, head coach Chip Kelly chose to keep them in sunny Orlando where the temperatures were in the 80s to practice all week. Meanwhile, the Bears were practicing in game conditions at Halas Hall. You have to wonder if Kelly’s decision to keep the team in the warm temperatures in Florida factored into the team’s slow start in this game as it was laye din some ugly winter weather.
  7. There were over 13,000 no shows for this game and frankly it looked like it was more than that on television. I guess that’s hardly surprising in cold weather with two of the worst teams in the NFL facing off.I’ve seen it suggested that the Bears don’t care that much about the low attendance because the tickets are already sold. I don’t know what the split is with the Chicago Parks District but I have to believe that the lost revenue from parking and concessions is significant.

    You can bet your life that they care about that.

  8. For those of you who are looking to see if John Fox gets fired after the season is over, you can stop. He and Ryan Pace look to me like they’re joined at the hip. Yes, I know that statistically Marc Trestman’s Bears did better but Trestman lost the locker room and that had more to do with his departure than anything else. All indications are that’s not the case with Fox and unless something changes, he’s not going anywhere.
  9. The Bears are actually a better team than the 49ers when healthy. But you could argue that mediocre teams need seasons like this to get better. With all of the injuries that the Bears have sustained, they are probably going to end up with a higher draft pick than their roster would otherwise dictate. In the end, whether you are elite or not depends on your ability to get impact players. And those are much easier to find at the top of the draft.
  10. I don’t like suggesting it but there were indications that the 49ers flat out gave up late in the third quarter and into the fourth quarter in this game. There were a lot of lapses in concentration, a lot of drops, a lot of bad defense being played out there. You have to wonder how much of the problem with that team is simple lack of heart.Fortunately the young Bears don’t seem to have that problem. They seem to hang in and play hard no matter the situation. In this case it served them well as they played a team that had been playing well in tough weather and played better than they did.

Quick Game Comments: Titans at Bears 11/27/16

Offense

  1. Some surprises  on the Bears first possession.  First play of the game is a long bomb that draws a pass interference call.  So much for easing Matt Barkley into the game the way that most teams would do.
  2. Second surprise, the Bears go for it on fourth and one on the Titan 30 yard line.  They didn’t get it.  Perhaps this as much as anything suggests that it this isn’t so much about wins and losses and it is about evaluation.  The Bear have nothing to lose and that, obviously, is going to be the mentality for the rest of the year.  There were plenty of guys out there who looked like they were having fun in their moment to shine in place of injured players.  Marquess Wilson looked pretty happy to just be catching passes and someone named Daniel Brown made a nice catch for the Bears first  touchdown.
  3. Having said all that the Bears really came out running.   Seven of their first 12 plays were runs and they were averaging almost 6 yards per carry.
  4. Titans really look like they came out flat for this game.  There aren’t that many games that they go into as the favorites and you wonder if they didn’t take the Bears seriously.  Whatever it was, it didn’t last long as they quickly began to dominate.
  5. Cody Whitehair had another brain fart as he had a bad snap deep in Bears territory that killed a drive.
  6. Kudos to Matt Barkley for standing in the pocket and looking down the barrel of the gun to deliver some tough throws knowing he was going to get hit.
  7. Give the Bears some credit.  The whole stadium knew they were going to throw in the fourth quarter during their comeback and they did a decent job of protecting Barkley, who got the ball out fast.

 

Defense

  1. The Titans also came out running as expected and they did  a nice job of it.  It nicely set up the play action pass for big games, particularly in the first quarter where at least one long pass was completed to Delany Walker as Adrian Amos was caught flat footed looking for the run.  He’s got to understand that he’s being set up and he should be looking for that throw.
  2. Bryce Callahan wasn’t much better as he was repeatedly burned.  His job has to be in jeopardy.
  3. The play action pass also really helped what is an average Titan receiving corp excel.
  4. The Titans really dominated the line of scrimmage.  They protected Marcus Mariota well and the pass rush rarely gave Marcus Mariota much trouble.  More importantly, they completely neutralized the Bears front seven rush in the running game.  Nearly every run got to the second and third level.
  5. Marcus Mariota did some big damage with his mobility.  He typically dropped back, looked for a target and if he didn’t see someone relatively quickly, he took off.  It was something you expect to see a rookie do but it was still plenty effective.
  6. Mariota has to lose the cheesy mustache and the soul patch.  It looks ridiculous.
  7. Nice catch by Rishard Matthews right before the half for the Titans third touchdown.
  8. Nick Kwiatkowski didn’t do much special but he held his own.  He was the primary force that stopped Demarco Murray from scoring a touchdown last in the third quarter.
  9. Mariota had a wonderful game.  The guy throws a pretty deep ball.

 

Miscellaneous

  1. Spero Dedes and Solomon Wilcots were your announcers.  I found it to be amusing that the Bears didn’t even rate a sideline reporters.  They weren’t irritating and they did a decent job of accurately describing the action.  Having aid that, I can’t say that I learned much.  When the audio went out briefly in the second quarter I can’t say that I missed it that much.
  2. Special teams weren’t bad.  The Bears pulled a surprise of the type that the Titans have been pulling off recently.  They started the second half with an onside kick and recovered it.  Bears special teams coordinator Jeff Rogers trained under Titans special teams coordinator Steve Hoffman.  Perhaps he’s trying to show that he can coach like the older veteran.
  3. The Titans were really burned by some pass interference calls in the first half.  As it turns out, no harm done as the Bears went for it on fourth and one and didn’t complete the pass on the first one and Matt Barkley threw an interception deep in Titan territory after the second.  The Titans weren’t the only one to have trouble in this respect.  An offensive pass interference by Logan Paulsen eliminated a first down.  A defensive holding from Bryce Callahan kept the Titans alive on the drive that resulted in the their second touchdown, as well.
  4. I was disappointed at the number of drops in this game.  For instance, Jordan Howard dropped a touchdown in the first quarter.  Cameron Meredith had one that stuck out at the beginning of the second quarter that should have been a first down and another in the fourth quarter as the offense worked to make a game of it.  Josh Bellamy dropped a first down near the end of the half and two more in the fourth quarter.  Marquess Wilson dropped a very good long pass in the fourth quarter that would have set the Bears up for a potential touchdown and would have really lifted some spirits at that point.  He then dropped another perfectly thrown ball in the end zone.  And, of course, Bellamy dropped a potential game winning touchdown.  These guys really let Matt Barkley down.
  5. Matt Barkley threw a bad interception behind Ben Braunecker where Wesley Woodyard picked it off deep in Titan territory that took at least three points off the board.  He threw another crushing interception in the end zone while under pressure.  That wasted a good effort coming out after halftime after the team recovered an onside kick.
  6. This was a particularly disappointing game for me because the Bears were not only outclassed talent-wise but because they literally seemed to make every mistake that you can make.  Average Titans receivers ran by defensive backs like they were traffic cones.  Too many penalties, drops, crushing turnovers, bad tackling and even a bad shotgun snap.  You name it, they did it.  I guess the good news is that there’s a lot to work on.  Any consistent improvement will be very easy to see at this point.

 

Some Random NFL Thoughts as Week 11 of the Season Comes to a Close

I haven’t had a chance to post much other than game thoughts lately.  Things have been a bit hectic at work and though they show no signs of slowing down, I thought I’d try to get a post up on some NFL thoughts this week as Well 11 wraps up tonight.

      1. Jared Goff didn’t have a great game yesterday.  But that’s understandable.  He’s a rookie in his first start and yet he arguably out played Ryan Tannehill for most of the game yesterday against the Dolphins until a dramatic comeback in the last five minutes of the game stole it away from him..

        Notably Goff has a (perhaps natural at this stage) tendency to panic under pressure.  Whenever he even sensed that a blitz was coming he rushed the pass and it was usually inaccurate.  He’s going to have to settle down and learn to keep calm in those situations.

        I might add that Goff’s accuracy and ball placement were generally a disappointment this game.  In fairness he saw a fair bit of pressure from the Dolphins defensive front and he was throwing on the move quite a bit.  Though he’s certainly mobile, based upon what I saw, that is not his strength and he’s going to have to be given some time in the pocket if the Rams expect his to succeed.

        Many were surprised when Rams head coach Jeff Fisher decided to promote first overall draft pick, quarterback Jared Goff, to the starting lineup.  Reports were that reports that Goff wouldn’t play until the Rams were mathematically eliminated. They’re still alive at 4-5, and if Goff gives the offense a spark they could end up in the mix for a playoff berth.  But head coach Jeff Fisher has claimed that Goff is ready.

        “It’s was just Jared’s progress, and the progression week, after week, after week,” Fisher said. “Preparing to be a two, preparing to be a play away from going in. When he got the reps over the last three or four weeks, they were right, they were good, they were good decisions. So it was time.”

        That’s all nonsense, of course.  Goff struggled notably in the preseason and there’s hardly much reason to believe he’s gotten significantly better with no playing time since.

        The truth is that the Rams have little to lose at this point.  The offense had, in fact, done very little under former starter Case Keenum.   Keenum was not the reason the Rams have been so bad but he hasn’t helped. This season he’s completed 61 percent of his passes for 2,169 yards, with nine touchdowns and 11 interceptions. He was sacked 23 times and the Rams are 24th in the NFL in sacks allowed per pass play.

        Keenum’s interception percentage is 31st in the NFL and the Rams are 31st in the NFL in touchdowns per game. In fact, the Rams have not scored more than one TD in each of the past three games.

        Given that is the case, Fisher wisely figured that he might as well let the offense be just as bad while developing their quarterback of the future.  As they have in all of their previous games, they will still rely on their defense to win.

        The real question is whether the Rams even can develop Goff.  Jeff Fisher is a defensive head coach and his Assistant Head Coach/Offense, Rob Boras is a former offensive line/tight ends coach.  That means the person who has been primarily responsible for overseeing Goff’s development is quarterbacks coach Chris Weinke.  Weinke has all of two years of NFL coaching experience – 2015 and half of 2016 with the Rams.

        Goff is a wonderful talent.  But at least as important is who is bring him along.  The Rams have been a waste land for quarterback play since Kurt Warner left St. Louis in 2003. With Sam Bradford being its most recent and notable failure at the position.  You have to wonder if Goff is about to get lost in those bad lands as well.

      2. Speaking of the Dolphins, more and more I’m coming to appreciate the play of Kiko Alonzo.  He’s all over the field and he’s largely responsible for what has been an improved (though still flawed) run Dolphin defense.
      3. One more quick Dolphins-related thought.  I was a bit disappointed when Dolphins center Anthony Steen, who played well in place of starting center Mike Pouncey (hip) today, decided to criticize Alabama head coach Nick Saban last week.

        Steen told the Palm Beach Post that he now regrets waiting until the end of his senior season to have the shoulder surgery he needed, and he thinks Saban’s approach leaves Alabama players hurt.

        “If you can work through pain, you can go. But at ‘Bama, that was the problem,” Steen said. “A lot of things you went through and you shouldn’t have. You should have stayed off of it. That’s why a lot of guys from ‘Bama are hurt.”

        If Steen was actually hurt or had done permanent damage to his shoulder by playing, I agree would with him. But as far as I can tell he hasn’t. So I question whether Saban actually pushed him too far.

        Indeed, it may well be Steen’s toughness and willingness to play hurt was one of the reasons he has made it to the NFL.  One scout from the Bleacher Report before the 2014 NFL draft called Steen “Possibly the very definition of ‘toughness’ as it relates to OL scouting purposes.”  CBS Sports said, “Steen’s technical consistency, toughness and instincts are exactly what NFL teams look for in the ideal guard prospect.”  The statements are ironic given that the Dolphins chose highlight their 2016 draft class by trying to make them into something that they weren’t, characterizing them as “alpha personalities” despite zero independent evidence that scouts ever viewed them that way.  Steen appears to the kind of guy they should have been touting all along if that’s what they wanted.

        In any case, if you ask me Saban did Steen a favor.  He pushed him to play and, while doing so, highlighted what was perhaps his greatest strength.

      4. Greg Hardy is gone but hardly forgotten.

        Hardy infamously was arrest for domestic violence after assaulting an ex-girlfriend by grabbing her, throwing her into furniture, strangling her, and threatening to kill her.  Only the Dallas Cowboys and their win at all costs owner Jerry Jones dared to sign Hardy after he hit the street (One wonders what he told his granddaughter.  “Don’t go dating an NFL player, now darlin’.  Unless he can rush the passer.  Heh, heh, heh.”  [slaps her on the behind]).  However, after a miserable season with the Cowboys in which he under-performed and was a locker room distraction, even Jones let him go.  Hardy has been waiting for another team to sign him ever since.

        Good luck with that.  If he ever had a chance – and I doubt very much that he did – its got to be gone now after he was indicted on one count of felony possession of a controlled substance after a September 25 arrest. He allegedly had 0.7 grams of cocaine in his wallet, which police detected after pulling him over for turning without signaling.

        Hardy was and is a blight on the National Football League, a product of a win at all costs mentality that results in animals like this getting rich off of fans who are forced to root for them against their better judgement.  You honestly wonder under the circumstances how the league has the nerve to wear pink in October while keeping men like Hardy  employed.  Fortunately, we’ll almost certainly never have to deal with watching this particular hard case anymore.  Let’s hope that its extended more and more to others whose behavior calls for sanction rather than adulation.

      5. I find the Green Bay Packers to be like a train wreck.  I can’t look and yet I can’t look away.  Some pundits were predicting that the Packers would be among the all-time best this year with the return of a healthy Jordy Nelson, who was supposed to be the major missing cog in the Packer wheel that caused the apparently decline of Aaron Rogers stats last season.

        That hasn’t turned out to be the case.  Among their notable deficiencies this year has been their problems at running back.  The carousel of running backs in Green Bay this season has included Eddie Lacy, Knile Davis (acquired from Kansas City and released after two games), James Starks and Don Jackson (who was placed on injured reserve). Through it all, the most effective runners have been quarterback Aaron Rodgers (who’s averaging 6.3 yards per run and has three rushing touchdowns) and converted receiver Ty Montgomery (who was the team’s leading rusher in two different games this season).

        The latest hope at running back for the team is Christine Michael, who they picked up from waivers after the Seahawks surprised the league by releasing him.

        Michael had two different stints with the Seahawks, who drafted him in the second round in 2013 (one spot after the Packers picked Lacy at No. 61 overall). As recently as this summer, he had earned praise from his teammates who said he was a different player than he was the first time around.  Indeed, NFL pundits have marveled at Michael’s talent and production and it was thought that he was on his way to a fine season.

        At least publicly the Seahawks have only praise for Michael.  “He’s been busting his tail the whole time he’s been here,” Seahawks coach Pete Carroll told reporters on Wednesday. “Everything we’ve said about him has been true and real, and he made a great comeback with us. He was the only guy there for a while, and we’re really grateful to the play that he gave us. He’s a good kid.”

        But privately things may be a little different.  Reports have indicated that Michael was too inconsistent for the Seahawks and that they couldn’t trust him to run within the offense.  He struggled to hit the right hole or trust the design of the play. Those are vital elements of any run game but particularly for the Seahawks. The running back is the conductor of the offensive line. His patience, the number of steps he takes, all those details help a run succeed or fail.

        Whether Michael will be better within the Green Bay offense is an open question.  But they are so desperate to find answers at the position, they may rather have a reasonably productive back who free lances than the answers that they currently have on the roster.  Such is the state of what was supposed to be a record breaking offense this year

      6. Of course, the other major problem is the play of Aaron Rogers, himself.  Rogers at his best drops back, hits the last step in that drop and fires the ball immediately to the open receiver.  But he hasn’t looked like that on a consistent basis for over a year now, preferring to hold the ball and play backyard football while trying to make a play.  Pundits have blamed the fact that his receivers can’t get open for the problem and the return of Nelson this year was supposed to solve it.

        For the first time in his career, perhaps ever, Rogers is taking significant criticism from former teammates and the press.  And he apparently hasn’t liked it much.  Even nice guy Tony Dungy has gotten into the act as both he and not so nice guy Rodney Harrison took off on Rogers on Thursday’s edition of Football Night in Carolina on NBC and NFL Network.  Dungy and Harrison particularly addressed Rodgers‘ recent habit of publicly criticizing teammates and/or coaches during post-game press conferences following losses.

        Dungy: “When you’re losing, you can’t make those kinds of comments. I remember my first year in Indianapolis when we lost a playoff game to the Jets 41-0. Mike Vanderjagt, our kicker, comes out after the game and says, ‘Tony Dungy doesn’t fire people up. He’s just an easy-going guy. We don’t need that.’ Well, that might have been true, but when you lose, it’s not the time to say that.”

        Harrison: “I’m going to say this as nice as possible — shut up and play football. Every time that you mention something in the media, it creates a sense of divide in that locker room. Everything that they think about – say it in-house, and don’t bring the media and everyone outside of that locker room into it.”

        Former Packer Jermichael Finley has also been among the latest to speak out with some particularly damaging comments.

        “Aaron Rodgers is so scared of what guys are going to say that he doesn’t say nothing at all,” Finley said. “He doesn’t get vocal. He goes into his little shell. He’s not a guy who hangs out with the fellas. He’s real self-centered.”

        Finley isn’t the first teammate (former or otherwise) to take his shots at Rogers.  Even when Rogers has apparently been playing well, other players have or are suspected to have done so and they haven’t lasted with the team.  Former Packer and Dolphin guard Daryn College was one such player who called out Rogers in a team meeting for not admitting that he was holding the ball too long when the offensive line was taking heat some years ago in 2009.  Current Bears guard Josh Sitton wasn’t known specifically for doing it but he was outspoken and he was known to have called out the coaching staff on at least one occasion last year.  It would certainly not be surprising if criticism of Rogers miserable play last year came with that

        Rogers isn’t just self-centered.  He appears to be sensitive to criticism.  If he continues to play like he is, he’d better get used to it because it won’t stop until he starts reading the defense, getting rid of the ball, playing within the offense and throwing more accurately.

      7. I know that it seems like it’s a long way away but the later we get in both the NFL and the college football season, the more it feels like NFL draft time.  Indeed, site are already starting to speculate about what teams will need what and none will be more prominent than those who will be desperate for quarterback help.  In that respect, I found this article on NFL.com to be quite interesting.  In the column, former NFL scout Daniel Jeremiah looks at six teams who he thinks will be targeting the quarterback position.  Most made sense – the Browns, 49ers, Bears and Cardinals.  However, a couple were, in my opinion, questionable.

        First off, the suggestion that the Jets will be looking to draft a quarterback and/or sign a veteran is popular right now and, I think, pretty suspect.  The Jets drafted Bryce Petty in the fourth round in 2015 and, though fourth rounders aren’t always slam dunk starters, I’m not sure they given up on him.

        But Petty isn’t the reason I find this opinion questionable.  You might argue about the Jets commitment to his future but there’s not denying that they are committed to 2016 draft pick Christian Hackenberg.  Like Jeremiah, I don’t think Hackenberg is the answer for them.  But the Jets have to believe otherwise.  To draft Hackenberg in the second round and then not commit to him as your future starter would be ludicrous.  They would be, and should be, a laughing stock.

        No, I can’t imagine the Jets not giving Hackenberg the starting next year.

        The other suspect team on the list was the Jaguars, who appeared to have an answer at the position with Blake Bortles.  Bortles started well as a rookie but has regressed this season.  His mechanics are a mess and during the bye week he even resorted to visiting QB guru Tom House, indicating that perhaps he wasn’t getting the help he needed from head coach Gus Bradley and his staff.

        Bradley may be gone after this season but Bortles isn’t going anywhere.  I have to believe that the Jaguars would rather spend the offseason trying to fix Bortles, who at least has showed potential for a couple years before regressing, than starting over by drafting a new quarterback.

      8. Before we jump too far ahead it should be mentioned that one or two of those teams listed above are going to go for a veteran replacement.  Especially if you are a team who thinks that can win now, as in Arizona or Denver (not listed), the possibility of adding Tony Romo is going to be tempting.

        In addition, another quarterback that Dolphins fans are pretty familiar with might be enticing for one of these teams.  Tyrod Taylor entered the weekend needing to show that he could be the future in Buffalo badly.  Time could be running out for Taylor in his quest to convince management to activate the next phase of his five-year, $90 million contract, which would cost them $27 million for next season alone if they decide to kick in the second year.

        Buffalo beat the Bengals on Sunday but they did it with only an average effort from Taylor who went 19 for 27, 166 yards and a passer rating of 70.9.  Hardly the stuff that characterizes a $90 million quarterback.

        The bet here is that Taylors talent and mobility leads someone to sign him in the hope that he will be the future.  We shall see if it comes true.

 

 

Quick Game Comments: Bears at Giants 11-20-16

Offense

  1. The Bears came out running the ball on three of the first four plays.   In total, they ran the ball 17 times in the first half compared to 14 pass plays. The Bears made some yardage throwing to Jeremy Langford out of the backfield.   Then Jordan Howard went out with something in his eye and Cutler started throwing it to him in the backfield.  Langford is a pretty decent receiver after working all offseason on it and it was effective.  Indeed, Cutler used him on a blitz to get rid of the ball quickly on the very first series.
  2. Interestingly, despite Langford’s success, once Howard came back they went right back to the power running game, rarely throwing to Howard.  Nevertheless, Langford’s success makes you wonder if maybe they should be using him more as a change of pace.  Indeed, they did use him more in the second quarter and he scored the second Bears touchdown.
  3. The constant use of Howard, even when the running game wasn’t working, opened up the play action pass nicely and helped Cutler and his protection a great deal.
  4. Some credit has to go to the offensive line that came out and controlled the Giants offensive front in the first half.  The success of the entire offense, both the run game which served to set up everything, and the passing game where they gave Cutler pretty good protection, depended critically on them and early in the game they came through.
  5. Cutler made a beautiful throw to Zack Miller, who appeared to me to be well covered by a linebacker.  It was a nice play.  Indeed, Cutler had obviously decided that Miller was going to be his major target in the absence of Jeffery. Miller continued to make plays through out the first half until he had an apparent injury near the end of the period.
  6. While we’re at it, kudos to Cutler.  Coming off of his worst game of the year, he was dropping back in the first half and getting rid of the ball quickly, something he has to do to find success.  Its when Cutler drops back and holds the ball in an effort to make a big play (as he did in the second half) that he gets himself in trouble.  Like most quarterbacks, he’s at his best when he spreads the ball around, reads the defense at the line of scrimmage and gets rid of the ball quickly.
  7. It’s a shame that the Bears good offensive performance didn’t last into the second half when the Giants took over the line of scrimmage.  Cutler was under a great dal of pressure and it was evident that the loss of Josh Sitton may have broken the back of a pretty banged up offensive line.  Mike Adams and Charles Leno took turns giving up pressure.  Adams in particular looked totally overmatched against Jason Pierre-Paul.   And Cutler’s old problem identifying and avoiding back side pressure also started to rear its ugly head.  In fairness to Cutler, he did try to get rid of the ball quickly but the Giants were covering his receivers like a blanket and it was very difficult to find an uncontested throw.

Defense

  1. Giants came out on the first drive mixing it up and executing well.  One thing that you notice immediately is how under-rated Eli Manning’s movement in the pocket is as he avoids the rush with “phone booth quicks”.  Manning really is an under-rated quarterback.
  2. The Bears defense played pretty well in the first half.  They were fast to the ball and aggressive in the way that they need to be.  Generally speaking they tackled well, though when they did miss, especially on the outside as Cre’Von LeBlanc did on 4th and 2 in the second quarter, the Giants burned them.
  3. The LeBlanc play was the second 4th down conversion that they Bears yielded to extend a drive in the first half.  The first was far more damaging as it set the Giants up for their first touchdown.  The Bears need to do a better job of stiffening in those situations.
  4. The Bears didn’t generate much pass rush, that was as much a function of the play of the Giants offensive line as anything else.  Frankly, I’ve never seen a line hold so much and get away with it.  In any case, that lack of pressure burned them in the second half when Manning got things going.
  5. Despite that, I thought Leonard Floyd had a pretty good first half of football.  He was around Manning applying pressure for a good part of the time.  It was a shame to see him carted off on a back board and we can all hope, not just for his own future but for the future of the Bears, that he isn’t seriously injured.
  6. And Manning did eventually get things going.  The Giants snapped out of their funk after half time.  Taking advantage of all of the attention that the Bears were forced to give to Odell Beckham, Manning really started to spread the ball around and find the open man nicely.

 

Miscellaneous

  1. Kevin Burkhardt, John Lynch, and Pam Oliver did the announcing.  I’ve never been a big John Lynch fan but kudos to him for at least trying to teach me something as a fan on occasion.  We could have done far worse.
  2. Connor Barth missed the extra point on the first TD.  I’m sure that makes Robbie Gould feel better.  Temporarily.  Gould missed his first extra-point attempt as well, probably making Ryan Pace feel better in his turn in the process.  Overall, it wasn’t a good day for the kickers as Gould missed another extra point and Barth hit the post on a 54 yard field goal.  Deonte Thompson had a pretty good 40 yard return in the first half.  Pat O’Donnell had a good day punting.
  3. Adrian Amos did not do much to alleviate my concerns about his ability to make plays when he flat out dropped an interception that was right in his hands.  Such plays are often the difference between winning and losing.  Marquis Wilson dropped a big third down pass in the third quarter with the momentum having turned against the Bears.  Jordan Howard dropped a huge third down pass with 3:30 left in the game and the Bears down six points.
  4. Olivier Vernon roughing the passer in the first quarter – totally unnecessary.  The Bears stayed out of trouble with penalties (only 4 for 35 yards) but it was ruined by an awful holding penalty on Mike Adams on third and ten near the end of the first half took the Bears out of field goal range.  Ted Larsen had a big holding penalty with 2:39 left with the Bears driving to try to score at the end of the game.  Indeed, both teams played a relatively clean game.  The Giants only had 4 for 35 yards, themselves.
  5. Neither team turned the ball over until the final minute when Cutler threw an interception trying to make a play.  Cutler also gave up a sack and a forced fumble (which the Bears got back) at a critical time with 1:30 left in the game.
  6. Tony Romo repeated a common football mantra this week when he said that if you control the one inside of you, the one across from you really doesn’t matter.  In one respect, the Bears did that today in a season where wins and losses really don’t matter as much as showing progress as the season wears on.  Five penalties for 40 yards and no turnovers until the end of the game is a vast improvement over where they’ve been at for most of the year when they have continually shot themselves in the foot over and over.  The team isn’t good enough to overcome those kinds of mistakes and that was very evident today as they got totally out classed in the second half.

    They were beaten this game by a better team that also managed to play a clean game rather than handing them a win.  But I assure you that if they continue to play like that, this won’t be true every week.