Tough Fans, Tough Teams

Mike Florio on the problems the Vikings will face as they play the next two seasons outside while their new stadium is being built:

“For the Vikings, the bigger problem will be playing home games outdoors for two years before returning inside.  The inevitability of wind and cold and precipitation affects the manner in which a team is built.  To be successful the next two seasons, the Vikings need to build a team that can thrive in the elements.  Then, after two years playing outside, it’ll be time to reconfigure the team to get the most out of playing indoors.”

This is going to cause a lot of issues for a lot of people, not just the Vikings team, itself.

For example, the likelihood is going to be relatively high that a reasonable percentage of teams from divisions playing the NFC North are going face some ugly weather with Chicago, Green Bay and now Minnesota playing outside.  Some would call this a major advantage for teams within the division.  That could include the Vikings if display the needed mental toughness to excel cold weather.

But one thing I’ll be interested in will be the attendance in Minnesota.  No one knows how fans in the area who are used to attending indoor games are going to react to having to deal with the cold.  Minnesota fans don’t have the reputation around the division that, for example, fans in Green Bay and Chicago have.  Fans from these cities relish their reputation for showing up to in all kinds of weather to match the hardiness of their teams who are expected to play under the same conditions.  Now fans in Minnesota are going to have their chance to prove that they can muster the same attitude.

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“Don’t Let Familiarity Rob You of Your Joy”

Dan Wieder at the Chicago Tribune on soon to be free agent quarterback Josh McCown:

“[McCown] remembers an expression [Bears head coach MarcTrestman often recites: ‘Don’t let familiarity rob you of your joy.’”

“That’s the reminder to savor every moment, no matter how routine. That helps explain why McCown carries enthusiasm into every practice, why he cherished his game-day drives up Lake Shore Drive, why he always pinches himself on the way into Halas Hall.

“‘That door handle on the back of the facility, every time I grab it, it’s this moment for me,’ McCown says. ‘I’m walking in the facility again — where once I thought I was never going to do this again. So that will never get old. Ever.’”

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Bears Offensive Line Needs to Get Better, Too

John Mullin at argues that resigning center Roberto Garza makes the Bears offensive line unit better than the sum of its parts:

“…Garza has quietly become a player who makes players around him better. He has a comfort level with quarterback Jay Cutler, developed when the Bears and Olin Kreutz were parting ways in 2011. He is one reason why Kyle Long was a Pro Bowl alternate as a rookie guard; Long himself gave Garza effusive praise for his work in Long’s development.”

I don’t have a problem with this signing.  Even at age 35, Garza was probably their best option.

But having now decided to retain the entire offensive line with no changes, the Bears are leaving me with a vague sense of unease.  My mind keeps wandering back to the Bears only exposure to the best division in football last year, the NFC West, in a loss to the Rams.

Despite media attention given to the teams in this division which emphasized other areas, there’s one major reason why these teams were significantly better than the rest of the league – they dominated the line of scrimmage.  That includes the Bears game where the Rams under-rated front seven easily penetrated into the offensive backfield far too often in a 42-21 demolition.  And the Rams were 7-9 and finished in last place.

I’m not necessarily arguing that the Bears did the wrong thing.  The offensive line as it stands was reasonably solid.  Long and right tackle Jordan Mills are young and may yet significantly improve.  And they have a lot of needs on defense to fill with new personnel.  The offensive line can’t take priority right now.

But even with all of this, I’m thinking that if the Bears really want to be elite, staying with the same personnel on the offensive line might not be a long-term option.  Because good might not be good enough.

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Point Well Taken

Steve Rosenbloom at the Chicago Tribune makes a good point:

“Maybe it’s me, but when Bears general manager Phil Emery says that new Bears linebacker Shea McClellin was the team’s best ‘pass disruptor’ when he played defensive end, everyone looks stupid.”

“He’s still trying to defend his first Bears draft choice, but if he’s so proud of McClellin’s pass disruptions and if pass disruptions are so important, then why is he moving McClellin to linebacker?”

Rosenbloom isn’t the only one that found some odd comments in Emery’s appearance at the combine.  Hub Arkush also did a pretty good job of pointing out some of the weird things that Emery let slip out of his mouth at the press conference there as well.

The relative degree of openness that the current Bears leadership has displayed has been a breath of fresh air when compared to the last regime and its been much appreciated.  But I’m thinking maybe its time for Emery to rein it in a little now.

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Bears Promote New Offensive Line Coach

The Bears have removed offensive line coach from offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer's title and promoted assistant offensive line coach Pat Meyer. Rich Campbell at the Chicago Tribune quotes head coach Marc Trestman:

“The move will allow Aaron to still be closely connected to the instruction and development of the offensive line while expanding his coordinator duties and free up time to help in the growth of all of our offensive players.”

Left unsaid is that Kromer will likely be taking more responsibility for the offense as Trestman shifts more of his focus to helping ot improve a defense that had a rough go of it last year. This is a good sign that Trestman is going to do more than former head coach Lovie Smith did when the offense faltered under his watch.

If Kromer can pick up where Trestman left off with the offense such that there will be no sgnificant decline in performance while Trestman improves the defense, the Bears will be better this year. If that doesn't happen, Trestman is going to have to start seriously considering staff changes to find more competant coaches who can do more on thier own on both sides of the ball. It will be interesting to see what comes in year ahead.


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Defensive Line Needs More Size in 2014

John Mullin at addresses the Bears defensive line:

“Strategies: Besides specific personnel decisions, the Bears need to decide whether their defensive front is big enough. Injuries were not the only reason the Bears were being blown off the ball. [Jeremiah] Ratliff (303 pounds) is the only starter bigger than 300, and Stephen Paea, playing at about 290, was not stout enough at nose tackle.”

Mullin has an excellent point. If the Bears decide to go with a hybrid 4-3/3-4 defensive scheme, they will almost certainly need more size on the defensive line, especially if they decide to occasionally go with the classic 3-4 two gap scheme where each lineman is responsible for both gaps on either side of an opposing offensive linemane instead of one gap. Even if they play the more penetrating one gap style of 3-4 favored by coaches like Wade Phillips, they will want more size up front, especially at nose tackle.

Bottom line, when considering the Bears options at this position for 2014, I think we can expect to see the Bears concentrate on bigger defensive linemen.

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Ultimately It’s About the Players

Brad Biggs at the Chicago Tribune answers your questions:

“I read that defensive coaches Reggie Herring and Paul Pasqualoni have backgrounds as coaches on teams that play 3-4 defensive fronts. It's a known fact that the defensive coordinator Mel Tucker is also versed in the 3-4. My question is with the present defense being a 4-3 and dismissing a major change do you see the Bears playing a hybrid 4-3 in the upcoming season? – Chuck D., Guilin, China”Tucker has worked in a 3-4 scheme but the majority of his background is in a 4-3. The Bears are going to remain 4-3 based and I believe they will be more versatile with wrinkles this season. For all the emphasis there has been on scheme, though, I think we have gotten away from the fact that this is a players’ league and players win on Sundays, not schemes. The Bears didn’t have the personnel to win last season and they certainly didn’t have it after injuries piled up. They need playmakers on defense. If you have a defense loaded with playmakers, you can be dominant on defense with a Cover-2 scheme.”

I think going to a hybrid scheme is a good idea. Anything that confuses the offense even a little can creat as much as a half second hesitation and that can be a significant advantage. As long as your own players are well coached and know what they are doing, of course. If getting fancy with a hybrid scheme causes more mistakes it will be disastrous.

Having said that, Biggs is ultimately correct. It's about the players, especially the players up front. I think the Bears know that and I expect effective moves in that area.


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Defense Wins Championships?

Steve Rosenbloom at the Chicago Tribune compares the Bears defense to the Seahawks by claiming that there is no comparison:

“The more I watched the Seahawks defense in the Super Bowl, the more embarrassed I was for the Bears defense.

“The less hope I hold for the Bears defense next season, as well. And maybe the season after that.”

There were 767 words in this article. Rosenbloom talks about the linebackers, the safeties, the corners, the speed the athleticism, and the tackling. And the fact that the Bears need all of it. 767 words. And not one of them about the real reason why the Seahawks dominated the game – the linemen. The Seahawks rushed Peyton Manning and harried him all game. That drove everything else. Meanwhile on the other side of the ball Russell Wilson got a whole quarter of mediocre play to get comfortable as he got good protection and was able to use his mobility in the few instances where he had to extend the play.

Over and over again as I’ve listened to the post game analysis I’ve heard the mantra that “defense wins championships”. What a load of hooey. You want to win football games you do what the 49ers and the Seahawks did in the NFC West. You get strong at the line of scrimmage and you win it. That’s how you win football games whether its in the regular season or the playoffs. And that’s what the Bears have to do.

Its that simple.

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Ndamukong Suh ‘Uncontrollable’ in Locker Room

From Brian Manzullo at the Detroit Free Press:

Heath Evans, a former NFL fullback now working as an analyst for Fox’s NFL coverage, says three unnamed Lions last fall told him stories of [defensive tackle Ndamukong] Suh trying to establish dominance in the locker room, even over coach Jim Schwartz, who was fired late last month after a disappointing 7-9 season.

“’The consistent message that came out of there is that Suh was uncontrollable and that he would constantly do things to kind of show his power over Jim Schwartz, whether it was team meetings, showing up late, or whatever it may be,’ Evans told Matt Dery of 105.1 FM in Detroit. ‘When you don’t put players in line, I don’t care how great they are.’”

Looks like new head coach Jim Caldwell has his work cut out for him.

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Bears and Dolphins Have Common Reason to Rejoice

Armando Salguero at the Miami Herald gives Miami fans an unusual reason to feel better about their team. And Bears fans should share the feeling:

“The reported departure of Dolphins linebacker coach George Edwards to Minnesota to become the Vikings defensive coordinator deserves congratulations for him. Dolphins fans should applaud that someone from the Dolphins coaching staff is moving on up, professionally and geographically. No, seriously, you should really be thrilled …

“Because in his last two seasons coaching the Dolphins linebackers — Edwards’s second stint with the team following a tenure that lasted 2005-2009 — the unit has mostly underperformed. Indeed, last season as the Miami defense fell to 24th in the NFL in rushing yards allowed, the worse ranking since 2007, it was clear that linebackers Dannell Ellerbe and Phillip Wheeler were at the core of the problems with the run defense.”

“But here’s the rub …

Ellerbe played quite well for Baltimore in 2012. Wheeler was outstanding in Oakland in 2012. And the two players the Dolphins jettisoned to upgrade to Wheeler and Ellerbe played better for their new teams. Karlos Dansby was a borderline Defensive Player of the Year candidate in Arizona and Kevin Burnett was a revelation in Oakland.”

“So to recap, the players the Dolphins added under Edwards played better elsewhere before arriving but took a step back in Miami. And the players who didn’t play well enough under Edwards the year before were released and had banner seasons elsewhere.

I don’t see this as a coincidence. And I see a good portion, if not the majority of the responsibility for this, falling on the position coach involved — Edwards

So congratulations to him for getting the promotion. Problem partially solved.”

Yes. Congratulations to all of the rest of us in the NFC North as well.

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