Best Available Aside, Give Me Defensive Line

Brad Biggs at the Chicago Tribune thinks the Bears needs match up well with the strengths of the draft. Yeah, well that’s bound to happen when you need virtually everything on defense. Biggs thinks they should draft a pass rusher:

“[Pernell McPhee] alone isn’t going to prop up a pass rush in need of a boost as the Bears transition to a 3-4 front under coach John Fox and coordinator Vic Fangio. McPhee was a role player for the Ravens and blossomed last season with 7-1/2 sacks playing less than half the time behind Elvis Dumervil and Terrell Suggs behind a line Haloti Ngata anchored. McPhee is versatile and had 64 quarterback pressures, so the belief is the arrow is pointing up.”

Biggs has a point. You can’t have too many pass rushers. But at least the Bears have two starting quality outside linebackers in McPhee and Lamarr Houston, a player who has shown in the past that he can do it at a high level with the Raiders. Its true that neither is “dominant”. But both are ascending players who might develop in that direction. The Bears were already betting on it when they signed each of them.

Baltimore Ravens Training Camp August 20, 2009

The key to Biggs’s statement above was “behind a line anchored by Haloti Ngata [above]”. The Bears don’t have even three good quality starting 3-4 defensive linemen who can keep blockers off of the linebackers, let alone the depth they’ll need at the positions. You have to stop the run first and right now, given what they have up the middle, I wouldn’t trust the Bears to stand in the face of a gust of wind.

I don’t believe in drafting for need so if a pass rusher is the best guy available, by all means take him. But I still put defensive line at the top of their list of needs.

Posted in Baltimore Ravens, Chicago Bears, Oakland Raiders | Leave a comment

That Thing That New Head Coaches Bring

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Dan Hanzus at nfl.com answers your questions (again):

“I’m making the Jets (4-12 in ’14) my early favorite. There are a lot good vibes around Florham Park right now, with the additions of Darrelle Revis, Brandon Marshall, Antonio Cromartie and more. New coach Todd Bowles has a real secondary to work with — something Rex Ryan couldn’t claim last year — and I can easily see the Jets making a four-to-six win jump with better quarterback play, whether that be from Geno Smith, Ryan Fitzpatrick or, yep, Marcus Mariota.

“Also look out for the Buccaneers (2-14), who will get better in a hurry if they hit on Jameis Winston.”

I’ve commented extensively now about teams winning in March not winning in January. But having said that, there is something about having a new coaching staff that rejuvenates a team. No one’s job is safe and everyone focuses a little more and competes a little harder that first year. So its not out of the question that that Jets – or the Bills – bounce up with a good record this year.

I’d like put the Bears into this class.  They’ve got plenty of skill position players on offense.  They added an ascending pass rusher in Pernell McPhee.  You could argue that Jared Allen simply has a down year and could be much better rested rushing in subpackages.  Lamar Houston was slow to adjust to defensive end in a 4-3 and will almost certainly be more comfortable in a 3-4.  But unfortunately with Jay Cutler returning as quarterback and a transition to the 3-4 going on defensively, the guess here is that most of the benefit that new Bears head coach John Fox brings will be for the long haul.

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Who Falls Off Farthest Without Their Quarterback?

Dan Hanzus at nfl.com answers your questions:

“I’ll look at it another way: Which one of last year’s playoff teams would instantly fall off a cliff if their star quarterback up and decided to join Jake Locker in the cornfields. My first thought was Andrew Luck, but that Matt Hasselbeck has some dad pluck. They’d probably go 7-9. There’s Tom Brady and the Patriots, of course, but knowing that team Jimmy Garoppolo would somehow make them better. The answer has to be the Cowboys, who are still voluntarily compensating Brandon Weeden. 12-4 to 4-12 would be in play.”

Hanzus forgot about the Packers who went 2-4-1 without Aaron Rogers in 2013. That translates to 4-5 wins over a 16 game season. For my money Rogers is the best quarterback in football and he single handedly elevates the Packers, a draft and develop team that will never have the elite talent all over the field that top teams like the Seattle Seahawks have.

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Change for the Sake of Change? Not in Green Bay.

Tyler Dunne the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel thinks the few Green Bay offseason moves they made were all about purging themselves of the memory of their meltdown against the Seahawks:

“First, in emotionless, necessary succession, the team rid itself of memories from that game. Shawn Slocum. Brandon Bostick. Brad Jones. Retaining any of the three, even if their body-of-work performance justified it, would’ve only served as daily reminders of that Jan. 18 nightmare in Seattle. The head coach himself gave up play-calling duties.

“One reason Green Bay’s dreadful special teams reached the point of no return was, possibly, his lack of involvement. So [head coach Mike] McCarthy swallowed his pride.

“No, the Packers didn’t make a Julius Peppers-sized signing that would’ve re-energized the faction of fans still moping. They have, however, done plenty to cleanse itself of the recent NFC championship meltdown.”

Purging aside, Green Bay annually runs the risk of becoming stale by simply resigning veterans with little or no turnover. The signing of Peppers arguably provided a spark for the team but this year, perhaps more was required. Are these changes enough? We’ll find out.

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Not Thorwing Stones at Glass Houses. Much.

Judy Battista at NFL.com scorches the Cowboys over their signing of [*cough*]alleged[*cough*] woman beater, Greg Hardy. Hardy [*cough*]allegedly[*cough*] got away with it because he [*cough*]allegedly[*cough*] “came to a financial settlement” with the victim and the case was dropped after she couldn’t be located:

“There were plenty of warning signals for the Cowboys to heed and [owner and general manager Jerry] Jones released a statement Wednesday night explaining that the Cowboys spent considerable time trying to get to know Hardy.

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“But there are others who know him, too.

“It was startling, on Wednesday, to hear a former Hardy teammate say publicly that he was sometimes unmanageable, and for Tampa Bay Buccaneers general manager Jason Licht to explicitly tell the Tampa Bay Times that the Bucs had stopped pursuing Hardy not for contract reasons but because ‘at the end of the day, we didn’t feel good about it.’

“It is rare for a team executive to be so candid about an active player and rarer still for a former teammate to break locker room camaraderie to air issues about a player who is trying to restart his career. But make no mistake, they were far from alone among those who evaluated Hardy over the last few weeks… [M]ost teams did not even give him a look and, at the end, it appeared that the Cowboys were bidding against themselves for Hardy’s services.

“‘He was a mess coming out of college,’ one NFL team executive said, when asked why his team did not go after Hardy. ‘He had a number of issues then and his behavior since entering the NFL hasn’t proved him to be anything different.'”

“Whether you find that problematic probably depends on whether you root for the Cowboys.”

“There isn’t much doubt that the Cowboys’ defense is better now than it was in that loss, and by the time another late-season game against a top quarterback rolls around, that might be all anybody is thinking about. But the tone-deaf celebratory nature of the Cowboys’ Hardy announcement — smiles and exclamation points all around — suggests that the message from those ‘No More’ public service announcements (in which the Cowboys’ own good guy, Jason Witten, was featured) ultimately gets drowned out by the demands for better results.

“There’s nothing surprising there. There was a similar din when the Philadelphia Eagles signed Michael Vick after his stint in a federal prison. The protesters were outside the gates for his first appearance in a game. But they dwindled rapidly as Vick showed contrition and, probably more significantly, that he still had some game left. Fans wore his jersey again and, in recent seasons, he was even hailed as a veteran mentor.”

I think Battista might be surprised on this one. Vick was found guilty and paid the price by going to jail. This is different. And the tolerance for these kinds of things is considerably less that it was when the Eagles signed Vick. Players like Adrian Peterson who immediately express remorse will get some slack from fans. Hardy might not, even from die hard Cowboy fans who hold the integrity and history of the franchise sacred.

Batista continues:

“Going forward, Hardy — and [Ray] Rice and Adrian Peterson, too — will be good tests to find out just how much our historical love of a second chance stretches to include even the most despicable acts. Hardy’s jersey sales will tell us plenty.

“For some, at least, that seems to be all the evidence about Hardy that matters.”

I came to the conclusion a long time ago that my team often wasn’t any better than the others when it comes to doing some things that I personally think are flat out wrong. I’ve slammed opponents for doing things like not letting the Bears interview a coach to give him the opportunity for advancement to coordinator only to see the Bears do the same thing the very next year. I’m still revolted by the fact that the Bears didn’t give Baltimore their fourth round pick in a trade the Bears, themselves, were at fault for botching a few years ago.

Ben Roethlisberger [*cough*]allegedly[*cough*] walked down the back hallway of a bar with his pants already down to [*cough*]allegedly[*cough*] rape a girl in the back room.  He, also, got away with it because he [*cough*]allegedly[*cough*] paid the woman off.  The Pittsburgh Steelers have a reputation for having as much integrity as anyone in the league.  But he’s still their quarterback.

No one can really say that their team is immune.

Bottom line, I won’t be buying any Greg Hardy jerseys and I don’t know anyone – Cowboys fans or not – who will.  But having said that, I don’t judge other teams actions much anymore. I just hope like heck, the system having failed, having gotten away with it once with both his freedom and his high paying job intact, that Hardy doesn’t do it again. Because he sounds to me like the kind of off balance character who might.  And whether he plays football or not, that’s what really matters.

Posted in Baltimore Ravens, Chicago Bears, Dallas Cowboys | Leave a comment

Either Enforce the Rules or Don’t Have Them at All

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Mike Florio at profootballtalk.com reviews the tampering allegations against the New York Jets in regards to their eventual singing of Darrelle Revis:

“The problem arose when [owner Woody] Johnson said publicly on December 29 that the Johnson would ‘love for Darrelle to come back,’ a textbook violation of the tampering rules. (Johnson later said he ‘misspoke,’ a term which suggests Johnson actually meant to say he would ‘not love for Darrelle to come back.’)”

“In this specific case, the full body of evidence includes a March 3 report from [Manish] Mehta that Johnson was leaning heavily on his front-office staff to bring Revis back. Mehta’s source, undoubtedly a member of the team’s front office, committed a separate violation of the tampering rules by leaking the information to the media, since it had the clear impact of making it known to the football-following world that the Jets were indeed in play for Revis at a time when only the Patriots should have been talking to Revis. While the NFL has no jurisdiction over Mehta, the questioning that occurred at team headquarters on March 8 surely extended to Mehta’s story from March 3.”

Someone is going to have to explain to me what there is to investigate. This is open and shut. I know that most teams don’t take tampering too seriously as its apparently done in secret all the time. But if the league doesn’t punish the teams in blatant situations like that of the Jets, I don’t see how they can continue to have any rules regarding the matter at all.

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What Do the Bears Have Left to Do on the Defensive Line? It Still Depends on the Scheme.

Arthur Arkush at chicagofootball.com takes a look at the Bears remaining needs on defense. Here’s what he said about the defensive line:

“The Bears apparently have big plans for Jeremiah Ratliff, one of two holdovers singled out by John Fox as a building block – even with Ratliff turning 34 before the season begins. Chicago didn’t seem overly interested in free agent DT Terrance Knighton, who signed a modest one-year pact after starting 32 consecutive games for Fox. Perhaps new brass thinks Ratliff and last year’s young tackle influx give Chicago enough youth and diversity at nose guard, but Vic Fangio still helping to hand pick an interior plugger in the draft can’t be discounted.

“Conversely, the premise the Bears would head into 2015 without addressing five-technique can be discounted instantly. Fox and Ryan Pace’s non-answer last week when asked about the position is telling – with no clear options on the roster, the Bears must identify some big-bodied ends in the draft to beef up a shorthanded defensive line originally constructed for a one-gap system.”

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The fact that Ratliff (above) started at nose tackle in a type of 3-4 where smaller defensive linemen are expected to stunt more than hold the middle against double teams continues to be ignored here.  Ian Rapoport quotes Wade Phillips for NFL.com on how this scheme differs from the normal 3-4:

“First of all we play a different 3-4 than everybody else or most other people, although several of them play it the same one we do now because those guys have coached with me.  When I started out it was a two-gap defense, the defensive ends had to play two-gap and be able to rush the passer. Well that’s a hard thing to do.”

“We had a guy here with the Houston Oilers named Elvin Bethea.  We said, ‘Wait a minute. We don’t want to do that with that guy.’ We started stunting the guys and moving them and let them do what they do well, playing a 3-4, but playing a different way, Phillips 3-4 if you want to call it that. I had another guy named Bruce Smith that wasn’t bad at in a 3-4 [Note: Yeah, he was OK]. You can do it with guys, if they have the abilities, then you let them go more. If they don’t then you play a two-gap and just hold your ground all you can and let the linebackers make the plays. It’s all about what kind of players you have and let them do what they do best.”

If the Bears decide to run that system, Ratliff will fit in nicely but if they run the more classic 3-4 which requires two-gap pluggers then Ratliff is going to be under-sized and they’re going to need to find someone other than Ego Ferguson to depend upon at the position. Ratliff would more likely fit in as a 3-4 end in that scheme.

And, as Arkush points out, that leads to what might be the Bears biggest problem – where to find the ends for this defense. Both Lamarr Houston and Pernell McPhee have done it in spots but its unlikely that the Bears will depend upon them as full time 3-4 ends regardless of the scheme. Will Sutton is also a possibility for the Phillips scheme at defensive end but even that is not a good fit for him.

The Bears are OK on the defensive line in sub-packages where they’ll likely still run a four man line for which they stock piled players last year. Players that under-performed, its true, but good fits nevertheless. But their number one need is still defensive linemen that have to play the other 40-50% of the time.

How the Bears remake this position is going to be one of the most interesting aspects of the remaining offseason. But slotting anyone in anywhere on that line is an exercise in futility until we find out what sort of base 3-4 scheme the Bears have in mind.

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What Is the Future at Center?

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Hub Arkush at chicagofootball.com answers your questions:

“From @ReynoldsM2112: Chance Bears cut [RobertoGarza?

“Not at the moment, because there are no other centers on the team. People continue to ignore the fact Brian de la Puente is still a free agent.

“If Garza can play as well as he did the second half of the season last year – with the exception of that one clunker against the Lions and [Ndamukong] Suh – the Bears aren’t going to find anyone better. Like [Jared] Allen, while he does it quietly and more with glares and stares than words, Garza is another important leader for the Bears.”

A lot of people thought, and to some extent still seem to think, that de la Puente was the future at this position. I think that should be gone now. His play was average at best and if anyone knows what the Bears have in him, it should be Ryan Pace who was director of player personnel for the New Orleans Saints, where de la Puente played for four years, before becoming the Bears general manager.

Its notable that the Bears have been kicking the tires on centers in free agency. It’s possible that they’re just looking for depth but there is at least one case, that of Stefen Wisniewski, where you’d have to consider him a potential starter. The guess here is that would move Garza to right guard and Kyle Long would be kicked outside to left tackle with Jermon Bushrod going to the right.

But, as Arkush points out, there are worse things than the status quo in the center of the offensive line in 2015. There’s the distinct possibility that a change to a zone blocking scheme might benefit this group that struggled mightily moving big men out of the way on the inside last season. Former Bears head coach Marc Trestman got to the point that he couldn’t call run plays because they flat out weren’t working. The new coaching staff, with a renewed emphasis on the run, won’t be able to afford to ignore it the way Trestman did on occasion.

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How to Know a Loser When You See One

Hub Arkush at chicagofootball.com answers your questions:

“From @abchildebrandt: Is it possible that Fox could be the ‘dad’ figure that gets Jay turned around? Or is all hope lost?”

“Here’s the thing the Cutler haters constantly ignore. Among Ron Turner, Pep Hamilton, Jeremy Bates, Shane Day, Mike Martz, Mike Tice, Marc Trestman, Aaron Kromer and Matt Cavanaugh, the only ones I would ever have even considered hiring were Turner and Cavanaugh, and I’m positive the success Cutler and Josh McCown enjoyed in 2013 was because of Cavanaugh, not Trestman or Kromer.

“Cutler just wasn’t willing to be coached when he got here under Turner, Martz was past his time and Hamilton looks better now but when he was brought in to coach Cutler he was still a boy playing with men.

“Cutler has matured the last couple of years and this is by far the best group of coaches he’s had around him. This is the year we find out if he’s destined to be Jay Cutler or Jeff George?”

More excuses. When are people going to face the fact that Cutler is already Jeff George?

Hub’s primary reason for supporting Cutler up to this little piece of blathering is that there were no other viable options for quarterback. Sure Matt Moore doesn’t and Brian Hoyer didn’t look like great options. But what would Arkush have said about McCown before he played for six very good games for the Bears when surrounded by decent talent.

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Right now the biggest fear I have, probably that deep down most Chicago fans have, is that Cutler will fool Fox in the same way he fooled Trestman for a year. This would basically bury all hope of the Bears winning a playoff game not just this year but next year as well.  Because its not until the big games against good teams, the ones where the team is up against it and the breaks are beating the boys, that you find out who Cutler really is – a loser who collapses and sinks the team rather than elevating it. Eventually you do find that out but he looks tantalizingly good the rest of the time so you have to look close under the specific circumstances that differentiate a winner from a loser that you see it.

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Is Mike Wallace the Final Piece of the Vikings Puzzle?

Mark Craig at the Minneapolis Star-Tribune wonders whether the Vikings signing Mike Wallace was a good idea:

“For a guy who scored 60 million bucks a couple of years ago, Mike Wallace sure sounds like he spends way too much time complaining.

“He complained about Todd Haley’s offense at the end of his four-year stint in Pittsburgh. He complained often about his role while cashing $27.1 million worth of Dolphins checks the past two years. Heck, there were reports that then-Dolphins General Manager Jeff Ireland had to escort a visibly angry Wallace off the field after he caught one pass for 15 yards in a 23-10 win over the Browns. And that was after his FIRST game as a Dolphin!

“And, yes, not surprisingly, there are now reports that he’s not too happy about trading in South Beach for Eastern Eden Prairie. I’m sure the Dolphins were chuckling about that possibility when they traded for Saints deep threat Kenny Stills and were looking for places to send Wallace on a one-way go route.

“So if you were to ask me what I think about Wallace joining the Vikings, I’d have to say, ‘I’ll let you know.’ I’ll let him determine whether he’ll be the No. 1 receiver the Vikings covet for Teddy Bridgewater’s next step or a moody malcontent who threatens to be a drag on the second-year quarterback’s promising progression.”

I’ve a sneaking suspicion that this signing is going to work out pretty well for both the Vikings and Wallace. Wide receivers are a different breed and sometimes diva behavior comes the the territory.  Head coach Mike Zimmer isn’t the kind of guy who is going to put up with much nonsense. Wallace is going to find himself fitting into the middle of quite a bit more structure and discipline than he likely had with the Dolphins under Joe Philbin.

Wallace was a star with the Steelers. He averaged yards 19.4 yards per catch as a rookie in 2009 and increased that number to 21.0 in his second season. But his performance plummeted with the Dolphins and that could be a concern.

I’m inclined to cut Wallace a break here. He was stuck with one of the worst deep throwing quarterbacks in the league in Ryan Tannehill in Miami and, as a result, the Dolphins rarely threw the long ball, Wallace’s specialty. The guess here is that he’ll do considerably better with Bridgewater in Norv Turner‘s offense. All in all this could be an opportunity to revive his career and I’m sure he knows that.

You have to like the direction that the Vikings are headed in. With Wallace to boost the passing game and the likely (in my opinion) return of Adrian Peterson, they are going to be a problem for everyone in the NFC North. With the Detroit defense falling apart up front and very possibly in the midst of a similar transition to the 3-4 to what the Bears are undergoing, they look like the primary challengers to the Packer’s dominance of the division in 2015.

Posted in Chicago Bears, Detroit Lions, Green Bay Packers, Miami Dolphins, Minnesota Vikings, Pittsburgh Steelers | Leave a comment