I’ll be attending the game Sunday so whatever Game Comments there will be, if any will be brief. Sorry. Its tough to take notes under those circumstances. Maybe some day someone will give me credentials for the press box.
Hub Arkush at the Chicago Sun-Times notes that Lamarr Houston was missing in action again last Sunday. This is becoming something of a concern.
I thought it was also notable that at a time when most media members were handing out kudos to Michael Ola for his work substituting in for various members of the offensive line due to injury, Arkush said that Ola “struggled at times” last week. Arkush tends to be more critical than most but if you buy into the evaluation, Ola may not ever be more than a back up.
Another point from Arkush that will rub some fans the wrong way:
“The rush was great once the jail break started at the end of the game, but for 60 minutes, the Bears were a B-/C+.”
I must agree. The sacks at the end of the game made the effort look better than it actually was and the performance of the defensive line has been generally exaggerated. But to give credit where credit is due, I thought I saw more consistent pressure through all four quarters than I’ve seen all season. Its just that not all of it resulted in sacks.
Rich Campbell at the Chicago Tribune asks safety Ryan Mundy about the fine associated with his helmet-to-helmet hit on Falcons wide receiver Roddy White last Sunday:
“What could Mundy have done differently on the play?
“‘Nothing,’ he said Wednesday.”
Wrong answer. Mundy came in shoulder first, as he should. But he came in too high and clearly hit White’s helmet with his. A couple inches lower and the hit would have been clean.
Mundy is like many other defensive backs around the league that apparently just can’t get the message into their brains no matter how often the league tells them. You have to lower your target. That’s what he should have done differently.
Former Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb is slipping into bitter old man mode again.
Arkush may be the play of the Dolphins linebackers.
One Final Thought
Every single Chicago Sun-Times “expert” picked the Bears on Sunday over the Dolphins. Same for the Tribune and at ESPN. Kiss of death.
Amongst the less than stellar performances for the Bears on Sunday against the Falcons, that of right tackle Jordan Mills stood out. Rich Campbell at the Chicago Tribune elaborates:
“The starting right tackle committed a false start before the game’s first play from scrimmage, a harbinger of his struggles throughout the game. He was beaten for a sack and was penalized three times for 15 yards — twice for false starts and once for an illegal formation. Jonathan Massaquoi beat Mills around the edge for a sack of Cutler on the Bears’ second series. Two plays later, linebacker Paul Worrilow beat Mills to set the edge against a [Alshon] Jeffery end-around. Defensive end Kroy Biermann beat Mills late in the first half, forcing Cutler to step into a sack by cornerback Robert McClain.”
In fairness to Mills, I’m wondering if some of his struggles are due to the fact that left tackle Michael Ola, who was subbing in for the injured Jermon Bushrod, was getting the majority of the help. Though I haven’t gone back to look, the guess here is that Ola got the most help from a chipping Martellus Bennett or Matt Forte, something that may have been more prone to happen on Mills’s side with Bushrod healthy.
One of the things that stood out Sunday was the nice play of the “backups” who were on the field due to injuries to the starters. I thought this quote from linebacker Darryl Sharpton was to the point. Via Kevin Fishbain at chicagofootball.com:
“‘[The coaches] do such a great job giving everybody the confidence – they don’t treat anybody like a ‘backup’ or a secondary-kind of player – everybody gets treated with a great level of respect. That’s one thing I love about this organization.'”
No doubt the coaches are concentrating hard on training the non-starters this year after last year’s disaster when injured starters went down and the replacements couldn’t handle the load. Its apparently working.
Brad Biggs at the Chicago Tribune quotes cornerback Tim Jennings on the play of nickel back Demontre Hurst:
“‘That was a great job by Hurst,’ Jennings said. ‘He prepared great all week and he was where he needed to be. He had an opportunity to make a play and with hard work that is what happens.
“‘It’s definitely him. It’s his job. As long as he continues to prepare each and every week and make the plays he is supposed to make, it is his to take.'”
It’s hard to watch defensive backs on television but to my eye Hurst did a pretty good job. It’s obvious that Jennings wasn’t comfortable with the move to nickel before the injury to Charles Tillman forced him outside. Unless his play falls off for some reason its very possible that Hurst might be a permanent fixture at the position from here on out.
Biggs also had this nugget:
“Demontre Hurst wasn’t the only inexperienced defensive back pressed into action. Al Louis-Jean, the undrafted rookie from Boston College who was promoted from the practice squad this past week, got four snaps when Tim Jennings was briefly shaken up.”
This isn’t quite the minor point that it might seem to be. Louis-Jean is a tall, athletic cornerback who is exactly the type that the Bears are looking for. He couldn’t possibly have made less of an impression on the Bears coaching staff during the preseason than he did on me. I think he, too, might have a future with the team.
One of Biggs’s 10 thoughts after the Bears victory Sunday:
“The best quote I got that I didn’t find a place to use after the game came from left guard Matt Slauson. ‘To have second-half swagger back was really great.’ The Bears can call it swagger when they responded with two touchdown drives after the Falcons had tied things up.”
The key part of this was, “after the Falcons had tied things up”. The Bears defense has been a sieve at the beginning of the second half. I’m not sure what’s going on but they need to work harder to keep the ground that they are being handed in the first half. I thought the Bears offense had to work way to hard to rebuild the game from the rubble that was left midway through the third quarter. The defense has to tighten things up coming out of half time.
Here’s an encouraging statistic that flew under the radar. Via Mark Potash at the Chicago Sun-Times:
“According to Pro Football Focus, they had three missed tackles against the Falcons. That’s the fewest they’ve had this season. They had 14 against the New York Jets.”
Biggs quotes an anonymous scout on suspended Georgia linebacker Todd Gurley:
“First round and I don’t give a crap about the kid signing autographs.”
One Final Thought
Rick Morrissey at the Chicago Sun-Times assesses the state of the Bears:
“The Bears are in that murky who-knows category. I see a 3-3 team that will be up and down the rest of the year. Many of you see a defensive line finally coming together, an offense that can amass a lot of yards and maybe, just maybe, a playoff team. Let’s agree to disagree.
“I see a Cutler who no doubt will revert back to his maddening form. You see a Cutler who is evolving into the precise quarterback he was against the Falcons. Let’s agree you’re wrong.
“The best thing the Bears have going for them is that there are a lot of teams that look like them. They’re somewhere in the middle, not bad but not great, either. The league has given them reason to believe.”
There’s a lot to be said in favor of the above. But let me start by disagreeing about Cutler. I think we’re going to see the version that you saw last Sunday for the rest of the year. Maybe, just maybe, we’ll see some turnovers late in games where the Bears are behind and with Cutler trying to make a play. But other than that, I think we’re going to see what we saw a great deal of last year and last week. I think Cutler is much smarter than that and I think he has bought in on head coach Marc Trestman. He’s going to take care of the ball.
Having said that, I generally agree (and have repeatedly said since the preseason) that what we’re looking at is an 8-8 team. I have two very simple things to watch that will cover everyone who doesn’t agree:
For those who are more pessimistic, keep an eye on the turnovers. If Cutler does revert to previous versions of himself and the interceptions and/or fumbles lost increase, the Bears are doomed to a losing record. Even if the defense starts to create more turnovers, themselves, I don’t think it can make up for the offense handing it back over nor do I think the defense is the type that’s going to be able to hold a decent offense consistently on a short field. I don’t see this happening and I don’t think the offensive turnovers are going to be intolerably high from here on out but, hey, you never know.
For those who are hoping for better, watch the penalties. The Bears are committing them at a rate that they simply can’t afford. Teams have their number and you can expect everyone from here on out to try to force them to take the underneath stuff, to execute and to work their way down the field. You can’t do that if you are committing penalties. The guess here is that they’re going to continue to do it simply because it’s been a problem for weeks now and if they could have solved it, they would have by now. This lack of discipline seems to be a part of the character of the team that isn’t likely to be coached out of them at this point. But, again, perhaps I’m wrong and I’m underestimating them.
We shall see. It’s going to be very interesting to see. If that’s not why you are watching, you shouldn’t be watching.
Hub Arkush at chicagofootball.com after the Bears loss to the Packers Sunday:
Though Arkush seems to believe its talent I really don’t think that’s the problem. Or at least not the larger problem. Even without Jeremiah Ratliff and Jared Allen I thought the younger players on the defense would show up better than they did against the Packers. Perhaps more time for development is needed at defensive tackle and once they’re playing better it will elevate the rest of the group.
But that’s no excuse for everyone else and its the second part of Arkush’s question that particularly bugs me. I’ve been a defender of defensive coordinator Mel Tucker but these intermittent poor efforts from the defense are starting to add up. I’m starting to wonder if he’s the guy to get all of these guys on the same page and perfroming as a unit week to week. I was willing to cut him some slack last year but I’m running out of patience. And I’m willing to be that feeling extends into places that are a lot more official.
- Mark Potash at the Chicago Sun-Times quotes safety Ryan Mundy on the Bears excellent red zone defense last Sunday:
“‘It doesn’t have to get to that point. I was kind of saying that to our defense throughout the first half [against the Jets]. We would let them get into the red zone and hold them to a field goal, which is great. But it doesn’t have to get to that point. We can start making those plays earlier in the [possession] — get the field-position game going and keep points off the board.'”
The quote isn’t as significant as Mundy saying it. I’ve been wondering who, if anyone, was going to emerge as a leader on the defense with linebacker Lance Briggs still acting like a child at age 34. Mundy might be the guy.
- Hub Arkush at chicagofootball.com quotes defensive coordinator Mel Tucker:
- Brad Biggs at the Chicago Tribune answers your questions:
“What are the chances Brian de la Puente keeps the starting center job after Roberto Garza is healthy? — @TomOMalley23 from Twitter
“De la Puente has played well when you consider the communication needed up front and the fact that the Bears have played two road games against good defenses and held up relatively well. I’d suspect Garza will reclaim his starting job when he is healthy. The Bears certainly have not run the ball effectively the last two weeks and there are no indications at this point the team wants to replace Garza.”
This is the second week in a row I’ve seen this question as it appeared twice last week (once in the Tribune and once in the Sun-Times). Is there something I’m missing? Has Garza been that bad? True, the Bears haven’t missed a beat in pass protection but it isn’t like they’re running over people out there.
- Here’s a question to Biggs that I liked better:
“When the Bears set before a play, on a large number of plays the left guard would reach over to the center and tap him on the shoulder as an apparent signal to snap the ball. Last year he used to point his arm forward for a one-count. Clearly this is legal somehow, but why is the movement not considered a false start? — Chris R., Midlothian, Ill., from email
“Left guard Michael Ola reaches over and taps center Brian de la Puente (as Matt Slauson and Roberto Garza did before they were injured) in the shotgun to let him know quarterback Jay Cutler is ready for the snap. This is not a false start because the left guard is not simulating the start of the play. Here is the NFL’s rule for a false start – Rule 7, Section 4, Article 2:
“‘It is a False Start if the ball has been placed ready for play, and, prior to the snap, an offensive player who has assumed a set position charges or moves in such a way as to simulate the start of a play, or if an offensive player who is in motion makes a sudden movement toward the line of scrimmage. Any quick abrupt movement by a single offensive player, or by several offensive players in unison, which simulates the start of the snap, is a false start.'”
Perhaps a better question would be “Why does the guard have to tell the center that the quarterback is ready? Can’t he look for himself?”
- David Just at the Chicago Sun-Times asks why the Bears are falling in the national rankings after back to back road wins on national television. I think the comments from Yahoo! Sports probably gives a good indication:
“Their best player on Monday night was the opposing quarterback.”
The national press doesn’t believe in the Bears because their victories are perceived as being more a result of bad play by their opponents than good play on their part. For once the national press might not be wrong.
- Mark Potash at the Chicago Sun-Times reads my mind as he predicts the result of the Bears-Packers matchup:
“Though the Bears are improving, it seems like injuries are starting to catch up to them — Brandon Marshall’s ankle could be particularly problematic for an offense that has been good but not great so far. Bears caught a lot of breaks vs. the Jets. They’ll have to play much better to beat Aaron Rodgers.”
It’s not that I don’t give them credit. After all, you still have to catch the interception is its thrown to you. But the Packers don’t generally throw games away like the 49ers and the Jets did. Even though they lost last week against the Lions they still won the turnover battle. The Bears simply have to play better if they want to win this game.
- Many interesting things about this match up have been emphasized over the course of the week but the thing that sticks out most to me are the injury reports for the Bears and Packers.
The Bears have declared four starters out: Garza, Slaughson, Shea McClellin and Jeremiah Ratliff. They have also declared special teams stalwart Sherrick McManus out.
Who is out for the Packers? Nobody.
The Bears are going to have to suck it up and overcome some adversity this week.
One Final Thought
Adam L. Jahns at the Chicago Sun-Times quotes Bears quarterbacks coach Matt Cavanaugh on coaching accuracy:
“[Aaron] Rodgers’ precision might receive rave reviews, but Cavanaugh doesn’t buy into the premise of natural accuracy. Rather, he said, it’s a familiarity with an offensive scheme and receivers and incessant work on fundamentals.
“‘‘I don’t know if anybody is just naturally accurate,’’ Cavanaugh said. ‘‘There’s a lot of work [involved]. There are guys who may not have been naturally accurate but learn how to be accurate. You make yourself drill.’’
“For strong-armed quarterbacks such as Cutler, who are prone to throw off their back feet, drill work is everything. And it’s relentless work under Cavanaugh and coach Marc Trestman. It’s an every-practice process.
“It’s all about muscle memory.
“‘‘When the ball is snapped, all those fundamentals are really the last thing you think about,’’ Cavanaugh said. ‘‘But if you’re drilling it right, then there’s a lot of guys who can be accurate.’’”
It’s an interesting thought. And obviously one that comes from a coach’s point of view. In my experience, coaches tend to look for raw talent like arm strength in the draft because they feel like they can coach accuracy and other refinements into the player later. It doesn’t always work out that way.
I think Cutler has, indeed, been more accurate this year and I’ve no doubt Cavanaugh and Trestman are a big part of that. But he still throws off of his back foot when he’s under pressure. At this point I don’t think he’ll ever get in enough drill work to completely overcome the tendency.
There won’t be any Game Comments for the Jets contest tonight. I’ll have the game on tape but its unlikely that I’ll have time to watch it before tomorrow afternoon. Looking forward to seeing what you all have to say.
Mike Mulligan at the Chicago Tribune on why Bears head coach Marc Trestman shares the blame for the team’s special teams woes:
“Legend has it when Norv Turner came to the Cowboys as offensive coordinator under Jimmy Johnson in 1991, he was told a couple of games into the season that special teams would be a priority that week. Turner would get three wide receivers active, but one of them had to be the return guy.
“Trestman hasn’t put those kind of restraints on his offense. With injuries to Alshon Jeffery and Brandon Marshall going into the 49ers game, the Bears had five wide receivers on the active roster and another inactive.”
I’m not entirely sure how fair this criticism is. Trestman had no way of knowing whether Marshall or Jeffery were going to last the game or, if they did, whether they’d actually be healthy enough to be of any use. Trestman could have easily been stuck with what amounted to two active wide receivers.
Having said that, Mulligan is right in that the Bears probably haven’t prioritized special teams. The lack of depth that was exposed last year on the defensive side of the ball has undoubtedly made them skittish about coming up short on the non-special teams units on game day and, again in fairness, they’ve needed that depth as player after player has gone down to injury. The roster is a mess and its natural enough that special teams would be the unit to suffer the most.
I almost never pay much of any attention to anything former Bears head coach Mike Ditka has to say. But I have to admit he had more guts than I did.
Brad Biggs at the Chicago Tribune answers your questions:
“I know Roberto Garza is a leader on the O-line, but Brian de la Puente looks to be a better player. Any chance he keeps the job for good? — @petemeyer5 from Twitter
“The Bears handed the ball off to running back Matt Forte 12 times and he gained 21 yards Sunday night at San Francisco. That is not the production the team is seeking in the running game. That’s not on de la Puente and I’m not saying with Garza in there it would have been dramatically different. The Bears did hold up well in pass protection against a 49ers front that was missing Aldon Smith and rarely blitzed. I think the expectation is Garza returns to the lineup when he is healthy.”
I think Biggs doesn’t want to just come out and say it but de la Puente has had well-documented issues with his run blocking. Those issues cropped up after current Bears offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer left de la Puente’s former team, the New Orleans Saints. It’s possible that reuniting with Kromer has solved them but, like Biggs, I wouldn’t want to bet on it.
The Bears running game has been pretty miserable through two games. I haven’t concentrated on de la Puente’s play and I certainly wouldn’t want to even say that it contributed to the problem. But it’s fair to at least wonder if it won’t be that much better with Garza back in the lineup.
What can the Bears expect from the Jets? On offense it will be a heavy ground attack, of course. On defense We’re going to see exactly what you’d expect from a son of former Bears defensive coordinator Buddy Ryan. Adam L. Jahns at the Chicago Sun-Times quotes offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer:
“This defense has brought more zero blitzes in the first two games than we saw all last year — zero blitzing meaning it’s one-on-one in coverage behind the blitz that they’re bringing. Every receiver just has one guy.”
Given the Jets strength against the run, I think we can expect a large dose of the short passing game again. That means a lot will ride on the Bears ability to execute on offense without shooting themselves in the foot. If they don’t play better in this game than they did in the first two, this is probably a loss.
Jahns also points out that the Jets Geno Smith has some of the worst statistics of any quarterback in the league when he’s pressured which makes me wonder if the Bears may blitz more.
Mark Potash at the Chicago Sun-Times makes the case that quarterback Jay Cutler is better in hurry up situations:
“The theory is that the finicky Cutler is an easily distracted quarterback who thrives when the show is mostly his. The more options he has, the more voices he hears, the more time he has, the worse he gets.
“As it is, the hurry-up offense seems to make a big difference. Since 2009 — when Cutler joined the Bears — Cutler is fifth among NFL quarterbacks with a 90.6 passer rating in the last two minutes of a half or a game.
“And of the quarterbacks in the top five, Cutler is the only one whose rating improves in those hurry-up situations. “
I think it’s likely that we’re going to see Cutler more and more in no huddle situations. It’s evident to me that the coaches aren’t just blowing smoke about Cutler having a better handle on the offense this year. He seems to be more vocal at the line of scrimmage and has an even better command of the unit. I’d expect that, if they don’t already, that the coaches will have the confidence to hand him the reins more very soon.
One Final Thought
David Haugh at the Chicago Tribune evaluates the state of the Bears ahead of tonight’s game against the Jets:
“If the Bears were a novel, they would be a mystery. If they were an election poll, an overwhelming majority of Chicagoans would click ‘Undecided.’ If forced to interpret what the Bears have proved so far this season, it would be little other than they are like so many NFL teams in the salary-cap era; capable of winning or losing every week regardless of the opponent depending on how they protect the football and create turnovers.
“A cynic would label that a mediocre football team. An optimist would call that a playoff contender.”
A realist would call them both.
- Brad Biggs at the Chicago Tribune points out that rookie Brock Vereen played 16 snaps as a nickel back last Sunday after cornerback Charles Tillman was lost to injury. I’d no idea that Vereen, normally a safety, was spending any time at this position and I’m reasonably sure he didn’t play there during the season. I was wondering if this wasn’t a new “secret” grouping that the Bears had in mind to show off Vereen’s versatility. But apparently not as Vereen addressed the issue after the game:
“‘Before I went out there I was able to get five, maybe seven minutes with Coach (Jon) Hoke and some of the vets and they prepped me with everything,’ Vereen said. ‘They were the only reason I was comfortable out there. Coach Hoke went over everything in a matter of maybe five minutes. That is what comes on the job and that is what you have got to do. It was fun.’
“Imagine that. The entire work of week delivered in five minutes. In seriousness, it was a real issue. The Bears needed someone in the nickel. Two plays after Tillman was injured, the defense remained in the base package on third-and-11 with three linebackers and Colin Kaepernick hit Stevie Johnson for a 20-yard gain.”
- Biggs also points out that the 49ers only rushed five men twice all game. I think this is, or at least once was, a reasonable plan for Cutler. You could imagine a team planning too drop everyone into coverage and waiting for him to make a mistake.
- Biggs also mentions that tight end Matthew Mulligan missed some blocks. Mulligan hasn’t been performing well and you have to wonder if the Bears aren’t eventually going to have to bring back tackle Ebon Britton as an extra lineman.
- Biggs quotes Brandon Marshall after the game as he addresses the play of rookie Kyle Fuller:
“Going back to my rookie year, (former Broncos outside linebacker) Elvis Dumervil came to me after one of our training camp practices and said, ‘Man, Champ Bailey is in there watching you in one-on-ones,’ because I beat him pretty bad. He was basically studying, and for Kyle Fuller I had to do that this training camp. I had to go in there in the Weber Center and just watch what he was doing because he surprised us. I told him it’s not about starting, it’s not about making the Pro Bowl; for him, he needs to have Hall of Fame on his brain because that kid can play.”
Biggs also quotes a scout that he talked to before the third preseason game agains the Browns, who drafted cornerback Justin Gilbert ninth overall:
“‘The Bears got the better cornerback,’ the scout said. ‘The Gilbert kid is more athletic but the Bears got a better football player. This Fuller kid is a football player and he’ll show it.'”
Marshall has been known to exaggerate on occasion but its hard to argue after the last game that Fuller can, indeed, play. Let’s hope he can do it consistently.
- Biggs also addresses the slew of penalty flags thrown during the game:
“‘That’s something the NFL is going to have to correct,’ 49ers linebacker Ahmad Brooks said. ‘They called about 16 or 17 penalties on us today (actually 18) and I think they called 11 (16) on them. That’s way too many penalties for a football game.'”
Maybe. But an awful lot of those penalties looked deserved to me. I think the Bears and the 49ers both have to take some personal responsibility and clean it up. That was an ugly game and the first half in particular really seemed to drag on way too long.
- After an outstanding game the week before against the Saints, Falcons wide receiver Devin Hester had one catch for two yards Sunday against the Cincinnati Bengals. Via Mark Potash at the Chicago Sun-Times.
- Also from Potash, former Bear and current Buffalo Bills cornerback Corey Graham had 10 tackles and three pass breakups against the Dolphins. Graham also had a good game against the Bears the week before.
One Final Thought
Rick Morrissey at the Chicago Sun-Times asks which are the true Bears, the team from week one or from week two?
I’m afraid that the answer is easy: it’s both. Truth be told the two weeks really weren’t that different. The Bears made plenty of mistakes and committed way too many penalties both weeks. They did make some nice plays to get more turnovers on defense against the 49ers but had Frank Gore‘s 54 yard touchdown run stood, the story might have been a lot different Monday, both about the game in general and about the run defense in particular.
The difference is that the 49ers simply gave the Bears a great deal of help last week and the Bills didn’t the week before. What’s the same is that the Bears had best clean it up and continue to get better week-to-week. Because as much as I enjoyed the comeback, I haven’t seen what I consider to be a playoff-worthy performance yet.