Defensive Line Clearly Disappointing. Reasons Not So Plain.

The Chicago Tribune‘s Dan Pompei gave out some good grades this week.  But like the rest of us he didn’t have much good to say about the defensive line:

“Grade: 2 [of 10]

“The D-line was almost as bad as the O-line was good. With the exception of one 13-play, fourth-quarter series in which the Bears hit [quarterback Mark) Sanchez four times, they didn’t lay a finger on the Jets quarterback.

“There seemed to be some issues with footing and the Jets were picking up the Bears’ stunts well, but it went beyond that. Julius Peppers didn’t have much more of an impact on the game than Marcus Harrison, who was inactive.

On a related note, this quote from Peppers via Vaughn McClure, also at the Tribune, after the game caught my eye:

“We tried to run stunts, we tried to run games on them, and they did a good job of picking them up.  It was similar to the New England game. When you play against good offensive lines, those games don’t work as well. You have to do different things and adjust. And we didn’t adjust.”

First this sounded to me like a bit of an excuse for lack of performance.  Peppers makes that line go and sometimes he has to do it one-on-one (or more).

Second, some criticism of the coaching staff might be implied here.  I’m not sure what more Peppers thought needed to be done.  The Bears mixed in the blitz.  They didn’t do it as frequently as they might have but I can hardly blame them.  When they did do it they weren’t getting to Sanchez.

Whatever was meant, if Peppers wants more creativity out there I hope he’s letting the coaching staff know what he has in mind.  Based upon what we’ve been reading about Rod Marinelli and “creative control” it sounds like they’ll listen.  As long as he’s pointing to himself first when he’s assigning blame for lack of performance.

Toeaina and Mannelly Extended. Manning Not Likely to Be.

Sean Jensen reports for the Chicago Sun-Times that the Bears have extended the contracts of Matt Toeaina and Patrick Mannelly giving us three more years to struggle spelling Toeaina’s name .  (Its actually not that hard.  Just use every vowel in the alphabet in random order until it looks right.)

Brad Biggs at the Chicago Tribune points out that the Bears have quite a list of players who could be next including Olin Kreutz, Anthony Adams, Danieal Manning and Brad Maynard:

“Signing Toeaina before starting nose tackle Anthony Adams was an interesting move. One source said the team has tried to sign Adams and safety Danieal Manning to extensions, but the Bears have asked all parties in contract talks to be silent, and with the team heading to the playoffs, it’s taboo for players to talk personal finances in the locker room.

“Early money for Toeaina is another indication veteran Tommie Harris, who has started the last three games, could be on his way out. He’s owed a $2.5 million roster bonus June 1.

Adams hesitation might be justified.  He’s an under rated player might command as much or more than the Bears are offering on the open market.  He’s 30 and this might be his last change to cash in.

Manning is a different story.  He’s a reasonably good kick returner and someone might pay him to do that.  But the odds are that the offer won’t be more than the Bears.  Manning has had a solid season but his history indicates that he’s prone to mistakes.  For instance, he bit on a short route last Sunday leading to a Jets touchdown.

Manning has an inflated idea of what he’s worth that was demonstrated when decided to stay away from offseason workouts in an effort to get more money from the Bears.  He was unhappy with the offers he got as a restricted free agent.  My guess is that Manning’s destined to be very disappointed this year as well.

Playoff Bye Weeks: Good, Bad, and Ugly

Brad Biggs at the Chicago Tribune writes about the significance of having a first round bye, something the Bears can obtain through an Eagles loss tonight or a defeat of the Green Bay Packers on Sunday:

“Statistics show the bye hasn’t meant as much in recent years. Since the NFL expanded the playoffs to 12 teams in 1990, 59 of the 80 teams with a bye (73.8 percent) have reached the conference championship game. But in the last seven years, only 16 of 28 (57.1 percent) with a bye have played for the conference title.”

But that doesn’t mean that the bye can’t be important:

“‘I’d look at it as another chance for us to take another big step when you get a little bit of time off this time of the season,’ coach Lovie Smith said Monday. ‘That’s why the bye is so important. Injuries play such a big part in a team’s success right now.

“‘We have most of our guys healthy, and there’s a reason for that. But we hope we’re in that position of having to deal with having a few days off.'”

The only thing in the article that I really disagree with is this statement:

“Some suggest a team can lose its edge with an extra week off, but that’s more a loser’s lament than anything else.”

I think that recent Bear history can be seen as backing me up.  Biggs points out that the BEars lost their games after the by in both 2001 and 2005.  But its the 2001 game that really sticks with me.  The Bears lost an ugly game to an Eagles team that came in and just plain smashed them in the mouth.  The Bears came out flat and never recovered.

I think with the current coaching staff that the Bears can avoid this pitfall.  As Neil Hayes at the Chicago Sun-Times points out this morning, you could make a case that they are one of the major the strengths of the team.  They’re very experienced and very good at what they do.  Indeed, they are perhaps the main reason why the bye could be a great thing for the Bears.  With that, Biggs provides the bottom line:

The last time the Bears had a week off, the final week of October after consecutive home losses to the Seahawks and Redskins, they used it as a launching point for a five-game winning streak. Their only loss since was the Dec. 12 beatdown from the Patriots.

My conclusion is the same that most players and coaches come to.  That the bye is a good thing on balance and it might be an especially good thing for the Bears.  But a team certainly can lose its edge following a bye week in the playoffs.  That doesn’t mean you don’t want one and that doesn’t mean the Bears shouldn’t try their level best to obtain one.  But if they do, they need to take steps to prevent this from happening.

Vikings Sports Figure of the Year and Other News


“ex-Bears player who came up big Sunday? Nathan Vasher made some plays for the Lions in their upset win at Miami. Don’t look now, but Detroit is slowly turning the corner to becoming competitive and the Lions’ upset of the Packers earlier this month looms huge in preparations for this coming Sunday.”

The NFC North could be a monster division next year with the Bears, Packers and Lions.  The Packers aren’t going to be this hurt again and the Bears aren’t going to be this healthy.  I don’t know what’s wrong with the Vikings defensive line but there’s still a lot of talent there even if tackle Pat Williams does retire.  A new head coach could step in there with any kind of a decent quarterback and win a lot of games.  The division will be very competitive.

“If the Packers defeat the Bears to reach the postseason, they could wind up as the No. 6 seed. That scenario could push the Bears to the No. 3 seed, meaning they would have a rematch at Soldier Field the following weekend.”

I have to be honest.  The Packers are just about the last team I’d like to see the Bears play in the playoffs.  They match up better with almost any other NFC team likely to make it.

‘‘’We’re a halftime team,’ receiver Devin Hester said. ‘We go in and fix everything that needs to be fixed and come out and make sure we’re successful with it.’”

“I don’t want to diminish what Chicago accomplished because they made some plays, but that wasn’t our best.  We’ve got to get back. There’s no excuses. We’ve got to get back.”


    • The east coast blizzard that postponed the Eagles-Vikings matchup and kept the Jets in Chicago overnight Sunday has raised a lot of concerns about the Northeast Super Bowl awarded to New Jersey for 2014.  From The New York TimesGeorge Vecsey.

    This really sounds to me like much ado about nothing.  Snow is common and if necessary they’ll play in that.  But it would take a pretty rare event to shutdown a Super Bowl or even cause major problems playing and attending the game.

    • The Pioneer Press Sports Figure of the Years?  The 12th man.  Specifically the one in last years playoff loss against New Orleans:

    “So it makes complete sense to make The 12th Man the Pioneer Press’ Sports Figure of the Year, even if this is our first recipient to go nameless. True, (Naufahu) Tahi put the Vikings over the limit, but The 12th Man represents everyone involved in the fiasco, all those who made it possible and turned it into a moment every bit as infamous as The Knee and Hail Mary and the Love Boat in franchise lore. Maybe more.”

    “It set up a year of great expectation and, too often, greater disappointment.”

    “Minnesota was never the same.

    “The state or the team.”

    • Tim Tebow may have inserted himself into the Broncos future but not necessarily because of his on field performance.  As pointed out by Judy Battista at The New York Times there were only 5700 no shows for a meaningless game against the Texans Sunday.

    One Final Thought

      Vikings cornerback Asher Allen in repines the the Pioneer Press’ question:  “Which was the best Christmas present you received as a kid?”:

        “”I never got a Christmas present. Never. We don’t celebrate Christmas. We do Christmas throughout the whole year. Every day is Christmas. As long as you get up, every day is Christmas.”

        Which Coach Is Responsible for the Bears Defensive Success and Other News


        “On closing out the regular-season home slate with a win:

        “‘It was very important. I think we were 4-3 at home, and our road record is better than our home record. We definitely know we are going to have a home playoff game so we need to get in the condition of winning at home and this is the first step.'”

        As noted by Dan Pompei, also at the Tribune, though Forte is doing well lately Chester Taylor‘s lack of success is worrying.  Taylor’s getting hit in the backfield a lot but he’s running behind the same line Forte is.

        “‘There’s always room for improvement in everything we do,’ (Bears cornerback Charles) Tillman said. “Our disguises, our blitzes, our man coverage — everything.”

        Amen to that.

        “I keep hearing about how much Brian Urlacher is playing this year. I think it’s pretty simple why — look at how much better the defensive line is playing in front of him. The big question I would like to know — was it Lovie (Smith) or was it (defensive coordinator Rod) Marinelli who decided to move Julius (Peppers) to the weak side? I give them all the credit in the world — John Fox never did that in Carolina — and I think it’s made a world of difference and affected the whole team. The million-dollar question is — who decided to turn Julius loose and let him go (after the quarterback) and made (Israel) Idonije the strong-side end? The Bears never did that in the past. It was a great move. I would guess it was Rod.”


          • Not everyone agreed with the decision to postpone Sunday night’s Eagles-Vikings game until Tuesday.  Via the AP:

          “The postponement did not sit well with Gov. Ed Rendell, who told KYW-TV he did “not at all” agree with the decision.

          “‘This is football; football’s played in bad weather,’ Rendell said. ‘I think the fans would have gotten there, the subways work and the major arteries are still open, and other fans would have stayed home — but you play football regardless of the weather.'”

          With two more days to recover from his concussion suffered on Monday night, Brett Favre could supplant Joe Webb.  (We assume that facing Favre would be a bad thing for the Eagles.  That could be the subject of a reasonable debate.)

          “Singletary said he doesn’t know much about ‘coaching etiquette’ when it comes to how he handles his quarterbacks. And, he said, the way Troy Smith responded is ‘fine.'”

          One wonders if a little more “coaching etiquette” would have helped Singletary a lot more in the long run.

          “It was around 25 years ago the last time the (NFL) players when on strike. All I keep reading about is how high the NFL ratings are. The two sides need to get moving. No one wants to be responsible for cracking the golden egg. I know it’s not easy, but how hard could it be to divvy up a few billion dollars? If you’re an owner or a player it’s still real money, and real money they stand to lose, if they don’t figure it out. When you look at how the NFL is going to be affected, I don’t see it affecting scouts a lot. There is still going to be a draft no matter what. College football is not going away. The job description of scouts is not going to change much. But obviously, it could dramatically change the job of coaches. There will be no OTAs or offseason coaching. What worries me the most is that (NFLPA executive director) DeMaurice Smith has so little connection to the league and history and what the game does for everyone and how big it really is. A work stoppage could really screw things up.”

          One Final Thought

          Fred Mitchell at the Tribune describes the moment when the Redskins beat the Jaguars in over time and Jets officially made the playoffs:

          “‘When (Jay) Cutler‘s hot, he’s as good as there is,’ (Jets head coach Rex) Ryan was saying. ‘He made some big plays against us, then eventually it comes down to …’

          “‘By the way, I think we’re in the playoffs,’ Ryan announced with a big smile. ‘It ain’t the way I wanted it, but I’ll take it. Whew! My goodness! I can’t even hide that fact.'”

          Better to back in than not to be in at all.

          Bears Must Address Defensive Backfield in the Offseason

          For all those Bears fans who are cover-2 haters, Andrew Furman at the comments on the Giants use of it in their disastrous loss to Green Bay:

            “You get success vs weaker teams with these schemes, but when you play against the GOOD QBs, it does not work. Aaron Rodgers picked on the off coverage so often (slants, etc..) that he racked up 225 yds in one half.  (Terrell) Thomas and (Corey) Webster were playing on Pluto while (Greg) Jennings, (James) Jones and Rodgers were playing pitch and catch.  By the time the second half came and we began to see a little more press coverage, it was too little too late.”

            “To the untrained observer, the press coverage was equally unsuccessful.  That is a completely faulty conclusion.  Rodgers and his WRs were forced to make some terrific throws and catches.  They did, but at least they earned it.”

            Contempt for the cover-2 amongst offensive players weeks to be very common.  LaDainian Tomlinson‘s comment after the Jets game was typical (via Vaughn McClure at the Chicago Tribune):

            “‘I knew they were a tough defense,’ Tomlinson said, ‘but they’re predictable. We know the things that you can get against Cover-2 defenses no matter who’s out there. They’re a great defense, but we had a great game plan against this scheme.”’

            We hear this over and over again from opponents.  The cover two is fine.  It really is.  But it needs to be properly mixed with other defensive schemes to make it work.

            In particular the New England game and, to a lesser extent, the Jets game taught us that this is the case and, to their credit, though they still play too much of the zone, the Bears have tried to do mix it up.  But the problem is that they aren’t built for anything but the cover two and they don’t execute other schemes very well.  For instance, most of the time when the Bears play man-to-man the opposition’s worst wide receiver is better than the Bears worst defensive back.  That’s the simplest form of a mismatch.

            The comments above are yet another indication that the Bears are going to have to look toward improving their defensive backfield in the draft.  They are beyond the point where they can just attempt to load up on defensive linemen while ignoring everything else.

            Jets Victory New Bears Signature Win

            Steve Rosenbloom at the Chicago Tribune describes the up and down nature of the game yesterday:

              “I thought the game was over early when the Bears pounded the Jets all over the place. Did it with all their units, too.”

              “Then I thought it was over when the Jets scored three straight touchdowns, keyed by Tim Jennings’ dropped interception after Jay Cutler threw a pick six.

              “Then I thought it was over when the Bears seized on a failed fake punt — what was Rex Ryan thinking about? Don’t answer — with a bomb to Johnny Knox followed by Devin Hester’s big punt return and eventual TD catch to the put the Bears up 31-24.

              “But the Jets came back. The Jets always came back. But so did the Bears.”

              And that’s the key.

              The Bears have been criticized repeatedly for beating up on bad and wounded teams.  Fans would say, “Yeah, but the had to play with their third string quarterback.”  “Yeah, but this guy was injured.”  “Yeah but (insert excuse here).”  Up until now the Bears signature win was the one against the Eagles.  But even with that game the Eagles came out flat and didn’t play well.

              That wasn’t the case yesterday.  Yesterday the Bears played a good football team who played like a good football team.  They came through with their best performance to date.

              If they want to go deep into the playoffs, the Bears need to keep improving.  This was a very, very good example of how that is continuing to happen and if it does, no one is going to want to play them in January.

              Hester Effect Another Example of Why Numbers Don’t Tell the Story

              Dan Pompei at the Chicago Tribune highlights the role that Devin Hester played in the Bears victory over the Jets:

              Jay Cutler threw three touchdown passes.

              Johnny Knox caught two of them.

              Chris Harris had two takeaways.

              Matt Forte averaged 5.9 yards per carry.

              “But none of the “stars of the game” impacted the Bears’ 38-34 victory over the Jets more than Devin Hester.”

              Pompei points out that despite good but not great numbers, Hester impacted the game as much or more than any of these players.  The Jets couldn’t get away from him.  They could kick it out of bounds, they could kick it short, they could fake a punt, they could accidentally kick it to him.  Anyway you look at it the result was superb field position that the Bears offense took advantage of all game.  Jets punter Steve Weatherford explained part of the problem via Mark Potash at the Chicago Sun-Times:

              “Unless he’s not able to get to the ball, I know it’s coming back.  That’s why it’s so tough to punt up here. That’s why he’s so effective. It’s windy. It’s nasty. It’s slippery out there. It was pretty muddy — you’re not going to hit every punt perfect.’’

              Bears head coach Lovie Smith put it well in Pompei’s article:

              “They did a good job of trying to keep the ball away from him.  But it’s hard to just get a ball up on the 40-yard line or continue to try to kick it out of bounds and end up with a 10-yard punt. You have to eventually play.”

              I’ve heard fans and even media say over and over again that if a player’s ability doesn’t show up in the statistics, you can generally conclude that he is overrated.  The numbers don’t lie.  But Hester is a prime example of why numbers do lie.  They lie like dogs, especially in the heads of people who who either don’t understand them or, worse yet, people who use them to purposely deceive.

              Like Julius Peppers‘ impact on the Bears defense, Hester’s role in the win over the Jets can’t be described easily with numbers.  That’s why statistics are so useless in football.  You have to use your eyes if you want to see what’s going on.

              Easy to Criticize Jets Fake Punt in Hindsight

              David Haugh‘s attitude in his column for the Tribune toward Rex Ryan‘s decision to fake punt in the second quarter seems to be typical.  He thinks it was a bad decision and it certainly was in that it didn’t work.

                “‘They wouldn’t put (Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez) in the game and punt the ball, you’re not going to make the starting quarterback block,’ (Bears special teams player Rashied) Davis said. ‘They did what I thought they would do. Maybe they thought we’d panic.’

                “Or maybe Ryan’s arrogance in thinking he couldn’t possibly guess wrong loosened the Jets’ grip on a winnable game in a New York minute.

                “‘It could have been,’ Davis said. ‘From watching ‘Hard Knocks,’ (on HBO), he seems like an arrogant guy.”’

                But I’m not inclined to criticize Ryan too much for being bold.  His defense was performing well and he didn’t want to kick to Devin Hester.  Seen without the benefit of hindsight, I didn’t have a big problem with the decision.

                Having said that, as implied by Davis, perhaps Ryan or one of his coaches should be worried about how they ran the play.  It’s evident that the Bears picked something up on tape.  Vaughn McClure reports for the Chicago Tribune:

                “(Jets utility man Brad) Smith was told the Bears called out, ‘Fake,’ before the play.

                “‘You could tell they kind of knew,’ he said. ‘They get paid too.”’

                Singletary Firing an Indication that Offseason Could Be Interesting After All

                San Francisco 49ers head coach and former Bear great Mike Singletary has been fired last night as head coach after a disappointing loss to the St. Louis Rams.  The game cost the 49ers a spot in the playoffs.  Singletary took the loss, and presumably his firing, in a typical stand up fashion:

                “You know what, I’ll put it this way: a personal failure. I’m the head coach of this team and obviously wanted us to do better, felt that we could do better.  There are some obvious questions that I hoped would be answered as the season went on, and obviously were not answered. When that happens, you end up out of the playoffs.

                “I take full responsibility for every unanswered question.”

                A couple points here.  First this is a lesson for all fans that cry so passionately for the days of explosive former Bear head coach Mike Ditka.  Don’t get me wrong.  You can be a successful emotional head coach.  But there has to be moor to it than that.  Otherwise its just day after day of someone haranguing you.  The indications in the media are that’s part of what happened here.

                Second, this looks to me like a race to Jon Gruden.  During an interview on the NFL Network before Saturday’s game, Cowboy’s owner Jerry Jones strongly hinted that he was looking at Gruden.  I’d be willing to bet that the 49ers are too and once it was clear that Singletary wasn’t going to survive, they fired him immediately rather than waiting a week.  They want to talk to Gruden and, failing that, other big name people to run the organization.  49ers owner Jed York didn’t say that directly, of course.  But I consider his statement about paying off the rest of Singletary’s contract as providing a strong hint:

                “Money is no object.  I mean, our object is to win the Super Bowl, year in and year out be there and compete for Super Bowls. We’re going to make sure we get this right.”

                I was thinking that this off season would be relatively quiet with a work stoppage looming, thinking that the owners would be hesitant to pay two coaching staffs not to work.  If York’s statement can be taken at face value, that might not be the case.  It could be an interesting offseason after all.