Dan Wierderer at the Chicago Tribune talks about the field conditions anticipated at Soldier Field on Sunday:
“Sunday’s Bears-Vikings game at Soldier Field is scheduled to kickoff at noon. If you’re keeping tabs, that will come roughly 15 or so hours after the University of Illinois football team completes its game against Washington on the same field.
“The Fighting Illini and Huskies will begin their clash at 5 p.m. Saturday night in Illinois’ “Chicago Homecoming” game.
“Also of note: Sunday’s forecast, according to Weather.com, calls for scattered thunderstorms and a 30 percent chance of rain in the city. So it’s very possible field conditions for the Bears and Vikings could get messy.”
Like many regular football fans I get extremely tired of hearing the complaints and debates about certain topics. Steroids, race relations, whether college athletes should be paid. The list goes on and on and the fatigue sets in early and often on all of them. But whether Soldier Field should have artificial turf is one of the worst. Unfortunately media people never seem to tire of it and there’s always a certain segment of Bears fans who always want to chime in. So I’m bracing myself for another long round of hearing the debates over this issue next week.
Though it wasn’t the focus of the article (which was Brian Urlacher‘s mouth), Rick Telander at the Chicago Sun-Times shared this interesting tidbit:
“As [quarterback Jay] Cutler admitted, it was a surprise when the refs wouldn’t let him run the plays as quickly as he wanted, because if the Bears substitute players on offense, they have to allow the foes to substitute, too.
‘‘Kind of a learning experience for us,’’ Cutler said. ‘‘I talked to the ref about it. If you want to do it, don’t sub, and you can go as fast as you want to go.’’
I’m a little surprised the Bears didn’t know about this rule or at least didn’t account for it. But it will be interesting to see what they do about it. It was fascinating to watch the Philedelphia Eagles run their frenetic offense against the Washington Redskins last week. I doubt the Bears will go quite that fast but it will be interesting to see if they begin to forgo substitutions to pick up the offensive pace this week.
Hub Arkush at the Chicago Sun-Times addresses the differences between the current Bears offense and those in recent years:
“Which brings us to another point about where the offense is at and where it’s going. It’s hard to get five receivers out if you only have three.
“Marquess Wilson was inactive against the Bengals, and Joe Anderson dressed but didn’t take a snap on offense. That speaks volumes about where [head coach Marc] Trestman believes his receiving corps is at.
“It’s not to say the kids can’t play, but apparently they’re not ready. It appears that Kyle Long and Jordan Mills are ready. But they’re not playing because they were so ready Trestman couldn’t keep them off the field; they’re playing because they have to.
“Anyone who suggests this offense isn’t dramatically different from what Bears fans are used to isn’t paying attention to personnel groupings, play-calling and execution.
Arkush’s second point is better than his first and they’re probably related.
Though he might not be wrong, I would suggest that the absence of Wilson and Anderson might have more to do with wanting to keep tight ends and running backs on the field than the fact that Wilson and/or Anderson would only be capable of limited contribution. I think instead that, consistent with comments in the rest of the article, the Bears are more concerned with protecting quarterback Jay Cutler at this point. Specifically, they might be looking to provide as much help as they can afford to Mills and Long. It certainly looked that way to me.
I’d also point out that, in my opinion, the Bears have the best running back in the league outside of Minnesota in Matt Forte. I don’t think anyone wants to take him off the field too often.
Brad Biggs at the Chicago Tribune also addresses the situation of practice squad tight end Fendi Onobun:
“There probably was a spot on the 53-man roster for Fendi Onobun if he had performed better in the preseason but that’s in the past. He is on the practice squad now and working to improve and earn the trust of coaches and teammates. What’s interesting is this is the longest Onobun, the former college basketball player, has been with one club – he was added late last season – and had the benefit of an entire offseason program.
“The practice squad is an opportunity to go against our first defense and work on the little parts of the game that I need to improve,” Onobun said. “It is a great opportunity and I am working hard every day to improve and get better. I hoped to be called up but it is evident I am in a situation where the organization sees I need to improve. I am right on the cusp but not quite there yet. I am doing everything in my power to continue to bust my tail and get better every day against the first-team defense.”
I don’t want to over react because we only got to see Onobun in the preseason games. But having said that, if he thinks he’s “right on the cusp” he’s going to have to learn a bit about what it takes to get on the field. Onobun regularly dropped the ball and showed pretty definitely that he couldn’t make plays in games when it counted. Most of the fans were surprised he was resigned, even if it was just to the practice squad.
I hope head coach Marc Trestman and general manager Phil Emery haven’t fallen in love with Onobun’s potential. Maybe he’ll work out. But if he was a quarterback he’d be the kind of guy who would get you fired.
Brad Biggs of the Chicago Tribune addresses the linebacker play in his excellent “10 Thoughts” article:
“Lance Briggs made a big play when he stuffed BenJarvus Green-Ellis for a four-yard loss on first-and-goal from the 1-yard line in the third quarter. But it was a relatively quiet game for the linebackers. According to press box statistics, Briggs had seven tackles, James Anderson made five and D.J. Williams was credited for three.
“The biggest play by a linebacker might have been Anderson deflecting [Bengals quarterback Andrew] Dalton’s pass for Marvin Jones in the fourth quarter. The Bengals were facing third-and-10 on their own 20 and Anderson showed a blitz in the A gap along with Briggs. On the snap, Anderson dropped into zone coverage with defensive end Julius Peppers also dropping off as Briggs and strong safety Major Wright blitzed. Dalton threw early and Anderson was there to deflect the pass with his left hand.”
The statistics don’t show Anderson’s true value Sunday. He was everywhere in coverage from beginning to end. Former strong-side linebacker Nick Roach was solid but Anderson showed some athleticism that I thought Roach to some extent lacked. This was a definite upgrade and general manager Phil Emery deserves some credit for pulling the trigger on it.
Steve Rosenbloom at the Chicago Tribune doesn’t believe head coach Marc Trestman‘s biggest call was going for it on fourth and one in the fourth quarter:
“Instead, the big call came about 15 minutes earlier after the Bengals shredded the Bears defense to open the second half. Despite trailing 21-10 halfway through third quarter of the Bears’ season opener at home and his career-opener as a head coach, Trestman stuck with the run.
“He and [quarterback Jay] Cutler balanced the pass-run play-calls because that’s what professional teams do. The balance also prevented the sack terrors along the Bengals defensive line from teeing off on Cutler. It seems simple and smart, and there was still a lot of time remaining, but that never meant squat to the likes of the Ironheaded Mikes, Tice and Martz.
“This is big-boy stuff. Matt Forte darted around and through a Bengals team that was sucking wind, then Michael Bush thumped a Bengals team that didn’t feel like playing much tackle football at the end.”
“Trestman decided the Bears could run the ball when it mattered. He decided they would run the ball when it mattered. Big call. The biggest, actually. Testicular fortitude.”
Rosenbloom makes a good point. It is entirely possible that past coordinators would have started throwing the ball around at that point. And doing that does put a great deal of pressure on the offensive line, as they are then blocking defensive linemen who are doing nothing but rushing the passer all out with no fear of being burned on a run.
But I will say this. They were only about one possession away from throwing the ball around as Rosenbloom describes. Which means you could argue that, literally, they were one possession away from losing the game. That’s how close a thing it was.
Brad Biggs at the Chicago Tribune reviews the tape from Sunday’s game:
“Cutler spread the ball around and made some plays while improvising, including a 24-yard completion to Forte. In the face of pressure, he was strong. Cutler didn’t fall into his past habit of regularly throwing off his back foot. The ball came out quickly and he completed 66 percent of his throws, not counting the spike to stop the clock.”
The point about Cutler not throwing off of his back foot got by me and it’s a good one. Cutler’s mechanics were notably better last week than they had been in the past and this can almost certainly be credited in part to the efforts of head coach Marc Trestman and quarterbacks coach Matt Cavanaugh.
But I’m inclined to give the most credit to offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer who insists that the offensive line be strong up the middle with an emphasis on good guard play. Keeping a pocket in front of Cutler almost certainly had as much to do with allowing him to step into his throws. I don’t remember Cutler stepping up into the pocket much but ideally that’s almost certainly what we’re going to see him start to do more as its kept clean and defenders are not allowed into his face.
Many people noted after the Bears game that they liked the “adjustments” that the Bears made at halftime of the Bengals game last Sunday. I actually couldn’t put my finger on anything that could be identified as different (other than they moved the ball a lot better). Indeed, when I pressed people to tell me something more specific, freely confessing that I’d missed the boat, they also struggled to tell me exactly what changed.
As far as I can tell, it turns out that the biggest adjustment was fairly simple. Head coach Marc Trestman explains via Adam L. Jahns at the Chicago Sun-Times:
“We’ve got to get our pads down on both sides of the ball. It’s not unusual to see players playing high in the first game and the team that has the lower pad level is usually the team that moves the line of scrimmage. Our pads got much lower in the second half and we played better.”
That was undoubtedly not the only adjustment. But it’s good to know that the game still comes down to fundamentals when its all said and done.
I thought the following quote from the Chicago Tribune was significant in terms of quarterback Jay Cutler‘s growth within the new offense:
“On if Brandon Marshall was the primary target on the touchdown pass:
“’We kind of went across the field there. We wanted to get Martellus [Bennett] down the middle again, but they covered that up. We had kind of had a check down to Alshon [Jeffrey] in the left flat and they
covered that up. He was kind of the third late read there. It was just a click late, but he still made a great catch.’”
My fear has been (and still is) that when Cutler is under pressure in the pocket, he’s going to simply throw the ball up for Brandon Marshall, the only receiver he really trusted last year. This play initially did nothing to alleviate that fear. What I think is significant is that Cutler didn’t do what I thought he did. He went through his progression in the face of a blitz and found Marshall as the third read.
I won’t say that I’m completely convinced that Cutler isn’t going to devolve into what we saw last year when he’s trapped in the pocket under pressure and things generally aren’t going well. Not yet. But this seems to me to be significant progress and I’ve got a lot more hope today than I had Saturday.
One of the primary concerns from the Bengal’s perspective was how fill in left tackle Anthony Collins, who hasn’t had a start since 2011, was going to fare against Bears defensive end Julius Peppers. My assumption was that if Collins was going to handle Peppers, he was going to need a lot of help. According to Paul Dehner, Jr. at the Cincinnati Enquirer, that wasn’t the case:
"Collins shut down Peppers and his 111.5 career sacks, keeping him without a number on the stat sheet.
"No sacks, no pressures, no hurries, no tackles, no knockdowns, no anything. Much of that came without assistance from running backs or tight ends.
“’I don’t need no help,” Collins said. “I asked coach (Paul) Alexander, I asked coach (Jay) Gruden, don’t give me no help. Let me prove myself. He’s a $100-million man, but I’m a grown man, too.”
Hard to argue.