Quick Note – Marshall Finds His Place

Mark Potash at the Chicago Sun-Times writes about the balance in the offense yesterday:

“But this time, Marshall had the most help. And his team won. Hmmmm .?.?.

‘’‘That should be comforting to him as well,’ Cutler said regarding the more balanced production. ‘We had a lot of guys get touches. He went for over a hundred [yards] and had a touchdown — still a big day for him.’’’

Marshall was the focus of the offense last year almost to the exclusion of the other receivers on the field. It was evident that he both liked the production and didn’t like the wear and tear on his body. He was torn on whether he wanted the situation to continue or not continue and his comments indicated that he didn’t know where he fit in to the new plan.

Yesterday was an example of how it should ideally work. He still gets plenty of production by not being the sole focus. My guess is that, as Cutler put it, how it worked out should be comforting to him. Hopefully Marshall does, in fact, now know where he fits in – as the center of a balanced attack.

Quick Comments: Bengals at Bears 9/8/13

Offense

  1. It was evident that the Bengals had their choice of paths to attack the Bears. A. They could attack Jay Cutler by offering tight man coverage and forcing him to release the ball early and trust his receivers, something he’s yet to show he can do. Or B. they could defend the West Coast Offense in the typical manner with a soft zone, keeping everything in front of the defensive backs and forcing the offense to execute by taking yardage in short chunks. My guess B, was the direction the Bengals chose to go in.
  2. The Bears started executing OK on offense. They did make mistakes with drops and penalties but they overcame them. For instance, on the drive leading to the first touchdown by Martellus Bennett, Matt Slauson’s ineligible man downfield penalty should have killed the drive. But sloppy play by the Bengals defensive back field let Brandon Marshall surge forward past the linebacker covering him underneath for a first down.
  3. Speaking of Marshall, I love the way the Bears moved him around. Putting him in the slot in the first quarter with Matt Forte on the outside put Forte up against Leon Hall, a cornerback, with Marshall covered by safeties and linebackers.
  4. Nevertheless, it was evident that the Bengals were keying on Marshall. They figured, correctly, that when Cutler is under pressure or when he needs a play, he’s still going to try to go Marshall’s way.
  5. Having said that, the zone the Bengals played most of the time played into Cutler’s hand in that he’s much more comfortable throwing against that kind of a defense and he had a decent game with good accuracy. Because the Bengals rushed four most of the time, he wasn’t under tremendous pressure, a tribute to the offensive line.
  6. The zone defense did, however, stop the Bears for most of the first half after the nice start. Executing mistake free football where every player does his job is the challenge in this kind of game. Significantly, the Bengals did a good job of stopping the Bears on first down.
  7. Cutler went to Alshon Jeffery a lot today. He did a great job of taking advantage of his opportunities. That was good to see.
  8. If Earl Bennett was out there, I didn’t see him much. He didn’t have much of a role today after missing most of camp. He had one catch in the third quarter.
  9. I saw Jermon Bushrod get pushed into the backfield to stop a running play at least once. But other than that, I thought he had a good game and lived up to his billing. Overall the offensive one had a good game. There were a few growing pains on the part of the rookie right side but nowhere near what I expected. A good sign for the Bears although blitzing wasn’t much of the Cincinnati game plan. That right side is going to face bigger challenges.
  10. Interesting that the Bears left Matt Forte in the game in the red zone in the third quarter. He rewarded them with a very nice power run.
  11. It also looks like that stretch play is going to be a staple run for the Bears this year.
  12. Third and seven, third quarter. Bengals come with an all out blitz. Cutler, instead of quickly getting rid of the ball to a hot receiver, takes off with the ball and the play becomes a Chinese fire drill. He completes the ball to Martellus Bennett on the run for a first down. The good? It worked. The bad? This isn’t how its supposed to work. Cutler and the Bears offense will have arrived when they execute in this situation correctly. If they can.
  13. On a related note, also interesting that Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis was apparently upset that the Bengals let Cutler out of the pocket on second and twenty in the fourth quarter for a long run. A disciplined pass rush is one of the keys to stopping Cutler. You have to put pressure on him and force him to throw from the pocket.

Defense

  1. The Bears came out mixing it up with more blitzing than we saw last year. For instance, the interception by Charles Tillman was forced by a Cris Conte blitz that came free.
  2. I thought the long completion to A.J. Green setting up the Bengals first touchdown was interesting. Second and four. The Bears put Charles Tillman in what amounted to single press coverage on A.J. Green with no help. That’s something that would have never happened in the previous regime. Andy Dalton has struggled in the past with his arm strength and his ability to complete a long pass has been questioned. Kudos to him for throwing a nice pass to Green on that play.
  3. Speaking of Dalton, he had a great game. So much for not being able to make the big play. He and A.J. Green are a dynamic combination that is going to win the Bengals a lot of games.
  4. Speaking of Green, I was disappointed by how much of a hard time the Bears cornerbacks had with the sizable Bengals receivers. The defense was getting beat with some standard routes that they really should have been able to defend. Charles Tillman had a rough, rough game. He could have used some safety help and, in fact, defensive coordinator Mel Tucker eventually gave him some. It didn’t seem to help much as Green appeared to continue to do what he wanted.
  5. I didn’t notice much of the Bears using the defensive linemen in this “jack” position where they stand and can either rush the passer or drop into converge. Didn’t see much zone blitz, either. They may be saving it for later or the right situations may not have popped up.
  6. Anthony Collins name wasn’t called much. That’s good for the Bengals as he drew his first start since 2011. He was blocking Julius Peppers and did a good job.
  7. Stephen Paea had a nice game as I saw him get penetration quite a bit.
  8. On the other hand, Henry Melton didn’t cause much disruption after remising most of camp.
  9. Nickel back Isaiah Frey’s name wasn’t called much. That’s a good sign for him and the Bears.
  10. D.J. Williams looked winded on occasion but otherwise I can’t see that he had a bad game depute missing much of training camp.
  11. I thought the tackling needed some work. The Bengals seemed to be breaking far too many of them to pick up extra yardage after contact.
  12. I was underwhelmed by the Bears pass rush. Dalton was getting rid of the ball fast but when he went long, he had a lot of time. Other than the blitz from Conte I mentioned above, it didn’t succeed much. Certainly not as much as it needed to.

Miscellaneous

  1. I can see that we might be on our way to yet another year where I’m gong to be constantly told I’m too soft on the announcers. Nevertheless, I thought Jim Nantz and Phil Simms did a nice job. Nantz has a particular tendency to let you know which relevant players are on the field where and Simms, though nowhere near the best teacher on TV, does tend to pick up nice, relevant facts that fans might not typically notice. A good example was on the Bengals quarterback sneak where Simms pointed out that the Bears had only a single nose guard to stop Dalton and the Bengals simply took the play that was given to them.
  2. One pick that I have a particular problem with. Nantz said that the Bears “didn’t elect to resign” Brian Urlacher. They, in fact, offered him double his market value as a free agent and Urlacher chose not to accept it.
  3. Bears special teams were pretty good though the day could have been easily marred by a long Adam Jones return that was called back for a block in the back. Robbie Gould hit a massive 58 yard field goal near the end of the first half. Adam Pdlesh had a particularly good day inside the 20 yard line. The Bengals did a good job of handling Devin Hester either kicking away from him or pinning him to the sideline.
  4. Two Charles Tillman interceptions gave the Bears the edge on turnovers. They could have had a fumble after Tim Jennings stripped the ball and kicked it out of bounds.
  5. Martellus Bennett had a big drop to start the game. Matt Forte dropped one. Not a horrible day in this respect.
  6. Too many penalties, especially by the Bengals, marred this as the first regular season game. The Bengals lost some big plays to them. The Charles Tillman was forced to commit a pass interference on A.J. Green basically gave the Bengals a touchdown. Martellus Bennett had a couple costly holding calls. Rey Maualuga had an inexcusable personal foul which effectively ended the game for the Bengals. Both teams need to clean this up.
  7. On a similar note, both teams occasionally didn’t look well organized during the game. Cincinnati used their last time out with 8 minutes left because they had 12 men on the field. Again, first regular season game… need to clean that up…. blah, blah, blah…
  8. Overall this was a marvelous start for the Bears against a very good football team. Not that they didn’t make a lot of mistakes – they did. But it was good enough to win a game that I freely admit I didn’t think they’d get. They’ve got to clean up the penalties and M. Bennett is going to have to stop with some of the bone-headed errors he committed. If the defense didn’t look quite as good as last year, it wasn’t far from it. It was a reasonable offensive performance against a reasonable game plan executed by a good football team. It’s a start.
  9. The first day of the NFL season is one of the highlights of my year. I’m not a big fan of most other sports. Not like football. Today is when I can finally concentrate on something I really love after a long off-season.

There are so many variables, so many things to find out, there’s so much to look forward to. It provides a focus that blocks out all of the troubles that I face during the week and allows me, if only just temporarily, to live completely in the moment. Those times are rare and I’m grateful.

So many people think it’s about whether their team wins or loses. It’s not. It’s about the journey. And today, just for today, I’m among the happiest men on earth.

Quick Point: Matt Forte May Be the Man to Watch Today

Matt Bowen at the Chicago Tribune describes how the Bears might use the short passing game to move the ball today.

chi-positional-breakdown-20130907

Forte’s alignment

“[Head coach Marc] Trestman gave us a small sample of [Matt] Forte‘s role in the Bears’ new playbook throughout exhibitions by aligning the running back in multiple positions. That allows the Bears to remove Forte from the core formation and create inside matchups versus both zone and man defenses. Here, Forte will run the backside slant and target the hole between the Will (W) and Mike (M) linebackers. This is another quick read for Cutler on a high-percentage middle of the field throw that could produce an explosive gain once Forte gets past the second level.”

Good point. Many of us saw former offensive coordinator Mike Martz try some of the same things with Forte with some success. Forte’s role won’t be strictly as a screen receiver or as a dump off option here. He’ll be an integral part of creating defensive mismatches, frequently being lined up opposite linebackers (assuming the Bears show they can run the ball).

One other point that’s worth noting here. The classic West Coast offense is all about the short passing game as described, for example, here. The reason why the cover two defense was so successful at stopping it is because few teams found they could execute with the consistency needed to work their way down the field in small chunks of yardage without making mistakes. One holding penalty or one bad dropped pass can put the offense in a hole it can’t get out of and you’re punting. That will be the Bears challenge this season, starting today.

Quick Point: Mel Tucker’s Defensive Changes Will Also Be a Work in Progress

Much has been said about how much time it will take for the new offense to gel under offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer and head coach Marc Trestman. But, as emphasized by this quote from defensive coordinator Mel Tucker, the defense is likely going to be feeling its way through some adjustments as well. Via Adam L. Jahns at the Chicago Sun-Times:

‘‘’It’s all about who is doing it,’ Tucker said. ‘It all looks good on the board, but you really have to ask yourself, ‘Who is doing what? Who is doing the blitzing? Who is doing the movement? When we create ones-on-ones, can we win?’

‘‘’Every team is different, and certain pressures are different because you’ve got different guys coming. That’s the first thing we try to evaluate — ‘Is this effective?’ I know it looks good on the board, but it is effective on the field? And usually the effectiveness starts with who is doing it.’’’

The former staff did blitz on occasion, especially in recent years. But not much. So Tucker isn’t going to have much tape to go on when it comes to determining who is going to win one-on-one match ups in a blitz situation. Its likely something he’s going to have to feel his way through the first half of the season. The process of evaluation should be an interesting thing to watch.

Bears “New” Offensive Line May Still Look More Like the Old One Than You Thnk

Hub Arkush at the Chicago Sun-Times reads my mind when it comes to the rookies on the right side of the offensive line:

The offensive line is being celebrated almost universally around Chicago for its four new starters, including the two rookies — Kyle Long and Jordan Mills — on the right side. If the line can make a leap from one of the worst units in the league over the last three seasons to just average, 2013 can be a ton of fun.

If it can’t, none of what [head coach Marc] Trestman will try to do will work.

Newer is not always better. Clearly, this group is more talented than it has been in years with the additions of Jermon Bushrod and Long. But sometimes talent isn’t enough, and what we’ve actually seen is snippets of these guys against the Chargers and Raiders, who have two of the worst defensive lines in the league.

Take a pill, everybody. There is good cause to hope for the best, but the jury is still way out on this one. This is not only a huge key to this season, but to the future under Trestman and general manager Phil Emery.

What we’ve seen of Long and Mills is highly unlikely to be what we see during the season, at least at the beginning. The same goes with the other rookies. Quotes I’ve frequently read from the rookies on the Bears say that the games have slowed down for them because the practice so fast. All indications from previous years are that’s about to change. Neither preseason games nor practice are anything like the speed they are about to experience on Sunday.

My strong suggestion would be that everyone lower their expectations and get ready for some of the growing pains that are almost certainly on the way.

What’s the Real Difference?

Rick Telander at the Chicago Sun-Times quotes cornerback Tim Jennings in a moment of candor when asked about the “new” Bears offense:

‘‘‘Let’s see how the season starts, let’s see how [head coach Marc Trestman] gets things going, how he reacts to pressure, when bodies start flying and everything starts to be real. I’m real curious to see how he manages the offense, and manage the whole team as well.’’’

‘’‘It’s very intense,’ said Jennings of the offense he watches from his DB position. ‘It’s up-tempo, and they’re working so hard.’’’

“But he added, ‘I can’t really tell the difference from last year, because all offenses kind of look the same to me. But the way they get in and out of the huddle, there’s intensity.’’’

I can’t tell the difference, either. Not exactly.

Oh I know there’s a difference between good offenses and bad offenses. Anyone who watches the San Francisco 49ers can tell. Any one who watched the old 49ers with their classic West Coast offense under Bill Walsh can really tell. But the question is “What’s the difference?” Like Jennings, I think they all more or less look the same with some variations.

Jennings seems to think it might be about “intensity”. But perhaps “concentration” would be a better term. The guess here is that if we’re going to see an improved Bears offense this year, it’s going to come down to execution. That’s both on the level of the individual player and how they work together as a team as a whole.

Yes, we talk about the X’s and O’s. General manager Phil Emery talks about how former offensive coordinator Mike Tice didn’t use the middle of the field. And that did hurt. But, really, the single biggest reason the offense failed last year was because quarterback Jay Cutler lost faith in his other receivers and fed the ball to Brandon Marshall in the air when he wasn’t handing it to Matt Forte on the ground. All 11 guys weren’t working in harmony with the coaching staff in a coordinated offense. If the Bengals come out in man coverage and the receivers can’t get open again, it’s not going to matter what Trestman does.

My guess is that it’s about keeping 11 guys all on the same page doing their jobs and limiting mistakes. One weak link and the whole process falls apart. That seems kind of obvious but it really isn’t. And even assuming you accept that, how you accomplish that goal is a whole different issue. Increasing the intensity with which you concentrate on what’s going on and what you are doing is probably a good place to start. But that’s certainly not where it ends. As Jennings reaction to the question demonstrates, the difference is a fine line that’s dependent on a lot of factors. No one can really tell if you’ve crossed it or not until you are actually under fire. That’s where the Bears offense will be on Sunday.

It’s been a long time since we’ve seen a good offense in Chicago that wasn’t an opponent. It hasn’t happened in my lifetime. And yet it’s fascinating that a veteran Pro Bowl cornerback who has been around the league and pretty much seen it all is as clueless as I am as to exactly where the Bears offense is at this point. Like Jennings, we’re all just waiting to see.

Bostic or Williams. A Definitive Choice.

Mark Potash at the Chicago Sun-Times addresses a choice which will tell us the direction which the Bears are to take this year. At least initially:

D.J. Williams or Jon Bostic?”

“Williams has earned the respect. He’s a nine-year starter who led the Denver Broncos in tackles five times. The Bears likely will be better with him at middle linebacker — at least at the beginning of the season.”

And that’s the bottom line isn’t it? Bostic, like many young linebackers, has a tough time taking on blockers against the run. And the Bengals are exactly the kind of team that will run over him up the gut over and over until he learns to stop it. And he will learn. But not after some growing pains. For all of us.

I’m going to bet they start Williams and try to win now. If the find themselves with a losing record at the halfway point, they may reconsider. But I think the only thing that puts the Bears rookie on the field now is if the injury to Williams is still affecting his play.

But I could be wrong. The choice before the Bears is a defining one, not just for the middle linebacker position but for the team overall. The Bears may decide to go with the future now and live with Bostic until he gets his feet under him. If they do, its going to tell us something about this season and what to expect. Its going to be about future Super Bowls rather than present playoff berths.

Jon Scott Leaves But May Come Back

I think Brad Biggs at the Chicago Tribune probably has the right of it on the release on tackle Jon Scott:

“The Bears signed Scott after the Week 1 game last season because they did not want to be on the hook for his full season’s salary in the event they decided to make a change. The plan could be to bring him back in a week or two when his knee is healthy. The departure of Scott makes Eben Britton the swing tackle for this week and the foreseeable future.”

There’s no reason to carry Scott on the roster for week 1 if he can’t play. The Bears likely thought it was worth the risk that another team would try to pick Scott up in the meantime. So we will likely see Scott back for week 2 or 3 if all goes according to plan.