Cleaner Play, Better Defense the Real Key to Packers Success

Michael Cohen of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel explains what happened on the Packers offensive line in Sunday’s blow out loss to the Arizona Cardinals:

“[David] Bakhtiari is out, [Brian] Bulaga goes down, [T.J.] Lang and [Corey] Linsley both miss portions of what ends as a humiliating 30-point loss for the visitors. The key reserves are once again tested, and the offensive tackles fail in volcanic fashion: 8 1/2 pressures (unofficially) and multiple sacks allowed by Don Barclay; five pressures and a strip sack yielded by Josh Walker.”

That’s quite a test of the Packers’ offensive line depth, even against a Cardinal team that isn’t that good rushing the passer without blitzing. It’s something they’ve been able to adjust to in the past by winning one-on-one match ups with their wide receivers but not this year when they are not only giving the team their usual high number of drops but aren’t producing in other ways as well. Nevertheless, offensive coordinator Edgar Bennett has a plan:

“The change could be as simple as asking running backs Eddie Lacy and James Starks to chip block on incoming pass rushers, something the Packers have done sporadically this season. Or they may choose to utilize the blocking skills of tight end Andrew Quarless, who returned to the field Sunday after spending roughly three months on injured reserve/designated to return. Or they could move the pocket laterally to take advantage of the mobility of [Aaron] Rodgers, who threw for just 151 yards against the Cardinals and posted a passer rating of 66.2.

“‘Without getting into our scheme,’ Bennett said, ‘we’ll do certain things to put our players in the best position to win.'”

None of this is brain surgery. But with the exception of the last thing on the list, all of them require that the team be in a close enough game to where they don’t have to pass with the Packers usual multiple wide receiver sets. That wasn’t the case on Sunday where the Packers fell behind early in spectacular fashion.

Many will claim that the key to the Packers success this week against the Vikings and in the playoffs after that will be the performance of that much maligned offensive line. But the really essential element is much simpler. The Packers still have Rogers and even though that’s not enough to carry the team as it has been in the past, if they simply avoid turnovers and play good defense, they’ll give the team a chance. If they do that, the necessary adjustments will flow from it and the Packers should be able to move the ball even against a good Minnesota defense, albeit not all that well.

Buccaneers Game a Highlight for the Coordinators

Rich Campbell at the Chicago Tribune reviews the Bears victory over the Buccaneers Sunday:

“I-formation: The Bears used two tailbacks in an I-formation on some short-yardage plays, including both of Carey’s touchdowns.

“Carey was the up back on both scores, with Langford behind him as the tailback. Carey dived in from 1 yard on the first and caught a 1-yard play-action pass on the second.

“Cutler liked how the formation and personnel gave the offense options.

“‘The more dynamic guys you have on the field, the better,’ he said.”

This game was a good one for both coordinators.  Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio, knowing the the was weak at inside linebacker, played predominantly nickel formations in which an extra defensive back was on the field.  He frequently put eight in the box to stop Doug Martin while doing so, stopping the Buccaneers greatest strength while compensating for his defense’s greatest weakness.

And then there was this clever innovation by offensive coordinator Adam Gase. With the Bears weak at wide receiver and with Zack Miller as the only tight end that’s performing well right now, Gase went to two running backs.

No doubt about it. This put his best eleven on the field. Nice work.

Quick Game Comments: Bears at Buccaneers 12/27/15


  1. Tampa Bay played a familiar Lovie Smith-style bend but don’t break defense but the blitzed more than is usual, presumably to put pressure on the somewhat weak Bears offensive line. It was reasonably effective.
  2. The Bears responded by trying to be patient and limit mistakes in a ball control, run first offensive game plan.
  3. The Bears game took a while to get going, as usual. The Bears have scored only 41 points in the 1st quarter this year.
  4. The offense got going better after the first quarter. The Bucs helped them along to their first touchdown with a timely facemask penalty followed by a pass interference. They also executed better and played cleaner.
  5. The Bears were double teaming Gerald McCoy whenever they could with Vlad Ducasse and Kyle Long. This was particularly evident in short yardage where they ran right over the spot where they double team was. It seems that the Bucs may have been blitzing so often in an effort to prevent this double team by occupying both Ducasse and Long. This led directly to a sack given up by Ducasse isolated on McCoy in the second quarter in the red zone.
  6. The Bears offensive line had a very hard time protecting Cutler against that blitz. Tampa Bay only had one sack but Cutler was constantly under pressure.
  7. The Bears also had some success running to the right with Matt Slauson pulling to that side. This was a good plan against a Tampa Bay defensive line that always works to penetrate and get up field first.
  8. Tampa Bay did a good job on the Bears screen plays. Teams are preparing well for this now.
  9. Matt Forte (11 carries for 54 yards) ran very well today. This great vision was more evident than usual as he cut back and picked out holes. Jeremy Langford didn’t do badly (19 carries for 93 yards) but he looked like he still has some things to learn from Forte in comparison today.
  10. The Bears struggled a bit on third down (6 of 15) as the Bucs came through with some big plays. They also settled for field goals in the red zone when they needed touchdowns, again.
  11. Ka’Deem Carey scores not only a a good, hard run but actually catches a pass for the second touchdown. Who saw that coming? Probably not the Bucs.
  12. Zack Miller (7 catches for 64 yards) had a sneaky good game and led the Bears in receiving.
  13. Jay Cutler didn’t have to do that much but came through when he had to and statistically (20 of 27 for 156 yards, passer rating 100.2) he was excellent.


  1. Tampa Bay obviously is a run first team and they do it effectively with Doug Martin. The Bears countered with a lot of nickel defense but with eight in the box. This gets an extra defensive back on to the field to prevent those easy throws to running backs and tight ends that have been burning the linebackers so badly lately. That’s a good, smart adjustment that paid off.
  2. The Bears only rushed three in some obvious passing situations, probably in an effort to make Jameis Winston force a stupid throw. Winston did a reasonably good job of not doing that, trying to run out of trouble instead. He’s not dumb, that’s for sure. Having said that, he threw an interception under pressure from Christian Jones on the blitz in the third quarter in the red zone that was pretty bone-headed. So they still have to pound some of that out of him.
  3. The Bears didn’t appear to me to be blitzing much and they weren’t getting much pressure on Winston. This was a major advantage for Tampa Bay as they threw deep a number of times to burn the Bears after Winston was given forever to throw. Never was the need to acquire a pass rusher in the offseason more evident for the Bears.
  4. Harold Jones-Quartey had a good game and made a case for himself as a future Bear. He had a big hit that caused a fumble in the second quarter and stood out occasionally in coverage. His interception in the third quarter with the Bucs driving in the red zone was huge.
  5. Doug Martin (17 carries for 49 yards) had a mediocre first half. He come out after half time and ran very hard as the Bucaneers came out even more determined to run. They ran five straight times until Charles Sims caught a touchdown pass. The Bears responded by keying on the run with renewed attention and did a good job of stopping them.
  6. I’m not sure what the reason for it was but an awful lot of Buccaneers were getting open deep in the second half. Every time you looked up there was a wide receiver running free with a Bears defensive back trailing about three yards behind. That needs to stop. Fortunately Winston also has what appears to me to be a bad habit of under-throwing receivers deep. The Buccaneers would have blown this game wide open in the second half had he connected on more of those throws.
  7. The defense did a good job on third down, allowing just two conversions out of eight tries.


  1. Sam Rosen, Matt Millen, Peter Peter Schrager did a reasonably good job. Millen has a bad habit of being wrong and then having to correct himself but he also does a good job of going back to break down plays and show them exactly why they worked. He’s a surprisingly good teacher. I like him.
  2. A blocked Bears punt by Jeremiah George led to a Doug Martin touchdown. It looked like LaRoy Reynolds may have failed to block George. Robbie Gould had a good game, connecting on three field goals. His problems a few weeks ago seem to be over.
  3. Neither team committed that many penalties but some of them were very poorly timed, especially by the Buccaneers.  A false start by Kyle Long turned a third and goal from the four to a third and goal from the nine. A holding penalty by Vlad Ducasse late in the fourth quarter killed a first down. They settled for a field goal. On the Buccaneers side, a big facemask penalty brought back a William Gholston interception. A facemask followed by a pass interference penalty set up the Bears touchdown in the second quarter.
  4. Eddie Royal dropped a touchdown. Mike Evans returned the favor by dropping one in the fourth quarter.
  5. Turnovers were huge here, of course, as the Bears won that battle 3-0. The Bears got a fumble caused by a hit by Harold Jones-Quartey. It was recovered by John Timu. Timu recovered another big fumble in the third quarter at the Bucs 22 yard line. Jon Anderson appeared to make the big hit. Harold Jones-Quartey came up with a big interception in the red zone in the third quarter.
  6. You hate to see injuries, especially to guys like Hroniss Grasu and Eddie Goldman, so late in the season. Grasu eventually returned. Here’s hoping the Goldman injury is similarly minor. Jarvis Jenkins, who has had a reasonably good season, left the game early and would also be missed. The defensive line wasn’t a strength to begin with.
  7. It’s debatable but I thought the Buccaneers were the more talented team, today. But turnovers and a few key mistakes burned them badly and the Bears played cleanly enough to take advantage. That doesn’t sound exciting but its darned important. When the Bears aren’t committing penalties and shooting themselves in the foot, they can win games they shouldn’t be in. Today was a prime example of that.

The Chip Kelly Conundrum

Darius Walker at comments upon the disconnect between the offensive system and running back Demarco Murray, who the Eagles gave a $40 million contract to in the offseason:

Chip Kelly‘s high-powered spread offense revolves around spacing. The majority of snaps take place out of the shotgun formation, with the goal of capitalizing on the gaps created by that alignment. To be successful, Murray must rely on his peripheral vision and react to open lanes throughout the entire line of scrimmage. So if a hole opens up on the back side, he needs to see it immediately and take advantage.

“Unfortunately, he’s never had to do that before.”

“Only a handful of backs can be classified as feature backs, which is to say, someone who does everything well. Most runners fall into one of three categories: one-cut, open-field or third-down.

“Murray is a one-cut guy. He has a rare combination of strength and balance, with an exceptional capacity for attacking downhill. He can completely gash opposing defenses between the tackles and get the tough yards.”

“In Week 5 against New Orleans, the Eagles incorporated more runs from under center. The result was one of Murray’s better outings of the season (83 rushing yards and a touchdown). In order for Murray to be successful, and for the Eagles to leverage their investment, Kelly would have to completely alter the offensive approach.”

Which he’s not going to do. Like running backs, you can classify coaches into two types: those who adapt to their personnel and those who need personnel to fit their system. Kelly is the latter. Unfortunately he had zero NFL experience as a coach before being hired by the Eagles, much less as a personnel man.  He’s paying for that inexperience now.

Murray’s struggles mask the other real issue for the Eagles. It’s poor coaching. When he took on the role of general manager, Kelly was arguably distracted and weakened his strongest suit, his ability to get the most out of players, especially on offense. Connor Orr. also at, comments upon one Eagles’ situation their game against the Cardinals as one example of the problem:

“Because they were already trailing the NFL’s fifth-best defense 17-10, Kelly thought that points would be at a premium, so he opted to go for it on fourth down. Following a timeout, Kelly sent out his personnel grouping and the Cardinals immediately countered with a timeout of their own.

“In that moment, Eagles offensive tackle Lane Johnson noticed that the Cardinals returned with a different defense.

“‘They brought (linebacker Alex Okafor) over and put him over (Eagles tight end Brent Celek),’ Johnson said. ‘That’s basically what they did.’

“Did the Eagles return with a different play call?

“‘Did the play call change? Our call was the same but the defense changed,’ he said.

“So the defense may have anticipated the call?

“‘I think so. It was just a good play by them. We didn’t execute like we should have.'”

“And it wasn’t just moments related to the offense and their seldom-used $40 million player. The defense was drifting into sub packages with their backs against the goal line. Their line and secondary was so scattershot that the Cardinals didn’t even bother taking advantage of the fact that the Eagles were down to their final two healthy cornerbacks, opting to pound the ball with David Johnson.”

Is Kelly in over his head? It sure looks like it. It’s fairly evident that coaching in the NFL is more than just rolling out more talented players than the other team, spreading them out and letting them do the same thing over and over again as Kelly did at Oregon. Its a game of adjustments and re-adjustments over the course of all 16 games. Kelly is likely just realizing that.  Its possible his players are realizing that he’s just realizing it, too.  That doesn’t inspire much confidence or good play.

The Eagles were one of the most interesting teams going into 2015. We all wondered which direction Kelly’s team was going to go in after drastic changes in the offseason meant to give the coach what he wanted to get over the hump. Its now clear that what he wanted was the wrong thing in at least some cases and the Eagles have regressed. The question now is what to do about it.

Once again, the Eagles will be a fascinating team to watch in the offseason. They are left with an unsavory choice. They could quickly tear things down before they get worse. If they choose, instead, to stick with Kelly and let him learn on the job how to both coach and manage personnel in the NFL, the Eagles may well have a ways to go before they bottom out. Kelly is by all accounts a smart man and the likelihood is that he’ll eventually figure it out. But do the Eagles, their players and their fans have the faith and the patience to wait that out? And should they?

Only Limited Similarity Between John Fox and Lovie Smith

David Haugh at the Chicago Tribune praises former Bears head coach Lovie Smith but at the same time under-states the positives of current head coach John Fox by stating that there’s not much difference between the two:

“The praise heaped on Fox comes mostly because he benefits by comparison to predecessor Marc Trestman, the cerebral interloper more suited as a life coach than an NFL head coach.”

“Truth is, Fox re-established credibility at Halas Hall by doing the job much the way Smith did for nine seasons: treating players like men and employing a philosophy built on a strong defense and conservative offense… If Smith could hire offensive coordinators as well as Fox has, perhaps he could have returned to a Super Bowl with the Bears.”

“Fox’s consistency in approach — something that always helped Smith connect with players — gives the Bears hope for the future no matter what their 2015 record is.

“Meanwhile, history gets a little kinder to Smith every week.”

I think everyone recognizes Smith’s accomplishments here and I think everyone recognized them when he left. But we also recognized his faults and there’s no doubt that Fox is a great improvement as a head coach. Fox has almost all of Smith’s positive attributes with out the baggage brought by Smith’s weird combination of both arrogance and insecurity.

It was the arrogance that made him insist on more power over personnel than he should have had in Chicago. It’s what’s gong to end up holding the Buccaneers back with Smith in charge of personnel there.  As former bear general manager Jerry Angelo put it:

[James Winston is] right on the cusp of being a franchise quarterback. They were a really bad team a year ago and they’re not really that much better this year except for him.

My mother could have drafted Winton or Marcus Mariota.

It was his insecurity that caused his poor record of hiring coordinators. Smith insisted they have experience working with him before because he was afraid of the creative tension that might be brought on by someone with a different point of view. He also lived by the tenant that you should never hire anyone good enough to be your own replacement. Even if you discount these speculations the fact remains that Smith couldn’t attract the best coaches.

Fox has none of these problems as demonstrated by the fact that he hired offensive coordinator Adam Gase and defensive coordinator Vic Fangio, the two best available coordinators of 2015. He stays in the background and helps them do their jobs rather than doing it for them as Smith did with the defense after firing Ron Rivera for the sin of occasionally disagreeing with him.

In many ways Smith was a wonderful head coach and despite his flaws he brought some good years to Chicago and I’m grateful. But I don’t miss him. Looking back, the Bears are much better off now than they ever were then.

Bears 2015 Draft Was Very Good but 2016 Needs to Be Better

Former Bears director of college scouting Greg Gabriel takes a “first look at the 2016 NFL draft”. It is, in fact, more of a look back at 2015:

“In the 2015 Draft, the Bears got four players who already have given strong contributions to this team. That is a very high number for any draft. As we all know, first-round pick Kevin White has not played, so he will in essence be a bonus addition to the next draft class.

“Second-round pick Eddie Goldman is the starter at nose tackle and has had an excellent season to date. He is, in fact, a better inside pass rusher than was predicted. Third-pick Hroniss Grasu is the starter at center and, while his play has been up and down, he has a bright future. He just needs to add some strength and bulk. That should happen this coming off season.

“Fourth-round selection Jeremy Langford has started some games at running back and right now is splitting time with Matt Forte. He looks like a legitimate NFL running back. Fifth-round selection Adrian Amos has been a starting safety all season and his play has been a pleasant surprise.”

If there was ever a reason for optimism amongst Bears fans, it was the under the radar success of the 2015 draft.

Unfortunately, the only playmaker in the group above is (arguably) Goldman. And that’s projecting a bit. Though all of the players above are valuable contributors, even if White turns out to have the goods the Bears didn’t hit the jackpot with many impact players. Grasu needs to develop, Langford has been good but not dynamic, Amos almost never shows up around the ball in coverage.

That all has to change this year. The Bears have needs all over the field and they are likely to truly take the best available player at their draft position.  General manager Ryan Pace will have had an entire season and offseason to prepare for the draft.  All-in-all, I think the odds are as good as they will ever be that the Bears will select more elite talent.  They’d better.

Decision on Class Act Matt Forte Can’t Come Until the Offseason

Dan Wiederer at the Chicago Tribune quotes running back Matt Forte on the Bears letting his contract run out before making a decision on what to do moving forward:

“Forte expressed his desire for a contract extension last offseason, even offering to restructure his deal to give the Bears a salary cap boost for 2015 while also obtaining his own job security. But new general manager Ryan Pace made it clear he wasn’t interested in discussing a new deal at that time.

“And while Forte understood the decision, the limbo also bothered him.

“‘I would respect it more if it was just like, ‘Look we’re not going to re-sign you.’ … Because then I would know.”

Forte_Camp_2009Unfortunately the Bears couldn’t do that then and they can’t do it now.

First, they probably haven’t made the decision, yet. What if running backs coach Stan Drayton strongly suggests that Langford can’t carry the load and that both backs would be better sharing it? What if they decide that they can’t carry Ka’Deem Carey as a reliable back up?

ON the more positive end of the spectrum, what if offensive coordinator Adam Gase meets with the front office after the season and describes new plans to use both Forte and Jeremy Langford at the same time? Forte has plenty of value as a receiver on a team that could certainly use more threats at the position.  And they’ve got the cap room to keep him as a luxury in such a role.

Second, and more important, the next two games could end up making what will be a difficult decision, easy. What if Langford sustains a serious injury on Sunday that jeopardizes his future? Suddenly resigning Forte becomes a priority.

In any case, whether the Bears keep Forte or not probably depends a great deal on whether they can keep him at their price. That will depend upon what his value is in free agency and there’s no way to know that until he actually hits the market.

One thing is certain. Whoever gets Forte is going to get a consummate professional and a class act. Fans here are going to wish him well and welcome him back whenever they can. That’s worth more than any contract any team could offer.

Will Trent Baalke Be the Owner, Too?

Anyone wondering what the problem is with the 49ers need wonder no longer. Darin Gantt at comments:

Trent Baalke’s apparently doing more than delivering players such as defensive backs Jimmie Ward and Jaquiski Tartt for the 49ers.

“He’s apparently coaching them up, too.

“Though they have a complete and (allegedly) functioning coaching staff, Ward and Tartt say that Baalke’s often on the field during practice giving them tips.”

Here’s Baalke’s employment history from Wikipedia:

“1998–2000 New York Jets
Personnel Scout
2001–2004 Washington Redskins
2001–2003 National Scout
2004 College Scouting Coordinator
2005–present San Francisco 49ers
2005–2007 Western Region Scout
2008–2009 Director of Player Personnel
2010 VP of Player Personnel

Do you see defensive backs coach in there anywhere? Do you see coach of any type in there anywhere? And yet Baalke considers it to be his job to do it.

The problem with teh 49ers isn’t retirements and it isn’t bad luck. It’s Baalke. He’s a megalomaniac, control freak who took one of the best teams in football and tore it apart brick by brick. He’s now undermining the coaching staff full of “Yes men” that he put together to coach the motley crew that’s left.

As a Bears follower I don’t care that much. But as a football fan I’m offended and the sooner this guy finds his way to the unemployment line, the better off we will all be.

Brandon Browner Sets the NFL record for Penalties

There are two weeks to play yet but Saints cornerback Brandon Browner has already broken the NFL record for penalties. Browner was flagged for the 23rd time this season (21 accepted) on Monday night. The previous record was set by Texans tackle Chester Pitts in 2003. The list of Browner’s accepted penalties according to Kathleen Terrell at

Defensive Holding – 10
Unnecessary Roughness – 3
Face Mask – 3
Pass Interference – 3
Illegal Block Above the Waist – 1
Illegal Contact – 1
Offsides: 1

Browner was signed by the Patriots in 2014 after spending three years as part of a very good Seattle defense but didn’t prove to be effective without the supporting cast there. After signing with the Saints this season he has  been flat out the worst starting cornerback in football, ranking 117 and dead last one the list according to Pro Football Focus. It wouldn’t surprise me in the least if Browner was out of the league in 2016.

Average Fan Loses in Network Prime Time Choices

Paul Schwartz at the New York Post comments upon the state of the Giants:

“Gee, wonder how happy the NFL and TV network suits are about their decision to flex Sunday’s Giants-Vikings game to the prime time Sunday Night Football stage on NBC? The Giants could be eliminated before they take the field and might be without [Odell] Beckham, their one true superstar, because of a suspension. “

Beckham has been suspended for the game pending appeal after committing an NFL record six personal fouls with some out of control reaction to the physical coverage he was getting from the Carolina Panthers. The Giants could be eliminated before the game if the Redskins clinch the NFC East with a win over the Eagles Saturday night.

Despite that, I doubt that anyone is regretting the decision to move the Giants. First, the Eagles and the Redskins are both miserable football teams and the game should effectively be a coin flip (the Eagles opened as four point favorites). But more to the point, the game involves the Giants which means CBS and the NFL Network get the New York market. The guess here is that only the Chicago market is more lucrative and that only because the Bears are the only team in town. Like every other NFC North team, the Vikings have a national following and barring a complete collapse they are probably playoff bound.

They could probably find a better game but networks don’t care about the quality of the match up. They care about viewers. Sometimes that means the average NFL fan loses.