Not Thorwing Stones at Glass Houses. Much.

Judy Battista at NFL.com scorches the Cowboys over their signing of [*cough*]alleged[*cough*] woman beater, Greg Hardy. Hardy [*cough*]allegedly[*cough*] got away with it because he [*cough*]allegedly[*cough*] “came to a financial settlement” with the victim and the case was dropped after she couldn’t be located:

“There were plenty of warning signals for the Cowboys to heed and [owner and general manager Jerry] Jones released a statement Wednesday night explaining that the Cowboys spent considerable time trying to get to know Hardy.

jjhardy

“But there are others who know him, too.

“It was startling, on Wednesday, to hear a former Hardy teammate say publicly that he was sometimes unmanageable, and for Tampa Bay Buccaneers general manager Jason Licht to explicitly tell the Tampa Bay Times that the Bucs had stopped pursuing Hardy not for contract reasons but because ‘at the end of the day, we didn’t feel good about it.’

“It is rare for a team executive to be so candid about an active player and rarer still for a former teammate to break locker room camaraderie to air issues about a player who is trying to restart his career. But make no mistake, they were far from alone among those who evaluated Hardy over the last few weeks… [M]ost teams did not even give him a look and, at the end, it appeared that the Cowboys were bidding against themselves for Hardy’s services.

“‘He was a mess coming out of college,’ one NFL team executive said, when asked why his team did not go after Hardy. ‘He had a number of issues then and his behavior since entering the NFL hasn’t proved him to be anything different.'”

“Whether you find that problematic probably depends on whether you root for the Cowboys.”

“There isn’t much doubt that the Cowboys’ defense is better now than it was in that loss, and by the time another late-season game against a top quarterback rolls around, that might be all anybody is thinking about. But the tone-deaf celebratory nature of the Cowboys’ Hardy announcement — smiles and exclamation points all around — suggests that the message from those ‘No More’ public service announcements (in which the Cowboys’ own good guy, Jason Witten, was featured) ultimately gets drowned out by the demands for better results.

“There’s nothing surprising there. There was a similar din when the Philadelphia Eagles signed Michael Vick after his stint in a federal prison. The protesters were outside the gates for his first appearance in a game. But they dwindled rapidly as Vick showed contrition and, probably more significantly, that he still had some game left. Fans wore his jersey again and, in recent seasons, he was even hailed as a veteran mentor.”

I think Battista might be surprised on this one. Vick was found guilty and paid the price by going to jail. This is different. And the tolerance for these kinds of things is considerably less that it was when the Eagles signed Vick. Players like Adrian Peterson who immediately express remorse will get some slack from fans. Hardy might not, even from die hard Cowboy fans who hold the integrity and history of the franchise sacred.

Batista continues:

“Going forward, Hardy — and [Ray] Rice and Adrian Peterson, too — will be good tests to find out just how much our historical love of a second chance stretches to include even the most despicable acts. Hardy’s jersey sales will tell us plenty.

“For some, at least, that seems to be all the evidence about Hardy that matters.”

I came to the conclusion a long time ago that my team often wasn’t any better than the others when it comes to doing some things that I personally think are flat out wrong. I’ve slammed opponents for doing things like not letting the Bears interview a coach to give him the opportunity for advancement to coordinator only to see the Bears do the same thing the very next year. I’m still revolted by the fact that the Bears didn’t give Baltimore their fourth round pick in a trade the Bears, themselves, were at fault for botching a few years ago.

Ben Roethlisberger [*cough*]allegedly[*cough*] walked down the back hallway of a bar with his pants already down to [*cough*]allegedly[*cough*] rape a girl in the back room.  He, also, got away with it because he [*cough*]allegedly[*cough*] paid the woman off.  The Pittsburgh Steelers have a reputation for having as much integrity as anyone in the league.  But he’s still their quarterback.

No one can really say that their team is immune.

Bottom line, I won’t be buying any Greg Hardy jerseys and I don’t know anyone – Cowboys fans or not – who will.  But having said that, I don’t judge other teams actions much anymore. I just hope like heck, the system having failed, having gotten away with it once with both his freedom and his high paying job intact, that Hardy doesn’t do it again. Because he sounds to me like the kind of off balance character who might.  And whether he plays football or not, that’s what really matters.

Reeling in the “Big Fish”? And Other Points of View

Bears

  • Steve Rosenbloom at the Chicago Tribune has started calling new general manager Ryan Pace “Harry Potter”. Very amusing.
  • Hub Arkush, writing for the Chicago Sun-Times, uses flawed logic to discourage too much consideration of John Fox as the Bears head coach:

    “Most of what you hear is that with the youth and inexperience of general manager Ryan Pace, the Bears need an experienced hand with a proven track record in the coach’s spot to guide the team and help guide their young GM. That makes absolutely no sense.

    “If the Bears hired Pace thinking he wasn’t quite ready and needed a mentor to train him, then it’s a really bad hire.”

    “In what universe do employees teach and tell their bosses what to do?”

    No one that I have read or talked to has suggested that Fox be hired so that he can tell Pace what to do. His experience and advice would be valuable. That’s a completely different thing.

    “The most exciting thing about Pace’s arrival is his youth, the newness of everything around him and the clean break from all the frustrations of the last 25-plus years.

    “A coach who already has failed twice and was just fired casts a pall over all of that.”

    A. “the newness of everything around him and the clean break from all the frustrations of the last 25-plus years” has nothing to do with youth. It has to do with a hire who has had nothing to do with previous regimes. It has to do with fresh ideas. Pace’s youth does not excite me nor, I’m sure, does it excite many other people.

    B. Being fired twice does not equate with failing twice. Fox had ideas about how to “fix” a Bronco’s team that was already very successful that didn’t jib with John Elway‘s. The fact that Elway was looking for complete change is supported by the fact that he let the coaching staff go rather than promoting from within and keeping the staff. The guess here is that Elway wanted a fresh face to invigorate the team, something that Fox wouldn’t be able to bring after 4 years on the job no matter how good of a coach he was. That’s not “failure” in my book.

    “What’s going to happen the first time the young buck has to tell the wizened old coach he’s wrong and he’s going to do it his way?”

    “And what happens if that starts to happen a lot?”

    Probably nothing. The guess here is that Fox isn’t the kind of guy who won’t accept authority no matter who represents it but if he is, then he’s not the right hire for that reason, not because of the age difference.

    I dont’ see the same drawbacks to Fox that Arkush does. That’s not to say I don’t see any. Fox’s record is for success against what I consider to be weaker divisions without teams like the Packers. That concerns me. I’m not saying that Doug Marrone is the better hire but at least he’s had to compete with Bill Belichick.

  • David Haugh at the Chicago Tribune thinks Marrone is the wrong hire. That alone makes me wonder if he isn’t the right choice.
  • Rich Campbell at the Chicago Tribune summarizes what I consider to be the one significant argument for both Fox and Marrone:

    “Fox would be the Bears’ first coach with previous head coaching experience since George Halas re-hired himself in 1958. Since 1968, the organization has hired nine first-time coaches who combined for only one championship — Mike Ditka‘s 1985 team. Is that a meaningful pattern? Perhaps we’ll find out.”

    Yes, I think its meaningful. I think if you’ve got three guys on top of the organization who either aren’t football guys (George McCaskey and Ted Phillips) or have never hired a coach before (Pace), hiring someone with a concrete record to judge them by is probably the way to go about it. Hiring anyone else is really just a matter of gut instinct. Does anyone trust the instincts of any of those three, yet?

    Campbell goes on to do a good job of summarizing the arguments for and against Fox. It’s a better read than most.

Elsewhere

One Final Thought

I find the media frenzy associated with the potential Fox hire amusing. This article from Dan Wiederer at the Chicago Tribune is typical:

“Within a success-starved fan base that certainly has plenty of scar tissue still present from the [Dave] McGinnis episode [of the 1990’s] as well as a long stretch of relative irrelevance in the Super Bowl conversation, a fear factor had crept in. Could the Bears really let a big fish get away at such a critical time?”

I get it. It would be nice to have a coach with previous experience for once. And we’re all anxious to see a head coach hired as soon as possible. But we’re not talking about Bill Walsh here. As far as I’m concerned, I would be almost as comfortable with Marrone if Pace was. Fox has his share of negatives and its notable that no one else is or was interviewing him for their positions.

I’m not saying he’s the wrong choice. I’m fine with him. But “big fish” is quite an exaggeration.

An Ironic Twist Makes Eric DeCosta a Likely GM Candidate

The most interesting name coming out of the Bears general manager search is Eric DeCosta of the Baltimore Ravens. DeCosta has shown little desire to leave his position with the Ravens and has turned down interview requests for GM jobs before. But I’m starting to think that the Bears might have a real shot at getting him to listen on their opening. Here’s why.

Most Bears fans remember the incident in 2011 draft when former Bears GM Jerry Angelo infamously botched a trade with the Ravens. Angelo promised the Ravens a fourth round pick if they would trade their 26th pick for the Bears 29th pick. But Angelo failed to properly inform the league.  The Ravens actually missed the 26th pick and ended up picking 27th.

Baltimore and Chicago both got the guys they wanted in the end (Baltimore picked Jimmy Smith and the Bears took Gabe Carimi). But neither Baltimore GM Ozzie Smith nor owner Steve Bisciotti was amused. Angelo refused to give the Ravens the fourth round pick that the Bears owed them and Bisciotti called upon the McCaskey family to force him to do it. Via Biggs, writing for the National Football Post at the time:

“‘I’m disappointed in the Bears and the McCaskeys,’ Bisciotti told Jamison Hensley of the Baltimore Sun. ‘It is in my opinion a deviation from their great legacy. They concluded that their heartfelt and admirable apology was sufficient for our loss. All of us at the Ravens strongly disagree … probably end of story.'”

It was. But now it probably isn’t.

Baltimore had every right to be upset and the McCaskey’s couldn’t have seen that they deserved to get that pick any less clearly than I did. When Angelo was fired in 2012, via Dan Pompei, then at the Chicago Tribune, stuck out:

“‘It can’t be that he was fired for the performance of the team,’ said one AFC front-office man, who is not a friend of Angelo’s. ‘It has to be something else.'”

Who wants to bet that the quote came from the Ravens? They would know very well that the “something else” might very well have been Angelo paying the ultimate price for the trade fiasco (amongst others). It didn’t get them their pick back. But there had to be some satisfaction with the McCaskey’s acting in response to the injustice all the same.

So what’s the point? Though they were justifiably upset with the handling of the problem at the time DeCosta has to be looking at it now from a much different point of view. Few people would understand better than the members of the Ravens organization that the McCaskeys are going to do the right thing by their hires. Few people would understand better how firm the commitment to step back and allow you to do your job is. And few people would understand that they aren’t going to interfere, even when they don’t agree with you, better than DeCosta. That might make the Bears job different from the other’s that DeCosta has failed to interview for in the past.

Mike Singletary Gets HIs Due and Other Points of View

Bears

“‘Football players win football games,’ Mayock said. ‘If you’re in the first round … and you’ve got a guard that is rated as the 11th-best player in the country and you are at 20 and you’ve got a tackle that is rated as the 27th-best player in the country, I am taking the guard every single time. He is a better football player.

“‘I understand the whole thing about you can get linebackers later and you can get running backs later and you can get guards later. I get all that stuff, and I do value corners and left tackles. But at the end of the day, you better get good football players, especially in the first round.

“‘I don’t care as much at that point what position he plays. Just get me an All-Pro. If I am 20 and I am drafting an All-Pro, nobody will ever criticize that.'”

“If the Bears sign or draft a left tackle, could J’Marcus Webb be moved to guard? It seems to me that he doesn’t have the quickness to play outside but he could be a good run-blocker with his size. — Dave Andre, Berwyn

“Can’t see that, Dave. Webb has prototypical size for a tackle. His arms are too long for guard. And he sometimes doesn’t bend as well as he should and loses leverage. If Webb isn’t a tackle, he isn’t anything.”

“Out of curiosity, how many of the Bears’ offensive linemen could start on other teams? Would any of them rank in the top 10-15 at their respective positions? — epagnucc@yahoo.com

Lance Louis could start on a lot of teams and would, in my opinion, rank in the top 10-to-15 right guards in the league. Roberto Garza could start on a number of teams. On a good day, J’Marcus Webb could start on a number of teams. The problem is he doesn’t always have a good day. If Gabe Carimi can get his strength and confidence back, he can start on a number of teams. The Bears’ line might not be quite as bleak as it appears. But it still needs some upgrades.”

Pompei’s answer to this last question is interesting. First, I totally agree with it. But it presents a problem that has been bothering me. If the line is OK at so many positions, where do you start?

Realistically I think Lance Louis is about as good at a right guard as you’re going to get. And I do think Carimi was hurt last year and that he could still be a good, solid tackle. Garza’s play could have been better but its really not an issue (yet).

I think most of us agree that left tackle is an issue. If J’Marcus Webb isn’t consistent by now he’s never going to be. But left tackles don’t grow on trees and you may not be able to acquire anyone any better, as exemplified by this answer from Pompei:

“Do you see any of the three best free agent tackles — Jake Long, Ryan Clady, Brendan Albert — hitting free agency without their club placing the franchise tag on them? Should the Bears pursue one of these three? — Alex Navarro, El Paso, Tex.

“Long has the best chance of hitting free agency. Clady has virtually no chance. Albert probably won’t become a free agent, but his situation is a little hard to read because the Chiefs have a new general manager and head coach. But it would be foolish to let a good left tackle walk. I would say the Bears should pursue Long if they could get him at a reasonable price. And they probably can’t. Long has not played up to his reputation the last couple of years, which explains why the Dolphins would consider allowing him to leave.”

The only position Pompei omitted was left guard and realistically that’s a position that you could upgrade, especially if you are willing to spend a first round pick on one (which, unlike some people, I believe you should feel free to do – see Mayock’s comment above). That could help a lot. But is simply replacing the left guard really going to be enough to fix such a thoroughly criticized an offensive line?

  • Biggs reviews the quarterback position and what needs to be done in the offseason. While most of the talk has been about Cutler, its worth noting that the backup positions are also up in the air:

“[Jason] Campbell had a wealth of experience when he filled in for [Jay] Cutler in a difficult spot on the road at San Francisco on Nov. 18. He was sacked six times under an onslaught of pressure and basically just completed check-down passes. Paying big money to a backup quarterback is something [general manager Phil] Emery has to reconsider with a relatively tight cap situation. [Josh] McCown was added as a security blanket for the final seven weeks and he could always return in that role. Undrafted rookie free agent Matt Blanchard has been signed to a reserve/futures contract. It seems like every team has a goal of drafting a developmental quarterback annually but with only five picks that could be difficult for Emery to justify. What he does need to do is formulate a plan for a No. 2.”

“It should mean a lot more versatile uses for the running backs and more action in the passing game. To get the backs out in the pattern, though, there will need to be an upgrade on the offensive line so they’re not needed to protect the quarterback as regularly. Look for [Matt] Forte to be happy with his role. Veteran Skip Peete will take over as the position coach.”

“I heard that under the new CBA, players that are on the PUP list for an entire year do not lose that year from their contract, meaning they add another year to their original contract. Is this true? Do we still have Johnny Knox under contract? — Eric Weil, Downers Grove

“When a player is on the reserve/physically unable to perform list for an entire season, his contract rolls over to the following year. So Knox still is under contract with the Bears.”

“[Brian Urlacher and [Lance] Briggs have been the most dynamic performers at the same position for the Bears since Dan Hampton, Richard Dent and Steve McMichael combined on the defensive line in the 1980’s. The run could be over.”

I’ve been saying that for years. It hasn’t been true yet.

But its eventually going to be…

  • I’m having a very difficult time understanding Devin Hester. He’s clearly unhappy (via Vaughn McClure at the Chicago Tribune). What isn’t clear is why. He expresses his frustration about losing touches on offense, then says that he’d consider giving up his role on offense all together. And he still hasn’t given a clear explanation about why he doesn’t want to be a Bear. If its because former head coach Lovie Smith is gone, I don’t see how demanding a trade is going to help that.

Hester has never been all that good at expressing himself. But, honestly, I’m starting to question his stability.

 

“Bears, 55, 49ers 24, Ravens 3: This time, the Bears solve that Kaepernick guy, and then Ray Lewis gets arrested for violating noise laws.”

“The fallout from this list might be more interesting if Cutler cared about his image and reputation. But he seems to dislike America right back, and when you think about it, that’s probably a more efficient way to go. Devote your time and energy to things that matter.

“Craving public adoration is soulless. It also can be exhausting, first seeking out that kind of love, and then working to maintain it. Hate, though, means never having to say you’re sorry.”

Elsewhere

  • I thought this Audible from Pro Football Weekly made an interesting point:

“Did you see old-man (Tom) Brady? Time is catching up to him fast. Remember the fourth down at the end of (the AFC Championship) game — he could not outrun a nose tackle (Haloti Ngata). Then when he slid, he put his leg up in the air to protect his body. He looked (soft). I hate to see him go down like this, but he is playing soft right now. I thought the whole team followed his lead. They got punched in the mouth in the second half, and they did not respond. They lost their identity.”

  • And while we’re at it, here’s another Audible that might interest Bears fans:

“I was down on (San Diego State TE) Gavin Escobar as a blocker after watching the Boise game — he flashed and didn’t work his feet. Then I ended up watching three more and thought he did a lot better. He’s an interesting guy, especially with the way this league is trending.”

“One of the reasons Rod Marinelli was such an important hire for the Cowboys is he can help out 72-year old defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin. Marinelli was hired to coach the defensive line, but some familiar with the situation would not be surprised if Marinelli becomes the de facto defensive coordinator. Many in the business believe Kiffin is not the coach he used to be.”

“The biggest problem with the Chiefs’ offense was it was predictable and basic. Defensive coordinators were having a field day manipulating the offense into checking into exactly what they hoped for. As one AFC defensive coordinator put it, ‘I felt sorry for the Chiefs offensive players. They had no chance. We could make them check into max protect every time.'”

  • Commissioner Roger Goodell on drug testing:

“‘I believe HGH testing will happen before the 2013 NFL season,’ Goodell said. ‘It’s the right thing to do for the players and it’s the right thing to do to send a message to everyone else in sports. The science is there. We need to get to that agreement.”

I’ll believe it when I see it because I can’t imagine the players will allow it unless its diluted to the point that its meaningless. If real testing is done where the maximum blood level is at a reasonable amount, it will change the game forever.

No way it happens.

  • Rick Morrissey at the Chicago Sun-Times on Ray Lewis and his role in the double murder 13 years ago:

“The media’s role in telling his story, especially TV’s mythmaking, is an embarrassment. Without the deaths being mentioned in the narrative, you’re writing fantasy. It’s like writing about the New World explorers and conveniently forgetting the pesky raping, murdering and pillaging.

“Lewis is smart, the same way Lance Armstrong is. He knows that for every person who questions him, there are 50 who want to believe in his story, and that it’s only a matter of time before the many sweep away the few. It’s how we ended up with the gooey prose that came out of the Ravens-Broncos playoff game, when the postgame handshake between Lewis and Peyton Manning was treated like something drawn by Norman Rockwell.”

Like Morrissey, this behavior by fans and the media used to worry me. It doesn’t anymore because I’ve learned that fans will shamelessly root for almost any athlete if it means helping the team win. But, as happened with Scotty Pippin with the Bulls and Sammy Sosa with the Cubs, once an athlete retires, an uncomfortable feeling sets in and suddenly people don’t want these guys around. The guess here is that ESPN, who is reportedly hiring Lewis to do commentary after the game when he retires, is about to find that out.

  • From Sean Jensen at the Chicago Sun-Times:

“The NFL Players Association released a health and safety survey Thursday in which 78 percent of players polled said they didn’t trust their team’s medical staff.

“Additionally, only 43 percent of respondents, who represented all 32 teams, rated team training staffs as ‘good.'”

“Moss’ combination of speed, length and ability to ‘high point’ the ball made him the best deep threat of his generation … but not the greatest all-around receiver in history.”

Pompei is, of course, correct. However in Moss’s defense, for his first three years with the Vikings, he was, indeed, the greatest receiver I’ve ever seen. Though Rice is statistically the best over an entire career and what Brandon Marshall did this year for the Bears absolutely astounded me, no one has ever come close to Moss as a deep threat over that time period.

 

One Final Thought

Pompei writes a nice column about the influence former Bears linebacker Mike Singletary had on Lewis and 49ers tightend Vernon Davis.

I didn’t feel good about the way that Singletary’s candidacy for the Bears head coaching job was treated by some in the media and many of the fans. Like other Bears greats who have gone on to be good head coaches elsewhere and not for the Bears, Singletary was the wrong guy in the wrong spot for the position. But I’m certain he’ll make a very good head coach when someone gives him another chance. I hope that time comes soon. In the mean time, its nice to see this article giving him his due.

One Step Back, Two Steps Forward and Other Points of View

Bears

“The Bears that got [former head coach] Lovie Smith fired won 10 games. Would fans – and the organization – view anything less in 2013 as a disappointment? Would missing the playoffs again be more acceptable if noticeable offensive strides are made under Trestman, but a defense facing turnover at certain spots (while generating fewer turnovers) can’t match what it did this year? That would’ve been difficult even if Smith, Rod Marinelli, and that staff remained intact. “

My own answer is “No, it would not be a disappointment if the Bears took a step back” and not because I expect less out of the defense. The truth is the Bears didn’t beat anyone who I thought was really good when they played them. Certainly they showed themselves to be definitively inferior when they played the top teams in the league, including Green Bay, San Francisco and, to an extent, Seattle. A good part of that was and is lack of talent and I don’t consider a quick turnaround to be likely.

Bottom line, it all depends on the circumstances. A lesser record with definitive progress where the Bears play better against the better teams in the league would be more acceptable than a soft 10-6 where its evident that the team was never going to progress into the top echelon of the league.

  • Here’s a little positivity from an Audible in Pro Football Weekly:

“Marc Trestman is a natural for [general manager] Phil Emery. Phil will appreciate guys who are really intelligent, organized and prepared and very careful with what they say — that is Trestman. He already has a relationship with Jay Cutler. There are a lot of positives about the hire.”

“[Rich] Gannon’s first two Oakland seasons with Trestman were the two most accurate of his career. His two with Trestman in Minnesota were decidedly pedestrian despite having Anthony Carter and Cris Carter as his receivers.

“[Steve] Young’s two seasons with Trestman were very good but neither were as good as the 1994 season before Trestman or 1997 after Trestman. Bernie Kosar had a Pro Bowl 1987 with Cleveland but 1988 was right about Kosar’s career averages for passer rating, completion percentage, etc. as he lost some time to injuries.”

  • Brad Biggs at the Chicago Tribune thinks Michigan quarterback turned wide receiver/punt returner Denard Robinson is an intriguing prospect:

“With offenses becoming more dynamic, it’s all about finding ways to utilize athletic players in space, and that’s what makes Robinson intriguing. Take a player with his skill set and turn him loose.”

“The Bears are keeping Tucker off limits to the media at the Senior Bowl, but word is he will keep the status quo with virtually all facets of the defense. Even though Tucker has experience in both a three- and four-man fronts, he is not expected to make any radical changes in Chicago.

“In fact, a source said he even is retaining Lovie Smith’s terminology, meaning he will have to adjust more than his players.”

There’s a lot of good information in this article. It recommended reading.

Elsewhere

  • As many Bears fans will testify, Carolina quarterback Cam Newton isn’t the only guy who deserves the criticism leveled at him in this Audible from Pro Football Weekly:

“(San Francisco QB) Colin Kaepernick can run faster than any quarterback in the league. He is faster than RG3 [Robert Griffin III] running the ball down the field, and he is a whole lot stronger and more physical. He can take a hit and pop back up. I really liked him when he was coming out. He is a leader. That was the difference between him and Cam Newton. Cam is a frontrunner who is good when things are good. When it’s (bad), he’s part of the reason and will make it worse.”

  • There are probably a whole lot of Bear fans out there who will agree with this Audible as well:

“You know what I don’t get. There are a lot of smart people around this league. I’m surprised they have not figured it out yet. If you want to have success, why not go get a guy who has done it already and is willing to do what it takes. Why not pay a guy like (Falcons GM) Thomas Dimitroff or (Niners GM) Trent Baalke a little extra money to be your president. It’s happened with a lot of coaches — Mike Holmgren and Bill Parcells. Teams will pay these head coaches $6 (million) or $7 million. Why not go pluck the guys who have done the best job stacking rosters and building the culture in the locker room and finding the right talent? They have proven they can run the ship. You can put a plan in place to delegate authority on the other side of the building. If you can find the right coach and find the right quarterback, you have a chance every year. If I’m an owner looking for someone to run my franchise, I’m looking for the guy who has proven he can fill those roles with the right people. That’s the key to this whole thing.”

“Matt Ryan did not get any further with Tony Gonzalez, Julio Jones and Roddy White than Jay Cutler did with Earl Bennett, Devin Hester and Johnny Knox. When you are guilty of an interception and unforced fumble within 20 minutes of a Super Bowl, it’s not about ‘weapons;’ it’s about the plays you make or don’t make when it matters…”

  • I’ve been as critical as anyone can be of Lions head coach Jim Schwartz. But I totally agree with him here as he argues against changing his defensive scheme. The Lions defense could have done better, no doubt, but the wide 9 alignment they the problem. This fascination with the 3-4 defense by fans and media puzzles me, especially in a situation like this one where more discipline and better play within the existing scheme is so obviously what’s needed. Via Michael David Smith at profootballtalk.com.
  • Let’s just say that the NFL Coaches Association might a problem with NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith. Florio quotes NFLCA executive director David Cornwell as he apparently goes on the rampage in response to some implied criticism from Smith:

“‘DeMaurice Smith is the best thing that has happened to NFL owners since they became NFL owners,’ Cornwell said in a statement provided to PFT.

“‘De controlled both the NFLPA and the NFL Coaches Association from 2009 to 2012. During this period, De threw 3 generations of NFL players under the bus in exchange for a photo op with Roger Goodell and Robert Kraft; threw the Washington Redskins and Dallas Cowboys under the bus to conceal from NFL players the truth about the declining salary cap; and, De threw NFL coaches under the bus when he: (1) sat silently as NFL teams unilaterally changed coaches’ retirement benefits; (2) filed an unauthorized legal brief under the NFLCA’s name during the NFL lockout; (3) kicked the NFLCA out of the NFLPA’s offices for challenging the filing of the brief, and he rolled the bus over NFL coaches when he snatched $308,000 in coaches’ dues money and sued the NFLCA because NFL coaches understandably want competent representation.

“‘I intend to address all of the issues that confront all NFL coaches and clean up the mess that De left behind. While I do, perhaps De will answer these questions: When you controlled the NFLCA, did you fight for uniform retirement and health benefits that will follow NFL coaches from team-to-team? Why does the salary cap continue to decline while League revenues and team values continue to increase? If you stand by the CBA that you negotiated, why do you shift money from other player benefits to the salary cap to create the illusion that the salary cap is flat or slightly rising?'”

  • Patriots head coach Bill Belichick takes finding unknown players and maximizing their talent to a whole new level. From The Onion.

 

One Final Thought

Want to see something sick? According to footballsfuture.com 28 teams needed to find offensive line help in the 2012 off-season. That’s not counting teams that were looking for depth. Know how many offensive linemen are in Scouts Inc.‘s top 32 prospects this year? Four.

Not many scouting services have released lists of team needs yet this year but as they roll out over the next month or two the bet here is that, if anything, there will be more teams on that list of line needy teams not less. With that in mind, Pompei takes a look at the likely first and second round offensive tackles here. Mullin adds this encouraging thought:

“The Bears added a highly regarded Central Michigan lineman in the 2007 draft but it was defensive end Dan Bazuin, not Pro Bowl left tackle Joe Staley, who went to the 49ers three picks before the Bears chose Greg Olsen. The Bears, coming off a Super Bowl appearance with an offensive line four-fifths free agents, picked Bazuin 62nd overall before Marshal Yanda went to Baltimore 86th and tackle Jermon Bushrod went to New Orleans 125th.”

“[S]econd-guessing is easy, and Jerry Angelo conceded that finding offensive linemen was not a strength of his regime. If anything, the bigger point is that the likes of Yanda and Bushrod, both Pro Bowl selections, were taken in mid rounds of drafts.”

Life, the Universe and a Head Coaching Change and Other Points of View

Bears

  • I thought former 49ers quarterback Steve Young‘s comments on Trestman via Mark Potash at the Chicago Sun-Times were interesting:

“Can he work his magic with [quarterback Jay] Cutler, who despite his athletic ability has been a tough nut to crack for NFL coaches.

“‘There’s no question about that,’ Young said. ‘That’s why I’m so happy they’re looking at Marc, for many reasons. Marc’s capable of doing much more, but one of the things that he can really do is break down the quarterback and build him back up.

“Now the real question is, do you have a willing participant? Because there’s a lot of great athletes in the NFL and one of the things that keeps them from I think getting to their full potential is this idea that, ‘I’m such a great athlete that I just go out and play. I’m that good.’

“‘And some of them are that good, but they never reach their full potential unless they go to school. And especially at quarterback. So if you have a willing participant in Jay Cutler and Marc Trestman, you could make some good music.'”

  • On a related note, I’d say these comments from former Raider quarterback Rich Gannon, who also played under Trestman, bode well. Via Brad Biggs and Dan Pompei at the Chicago Tribune:

“‘One thing about him that is a strength is his ability to listen,’ Gannon said. ‘He takes feedback. Marc has always been the type of guy who can sit down with you and talk about things. What do you like about this? What don’t you like? His feedback is excellent. And he has an ability to be honest with you. Somebody needs to be honest with Jay Cutler.'”

“In the CFL, players are also only allowed to be at work for four hours a day, so Wolfe said Trestman has learned to be much more efficient. He ‘had to maximize every bit of time. So his time management will be amazing.'”

  • You can search everywhere on the Internet and never find more insight into people like Trestman than you’ll find right here in Chicago from Dan Pompei. We’re lucky to have him. This was an outstanding profile on Trstman.

Not to worry. Zynser hated almost all of the other ones as well.

    • Barry Rozner at the Daily Herald doesn’t believe general manager Phil Emery should have been rushed through the coaching interview process. I agree. Frankly, I think the people who were critical of Emery here are idiots. The only valid point to be made is that you generally don’t fire a guy unless you know you have someone better already in mind to replace him, in which case you go get that guy immediately. Its entirely possible that he had his guy(s) in mind but was doing what scouts do – being extremely thorough and exploring all avenues before making a decision, as suggested by this tweet from ESPN‘s Adam Schefter:

“Two HC candidates that interviewed with Chicago said they never have interviewed with anyone as prepared and detailed as Bears GM Phil Emery”

In line with that, here’s what former Bears special team coordinator Dave Toub said about his interview for the job via Biggs::

“Toub described his interview with Emery for the head job as ‘intense.’ He was appreciative to be considered.

“‘It was very thorough,’ he said. ‘He is what everyone thinks he is. He is a very thorough information gatherer. I know I was in there for three hours with him. It was pretty much straight through. We took a five-minute break. It was him and I question-and-answer for three hours and it went by quick. By the time we were done, I said, ‘Wow.’ It was impressive. Very thorough. Covered everything. There wasn’t anything we didn’t cover.'”

And who the heck has a problem with that?

 

“How did an offense that gave Cutler a lot of what he wanted end up worse than ever?

“Cutler not only gained old friend [Jeremy] Bates as a personal quarterback wrangler, but also escaped the seeming death march of offensive coordinator Mike Martz and was reunited with Pro Bowl receiver Brandon Marshall.

“And the Bears offense scored three touchdowns in a game once in the last two months of the season.”

“Maybe that was the big question in the interview process and maybe Trestman answered it better than Bruce Arians and Darell Bevell.

“Even if it wasn’t asked and answered, that in fact is the big question. The only question.

“Why did the Bears offense get worse?”

“Running a team and calling plays at the NFL level are two different things. I get it. You should to. But what the Bears have right now in Trestman is a start to developing a big boy offense around their quarterback.

“That sells in January.”

“What separates him from Martz is his flexibility. Having passed the Florida bar in 1983, he is a lawyer, a mediator. He won’t shoehorn Jay Cutler and Brandon Marshall into an offense just because it’s what he knows best. He found ways for slow-footed Bernie Kosar, uber-athletic Steve Young and aging Rich Gannon to succeed despite their divergent skill sets.”

Pompei continues:

“This is what Trestman is going to do.

“He is going to break down Cutler, take him back to the beginning. Strip all the layers of paint. Sandpaper away the roughness.

“Then he is going to build him back up again, one fundamental at a time.”

“We’ve seen this approach with Cutler before. It was taken by Mike Martz, another outstanding quarterbacks coach and offensive mind. Trestman reminds me of him in some ways.

“But there are some differences. Trestman is more flexible in his approach. And he is more likely to demand that his protections make his quarterbacks look good as opposed to vice versa.

“From where we sit now, we can say Martz and Cutler never were a good match. Martz’s system calls for his quarterback get rid of the ball quickly and on time and that he do precisely what the play sent in from the sideline calls for him to do.

“That’s not Cutler. Or at least it has not been Cutler.

“Trestman probably cannot make Cutler something he never has been, but he can minimize his weaknesses and accentuate his strengths.”

Which brings us to Steve Rosenbloom and his comments on the Bears offense under Trestman:

“Moving right along, there is one more reason for Cutler to buy in to Trestman’s ideas — one more reason that ought to be part of Trestman’s sales pitch:

“You don’t need a great offensive line if the ball comes out quickly.”

As Pompei points out, that’s not even a question. The question is whether Cutler is capable of getting it out quickly. He’s hasn’t shown the ability to do that and he probbly never will (though trust in his receivers would certainly help).

What we may be about to witness is a facinating tug of war between Trestman’s ideals and Cutler’s ability to meet them. Pompei suggests that Cutler can’t and I tend to agree. But has Marc Trestman come to that conclusion? I would suggest that he has.

According to Potash the Alouettes improved from a CFL-worst 68 sacks allowed to a CFL-best 22 with the same offensive line in 2008, Trestman’s first year as head coach. But he did that by having quarterback Anthony Calvillo go to the short passing game, getting the ball out quicker. Indications are he’s taking a different tack with the Bears as he has stressed that the Bears offensive line has to get better. From Biggs:

“Often described as a quarterback guru, Trestman laid out his goals to make Cutler an efficient passer and was emphatic that can happen only if he has adequate protection.”

Bottom line, I think that Trestman has a good idea of what he’s dealing with in Cutler. Its encouraging that he still thinks he can use his skill set to get the best ou t of him. Here’s hoping Emery manages to put together a line that can rise to the occasion and allow that to happen.

  • Trestman on whether Cutler is a franchise quarterback:

“‘Jay Cutler is a guy who loves football. Jay Cutler is a guy who’s willing to learn,’ Trestman said. ‘Jay Cutler, to me in my very short time with him, wants to do everything he can to help this franchise and please our amazing fans.

“‘That’s where we’re going to start. We’re going to work one day at a time in a proactive way with a sense of urgency to get him to be the guy that he wants to be and we want him to be.'”

That’s not a “yes”.

  • Trestman was asked whether he would promote defensive backs coach Jon Hoke to defensive coordinator. It’s not that Trestman was a lot more informative than former head coach Lovie Smith. But straight forward answers like this explaining why he’s not being more informative will get him pretty far. Via Jahns:

“‘I’m going to go in here and sit down with [general manager] Phil [Emery] and talk about where we are with our staff,’ Trestman said. ‘Things could have changed over the last few days. I’m willing to talk about that a little bit down the road. But I don’t want to put myself or our organization’s position [out there] until we sit down and discuss where the coaching situation is, because things change so fast in the National Football League at this time of year.'”

 

 

Elsewhere

  • Pompei’s weekly power rankings look about right to me. I’d love a 49ers-Patriots Super Bowl and I’ve a sneaking suspicion that’s what we’re going to get.
  • Bowen explains at least one big key to the Falcons if they want to beat the 49ers:

“Both defensive ends, John Abraham (RE) and Kroy Biermann (LE), must rush with contain principles to keep [quarterback Colin] Kaepernick in the pocket. If the Falcons allow Kaepernick to escape the pocket, or step through open rush lanes, the quarterback has the open-field ability to pick up an explosive gain on the ground.”

  • Here’s an Audible from Pro Football Weekly that has the ring of truth:

“If you think back to all the New England teams that won Super Bowls, the trademark was vigilante leadership. It was Mike Vrabel, Tom Brady, Rodney Harrison, Larry Izzo, Richard Seymour. They did not have the most talented teams when they were winning Super Bowls early on — but if there were any issues or problems that came up in the locker room, they were policed on their own. It is such a key ingredient to winning football.”

  • Former Bears and current Ravens safety Corey Graham probably didn’t mean this as a swipe at former Bears head coach Lovie Smith. But it is. Via Sean Jensen at the Chicago Sun-Times:

“Coach [John] Harbaugh gives guys a chance to come out and play. He told me before I signed here that if I deserved to play I would. He is a man of his word. He has given me the opportunity to play and that is all I’ve asked for.'”

  • I’d say this quote via the Chicago Tribune pretty much tells the story of the 49ers-Packers game:

“Put simply by Packers receiver Greg Jennings: ‘We lost to a better team today.'”

Just as the Packers were simply the better team when they played the Bears this season. The Bears have a long way to go.

Having said that, I think ESPN‘s NFC North blogger Kevin Seifert had an interesting point of view on this game:

“In the end, I’m not sure whether there would have been a schematic solution to counter [49ers quarterback Colin] Kaepernick on this night. We saw a breakout performance on a national scale. But by most accounts, the Packers didn’t look hard enough for an answer. The Packers played as if they were waiting for their game plan to kick in rather than trashing it once it became clear it had failed.

“Several players implied as much in the postgame locker room, and no one was more blunt than defensive back Charles Woodson.

“‘We didn’t make any adjustments,’ said Woodson, who later added: ‘I just think when the game is going the way it is, you’ve got to try something different. It’s hard to just continue to do the same thing over and over again, and continue to get burned. … We need to figure out: Could we have done something differently as far as our game plan was concerned?’ “

“Woodson said the Packers are playing ‘the right defense’ but consistently qualified his comments by noting a lack of adjustments. At halftime, Woodson said, the Packers talked only about ‘trying to execute the defense we were running.’ In the end, Woodson said, ‘If it works, then it works. If it doesn’t, then maybe you change.’ “

I’m going to cut defensive coordinator Dom Capers a little bit of slack on this one. A spy helps but the key to beating a mobile quarterback has always seemed to me to be a disciplined pass rush that leaves him no running lanes to escape. Admittedly the Packers aren’t built that way and admittedly you have to be well-coached to do it so to some extent it does still come back to Capers. But having said that, Xs and Os-wise doing the same thing better may not have been the wrong answer here.

“As good as the 49ers have been this season, they have not won three in a row. They will need to win a third straight game to get to the Super Bowl.”

Lovie Smith took a lot of heat as Bears head coach as well he should. But his even manner led to an amazing degree of consistency in the performance of his team. Fortyniners head coach Jim Harbaugh, on the other hand, is very emotional leading to up and down performances from the 49ers. The 49ers are, in my opinion, the best team left in the playoffs. But can a guy like Harbaugh keep a team high enough to put together enough victories to win a Super Bowl? We’re about to find out…

  • Vikings runningback Adrian Peterson has taken a unique approach to the coming 2013 season. From The Onion.

 

One Final Thought

I thought the fact that Trestman’s teams in the CFL made the playoffs all five years he was there was impressive. Then I read this from the Chicago Tribune:

“There are eight teams in the CFL, divided into two divisions. Six teams make the playoffs.”

Way to kill my buzz, man.

That aside, there was a lot of talk about Trestman as an intellectual before he was hired. I heard him compared to guys like former Bears head coach Dick Jauron and, in some quarters, even Smith and Patriots head coach Bill Belichick. In listening to his press conference, I can say that Trestman doesn’t sound anything like any of those guys. I distinctly remember Jauron looking nervous and afraid to even open his lips at his introductory press conference. Belichick and Smith never say anything if they can help it.

No, Trestman is a talker. Not that he actually said all that much but its evident that he’s not at all afraid to show his enthusiasm for the game and for the process of getting better to compete in it. Indeed, the person that Trestman most reminded me of was Phil Emery. Which is probably why he was hired. Mike Mulligan at the Chicago Tribune would seem to agree:

“[L]istening to Emery during a surprisingly introspective introduction of Trestman at Thursday’s news conference, one thing became immediately clear: The general manager sees something of himself in his new coach.”

I don’t know if that’s a good thing or not because I don’t know enough about Emery yet to make that judgment, much less Trestman.

Only one thing is certain. A new era has definitely started around here and I’m both excited and grateful. I suppose its an indication of my maturity as a fan when I say that I’m not too worried about whether it works or not. The important thing is that my life – all of our lives – just got a lot more interesting.

I can’t wait to see what happens.

There’s Something to Be Said for Consistency And Other Points of View

Bears

“‘We go back and forth. If we’re moving along, he gives me some ideas,’ [Bears quarterback Jay] Cutler said. ‘If I like it, I like it, and if I don’t, I change it a little bit before the (play) clock stops. It’s a back-and-forth type of thing.'”

I’m sure I won’t be the first one to suggest that the Bears run the two minute drill more. It might be tough to do it in the noisy environment of Ford Field in Detroit, however.

  • Long time NFL analyst Brian Baldinger on Cutler via Brad Biggs at the Chicago Tribune:

“The fact is whether J’Marcus [Webb] plays well or (Gabe) Carimi plays well or (Roberto) Garza is good, whatever it is, (Jay) Cutler doesn’t trust the line. That’s the worst part.

“‘Jay’s mechanics are horrible because he doesn’t trust they are going to hold up. So, he is already scrambling and running and the ball is all over the place and his mechanics just go to hell.'”

“Jay Cutler went deep (20+ in the air) nine times in the game, four to the right, five to the left. He was 0-for-5 to his left and 3-for-4 to his right.”

“‘(General manager Phil Emery) has got his work cut out for him. There was a guy in Philly, (former Eagles offensive line coach Juan Castillo). Juan always had a free-agent center. For 12 years, he never had a drafted center. He just developed them and they were all good players. You gotta work them. I mean work them like dogs. I just don’t think you have to go spend a bunch of first-round draft picks to fix it. But I do think you gotta have a work ethic. They have to be the hardest-working guys on the team. They can never have a free second during practice, every day. You’ve just got to drill them all day long. That’s what offensive linemen need.'”

  • Biggs alertly gives [runningback Matt] Forte credit not just for running well on Sunday but for blocking well, too.

“Forte’s latest injury adds to the pressure on quarterback Jay Cutler, who had another rocky game but did protect the ball. Cutler completed only one of his first 11 passes and was locked on to Brandon Marshall too often. He threw high and wide and took a sack from Calais Campbell when there was ample time to get rid of the ball. Quarterbacks lead the way in the postseason, and Cutler will have to be on the mark next week against the Lions, who can put points on the board.”

“Yeah, before today. I was feeling really good before the game today. We were running the ball well. You can’t really try to expect injuries or avoid them when you’re out there playing. You never know where everybody is coming from. Sometimes when you’re in a pile, people fall down, land on you, and stuff like that.”

Forte hasn’t looked the same. He’s been good this year because he’s still generally got good vision but he does lack burst.

  • Mark Potash at the Chicago Sun-Times reports that wide receiver Dan Sanzenbacher has been cut. The midget receiver had a chance to play in former offensive coordinator Mike Martz‘s offense but there’s no room for him in the current offense which requires less timing and relies more wide receivers getting open and making a play on their own.

“The Bears’ 7-1 start was fueled by big defensive plays; they had seven return touchdowns in the first eight games, a wild pace no one believed they could maintain. When the takeaways dried up, the losses piled up. Zack Bowman recovered a fumble for a touchdown Sunday and Charles Tillman returned an interception for a score to give the Bears an edge when the offense was stumbling. That’s a difficult way to maintain sustained success, especially against top offenses.”

  • Biggs indicates that the blocked field goal in the fourth quarter against the Cardinals might have been the fault of Kellen Davis. If [head coach Lovie] Smith gets fired, its the evaluation of talent typified by Davis’ contract extension and the idea that the Bears offensive line was going to be good enough as it is that will be a major part of what did him in.
  • On a related note, Mike Mulligan, also at the Chicago Tribune, reviews some of the more puzzling roster moves the Bears have made. A lot of this I blame on player evaluation by the coaching staff. Not all of these can be solved by this suggestion but one thing for certain: Emery is going to realize that player evaluations have to be made based upon what he sees on film and not by the coaches or the coaches are going to have to go. There’s no way guys like Davis get signed to big deals if that’s the case.
  • A lot more went on during that idiotic Cardinals fake field goal attempt than I thought. From Dan Pompei at the Chicago Tribune:

“The Bears read the Cardinals’ fake field goal attempt well. [Charles] Tillman slowed down Jay Feely and Amobi Okoye chased him down, while J.T. Thomas dropped into coverage to take away intended receiver Jim Dray.”

Lions

  • It would seem that Bears offensive coordinator Mike Tice isn’t the only one who is under fire during this Christmas season. Lions offensive coordinator Scott Linehan is under Anthony Kuehn‘s microscope at the Detroit Free Press, perhaps with even more justification.
  • How bad are the Lions problems in the red zone? Detroit Free Press columnist Dave Birkett explains:

“When Calvin Johnson broke Jerry Rice‘s single-season receiving record Saturday, he just missed out on another somewhat dubious mark.

“Johnson’s 225 yards tied Bernie Casey for the second most in NFL history without a touchdown, according to ESPN. Former Jacksonville Jaguars receiver Keenan McCardell set the record of 232 yards receiving without a score in 1996.”

Elsewhere

Tiger Woods has never won a major from behind. He is a great closer when he has the lead going into the fourth day. There are four rounds in golf. There are four quarters in football. When (Packers QB) Aaron Rodgers goes into the fourth quarter with a lead, there is a high percentage he is going to win. The odds go down a lot when he is behind. When you compare him to other great QBs, that inability stands out to me. I don’t know the specific stats — it’s just from watching him through the years. He’s just not a great fourth-quarter, come-from-behind quarterback. I don’t think he has figured out how to close out a game.”

“Take a look at some of the quarterbacks in this league who cannot bring the team together — that’s always been Joe Flacco’s problem. He’s incapable. That was his problem in college, too — it’s part of the reason he transferred. He couldn’t win the respect of the team. Flacco can’t do it, so the Ravens have to rely on Ed Reed and Ray Lewis to lead it. That’s not to say he cannot win, but when you’re talking about him as your franchise, that is a big discussion point to me.”

  • And here’s another Audible that should have the ring of truth with Bears fans:

“I don’t think (Texans QB) Matt Schaub is good enough of a leader to win a Super Bowl. It’s just one of those traits that you need to have — it’s missing. When the chips are down and you need to rally the team, is he the guy you want in the saddle?”

Bill Belichick had Peyton Manning mixed up for a few years when (Manning) was in Indianapolis. Once Peyton figured out how they were attacking him, he took control of that series. … (The Broncos) are a dangerous team right now.”

  • Jonathan Bales at The New York Times explains one of the keys to the success of the Raven’s offense:

“On Sunday, the Giants were defeated by a Ravens team that simply seemed more prepared. As they’ve done all year, the Ravens capitalized on the similarity between their running game and play-action passing attack; Baltimore does an outstanding job of making the bulk of their plays resemble one another. Whereas many teams seem to have a distinct run-pass dichotomy that’s relatively easy for defenses to decipher, the Ravens’ playbook is littered with runs that look like passes, and vice versa.”


 

One Final Thought

David Haugh at the Chicago Tribune gives a bit of a scathing evaluation of the Bears in their victory over the Cardinals. I’ve been as tough as anyone on the Bears, as exemplified by my post earlier this morning, and I won’t say that Haugh is entirely wrong. But in thinking about this game as well as the other wins that the Bears have accumulated, I think its both fair and important to make sure to give credit where credit is due. Yes, the Bears are only winning the games you are supposed to win. But very few of even the best teams in the NFL have done that this year. They’ve been amazingly consistent and that’s to their credit.

 

Can I Hear an Amen? And Other Points of View

Bears

  • Mark Potash at the Chicago Sun-Times reviews comments from some of the Packers that have angered Brandon Marshall:

“What did [Charles] Woodson and [Tramon] Williams say that riled Marshall? Woodson tweaked Jay Cutler in a post-game interview, telling ESPN’s Rachel Nichols ‘it’s the same old Jay’ after the Packers held Cutler to 126 passing yards and a 28.2 passer rating in the Packers’ 23-10 victor on Sept. 13 at Lambeau Field.

“But it was Woodson’s comments on The Jim Rome Show that apparently irked Marshall.

“‘They do have some big receivers over there, but they’re not fast receivers,’ Woodson told Rome. ‘There’s no Calvin Johnson on that team that’s going to stretch a defense. Yeah, there are some big guys, physical guys and they like to push and pull and grab and get behind guys, but we weren’t going to let that happen, so it worked in our favor.’

“The ‘they like to push and pull and grab’ part seems to be the source of Marshall’s ire. ‘I want [Woodson] out there because of some of the things that they say,’ Marshall said. ‘I take it personal when someone takes jabs at the way I approach the game or my career. I’m excited to see him out there at full speed.'”

Brad Biggs at the Chicago Tribune tells us essentially what Woodson meant by “we weren’t going to let that happen”:

“The Packers bracketed Marshall with a lot of two-man coverage, meaning the cornerback had man coverage underneath with safety help over the top. That support allows the cornerback to sit on routes. Marshall couldn’t get open and quarterback Jay Cutler held the ball too long waiting for him to break open, ultimately allowing the four-man rush to get to him repeatedly. The Bears entered the game hoping they would get a dose of press man coverage — the kind of physical action Marshall covets — and it didn’t happen.”

“As illogical as it sounds, the Bears offense is actually less potent this season with Brandon Marshall than it was a year ago without him. The bottom line is points, and the Bears are averaging 23.7 per game after scoring 22.1 a year ago. When you factor in eight return touchdowns this season, the offense is short of the pace from 2011 even with a bona fide No. 1 receiver. The upshot of this is the roster is more flawed than anyone expected when the team raced out to a 7-1 start. And as much as he would like to, Marshall cannot do it alone.”

Its not at all illogical. The runnings game has been absent and Mike Martz was a better, more experienced offensive coordinator.

James Brown was in for about 40 plays at LG against the Vikings. How did he grade out? Barring a free agency move or a high pick at guard in the draft are we seeing the future at LG? — Vic Fiebig, Springfield, VA

“Brown played OK for his first extended exposure. Nothing great. Nothing terrible. We don’t have anywhere near enough evidence to say if he will be a permanent starter in the near future. From the looks of it now, the Bears will be shopping for a veteran guard who can step in and play the position next season while Brown develops. But it will be interesting to see how he plays for the rest of the season, assuming he does play.”

“With the production Michael Bush has had along with the struggles [Matt] Forte is having does a Matt Forte trade make sense in the off season? What do you think we could get in return for the running back? — Joe Devine, Edmonton, Canada

“My impression is Forte is worth more to the Bears than he would be in a trade, but I could be wrong. Teams don’t want to pay much for older running backs. Forte just turned 27. He has not been as productive as he was in 2011, and he is the 17th leading rusher in the NFL. What could you get for him? Probably a third round pick. Maybe a second. Maybe not. But he is an all-around back who can help the Bears offense as a runner, receiver and pass protector. Players like him are not easy to find. I would not be looking to trade him, and I don’t think the Bears will be either.”

The lack of respect that Forte gets from fans constantly amazes me. He’s not having his greatest season but when I watch him catch and run with such nice vision and compare him in my mind to other running backs around the league, I just can’t understand why fans are so anxious to trade him. He’s one of only three or four Bears players that good teams like the Packers can look at with envy. I agree with Pompei. You don’t trade assets like Forte.

 

“The Bears look like they are running scared now. Lovie Smith treats Brian Urlacher like Rex Ryan treats Darrelle Revis. When the Jets lost Revis for the year, Rex basically said, ‘We are done. We suck.’ Look at the records in Chicago when Urlacher is not playing. The defense cannot line up or stop anyone. It’s a disaster. … I’m surprised Nick Roach is still on the team. I always thought he was a backup. I’m shocked he has stayed healthy (all year).”

 

  • Most of us are used to thinking about the blow to the offense and defense but Potash highlights the problem special teams coordinator Dave Toub has on special teams due to injuries.
  • Pompei says to expect Olindo Mare‘s kickoffs to be a bit shorter than Robbie Gould‘s and that Smith likely won’t have as much confidence in his on longer field goals.

“Recently the contracts and job security of Lovie Smith and offensive coordinator Mike Tice have come under scrutiny. But the other guy on the staff with reason to worry might be longtime strength and conditioning coach Rusty Jones. The Bears don’t seem very strong or well-conditioned. Their offensive linemen hardly impose their will on anybody. Their roster has sustained so many injuries through 13 games that Lovie Smith was forced to cancel practice Wednesday because he didn’t have enough healthy bodies.”

“You look at the last game we played, and I hate to go back to the last game, a couple plays here and there. It’s not like we were just playing terrible football. We’re going to tighten up a few things, which we’re doing, which is our routine, and we’re going to win a few football games and everything will be OK.”

Indeed, they weren’t playing terrible football. Many of us would feel better if they had. The truth is they aren’t much better than the Vikings (or the Lions). Add the effect of a dome on the offensive line and the penalties that come with that and its the difference between winning and losing against an opponent that doesn’t play badly enough to blow it.

 

Packers

“Three-four defenses like the Packers use have been a problem for the Bears this year, in part because they are different. Three of the Bears’ five losses have come against teams that play 3-4s, and the Bears have averaged 7.6 points per game in those losses.

“Bears offensive coordinator Mike Tice explains.

“‘Most of the teams we play are ‘over’ teams, so it’s one gap, one gap, one gap,’ he said. ‘You spend the whole offseason and training camp working against an over front that is a penetrating, slanting, quick front. Now you play a two gap team, it’s different. It’s a whole different technique.’

“Against a three-man front, blockers have to figure how long to stay on the down lineman before releasing and seeking out the defender at the next level. There are different combination blocks to be concerned with.”

Elsewhere

“The Ravens got a steal with Corey Graham. He is now starting for the Ravens as a cornerback. He was brought in to be a special-teams phenom, and he has turned out to be a find for them on defense with all the injuries they have had at the position.”

“I hear the name of (Chiefs pro personnel director) Ray Farmer and I like him. He’s a great guy, but no one wants anything to do with the Kansas City Chiefs right now. … I know how they run it. It’s way too mechanical. They want robots in the front office, not evaluators. It’s important to have a system and to make scouting a science as much as you can, but this business is about having a gut feel and calling it like you see it. I don’t want a robot scouting for me.”

“OK, so what’s next, Joe Vitt putting a bounty on Gregg Williams?”

  • The ideal gift for the Eagles fan. From profootballmock.com:

 

One Final Thought

This comment from Biggs has the ring of truth:

“Speculation only mounts when it comes to the future of coach Lovie Smith, who is signed through 2013. The bottom line: The Bears have eight wins with three games to go, giving them a decent chance of finishing with 10 victories and a playoff berth. As disconcerting as it might be for some fans, 10 wins and a playoff berth — no matter how long it lasts —probably would ensure Smith’s future with the team. You don’t see many NFL teams launch a coach after double-digit wins and a postseason appearance. Jim Schwartz would love to be in Smith’s spot right now.”

I’m not thrilled with the way the players are responding to Smith right now and the way they came out in the first quarter last week gave me pause. If they continued to do that, I’m thinking the Bears won’t get those 10 wins. But if Smith does get them and makes the playoffs, that means the team will have responded to him and won at least one game I didn’t think they would. His job should be safe.

I know a lot of fans want to launch Smith. But the issue is overblown. Whether you think he’s a good head coach or not, the team’s primary problem is still lack of talent. As long as they’re moving to address that, they’ll be going in the right direction.

Having said all that I’ll wrap up with what might be the most important point as Pompei answers another question:

“If da Bears lose this game to Green Bay, will the search for a new head coach start? — @WCW4Life12, from Twitter

“No, it would be too early. You have to let the season play out. But I’ll say this. General managers and owners all over the NFL need to be prepared in the event that they decide to make a change. Dec. 31 is too late to start doing homework on available coaches.”

Amen, brother.

New NFL Products Hit the Shelves Just in Time for the Christmas Shopping Season And Other Points of View

Bears

“[Tribune columnist David] Haugh argued that Angelo was done in by the lousy performance of backup quarterback Caleb Hanie, who was 0-4 in Cutler’s absence before he was relieved by Josh McCown. He submits that someone had to pay for the failures of Hanie when the Bears stumbled to an 8-8 finish and Angelo was chosen to be that guy over Lovie Smith. It’s a compelling argument.

I believe Angelo’s demise was draft-related. Team president Ted Phillips said, when he announced the move, that there was a talent deficiency on the roster and the gap needed to be closed with division rivals Green Bay and Detroit.”

“That being said, Angelo’s fingerprints are all over this roster and many of the moves he made are still helping the team and will for seasons to come.”

This is all true but it neglects what I think was another major reason – perhaps the major reason – for Angelo’s departure. He was probably the worst general manager in the NFL when it came to administration. It all culminated in the personal embarrassment suffered by ownership over the failed trade with Baltimore in the 2011 NFL draft where Angelo stupidly told two people to do the same job and neither did it thinking the other one did.

There’s a reason why Bears president Philips is now unofficially taking on more of an hands on administrative role with the club. Bears ownership doesn’t want any more personal calls from fellow owners like the Raven’s Steve Biscotti asking them what they think they’re doing.

  • I was personally glad to read from Biggs that former center Olin Kreutz was at the last game. I always wondered if Kreutz might not make a good coach and I’m glad to see there isn’t an apparent rift with the organization that might prevent him from coming.
  • Dan Pompei at the Chicago Tribune notes in his film review that both Brandon Marshall and Earl Bennett blocked well down field. Every good fundamental football team I’ve ever seen had this underrated characteristic.

“Cutler and Brandon Marshall completely outdueled Matthew Stafford and [Lions wide receiver Calvin] Johnson. Marshall finished with six receptions for 81 yards and a 7-yard touchdown reception to cap the game’s opening drive. Cutler completed 16 of 31 passes for 150 yards and was sacked five times but did not turn the ball over.”

You could argue that the difference in this game was Bears cornerback Charles Tillman. He shadowed Johnson all over the field. On the other hand the Lions already poor secondary was depleted and they had no one to cover Marshall.

“Not only did the Bears have cornerback Charles Tillman shadow Johnson with Pro Bowl persistence, but Smith tweaked his nickel personnel by adding a package in which Kelvin Hayden replaced D.J. Moore.

The rationale: In certain offensive formations, the Lions lined up Johnson in the slot — a mismatch for Moore. Instead of having Moore play cornerback, where his smallish size invited mismatch opportunities, the Bears used the 6-foot, 195-pound Hayden on the perimeter against the Lions’ smaller receivers.

“‘The different packages made (Stafford) kind of confused, kind of rattled,’ cornerback Tim Jennings said. “We wanted to mix it up.'”

“Why couldn’t the Bears get some type of return of a low draft pick for Chris Williams considering the shortage of quality linemen to even be backups? If he was not valuable enough to bring a draft choice then there may be others out there who may be an option for the Bears? It needs to be one way or the other. — Ross Scanio, Wheaton

“It’s hard to find a trade partner for a backup offensive lineman who is under contract only through the end of the year. If Williams had another year on his deal, my bet is the Bears would have been able to trade him for a late round draft pick. There clearly was interest in him, judging by the fact that he visited multiple teams and signed with the Rams for more than the NFL minimum. If the Bears thought there was an offensive tackle available better than Williams or Jonathan Scott, who is the player who replaced Williams, they would have signed him.

“Dan, I recall reading that if the Bears let Chris Williams walk after the end of the season they would be rewarded a compensatory selection. Is that correct? Is it worth losing a draft pick by releasing Williams now? — Tim L, San Antonio, Texas

“It is possible that if the Bears retained Williams until the end of the season and then he signed with another team, the Bears would have been awarded a compensatory selection in the 2014 draft, not the 2013 draft. Compensatory selections are determined by a complicated formula that encompasses not only the player or players lost, but also the players the team signs who were unrestricted free agents. Best case scenario is the Bears would have received a 2014 sixth round pick for Williams. More likely is it would have been a seventh rounder, but they might not have been awarded anything if they sign some premium free agents. Given the chance for a compensatory pick and the fact that Williams can play four positions on the line, I thought it would have made more sense to release another player.”

“Has the ghost of Frank Omiyale somehow seeped into Gabe Carimi‘s body? This is two weeks in a row with multiple penalties and sub-par play. If it happens again against Carolina, he has to be replaced by Jonathan Scott, right? — Bob Van Horne, Waco, Texas

Carimi is not going to be replaced anytime soon. Nor should he be. Remember, he was a first-round draft pick that this coaching staff has invested in. He’s going to be on a much longer leash than, say, Chris Spencer was. He also is one of the most talented linemen on the team. But he is basically still a rookie. We should expect some inconsistencies while he learns and grows. He has shown some good things too. Carimi does have to pick it up though.”

Its worth adding that I don’t think Carimi’s knee is completely heeled. His problems aren’t of a recent nature. He hasn’t looked right all year. Basically, I think he’s being left alone at right tackle in part because the team knows they are developing him to be a healthy, experienced lineman with experience next year.


Panthers

“One pro scouting director said from a coverage perspective, opponents have focused on taking away receiver Steve Smith, who has yet to score a touchdown. They are pressing Smith at the line, rolling coverage toward him and forcing Newton to go through his progressions.

“This is a defensive advantage in two ways. Other than tight end Greg Olsen, the Panthers don’t have any receiving options about whom defenses are very concerned. And Newton has not developed the patience and vision to find alternative targets consistently when Smith is covered.”

“Defensive fronts have adjusted to Newton’s sometimes spectacular running ability too.

“Scouts say defensive coordinators are having linemen two-gapping more and they are not trying to get upfield as much. They also are sometimes assigning a linebacker to “spy” Newton.

“Defensive coordinators aren’t trying to force him into making a mistake as much as they are encouraging him to run into the teeth of a disciplined, well populated and prepared front.”

Just one quick note on this. There’s been a lot of talk about who Cam Newton should be compared to lately because former NFL quarterback Warren Moon thinks Newton is too often being compared to black quarterbacks. Too bad because I’m going to do it anyway.

Last year when the Bears played the Panthers it wasn’t Newton’s mobility and athleticism that surprised me. It was his size and strength. Defensive linemen were hitting him in the pocket and literally bouncing off. The last guy I got to see play on a regular basis who could do that was Dante Culpepper. He was built like a linebacker and extremely tough to bring down. Here’s hoping the Bears do a better job on Newton this time around.

“Last year in the Bears’ wild 34-29 victory, that plan included having Jennings, while often not in strictly man-to-man coverage, lining up frequently over Smith. While not exactly divulging what he and defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli have in the works for Sunday, Smith did say, ‘It should be a lot of fun watching them.'”

“‘We kind of mix up a whole lot of coverages,’ Jennings said. ‘It’s not so matching one-on-ones or anything like that. It’s we want to give him different looks.

“’You’ve got to be able to compete with him, just kind of slow him down at the line of scrimmage and disrupt the timing between him and the quarterback.'”

Its fairly obvious to me, especially in light of the comments from Pompei’s article above this one, that the Bears are going to concentrate hard on Smith this time around. As well they should. This is what I said last year immediately after the game and I still think I was right:

“For some reason I don’t understand the Bears were giving Steve Smith no apparent extra attention. Its fairly obvious that Cam Newton depends heavily on him. I had flash backs to Wes Welker last year.”

I’d better not have that “Welker feeling” again or its going to have been a long afternoon for the Bears.

In any case it will, indeed, be a lot of fun to watch.

“‘It’s such a tough deal, but I also believe God doesn’t give anybody more than they can handle,’ Smith said. ‘What makes a person isn’t necessarily what he’s made of or what he goes through. It’s also the people around him.

“‘As teammates, what we try to do is help him in whatever shape or form. I can’t imagine going through some of the things that he’s going through and then going through them alone.'”

Elsewhere

  • The Dolphins and the Jets renew their annual soap opera this week. Benjamin Hoffman at The New York Times puts it in perspective:

“The Dolphins and the Jets have engaged in one of those adorable rivalries where they fight like school children, unaware that their squabbles are seen as largely irrelevant by others around them.”


  • Sneaky. Also from ProFootballMock.com.

One Final Thought

Fred Mitchell at the Chicago Tribune writes about the sense of humor of offensive coordinator Mike Tice. But the quote that stands out is the one about this week’s game:

“‘We need to be 6-1. Have you looked at our schedule coming up? We need to be 6-1 and we need to take care of our business.’

“No joke.”

The Bears Show that Good Defense Is Not that Complicated and Other Points of View

Bears

  • I laughed out loud when I read Sean Jensen ‘s interpretation of this comment from Brian Urlacher for the Chicago Sun-Times:

“It’s getting cold outside and it’s been a long time since the Bears played a game, but the most discussed knee in Halas Hall should be just fine come Monday night against the Detroit Lions.

“‘It’s the same either way,’ said linebacker Brian Urlacher, who continues to work his way back ­after spraining the medial collateral and posterior cruciate ­ligaments in his left knee in the regular-season finale last year.”

  • Mark Potash at the Chicago Sun-Times quotes Rod Marinelli on safeties Chris Conte and Major Wright:

“The biggest thing is that they tackle. And they tackle in space. Not tackle in a box. You have to tackle in space. And that takes great athleticism. You eliminate a lot of big plays by tackling in space. We’re very, very fortunate to have players of that caliber.”

“A primary focus for Webb this season has been improving his footwork, specifically his second step with his outside left foot. He had a tendency a year ago to step in the bucket and that created a more direct path to quarterback Jay Cutler. That led to hits, hurries, sacks and times when Webb simply had to lunge and grab. It’s something offensive line coach Tim Holt consistently is drilling into Webb.

“‘You get yourself in trouble when you turn at the line of scrimmage and give that defensive end a short corner to get to your guy,’ Webb said. ‘It’s a conscious effort when you’re tired, a conscious effort all the time.'”

“With all the talk about Henry Melton getting a contract extension, why is there no talk about one for the best player on the other side of the line, Lance Louis? Louis has been the most dependable, consistent offensive lineman this season by far and should be a cornerstone for the future. Agree? — Danny Jones, Iowa City, Iowa

“Good point Danny. Just because we have not heard any talk about extending Louis’ contract does not mean there hasn’t been any talk behind closed doors. And even if the Bears have not spoken with Louis’ agents about an extension, that does not mean they won’t prioritize re-signing him before he hits the open market. The thing about Louis is he is a developing, emerging player. So it might make sense for all parties to wait until after the season to best gauge his value to the team. But he clearly is not a player the Bears should allow to leave. They can’t afford to let a good offensive lineman walk after spending four years developing him.”

  • Bears running back Matt Forte makes a good point via Jensen:

“‘As you see in the last game when they played the Eagles, [the Lions] got constant penetration, and that kills the run game,’ Forte said. ‘So up front, we’re going to have to try to stop that. They do a lot of different run blitzes, so we’re going to have to do play-actions to try to calm that down.

“‘But it really just starts up front with not allowing penetration.'”

“Is there any chance the Bears will look at Minnesota to find ways to utilize Devin Hester the way the Vikings are using Percy Harvin or take some plays from Green Bay and their utilization of Randall Cobb? They all seem to have the same skill set but the Vikings and Green Bay seemed to have figured out how to use their dynamic players, and if they haven’t considered it can you please suggest they do so. Devin Hester taking direct snaps out of the backfield would be awesome. — Isaac Sykes, Woodbridge, Va.

“I’m sure the Bears have studied how the Vikings use Harvin and how the Packers use Cobb. These are three different players though. Harvin is much stronger and more difficult to tackle than Hester. Cobb has a better feel for the game than Hester. And Hester may be the fastest of the group. So you really can’t use Hester quite the way the Vikings use Harvin or the way the Packers use Cobb.”

  • I’m not entirely where this comment from Benjamin Hoffman‘s preview of the Bears-Lions matchup for The New York Times comes from but I thought it was worth noting.

“Chemistry is supposed to be vitally important in football. The Bears seem to prove that false each week. The team’s offense and defense appear to hate each other and yet the Bears keep winning.”

Lions

“… If he is going up in the air and leaving the ground to make a catch, he’s going to have to pay for it. Guys have to rally to the ball and it’s not just one guy hitting him. … Put something on his mind that can distract him from catching the ball. Anything.”

“The splits of the wide receivers are a top priority when you break the huddle as a defensive back. Here, both Johnson (Z) and Nate Burleson (X) are aligning inside of the numbers with the ball at (or near) midfield. Studying the Lions offense, this should be an automatic alert to play for a vertical shot down the field.”


“‘Once the ball’s put down and it’s whistled ready for play, man, it’s another game, it’s a different game,’ Stafford said, downplaying any hatred between the teams. ‘The beauty of the NFL is every week is different, and you have to approach it that way.'”

Fortunately for the Bears the Lions never have. With a head coach like Jim Schwartz fueling the flames with fist pumps and emotional sideline demonstrations after wins like the one last week, the likelihood of a let down becomes considerably higher.

  • An already miserable Lions defensive backfield promises to be worse than usual as the Lions are down to three healthy corners for Monday Night’s matchup. Via Darin Gantt at profootballtalk.com.

Elsewhere

  • An interesting point to look for today as the Jets play the Patriots. The Jets are concerned that officials are allowing the Patriots to substitute in their no huddle offense without allowing the defense time to do the same. By rule this is illegal. Via Mike Florio at profootballtalk.com
  • We have a good Audible from Pro Football Weekly:

Mike Nolan was known for running the 3-4 defense in Baltimore and before he was in Baltimore, he ran the over/under 4-3. He didn’t have that stout nose or the personnel to make it work in Atlanta so he switched to the wide “40” and lined (DEs Kroy) Biermann and (John) Abraham (and Ray Edwards) outside in a wide-seven (technique). If you look at their (defensive) tackles — (Jonathan) Babineaux, (Peria) Jerry and (Vance) Walker — none of them can play the nose. That is great coaching.”

  • I really don’t give a hoot about the Saints bounty scandal. But some people still do so… from Pompei, this time writing for the National Football Post:

“Everybody wins with the appointment of Paul Tagliabue to hear the appeals of the four players in the Saints’ bounty scandal. The Saints win because Tagliabue is not just an extension of Roger Goodell. And Goodell wins because he washes his hands of the mess while providing a credible arbiter.”

“There’s 4 total passengers on my flight n I just farted. That’s a quick game of ‘Who-Dunnit’, lets see if they catch me

“— Jared Odrick (@JaredOdrick98) October 19, 2012”

One Final Thought

And finally, we have one more revealing quote from Pro Football Weekly‘s Audibles section:

“There is a reason the Bears’ defense is as opportunistic as it is — when they snap the ball, count how many guys are looking at the ball. All 11 of them are keyed on it and ready to pounce. The linebackers are always zeroed in on it. They do a great job of pursuing. They don’t overcomplicate it.”