Patrick Finley at the Chicago Sun-Times goes down the Bears defensive depth chart. A couple thing become clear in this exercise. Defensive line is still by far the biggest need with Ego Ferguson backing up all three positions. The cornerback position is interesting with Demontre Hurts, Ball, Tim Jennings and Kyle Fuller lining up to compete for two spots. The guess here is that Fuller is established at one outside spot and that one of the other three ends up playing nickel.
There was a time when quarterbacks sat for years developing behind an established starter. Former Packers head coach Mike Holmgren once famously said that quarterbacks didn’t really pick up the offense until the THIRD YEAR. High round picks don’t get that kind of time anymore. But you have to wonder if both Gabbert and Clausen aren’t benefiting from their roles as backups in the same way that those quarterbacks of long ago did. If so, we may not have seen the last of either of them as starters.
“A footnote to the 2014 ‘leadership’ season: Trestman, who began naming weekly last season rather than the traditional team-vote method, appears to have had some sense of what he did and didn’t have as far as locker room leaders. Through 15 games, [Jared] Allen and [Jeremiah] Ratliff were captains six times each, Jay Cutler three times.
“Brandon Marshall was a captain just twice, the second and last time being the Miami game, after which Marshall erupted with a postgame rant at teammates.”
Conor Orr at nfl.com passes on that Mike McCarthy wants to put Packers quarterback Aaron Rogersin the pistol more often next year. The formation has most of the advantages of being in the shotgun but puts the runningback behind you, allowing for runs and making play action effective. I don’t see much of a downside.
“Even with the acknowledgment that the Lions and Vikings are potential wild-card teams, the NFC North’s third-place ranking reflects respect for the Packers as the primary threat to the Seahawks’ NFC hegemony. Nobody knows what to think of Chicago, mirroring the Bears’ puzzlement at quarterback.”
Former Bears head coach Lovie Smithis returning to his familiar ways, limiting himself to free agents he either knows (Henry Melton, Chris Conte) or that people he knows know (Bruce Carter and Sterling Moore). That’s a similar strategy to the one he employed as head coach of the Bears when hiring assistants and, like the players he’s signing now, that meant he was drawing them from a very limited pool. There’s always going to be a cap on how much success coaches like Smith have. From the Tampa Tribune.
Still wondering why teams don’t spend high round picks on running backs anymore? The Broncos selected Ronnie Hillman in the third round of 2012, took Montee Ball in the second round and signed C.J. Anderson as an undrafted free agent in 2013. Guess which one is going into OTAs as the starter? Via Michael David Smith at profootballtalk.com.
One Final Thought
A reminder to everyone not to forget to register to get tickets for you and a guest to the NFL Draft in Chicago at NFL.com/DraftTown. As long as I get the second ticket.
Some will deride the suggestion that Jimmy Clausen (above) could compete with Jay Cutler for the starting quarterback job despite John Fox‘s suggestion that there will be an “open competition” (via John Mullin at csnchicago.com). And I’m not laying money on Clausen, either, because Cutler’s got more physical talent. But I think some may be underestimating Clausen.
Clausen started for the Panthers in 2010, the year he was drafted, and performed poorly. He didn’t see the field after that until last year when he mopped up in 3 games (at least two of which were utter disasters when he got his chance). He got one start in game 15 last year where he performed better than his statistic indicated (his passer rating was only 77).
What would you have said about former Bear Josh McCown before 2013? Perhaps its more than a coincidence that when surrounded with very good skill position talent and with decent protection he bloomed. And perhaps it’s more than a coincidence that when he lost that talent, he fell apart. Isn’t it possible that Clausen is every bit as good and will show more with decent talent around him?
I’m by no means convinced that a mediocre quarterback who did all of the right things couldn’t be every bit as good as Cutler or better. Food for thought.
Admittedly its based upon only one start, but Clausen looks to me like the kind of guys who might, maybe, bloom late. I’ll be interested to see. There’s always the remote possibility that if the coaches decide that they can win with him, they’ll go with Clausen over Cutler just for the intangibles and because Clausen is so much less mentally fragile. A very remote possibility to be sure. But a possibility.
Now that the Cowboys have signed defensive end Greg Hardy it’s appropriate to ask if it was worth the risk. Todd Archer at ESPNposes that very question to former Carolina Panthers teammate Ben Hartsock:
“‘Well, I think that’s a great question,’ Hartsock said. ‘When he’s on the field, he’s a dominant force. Because of that, he’s going to get more leniency. The issue he has right now is whether he’s too toxic. He’s going to be on a very, very short leash. If he screws up one more time, I believe he’ll be on his way out.'”
“‘You trust him to the extent that you don’t necessarily know what you’re going to get,’ Hartsock said. ‘The Greg Hardy that was on the field was going to be a nightmare for the opposing team. But then you go in and everybody is in the hot tub or the cold tub after practice just shooting the breeze and the guy carries on a very reasonable, level-headed inquisitive type of conversation. But then there are other times when he’s just unmanageable. And that’s why I think things have gotten in trouble with his personal life. He’s going have to go a long ways to earn the trust of any organization, whether it be Dallas or any other franchise across the league.'”
“Unmanageable” is not the kind of work you want to be thrown around about your $13 million man. The guess here is that Hardy isn’t going to be one of those guys who learns his lesson and cleans up his act. I’m expecting more trouble here before its all said and done.
“There are a number of things that jump off the tape of the Bears’ 34-17 loss to the Lions on Thanksgiving Day.
“But no matter how many times you watch it, you are drawn back to the failure of Marc Trestman and his coaching staff to put the Bears in a position to win.
“On offense, the Bears threw the ball 48 times and ran it just eight, including 29 passes and just one rushing attempt in the second half.
“It is clear from early in the third quarter on that the Lions’ defense abandons any concern about the run and on almost every Bears snap. Detroit’s front four pin their ears back and race to the passer while six and often seven defenders drop into coverage and clog the passing lanes.”
This was my initial thought as well. However, there are a couple caveats to consider before really taking off on Trestman:
The screen is designed to slow the pass rush. Correctly execute the screen passes and the Lions have to respect at least that much before “pinning their ears back”. So the game plan isn’t as ridiculous as it sounds in that respect.
The real problem here wasn’t the game plan. It was the Bears failure to execute it. The margin for error when you are “dinking and dunking” down the field is extremely slim. Said another way, the Bears aren’t the 49ers of the 1980s, who executed such game plans with regularity, and they certainly aren’t Patriots.
“Briggs will probably leave the NFL after this season in much the same way as running mate Brian Urlacher did in early 2012 and Charles Tillman may after this season — still possessed of some skills, an abundance of savvy, but with health and age questions that will discourage pretty much any suitors, including the Bears.”
Mullin apparently forgets that Urlacher had offers which were commensurate with his remaining skills and health status. He chose to deny that reality and blame the Bears for his situation. Briggs will choose the path he takes in much the same way.
“But the reason the Bears once wound up with John Shoop as offensive coordinator was that in late-2000, then-coordinator Gary Crowton left to coach BYU. Dick Jauron and the Bears finished 5-11 in 2000, a regression from 6-10 in Jauron’s first year. The assumption around the NFL was that Jauron was done after one more year.
“Chris Palmer and others (Marc Trestman was a candidate) were willing to take the offensive-coordinator job but wanted a three-year contract before they made that move. The Bears organization wasn’t willing to make that deal, and Shoop was promoted instead after the Bears won two of their last three.
“The Bears may have changed and would consider a multi-year deal for coordinators in that situation. Doubtful, though.”
If I had to choose a new coordinator for this defense it would probably be Rex Ryan, who is almost certainly out as head coach of the Jets. He might be willing to come for the sake of the family history with the franchise. But something tells me the McCaskey’s wouldn’t look kindly on the hire of the bombastic Ryan, preferring someone who is more bland and less likely to embarrass the franchise.
“Let’s end the week on a bright note. Any NFL team looking for a new general manager needs to call the Kansas City Chiefs and ask to speak with Chris Ballard.
“I actually did that this week, but Ballard was unavailable to chat in-season. Here’s what I know of him, though: At least one NFL team wanted him as its general manager last year, and more will this season after watching the Chiefs play much better than anyone expected. He’s smart, dedicated and experienced enough to know how to both evaluate and value talent (something many first-time general managers fail at).
“If a general manager job comes open and Ballard is given the opportunity to hire his own head coach, he’ll be at the top of many wish lists this spring.”
Ballard was formerly with the Bears and that “at least one NFL team” who wanted him as its general manager last year was rumored at the time to be Tampa Bay. But Ballard undoubtedly knew that the real GM was going to be Lovie Smith and he undoubtedly knew from bitter experience better that to take that job.
Mike Tanier is always entertaining and this preview of the Vikings-Panthers matchup Sunday was no exception:
“[Teddy] Bridgewater is one of many Vikings players with the potential to get much better, so staying healthy should be a priority for him. In a league where [Robert] Griffin moves in the pocket like it’s his first time on a lobster boat and Cam Newton moves like it hurts to blink, self-preservation may be a young quarterback’s smartest move. The Vikings could be a dangerous team next year. Until then, slide, Teddy, slide!”
“I suspect we’ll appreciate Briggs more when he’s gone than we did while he was here. He and the city need a break from each other. Fans weren’t happy with his contract demands or with how much his play had slipped the past few seasons. But eventually the memory of a linebacker making play after play will win out. As it should.”
The Bears came out looking to stop the run early, keeping an extra player near the line of scrimmage with three wide receivers and a back on the field.
I thought the Bears got more pressure on the quarterback than last week in the first half. Not so much in the second half as the Panthers went to quick passes that tore up the Bears zone and when they started to see more success on the ground. They occasionally blitzed but it wasn’t getting there in time.
I don’t know what happened to the defense at the end of the first half. They loosened up to not give up the big play – a good idea – but then gave up the touchdown anyway to let the Panthers back into the game. It was the start of good things for Carolina as they went through the Bears defense like a hot knife through butter in the third quarter.
Kelvin Benjamin and Kyle Fuller both looked like rookies today. The Panthers obviously liked the matchup because they kept going to it but there were lots of mistakes between them.
Former Bear Greg Olson looked good.
Like the Bears, the Panthers came out playing the run. It certainly looked like they planned well. The Bears came out looking to feed Matt Forte the ball.
It certainly looked like the Panthers defense came out ready to play. They were initially ready to stop Forte however he got the ball. The Bears came out running and with short passing and the Panthers were all over it. It was fairly obvious that they were going to have to go down field to find any points, at least initially.
Loved the one-handed grab by Jeffery in the first quarter. The one thing about Brandon Marshall that can be irritating is his habit of dropping the ball. Jeffery has great hands.
Interesting that right as I concluded that the Bears would have to go long (above), the Panthers began to blitz. The pressure generated led directly to the first turnover in the first quarter. Looks like the Panthers came out with a good defensive game plan. It became a chess game after that. The Bears countered with well-timed screens designed to slow the rush and were able to read the defense to continue to feed Forte at the appropriate times.
The Panthers needed a more disciplined pass rush. Jay Cutler was escaping the pocket far too often. He’s mobile but he’s not Robert Griffin.
Panthers head coach Ron Rivera called out Luke Kuechly last week in an effort to get him to play better. I thought it worked. Kuechly looked great, even early at a time when nothing else on the Carolina defense looked good.
The Bears did a particularly good job moving the ball on third down. The Panthers frequently forced third and longs in the first half and the Bears frequently escaped. The Panthers were much better with this in the second half when the game became a battle of offenses. The Bears lost that battle decisively.
I didn’t like the way that the Panthers stopped the Bears running game in the second half, making them effectively one dimensional. At some point this team is going to have to be able to run and get the tough yards if its going to win consistently.
Thom Brennaman is a consummate pro and its always a pleasure when he does Bears games. Like John Lynch last week, I was less impressed by David Diehl. Diehl is observant and he does manage to point things out that the average fan might miss. That’s nice, especially coming from the natural point of view of someone who is used to playing at the line of scrimmage, something many of us don’t pay enough attention to. But he still didn’t teach me anything about the game in the same way that the best color men in the business do. I can learn more listening for ten minutes to Cris Collinsworth than I can listening to the average color man like Diehl for an entire game.
Only the Bears special teams could actually commit a penalty, then give up a touchdown on the same play. What a great way to start a game. If you’re a Panther.
I understand and have accepted that the special teams on this team isn’t going to help very often. But can’t they at least find a way to not kill them? Is that really too high of a bar to set?
It’s hard to believe that Joe DeCamillis was actually made an assistant head coach to allow him to come to Chicago.
I like Santonio Holmes’s attitude. He looks like a winner at punt returner.
Kelvin Benjamin had a rough game and he was the only receiver on the field that I thought had an egregious number of drops.
There were a lot of penalties out there on both sides. The Bears can’t afford this if they are going to try to work their way down the field by feeding Matt Forte.
The interception in first quarter could have been a killer already 7 points down. I really wish Cutler would think more about throwing those away. Fortunately the Panthers gave the ball right back.
Hard to believe that the Panthers came in with a reputation for not turning over the ball. This was undoubtedly a big part of the reason why they were favored and it was a big part of the reason I was wary of this game. But with three fumbles in the first half, they didn’t do much to live up to that reputation. They led to two touchdowns for the Bears (which would have been 17 points except for a Robbie Gould miss on an easy field goal).
Jay Cutler giveth and Jay Cutler taketh away with the fourth quarter interception that led to the game tying field goal. But it was the Matt Forte fumble that was the killer.
The Bears had this game in hand in the first half as Carolina did everything they could to give them the game. But they handed it back in the fourth quarter with devastating turnovers and that was the difference.
It’s disappointing that the last comment about this game matches the last comment I had after the first game of the year so closely. This team shoots itself in the foot too often. They’ve decided to be a ball control offense that works its way gradually down the field and that’s not a bad thing – if you can execute. But they continue to shoot themselves in the foot with penalties and turnovers. This is what bad teams look like. It’s not a good sign that we’re still seeing it after game five.
Hub Arkush of HubArkush.com writes a typically harsh critique of the Bears performance on Friday night for the Chicago Sun-Times. I thought these comments were interesting:
“Matt Forte and Michael Bush get incompletes. Judging running backs when they had two and three touches, respectively, and only one rushing attempt each is folly. Their lack of work did raise an interesting question though.
“Asked in his postgame news conference why he ran once and threw the ball eight times plus a ninth attempt that ended in a sack when [quarterback Jay] Cutler was in the game, coach Marc Trestman replied, ’I think what you don’t see is there were a number of runs called where he had the option to throw it because they were in the box.’
“What Trestman was not asked and did not comment on was whether he approved of all the audibles or checkdowns Cutler called. That is definitely a storyline to watch.”
“I’m not sure why we’d assume J’Marcus Webb is going to suddenly improve in his fourth season, and I don’t think it should take two or three more preseason games to figure that out. Charles Johnson schooled him in Carolina, and it’s time to move on at right tackle.
“The problem is Jonathan Scott remained out with a sore knee and Eben Britton, who was having a good camp, was not impressive against the Panthers. Jordan Mills showed why he belongs on the practice squad this year, and where that leaves the Bears at right tackle is with a real problem.”
Amen to that. With any luck, offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer will be quicker to recognize the problem as one that won’t be solved than Mike Tice was and that general manager Phil Emery will be scanning the waiver wire for other team’s roster cuts. At least the problem is right tackle. They’re much easier to find.
As to the audibles, I assumed the Bears decided to work more on the passing game and wanted to protect the runningbacks from injury. It will be, indeed, be interesting to watch to see if there’s a struggle with the play calling as Cutler is given a lot of power to change the plays at the line in this offense. I didn’t even think about the possibility that he might insist on calling more passes against the will of the coaches.
But its early and lets not over react. Its just something to keep an eye on.
““I think moving to right tackle is the best place for him right now if he is going to make it He’s been given a lot of opportunities. You don’t get many more opportunities than J’Marcus has had. It’s gotta hurt him when he gets beat. It’s got to hurt. And when it hurts, you do something about it. Sometimes I wonder if it hurts J’Marcus when he gets beat and his quarterback gets chased or gets hit. That’s what we’ve got to find out. If that’s inside of him now, maybe Aaron can get that if it is in there … you can have 70 great plays but if your quarterback gets hit one time and you lose that game on that one fumble, you had a terrible day. It’s got to haunt you the rest of the day. I don’t know if it haunts him right now.”
The following comment from Biggs in the same article is worth noting:
“ Note: So, there were seven four-phase players: [Eric] Weems, [Armando] Allen, [Craig] Steltz, [Jon] Bostic, [Khaseem] Greene, [Blake] Costanzo and [Anthony] Walters and [Sherrick] McManis was on three phases. When you don’t see the name of safety Brandon Hardin, that doesn’t bode well for him. It was surprising not to see Joe Anderson with the ones too, given all the talk about him contributing in that phase. However, it’s early and we know how quickly the trickle-down effect reaches special teams.”
I would only add that I saw the absence of Devin Aromashodu to the ominous.
The drops and missed opportunities by Isaiah Frey, Brandon Hardin and Sherrick McManus aren’t going to be helpful to them in in making the team. But the one by Fendi Onobun may very well be fatal. He’s apparently been doing the same thing in practice.
Its very early but the interception of Jay Cutler’s pass on the very first play of the pre-season may well have been the worst possible thing that could have happened. At a time when you are doing everything you can to get him to throw on time to a receiver he can trust to be there, this could be a confirmation of all of his fears. If this type of thing continues to happen too often, it could be a rough year.
Armando Allen couldn’t afford that fumble. He’s in a close roster battle with Michael Ford.
Eric Weems was nice and active on special teams. I thought McManus was around the ball pretty often as well. Devin Aromashodu needed to show up here. I didn’t see him.
The injuries to Henry Melton and Patrick Mannelly were clearly the story of the game here for most normal fans. The Bears have been very healthy for the last few years. They may be about to face what the rest o the league goes through every year.
Bostic and Khaseem Greene are very fast to the ball and instinctive. Both had good games. But both got caught out of position on occasion and that’s probably going to continue. The Bears have always been susceptible to misdirection plays. I don’t see that changing with these two on board.
I don’t have to point out that this wasn’t a great night for the offensive line. But I will. Jonathan Scott could win the right tackle job simply by not playing and letting the other guys show their flaws. They need to stiffen up in the interior as well.
I wasn’t too impressed with the Bears defensive depth but I was glad to see Nate Collins show up. They’re probably going to need him in the defensive tackle rotation.
Too many missed tackles on special teams. They’ll want to clean that up.
Watching the pre-game, 37\% of you guys really think this team is going to win 12 or more games? Really?
Dan Pompei at the Chicago Tribune and I absolutely see eye-to-eye on his views on the new Bear head coach, whoever that may be:
“You can’t hire a head coach simply because he is a good play caller or quarterback coach. He has to be more than that. But it sure would be ideal if you could get a candidate who is a good play caller and quarterback coach with the ability to lead, administrate, communicate and sell. That’s what the Packers did when they hired Mike McCarthy. It’s what the Saints did when they hired Sean Payton. It’s what the Texans did when they hired Gary Kubiak. It’s what the 49ers did when they hired Jim Harbaugh. But many, many other teams have tried to go down the same path and found they coach they hired wasn’t everything they hoped he would be. Those coaches still get dirt under their nails doing work they did when they were assistants because nothing is more important than a productive quarterback. But they also delegate much of what they used to do to others.”
These are my thoughts exactly. Its not that people like Hub Arkush who are disappointed more defensive coordinators or coaches without a quarterback coaching background like Ken Whisenhunt haven’t been interviewed don’t have a point. They do. Your head coach has to be a leader above all.
But if possible the Bears need a coach who will permanently fix the quarterback position. I’m not just talking about Jay Cutler. That would be too short-sighted. I’m talking about developing future quarterbacks for years beyond that.
If you are counting on hiring an assistant coach like that, you are inevitably going to lose him to another team in search of a head coach. And finding one isn’t a trivial task as Lovie Smith could tell you. Doing it once would be hard. Doing it more than once would be much, much harder.
In my view the ideal model is the Ted Thompson-Mike McCarthy relationship in Green Bay. It’s not an ideal that would be easy to achieve. But I think you need to shoot for it or something similar. That means a head coach who can coach quarterbacks if at all possible.
Dan McNeil at the Chicago Tribunemakes a fair point about the emotional upheaval surrounding the Bears head coaching search:
“If it’s fair to postpone the evaluation of a draft class for at least two seasons, it also is fair to be open-minded to a veteran assistant coach getting his first crack at serving as headmaster.
“A head coaching search, coupled with the roster overhaul Emery has in front of him, give me ample reasons to be patient with Emery. It would be silly to gnash teeth and wring hands over the virtual unknown who’s going to stand at the lectern answering questions about his new job sometime in the next couple of weeks.
“Somebody will, but it won’t be me. I wanted Jerry Angelo and Lovie Smith jettisoned long ago.
“I have nothing but time and patience for the Bears to keep evolving.”
Mike Florio at profootballtalk.com thinks Bruce Arians makes a lot of sense as the next Bears head coach:
“Arians makes plenty of sense for the Bears, given that they have a quarterback who is a bit of a handful in Jay Cutler. Arians has extensive experience dealing with a difficult quarterback. In Pittsburgh, Arians and Ben Roethlisberger didn’t simply coexist; they were close friends.
So when job No. 1 (or close to it) in Chicago is finding a coach who can work well with Cutler, Arians could be the right answer.”
Whether Cutler actually needs a friend as a coach is a legitimate question. But I tend to agree with Florio that Arians is a good candidate for the job.
Former NFL head coach Marv Levy makes a good point via Mark Potash at the Chicago Sun-Times:
“‘The general manager of the Alouettes told me that when I went to Canada, I could have 12 men on the [field]. Then I found out the other teams could, too,’ Levy said with a chuckle. ‘The same things win. It isn’t the Wildcat offense or this or that. If you run, throw, block, tackle, catch and kick better than your opponent — the fundamentals.'”
I’m as guilty as anyone of concentrating too much on X’s and O’s and they are a factor. But I think everyone should always keep in mind that the major difference between winning and losing is good fundamental football and, I might point out, making sure the defese played good fundamental football may have been Lovie Smith‘s biggest strength. Let’s hope, whoever the new head coach is, that we don’t see a step back in that area.
Sean Jensen at the Chicago Sun-Times reports that Vikings coaches Mike Piefer and former Bears middle linebacker Mike Singletarywill interview for the head coaching position.Pompei indicates that Singletary’s inclusion on the list may be at the suggestion of the McCaskey family which wouldn’t be a surprise.
“That is the message for whatever Halas Hall meddler coaxed Emery into adding Bears legend and Vikings linebacker coach Mike Singletary to the growing list of candidates for the head-coaching position. This could not have been Emery’s idea or else we all have been terribly fooled in Chicago. When did Emery start letting his heart overrule his head?”
Singletary’s not a bad candidate. There was a time when I would have done hand springs to see the Bears interview an ex-player. He’s a bright guy and the odds are good he learned a great deal from his failures in San Francisco. Singletary’s got the same problem Dennison has. No experience coaching quarterbacks. But other than that he’s a fine candidate. Pompei put it best:
“Granted, Singletary is a long shot, but he has earned the opportunity at least to sit before Emery.
“In addition to being one of the greatest players to wear a C on his helmet, Singletary also was the best leader I’ve ever seen on the Bears.
“And isn’t the head coach position primarily about leadership?”
“‘I think he’s been ready for awhile,’ Kubiak told reporters on Monday. ‘I think Rick is a very smart guy. He’s selective. I’ve been called on him for about three years in a row now, but I think Rick knows what he wants to do with his life and if he’s going to take an opportunity to be a head coach, he’s going to be selective in what he does. He’s got a great background in the National Football League. He’s a 10-year defensive player in the National Football League. He’s been a special teams coach in the National Football League. He’s been an offensive line coach. He’s been an offensive coordinator. There’s nothing this guy hasn’t done.'”
Except be a quarterback coach. And that’s a problem in a quarterback-driven league.
Jensen passes along what Cutler said on his weekly radio show. I found Cutler’s phasing when asked about current Denver offensive coordinator and Bears head coaching candidate Mike McCoy interesting to say the least:
“I think we had two meetings together, and then [the Broncos] kicked me out… I liked Mike. Knows a lot about football, very flexible.”
As I remember Cutler wasn’t “kicked out”. He ran away and quit. Interesting how his mind works.
“The good thing is it’s easier to find blockers for a zone scheme than it is blockers for a man scheme because of supply and demand. There are way more teams that use a man scheme. There also is this to consider: NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has made it clear the league is thinking about making chop blocks on running plays illegal. The backside chop is a staple of zone blocking teams, and could affect their running games significantly.”
Pompei runs through the long list of players whose fate at least partly depends on who the new head coach is. The most intriguing will be Brian Urlacher. It used to be that cutting Urlacher would be a problem with the fans. But given that Urlacher felt the need to express his true feelings by trashing them in the media late in the season (without an apology), that shouldn’t be a problem now. Hopefully they’ll do what they think is best without making the mistake of thinking this is still a consideration.
“Coming off his first Pro Bowl nod, how good do you think Henry Melton can be ultimately? Better than Tommie Harris before his injuries? Can he be the best defensive tackle in the NFL? Also, he has to be our No 1 priority when it comes to re-signing our own players, right? — Charles Laughton, New London, Conn.
“The thing about Henry Melton that is unusual is he still has considerable room for growth at the age of 26 and four years into his NFL career. So I would expect him to keep getting better. I’m not sure he’ll ever be better than, say, Ndamukong Suh, who is in another league talent wise. But he should remain among the best defensive tackles in the league. As for the comparison to Harris, he was a special, special player before his injuries. It is possible Melton can be that kind of player. Considering he was a fourth round selection, Melton may have been Jerry Angelo‘s best draft pick.”
Melton is good but he will almost certainly never be Tommie Harris. The Bears will never miss Melton the way they missed Harris after he was injured. The defense was never the same after he went down.
Biggs points out that special teams coordinator Dave Toub is in demand as he interviews for the same poisiton with the Panthers and Chiefs. That’s fine but, as Biggs points out, Toub is under contract here and I’d say he’s going nowhere unless the new head coach doesn’t want him – and I’m thinking there’s a fair chance that he will.
According to Sam Farmer at the Los Angeles Tribune Saturday’s game against the Packers is being seen as a referendum on 49ers head coach Jm Harbaugh‘s decision to replace quarterback Alex Smith with Colin Kaepernick earlier in the season:
“Harbaugh chose the path of greater resistance, and in the process bumped up the stakes.
“‘If it all blows up on Saturday, that will take a lot of goodwill out of the bank,’ [former 49ers quarerback Steve] Young said. ‘Now, that doesn’t change much. I mean, [Harbaugh] is still going to be around, still going to be a great coach. But it’s a high-risk situation.'”
Pompei has the Packers ranked second in his power rankings. I like the Packers but that’s awfully high for a team with a suspect defense. The Packers are going to have to continue to play the kind of good fundamental ball I saw last week against the Vikings before I’ll believe. I think Pompei is right on the button with the first ranked Broncos and, like Pompei, I like the Seahawks a lot better than most people seem to.
The schematic Xs and Os that former NFL safety Matt Bowen writes up for the Chicago Tribune are always interesting but I thought this article breaking down the Packers offensive options against the 49ers pressure was particularly good.
This Audible from Pro Football Weekly has the ring of truth:
“Jon Gruden wants full control. It’s the same as Bill Cowher and Joe Gibbs and Bill Parcells and any established coach worth his salt who is considering coming back. The problem is — there are not a lot of GMs that want to concede that authority. Why do you think Mike Holmgren is backing down and saying he’ll be happy to just coach?”
“A priest administered last rites. Following kidney removal surgery, his football coach told him he would never play again. He was lucky to be alive. He responded by petitioning the school to be allowed to suit up. The player’s name? Mike Shanahan.”
My mother of all people sent me this joke. A little to close to the truth over the last year if you ask me…
The coach had put together the perfect team for the Chicago Bears. The only thing that was missing was a good quarterback. He had scouted all the colleges and even the Canadian and European Leagues, but he couldn’t find a ringer who could ensure a Super Bowl win.
Then one night while watching CNN he saw a war-zone scene in Afghanistan. In one corner of the background, he spotted a young Afghan Muslim soldier with a truly incredible arm. He threw a hand-grenade straight into a 15th story window 100 yards away.
He threw another hand-grenade 75 yards away, right into a chimney.
Then he threw another at a passing car going 90 mph.
“I’ve got to get this guy!” Coach said to himself. “He has the perfect arm!”
So, he brings him to the States, teaches him the great game of football and the Bears go on to win the Super Bowl.
The young Afghan is hailed as the great hero of football, and when the coach asks him what he wants, all the young man wants is to call his mother.
“Mom,” he says into the phone, “I just won the Super Bowl!”
“I don’t want to talk to you, says the old Muslim woman.”You are not my son!”
“I don’t think you understand, Mother,” the young man pleads. “I’ve won the greatest sporting event in the world. I’m here among thousands of adoring fans.”
“No! Let me tell you!” his mother retorts. “At this very moment, there are gunshots all around us. The neighborhood is a pile of rubble. Your two brothers were beaten within an inch of their lives last week, and I have to keep your sister in the house so she doesn’t get raped!” The old lady pauses, and then tearfully says,
“I will never forgive you for making us move to Chicago!!!!”
“Alshon Jeffery hurt the Bears as much as he helped them. A savvy route runner would not have been on the ground on that first-quarter play in which [quarterback Jay] Cutler was picked off.
“Then in the third quarter he dropped what should have been a 39-yard touchdown pass.
“But his second-quarter touchdown catch was very nice. He swam past Josh Robinson to free himself and made an over-the-shoulder catch that a lot of receivers struggle with. In the fourth quarter he pulled in a back-shoulder throw for 30 yards with Robinson all over him.”
Jeffery looks like a guy with a bright future in the league. As Pompei implies, he’s going to have to learn to be more consistent. He’s also going to have to stay out of the training room. But, like most wide receivers in particular, I think we can look forward to him being better his second year. This looks to me like a win for general manager Phil Emery.
Brad Biggs at the Chicago Tribune points out the need for offensive linemen but defends (a little) Emery with this comment:
“Drafting a playmaking tight end would be the best option, but the Bears’ needs on offense surely will begin with the line. It’s probably best the team passed on John Carlson in free agency last spring. He signed a $25 million, five-year contract with the Vikings and has been a bust.”
Its probably worth noting at this point that guard David DeCastro, who I really, deep down thought the Bears should have drafted, spent a good portion of his first season injured. So you could argue that Emery dodged a couple bullets.
“‘No, no, no, no,’ he said. ‘We’re just trying to win games right now and put the best five out there. That’s way too far in the future. The big thing to for him is he didn’t have an offseason coming off the (knee) surgery. He’s going to be living in the weight room. He’s going to get bigger and do more leg work and all that stuff. Whatever position he is going to be at, he’s going to have to get more lower-body work.'”
“What has to be bothersome for [head coach Lovie] Smith is his defense could not prevail despite an anemic effort from the Vikings’ Christian Ponder, as bad a starting quarterback as there is in the league. But Ponder managed to pull off an elaborate engagement proposal to his girlfriend during the week with Christmas lights and then beat the once-vaunted Bears defense despite completing only 11 of 17 passes for 91 yards. “
I’m not any kind of a Christian Ponder fan by any means. Certainly statistically those aren’t numbers that jump out at you. And Ponder does have a reputation for making some bad decisions. But I saw very little of it in this game. There weren’t many errant passes, either. To my eye, Ponder isn’t exactly surrounded by great talent at wide receiver or on the offensive line. It looks to me like the Vikings habit of trying to combine heavy reliance on the running game with penalties and undisciplined play is really more the problem than anything else. But whatever problems the Vikings offense had Sunday, Ponder wasn’t one of the big ones. He won’t win you many games. But when he plays like he did this week, he won’t lose you many either.
Biggs quotes special teams coach Kevin O’Dea on how he fixed Adam Podlesh‘s mechanics:
“‘We just changed one thing,’ O’Dea said. ‘When you deal with punting there are a lot of moving parts so the simpler you can keep it, the better. All we did was just change where his eyes focus to and aligned it better with where his leg and his hip are. That’s all we did. I am talking about the drop. So, we just put the drop back in line with where he can use maximum power. Now, he can use his leg in his swing to get maximum power into the ball.
“‘It’s his eyes as he drops the ball. We have a specific spot what he’s looking at for him. And everyone is different. It’s just like golf. Everybody has a little bit different sequence and where their swing is and how they line up and where their hips are and everything. So, all we did was study where his hips are, where his eyes are. Now, we just moved it a little bit. And right now it seemed to get him back in line. Now, he’s getting back in rhythm. Hopefully, it stays that way.'”
“Since George Halas retired for good, every Bears coach who has been fired failed in his last opportunity to beat the Packers. No pressure, Lovie.”
It is, of course, the time of year for this kind of speculation but this year it feels a lot more serious than usual. Mike Mulligan at the Chicago Tribunemakes the case that its best for everyone if the Bears can keep Smith as head coach:
“Smith is miles away the most qualified person for the job he holds. Does anybody believe the Bears would get in a bidding war for Jon Gruden, rumored to be on the way back, or be interested in coaxing Bill Cowher out of retirement?”
No. But I didn’t think they’d sign Julius Peppers, either. And I didn’t think they’d fire Jerry Angelo.
There’s only one thing I’ll say about this. I don’t think Smith is a bad head coach. The could – and just might – do a lot worse particularly if there isn’t a definite plan and swift action on hiring a new one byt Emery (or Bears president Ted Phillips depending on who you think will actually do it).
But Simth has been here a long time and it doesn’t look to me like they’re going to get back to another Super Bowl with him at the helm. Too often it looks to me like the Bears are being out schemed in games. Smith is a master at handling players – arguably the biggest part of his job. And I don’t think they’ve stopped listening to him. But And there’s no denying that once the season is over, the Bears will have likely have faded very badly down the stretch two years in a row. And its now evident that X’s and O’s aren’t Smith’s strong point, nor is it the strong point of the coaches he’s hired.
There is one other factor here. Smith is a defensive coach in an offensive league. It may be time to get someone in here who can coach offense and, more importantly, who can judge talent on that side of the ball. It’s hard to watch the juggling act that’s taking place on the offensive line without thinking that something isn’t right about how things are being handled there. It’s the kind of misjudgment that we’ve seen all too often with coaches and players under Smith.
I acknowledge all of Mulligan’s points as being valid. But at some point you have to draw a line and take a chance or you’ll never get better. No guts, no glory. We may be at that point.
“The Packers (9-4) have won seven of their last eight games. The Bears (8-5) have lost four of their last five. Further complicating matters is the fact that while the Bears are losing players, the Packers are gaining them.
“Cornerback Charles Woodson (broken collarbone), guard T.J. Lang (ankle) and linebacker Clay Matthews (hamstring) could return this week. Wide receiver Jordy Nelson (hamstring) is less likely to play.”
Pompei writes a pretty good column covering what teams have been doing to the Packers. It should be familiar to Bears fans:
“Although the Bears have failed repeatedly to hold down the Packers, the rest of the league believes the Bears know how to do it.
“So this season, almost every Packers opponent has borrowed the Cover-2 pages from the Bears’ playbook. It might not be Star Wars defense exactly in terms of complexity, but it has resulted in the deflections and interceptions of numerous Packers missiles.
“‘Our offense is not as flashy as last year,’ Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers told the Tribune. ‘It’s tough especially when teams are going to play you very soft the majority of the game, which we’ve seen this year. It has been 80 percent split safety.”
“The best way to get a defense out of a two-safety high look is to gash them with the running game. The Packers struggled to do that early, starting three running backs and failing to reach 110 rushing yards in eight of their first 10 games.
“But as the temperatures have dipped, their running game has warmed up. In their last two games they have run for 152 and 140 yards respectively.”
“In the Pistol, the quarterback lines up about four yards behind center, or three yards closer than he would in shotgun. If one back is in the game, he lines up directly behind the quarterback instead of next to him. This is an advantage for the running game because the back can go left or right easily.
“The beauty of the Pistol, as the Redskins and Robert Griffin are showing, is you can combine a spread passing game with a power run game.”
“‘You have to contain it, you can’t let it get on the edge,’ the NFC coach said. ‘You have to make the quarterback cut back inside to pursuit. If he pitches it, you have to get outside and contain. If they want to run an inside zone, fine, that’s where the core of the defense is. Defensive backs have to be disciplined, throw off timing, jam, reroute, and not allow the receivers to get a good release.'”
Before the Vikings game I commented that, with 4 games left against decent to very good teams, the Bears were going to have to win on drive and want-to. With that in mind, Haugh describes this exchange with Smith after the Bears loss to the Vikings Sunday:
“‘That opening drive really put us on our heels, and we never really recovered,’ Smith said.
“I asked Smith why the Bears never recovered, what with 56 minutes left in an NFL game after [Vikings runningback Adrian]Peterson‘s touchdown.
“‘You tell me,’ Smith snapped. ‘How do you answer a question like that? If I knew that, we would have done a little bit more about it.'”
“We’re going back to the fundamentals — what we were doing earlier in the season. We just have to do that to be successful.”
That sounds like a pretty good idea and not just for the defensive linemen. Part of the problem last week was that the Seahawks are a good team that played reasonably well. But the Bears didn’t help with some serious fundamental breakdowns in things like gap discipline. They play their best when they’re playing fundamentally sound.
“It’s not so much his straight-line speed that has suffered since injuring his knee in last year’s season finale. He proved he could still run when he chased down Golden Tate from behind after Tate’s 49-yard gain in the second quarter of Sunday’s game. It’s brakes that he lacks. He struggles to plant his feet and re-direct himself. It has looked like he has been playing on ice all season.
“Never before in a season have we seen Urlacher overrun plays he used to make routinely.”
Whether Urlacher has lost some quickness is a debatable issue. But, like most of the players in Lovie Smith‘s aggressive cover two defense, Urlacher has been over running plays on occasion his entire career.
“Moore has excellent ball awareness and ball skills for a corner. But I think coaches were disappointed in the fact that he was not playing more physically. [Kelvin] Hayden is a bigger, stronger defender and better tackler.”
Moore will likely start this week with Hayden replacing the injured Tim Jennings in the lineup.
Brad Biggs at the Chicago Tribune is dead on with this comment:
“The idea has been thrown out there that the Bears could seek retribution on Vikings defensive end Jared Allen for the illegal hit that ended the season of right guard Lance Louis, who suffered a torn ACL in the teams’ first meeting. But it’s football and not a street fight. The Bears’ line needs to be concerned about blocking Allen, who whipped left tackle J’Marcus Webb for 3-1/2 sacks in the meeting at Minnesota last season, not taking him out. The second they divert their attention from blocking Allen will be the moment he turns the corner and zeros in on quarterback Jay Cutler, still not a month removed from a concussion.”
“Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder became engaged this week after he proposed to ESPN personality Samantha Steele with an elaborate setup in which he spelled ‘Marry Me’ using Christmas lights. Sound like a second-year player with his mind fully on the game? Not really. Ponder doesn’t have a lot of help on the outside and that problem is made worse with the absence of Percy Harvin. He possesses a deer-in-the-headlights look too often in the pocket and struggles making plays downfield. At least things are going swimmingly for him off the field.”
Pompei gives a scout’s report on Viking safety Harrison Smith: “Opponents should use play action and try to take advantage of Smith’s aggressiveness to get receivers open in the middle of the field.”
Matt Bowen at the Chicago Tribune points out that with Brian Urlacher out and with Adrian Peterson likely to be the Vikings main threat, its a perfect situation to use plays like this one to attack middle linebacker Nick Roach with tight end Kyle Rudolph. I’d expect a lot of this at crucial times.
One of the things that head coach Lovie Smith‘s Bears teams are noted for is consistency. They usually beat the teams they should beat because, like their head coach, they never get too high or too low. Most of us consider this to be a good thing. However, its hard not to see that teams who do get up for the Bears usually end up winning because the Bears have not been mentally prepared to rise to the challenge. With that in mind, Judy Batista at the New York Timesanswers a fan question about the inconsistency of the Giants under head coach Tom Coughlin:
“I don’t think the Giants’ problems are ones of effort – they don’t quit, do they? – I think they are one of execution. Nine penalties is not because they are not trying, it’s because they are sloppy and perhaps not focused enough. The Giants have undoubtedly had a recent history of going up and down. I don’t have any idea how they would be with another coach, but ask yourself this: Would you exchange Tom Coughlin’s results with the Giants for anybody else’s? I’d take the inconsistency in the regular season in exchange for getting on a roll late in the season and into the playoffs any day.”
So would I. I guess the question is, would Bears general president Ted Phillips?
Toni Monkovic at The New York Timesdebates whether the gun control comments from Bob Costas at halftime of the Cowboys-Eagles game was appropriate. The quickest way to get me to change the channel for any sports show, radio or television, is to start talking politics, race or religion. But even I would have to admit that the appropriateness if this topic is debatable given Jovan Belcher‘s murder-suicide.
Stuart Miller, again at The New York Times addresses the issue of replacing more injured players on the roster, particularly with the new concussion rules. It appears to me like the idea of a developmental league may be gaining a little steam.
“2011: Robert Griffin, III, QB, Baylor
RG3 is the greatest young quarterback ever.
“2010: Cam Newton, QB, Auburn
“Cam Newton works as a professional quarterback in the NFL and is the former greatest young quarterback ever.”
One Final Thought
Here’s another curious comment, this time from David Haugh at the Chicago Tribune:
“If the Ravens can go 4-2 without Ray Lewis, then the Bears should finish 3-1 without Urlacher against a favorable schedule.”
“Favorable”? You’ve got to be kidding. Yes, Arizona is a game the Bears should win but two dome games against a decent team in Minnesota and a team with more talent, if less discipline, in Detroit? And the Packers who have both talent and discipline?
I know everyone wants the Bears to be a sure playoff team but let’s cut them a break and be realistic. That’s a darned tough schedule and I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see the Bears go 1-3 during that stretch with or without Urlacher.
Having said that, Potash takes the opposite approach and addresses the doomsday scenario with the Bears losing all four of their final games. He says they can still make the playoffs at 8-8. I consider both that and the possibility that they Bears will actually lose all of those games to be highly unlikely. I’ll be very surprised if they lose to Arizona and, though the other games are tough, they do have a reasonable chance to surprise me and pull them out. It isn’t like the Vikings and Lions aren’t perfectly capable of playing poorly enough to lose.
I think this quote from wide receiver Brandon Marshall pretty much bottom lines the situation via Haugh:
“Championship teams start to separate themselves in the month of December. Right now it’s about character, want-to and passion and who wants to get it done.”
I don’t think the Bears have the talent to get to 10-6 and a certain playoff berth. But the difference between winning and losing in the NFL isn’t that big and I definitely do believe that they can overcome that deficiency by simply playing better than thier opponents. We’re about to find out what this team is made of.