Nowhere Is Safe Against the Packers. And Other Point of View.

Bears

  • Color me surprised that the Bears put quarterback Zac Dysert on waivers. It probably means that Jimmy Clausen will be OK for the Packers game but, still, I thought Dysert might have a chance to make the practice squad. It makes you wonder if the Bears might not try to sneak David Fales through instead and, more to the point, whether he’ll make it.
  • Dan Wiederer at the Chicago Tribune on outside linebacker Willie Young surviving the cuts Saturday:

    “Young is now one of five outside linebackers left in Lake Forest, joining Pernell McPhee, Jared Allen, Lamarr Houston and Sam Acho.

    “Still, the 53-man roster the Bears established Saturday will face revisions in the coming days as [head coach John] Fox and general manager Ryan Pace scan the league’s waiver wire, searching for castoffs from other teams who might fill a need.”

    But they’re probably not going to find any decent pass rushers. Those just don’t shake loose and if they do, someone ahead of them in the waiver process will scoop them up. Young’s about as safe as anyone on the roster at this point.

  • You have to wonder, given Zack Miller‘s injury history, if the Bears aren’t going to be sorry they didn’t keep another tight end. They need to be able to run from the double tight end formation and rookie Khari Lee is the only other player opposite Martellus Bennett.
  • I’m also mildly surprised that the Bears didn’t try to sneak tackle Tayo Fabuluje on to the practice squad. They’ve only got one back up at guard: Vlad Ducasse.
  • Adam Jahns at the Chicago Sun-Times answers the biggest questions entering the season:

    “Biggest area of concern .?.?.”

    “The secondary. The Bears are looking at four new starters in the secondary, if you include nickel back Sherrick McManis. The depth is razor thin. The Bears need cornerback Kyle Fuller to be the player they think he can be and veteran safety Antrel Rolle to show off his old Pro Bowl skills at times.”

    Couldn’t agree more. I’m starting to suspect that Fuller isn’t the player we thought he was and I’m positive that Rolle has lost a step. Right now there isn’t a single player I have any confidence in and the secondary is weak at every position.

Elsewhere

  • The Giants have cut wide receiver James Jones. You have to wonder if the Bears ar desperate enough to give him a try.
  • The Vikings cut second year offensive lineman David Yankey. Yankey didn’t play much last season and didn’t survive an unsuccessful move to the tackle position. Patrick Omameh was a starting guard for the Bucs but couldn’t make the same transition. Once again, both are the type of player I have to think that the Bears are at least considering claiming. As a guard, signing him would move Kyle Long to right tackle. I’d say that former first round pick Derek Sherrod might be on this list of potential claims, as well.
  • Jo-Lonn Dunbar might look good in a Bears uniform.
  • The “independent” neurologist who evaluated RGIII has resigned from the neurological consultant program leading once again to the question: “What the hell is going on in Washington?”
  • Sounds like the Packers have yet another wide receiver to worry about. It isn’t fair.

    Can you imagine how good Alshon Jeffery would be with Aaron Rogers throwing to him? My guess is that he’d be right behind Calvin Johnson as one of the best in the league.

  • Once again, its not easy to be a Bears fan lately. But its nothing compared to being a Washington Redskins fan. Via Jerry Brewer at the Washington Post:

    “The lewd news is that Jessica McCloughan, the wife of the GM, had to apologize Wednesday night after it was discovered that she took to Twitter to accuse ESPN’s Dianna Russini, a former WRC (Channel 4) Washington sports anchor, of having an affair with her husband and exchanging sexual favors for news tips. When Jessica issued a statement via the team, it turned gossip into mainstream discourse and added more humiliation to the franchise’s farcical preseason.

    “It also should be used as a delicate precaution: Despite how much McCloughan has thrived in Washington the past eight months, his off-field behavior will always warrant concern and monitoring.”

    McCloughan has admitted to having a drinking problem, one that got him fired from the 49ers. Things like this won’t help.

One Final Thought

Having mentioned my feelings above about the defensive backfield, I should add that Hub Arkush at chicagofootball.com has a point about the linebacker position:

“I believe the Bears should have cut Shea McClellin – as Fox has explained to us, there is absolutely nothing personal in this – and kept Mason Foster, because I’m convinced Foster is the better player.”

Vic Fangio went all in early on McClellin and now will continue to roll the dice even though he got progressively worse as the preseason went on, and that is complicated by Christian Jones’ youth and Jon Bostic’s multiple boo boos.”

I have to agree. My initial thought was that the Bears started McClellin and have kept him because he’s the younger player. But Foster is only 26 and he’s clearly the better of the two. I can only assume that the Bears believe that Foster has peaked whereas McClellin still has some upside. In any case, Arkush continues:

“With Jeremiah Ratliff out the next three weeks, and only Eddie Goldman seemingly able on the nose, if you’re Packers coach Mike McCarthy and you’ve got running back Eddie Lacy, where are you going to attack the Bears next Sunday?”

Everywhere, Hub. Everywhere.

Niggling Doubts About Antrel Rolle

Nate Atkins at chicagofootball.com interviews new Bears safety Antrel Rolle:

“‘I don’t think I was ever involved with a player who was more sincerely interested in how his team could improve,’ Giants coach Tom Coughlin, now in his 31st year in the NFL, said at the NFL Scouting Combine.”

“‘You just have to be yourself,’ [Rolle] said. ‘If you’re a guy that’s laid-back, then be laid-back. If you’re a guy that’s motivated and very enthused about what’s going on, then be that guy because you can be that energy. You can be that fuel for other guys.”

The Bears locker room could undoubtedly use more like Rolle. I can’t stress enough the comment of one opposing assistant coach who called the Bears “the biggest bunch of frontrunners in the league.” Players like Martellus Bennett, Jeremiah Ratliff and Matt Forte, who didn’t show up for the voluntary minicamp which is currently underway, aren’t helping dispel that impression. The bears need more like Rolle.

Having said that, I have to question whether Rolle is the guy to do it. In order to lead the team you need to also perform on the field. I recently caught the Giants week 7 game against the Cowboys last season on the NFL Network and took the opportunity to focus on Rolle. It wasn’t a good look. He’s lost a lot of range and his first step was frequently in the wrong direction. I’m told he performed better late in the year. Let’s hope so.’

Drafting Pass Rush Is a Priority. But at What Price?

Brad Biggs at the Chicago Tribune puts up his mock draft. Here are his top 10 picks:

1. Buccaneers: Jameis Winston, QB, Florida State

2. Titans: Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon

3. Jaguars: Dante Fowler, DE, Florida

4. Raiders: Leonard Williams, DT, USC

5. Redskins: Vic Beasley, OLB, Clemson

6. Jets: Randy Gregory, OLB, Nebraska

7. Bears: Amari Cooper, WR, Alabama

8. Falcons: Bud Dupree, DE, Kentucky

9. Giants: Brandon Scherff, OL, Iowa

10. Rams: Kevin White, WR, West Virginia

It’s an interesting grouping if only because it breaks down into tiers which reflect Biggs’s priorities by position: quarterback is the first at one and two because that’s the most important, then pass rushers at three, five and six, and finally the other positions at three of the last four spots.

This is fine in that it almost certainly reflects the thoughts of virtually all fans, and I would dare say all NFL general managers as well. But the problem is that Biggs takes it too far.

Though he’s certainly not worthy of the two spot, I get the Marcus Mariota pick and it may well happen, though I’m guessing that if it does, its not likely to be the Titans picking there. However, prioritizing Dante Fowler over Leonard Williams, the best prospect in the draft, isn’t what I would call good thinking. In fairness to Biggs, he’s not the only media expert who believes Fowler will go first. But though Fowler’s a great prospect, Williams is the consensus best player in the draft and as close to a sure thing as you can get – he’s almost certainly going to be a dominant defensive lineman. He’s the smart pick.

But those two decisions aren’t nearly as surprising as taking Vic Beasley and Randy Gregory, both very risky prospects (for the top ten) over Amari Cooper, the most solid wide receiver prospect in the draft. Mel Kiper and Todd McShay recently did a live mock draft on ESPN and Beasley didn’t even make the first round.

slack_for_ios_upload

I, personally, like Gregory a lot but three failed drug tests, including one at the Combine, makes you wonder if he’s not an addictive personality headed for trouble.

Bud Dupree, Brandon Scherff and Kevin White all have their risks as well but of the three, Dupree is the riskiest. Brandon Scherff is at worst an outstanding NFL guard. White is a one year wonder but he (arguably) has more dominant physical skills. Based upon the mock drafts I’ve seen almost no one would take Dupree over White.

This mock highlights the conflicts that must run through every general manager’s head as they prepare for the draft. We’re all familiar with the idea of drafting the best available and how that often conflicts with drafting for need. Biggs has written many times that drafting the best available player regardless of need is a fallacy in the NFL – and I absolutely believe him. But this mock draft might take it too far. As important as pass rush is in the NFL, teams can’t afford to miss in the top ten picks. You can still draft for need but focusing on one position, admittedly a very important one, regardless of the grade on talent for the individual prospects sounds to me like it’s asking for trouble. Here’s hoping that the Bears don’t force a pick in order to fill a position in such a manner.

Bears Might Not Want to Find Themselves to Be Too Much On a Rolle Next Season

Dan Wiederer at the Chicago Tribune reviews the Bears situation at safety:

“Both general manager Ryan Pace and coach John Fox were ecstatic to land 10-year veteran Antrel Rolle during free agency, adding talent and stability to the defense’s back end. Rolle’s best days may be behind him, but he’s still a three-time Pro Bowl selection with sharp instincts, versatility and the leadership ability to rally those around him.”

“By most accounts, this year’s draft class is ultra-thin at safety with very few sure bets at the top. That’s why it was critical for the Bears to make progress in free agency and why Rolle’s arrival has put Fox more at ease. ‘He understands the game,’ Fox said. ‘He plays the game fast. He understands how to prepare for NFL football games. I think that is contagious.’ “

Wiederer concludes that the need at safety is “moderate”. I’m going to have to disagree.

Its now clear that Ryan Mundy belongs at strong safety despite some rumblings when he was signed that he could play some free. He’s turned out to be a reasonably sure tackler and run stopped close to the line of scrimmage and as long as he’s kept in that role, he’s fine.

But Antrel Rolle is a different situation. In watching video of last season, to my eye Rolle definitely left something to be desired in coverage at free safety for the Giants. I was far less “ecstatic” than Fox and Pace apparently are that the Bears are apparently counting on Rolle this year.  Frequently his instincts led him astray as he repeatedly took a step in the wrong direction and left himself out of position. And he’s definitely slowing down.

In fairness, Rolle played better late in the season than he did early. But I think there’s real cause for concern and the Bears need exhaust all avenues to look for more depth at the position sooner rather than laster. I know that the Bears are counting on Rolle to show some leadership with this team. But its awfully hard to do that if you can’t perform on the field yourself.

Sometimes It Isn’t Rocket Science

Next Fan Up Artwork

Sometimes value and need meet to make for the almost perfect draft pick. That’s what I think happened to me in the “Next Fan Up” mock draft, an exercise performed by the same group I participated with last year.

The Situation

Last year I hated the Bears spot at 14. They needed defensive linemen and safties but none were worth the pick. I ended up taking the best available player, linebacker C.J. Mosley. Not a bad pick in retrospect.

This year with the Bears picking at seven things were totally different. With needs all over the field the odds that a player that could fill one was going to be the best available were high. Here’s what happened with the first six picks:

Screen Shot 2015-04-03 at 9.48.02 AM

The Guy

Before the draft I pegged four impact players in the top ten picks:  Leonard Williams, Jameis Winston,  Dante Fowler, and Danny Shelton.  Some may justifiably criticize me for not including Amari Cooper and Kevin White.  But Cooper may have already hit his peak and White is a one year wonder that relies too much on physical abilities that may not be dominant once he gets to the NFL for my taste.  Don’t get me wrong – I’d gladly take either one.  But I put them a tier below my top four.

To no one’s surprise, the first three of those four top players were gone.  That left Shelton as the best player on my board.  But I knew that few other draftnicks agreed with me.

ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper didn’t put Shelton in his five safest picks in the draft because his ceiling is too low. I think Kiper is under estimating him. Shelton reminds me just a bit of Vince Wilfork and I believe he may turn out to be more than just a clogger in the middle.  He’s never going to be a penetrator but Shelton uses his power and quickness to leverage offensive linemen and collapse the middle of the pocket as a pass rusher.  Even if Kiper is right and Shelton only turns out to be a plug in the middle he’d be valuable as the center piece of any 3-4 defense.  He never gets blocked back off of the line of scrimmage despite almost always being double teamed and he’s uncanny in the way he regularly shed blocks to stop the run.  And you can’t stop anything if you can’t stop the run.

danny-shelton

The Attempt to Trade Down

There was little doubt that Shelton (above) was my guy.  The question was could I trade back and still have a reasonable chance to get him and, if so, how far?

Ordinarily I wouldn’t think twice about this unless I had multiple players that I liked with no definite winner heads and tails above everyone else.  But most mock drafts that had Shelton getting past the Bears had him falling to somewhere  in the middle of the round.  The first team behind me that I had with defensive tackle as a need was the Cleveland Browns at 12.  So I figured anywhere in front of them might be relatively safe and was willing to risk going down farther.  With the third oldest roster in the NFL last year and more holes than a golf course full of gophers, heaven knows the Bears need young players.  So I thought it was more important to get more chances in the annual draft lottery and to take the risk losing Shelton, even as someone who I thought was clearly the best available.

But I didn’t trade back.  Why?  Because it take two to tango and no one wanted the pick.  One of the things that’s evident this year is that everyone wants to trade back but almost no one wants to trade up.  At least not into the top ten, especially with Marcus Mariota gone after the second pick.  Only one trade in the mock draft actually took place in that area and that was between the Jets and the Giants, who wanted White.  The tail end of the first round may include more action depending on how highly the teams involved value the quarterbacks that are left and how much they want to over draft to get one.  Other than that, I can’t see it happening.  Most draft experts actually don’t think there are much more than 15 players with first round grades in the entire class.  And I can’t see too many teams trading up into the first round to get second round talent.

The Pick

In the end my choice was clear and I gladly took Shelton at number seven.  I think his talent matches the pick and fills a need.  Perhaps the Bears biggest need.  Last year I said that playing general manager isn’t easy.  But sometimes all you need to do is keep it simple.

No, They’re Not Kidding. And Other Points of View.

Bears

  • The Bears re-signed Dante Rosario. Rosario’s value is really on special teams and the Bears probably still need to find a tight end who can block the run. From Rich Campbell at the Chicago Tribune.
  • Hub Arkush at chicagofootball.com points out that Bears head coach John Fox likes a runningback by committee. That leads him to speculate that the Bears might take a running back with their second round pick. That would fit in well with this ESPN report that Georgia’s Todd Gurley had an “extended conversation” with Bears southeast area scout Sam Summerville at his pro day.
  • Former Bears Director of College Scouting Greg Gabriel at the National Football Postthinks the Bears will trade back in the draft. He also thinks the Vikings will fill their need at guard and Detroit will fill their need at defensive tackle. Bud Dupree has that kind of look that would land him in Green Bay ahead of any decline from Julius Peppers.
  • Gabriel also writes for WSCR in Chicago. He does a very good job of breaking down the type players Bears defensive coordinator Vic Fangio used in the 3-4 defense that San Francisco played. It involved smaller, penetrating linemen rather than the big bodied 2 gappers that teams like Baltimore use. They also had smallish, speedy linebackers and tall corners. Whether these were the players Fangio preferred of this was a case of making the best of the players you are given is unknown. What scheme Fangio will use here is a matter of debate but if you think he’ll try to play the same scheme in Chicago that he did in San Francisco, these are the types of players to expect the Bears to collect.

Elsewhere

  • Matt Vensel at the Minneapolis Star-Tribune dreams that the Falcons, Giants and Rams are all going to over-draft offensive linemen to allow Amari Cooper to fall to them. I think it far more likely that they’ll have their choice of those linemen and, in fact, they could do a lot worse than Brandon Scherff. He’d do a wonderful job of solidifying their left guard spot, vacated by the release of Charlie Johnson.
  • The Vikings biggest need may be a starting cornerback opposite Xavier Rhodes so its no surprise that Vikings general manager Rick Spielman and coach Mike Zimmer were watching Michigan State cornerback Trae Waynes rather closely at his pro day. He’s probably a slam dunk pick for them in the first round. Via Ben Goessling at ESPN.
  • Mel Kiper “re-drafts” the 2009 prospects for ESPN. You don’t think the draft is a crap shoot? Out of the 32 new “first round picks” not one was drafted in the original top nine. Michael Crabtree was the highest original pick to make the list at 10 and two of the players in the new round originally went undrafted.
  • Kyle Meinke at mlive.com acknowledges that Detroit has taken a step back n free agency, largely due to losses at defensive tackle. However he believes that the team may make up for it, not by signing more talent, but by continuing to develop the talent that they have.He’s got a point. Good organizations are the ones that not only draft talent but coach it up to get the most out of it. This may be the most overlooked aspect of Green Bay’s success and its one that the Bears are going to have to emulate as well if they want to get younger and more competitive at the same time.
  • Rex Ryan plans to have the Bills practice largely on two fields in camp, a change from Doug Marrone who ran 7-on-7 and 11-on-11 drills on one field. The idea is to maximize reps for the quarterbacks who are competing to start, EJ Manuel, Matt Cassel and Tyrod Taylor.Both the Bills and the Jets are planning on challenging the old saying that, “If you have two quarterbacks competing to be the starter you don’t have one.”
  • How does an owner solve a problem where he signed a player who abuses women to a huge contract? He trots out his daughter and sells her for the sake of public relations. From David Moore at the Dallas Morning News.
  • Defensive lineman Kevin Vickerson has been signed by the Jets according to Rich Cimini at espn.com. In retrospect I’m kind of wondering why the Bears weren’t interested here.
  • Mike Florio at profootballtalk.com thinks the value of having a veteran combine is minimal. I’m going to mildly disagree. Having a standard medical on these veterans can be pretty valuable and some teams may be holding off on working out and talking to some of these veterans until they get a solid handle on it.
  • Regular readers know that I have a man-crush on Teddy Bridgewater. Those who don’t want to read anymore about it can stop now. Because Bridgewater gets it as he addresses his rookie season via Brian Murphy at the Pioneer Press:

    “‘I wasn’t impressed,’ he told the Pioneer Press this week.

    “‘Yes, we did some good things as a team,’ he continued, ‘but we could have been much better finishing games. That’s what separates championship teams and determining whether you’re playing games in January or watching games in January.'”

  • The Chargers and the Raiders propose a shared stadium for Carson, CA and suddenly Rams owner Stan Kroenke is presenting detailed plans at the NFL owner’s meetings for his Inglewood stadium with offices for two teams… Things are getting even more interesting in Los Angeles.
  • Mike Florio at profootballtalk.com is surprised that it took nearly a week for Chris Borland to conclude that he should voluntarily give back a portion of his signing bonus. I’m not the lest bit surprised. The NFLPA can’t be happy to see anyone give back signing bonus to teams under any circumstances and this decision might further undermine the case that any players brings to keep his bonus in the future.
  • And in the former Bear, LOL department:

One Final Thought

Kyle Samec at the Cowboys Nation Blog says that Greg Hardy makes the Cowboys “a legit threat, whether people like it or not”. Is that to the opponents or just their women?

Of Jared Allen, Willie Young and the “Big Nickel”

Michael C. Wright at ESPN answers your questions:

“@mikecwright: Thanks for the question. The way it looks right now, there’s definitely going to be a logjam at outside linebacker because the plan is to play Jared Allen, Willie Young, Lamarr Houston and Pernell McPhee at outside linebacker. Both head coach John Fox and general manager Ryan Pace have said as much recently. I’d encourage you to take a step back, take a big-picture perspective and match up that with what you know about new defensive coordinator Vic Fangio. Fangio is a creative schemer, and if all those guys stick on the roster (which I anticipate happening), he’ll find a way to incorporate all of them. The Bears plan to play base defense out of a three-man front. But when the team goes into substitution packages, which will likely be more than 50 percent of the time, it will probably execute out of four-man fronts designed to get the team’s best four pass-rushers on the field at the same time. We don’t yet know which players Fangio plans to deploy in those positions because he doesn’t know, and won’t know until the team gets out on the field for practice. Fox said that once the guys start working out, they’ll define their roles through their play.”

I’d like to emphasize Wright’s second point in this response – the fact that the Bears will likely play a four man line in substitution packages. As Wright points out, you could reasonably expect the Bears to play in these packages up to 60% of the time. If the Bears play what’s being called the “Big Nickel” package where the fifth defensive back is a safety instead of a corner, it could be more than that. Such a defense allows for better pass coverage than the conventional 3-4 alignment with four linebackers while doing a better job of hedging against the run.  The Rams have been particularly effective playing this formation and it’s possible that they will actually make this their base defense at some point.  The Giants are aligned in a 4-2-5 version of this package, similar to what the Bears could play, below:

0ap3000000375712

The Bears don’t have the safety depth to play the “big nickel” right now.  They don’t even have the cornerback depth to play the conventional nickel at this point. At this point anything is possible.  It’s worth noting that Bears defensive coordinator Vic Fangio liked to use the big nickel with Jimmy Ward as the third safety.  Some will remember that Bears safety Brock Vereen played in a similar type of role in college.  Though at 5-11, 199 he’s a bit small to do it in the NFL at this point, its not impossible that the Bears could use him in such a scheme, especially if he bulked up.  Indeed, this may have been what former Bears general manager Phil Emery, a former strength and conditioning coach, had in mind when he drafted Vereen.

chi-jared-allen-misses-bears-practice-20140804-001

In any case,big of conventional nickel, its important to remember that Allen (above)  and Young have a major role to play in this defense even if they don’t work out as outside linebackers. Whether you change the scheme to 3-4 or not, pass rush from a four man line is going to be a major part of the defense. In that respect its important that Allen, in particular, shows better in 2015 after an off year last season. He won’t like standing on the sideline for half of the snaps but he’ll be 33 at the beginning of next season and it could be the best thing for him. He’s a high motor player and I think getting that kind of rest could only make him better.

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.

 

It’s About Character and Other Points of View

Bears

  • I’m not too sure about this comment from Bears offensive coordinator Mike Tice on the return of wide receiver Alshon Jeffery to the lineup. Via Mark Potash at the Chicago Sun-Times:

“So that really helps us because when they try to key on Brandon [Marshall], we really have two go-to guys on the field at the same time.”

Jeffery is a step above the other receivers, no doubt. But he’s hardly a “go-to guy” (yet).

  • On a related not, Sean Jensen at the Chicago Sun-Times points out that, whether its being done on purpose or not, the “Randy Ratio” is back.

“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.

“Whether or not Brian Urlacher returns from a hamstring injury this year, he’ll be a Bear next season. That comes from highly placed sources inside my head.”

“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.

Vikings

  • 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.

Elsewhere

  • 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 Times answers 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 Times debates 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.

It’s Only Human And Other Points of View

Bears

“He actually has been OK at times but lapses into poor technique leads supporters to lose their patience. Based on how he played earlier this year, he should give Vikings defensive end Jared Allen a challenge. But in year two at left tackle and year three as a starter, Webb should have advanced beyond the point of semi-regular meltdowns.”

Gabe Carimi lost his starting job to [Jonathan] Scott this week, but still made an impact as an extra tackle on short-yardage plays. He also played guard for the first time in his life whe he replaced [Lance] Louis in the third quarter.”

Biggs goes on to explain how Carimi handled the switch. Here’s what Carimi himself had to say:

“‘(Center Roberto) Garza helped me out a lot. He looked at me like this (holding his hand up to hide his mouth) while we were walking up to the line to explain the play.’

“Said Garza: ‘Everybody was trying to help everybody. He had never played guard before so I was just trying to help him with little things. We were in a tough situation. No one else could get hurt.'”

Like most Bear fans I sincerely hope Carimi’s future isn’t at guard.

“But I’ll tell you what, Monday night they were sliding to him so it’s (Roberto) Garza, Chilo (Rachal) and J’Marcus Webb and Justin Smith and Aldon Smith bum-rushed both of them. That should never happen. When you have three for two, that should never, ever happen. To me, part of that is coaching. Part of that is guys aren’t doing the right thing. Because the guard should jam the heck out of the D-tackle knowing that Roberto is coming over and then (Rachal) helps the inside of J’Marcus so he can set real hard on the middle of the defensive end. That was probably the most disturbing thing to me. “

Tucker was also extremely critical of Gabe Carimi but I doubt he was taking his knee unjury into account. Its going to be hard to see what Carimi is going to be until next year when we can be sure its completely rehabilitated. Biggs appeared to agree in the article.

  • It’s really unfotunate that Louis’ season is over as Sean Jensen at the Chicago Sun-Times reports that he has a torn ACL. With the possible exception of center Roberto Garza, he was the only lineman who was really having a good year.

“Dan, what’s your take on Edwin Williams? I thought he was better than expected when forced into service last season. I’ve been a bit surprised that Chilo Rachal was playing ahead of him. — Mark Early, Arlington, Va.

“I think Bears coaches are anxious to get a good look at Williams. The thing about him is he really hasn’t had a chance to show exactly what he is. My feeling was that he might be best at center, but I’m not so sure anymore. Williams is not as athletic as Chris Spencer, and he’s not as powerful as Chilo Rachal, but he has more power than Spencer and more athleticism than Rachal. So he is a blend, and he has a chance to develop into a decent starting guard as Lance Louis did.”

I have frequently wondered why Williams didn’t get a better chance at guard. He’s always played well in games when called upon. My conclusion has been that Williams may not be much of a practice player but perhaps Pompei has it right. He might not be special in any one athletic characteristic and that might make him blend into the background.

“It has been a long time since Andre Gurode suited up as a reserve for the Ravens in the AFC championship game last season, but the 34-year-old still went to the gym five days every week, hoping for a phone call.”

  1. Why hasn’t Gurode been signed by someone before now?
  2. Will he have to knock off a bunch of rust before playing effectively (if he’s capable of it) with this Bears?

We shall see. Unlike most of the Bear fans I have talked to, I have some hope that Gurode will provide an upgrade. He had knee surgery two years ago and, like Carimi this year, I doubt he had fully recovered one year after the procedure. The Bears might be getting him right as he’s getting back to a high lievel of play.

  • My impression was that Cutler did a pretty good job of spreading the ball around Sunday against the Vikings. But Biggs points to the statistics which who otherwise. Marshall was targeted 17 times — three times more than the other seven Bears with catches.

“Marshall’s physical play is ideal as cold weather sets in. By breaking tackles, he gained 7 yards after contact on one play and 12 on another [against the Vikings].”

  • McClure points out that wide receiver Dane Sanzenbacher may see some significant playing time tomorrow. Like most Bear fans, I like the undersized Sanzenbacher. But you know they’re in trouble whenever your see him playing.

“Why the Bears’ defense has worked — mostly

“The Bears have played with a safety up in run support frequently over the past several games, with only limited success. But their base scheme has generally succeeded against the Vikings because it does not over-pursue or leave itself vulnerable to cutbacks, a Peterson strength.

“The concern now, however, is that Foster had 85 yards in the first half of the Houston game with the zone-blocking/cutback scheme, and the San Francisco 49ers obliterated the edges of the defense with jumbo packages and ‘wham’ blocking from fullbacks and tight ends.

“‘Anytime we come off a game and something hurts us, we go in, install it, re-fit it,’ [defensive coordinator Rod] Marinelli said. ‘Because we’ll see it again down the line, somewhere, sometime, this week, next week. We’ll see some of that stuff again.

“‘We see the corrections we can make. We go through it, re-teach it, fit it up and then we’ve got to go play fast with it. Beat blocks, get off blocks, all those basic things.'”

The Bears have, in fact, been sneaking that safety up at the last minute all season and doing it with amazing accuracy in terms of predicting when the opponenent will actually run. Up until the Texans game, that is, where both they and the 49ers used that aggressive play calling to draw that safety up, then try to beat the coverage in the passing game.

“‘We were in man coverage and the tight end, he’s pretty good,’ Wright said. ‘In the red zone, they definitely like to use their tight end. The quarterback didn’t look off and Chris made a great break on him. I had him off the line and Chris had him over the top. The formation was triples and they always run their tight end on a seven route on the backside of triples so we kind of knew and had a bead on that.'”

“I’m not going to go into the extent of them but a lot have to do with focusing on certain spots of the ball. It’s almost like you have certain drills you do as a golfer that you work on something but it happens to improve something else because of the focus you are putting into it. Getting down to the nuts and bolts of it, coming up through the ball is something that we have been working on. Something as simple as just keeping your head down past the time the ball has been punted. Not crossing over. Having good drops. Getting down to the basics of it.”

  • I’m not sure I’m entirely satisfied with the way Rosenbloom ended his column Monday:

“Let’s be clear: The Vikings are a bad team. Tough, but not a contender. That made them a good opponent for the Bears. That’s the kind of team the Bears are beating this season. The Bears will face good teams eventually. Good thing it wasn’t Sunday.”

I’ve been as vocal as anyone about the Bears taking advantage of a soft schedule early in the year. But the Vikings aren’t a bad team. They’re an average team and the Bears are an above average team. So the Bears did beat a team at home that they should have beaten. But let’s not degrade the accomplishment. They’re not elite but they’ve shown repeatedly that they’re pretty good.

Seahawks

  • From Lovie Smith’s description, I’d say that, like Chrisitan Ponder, Seattle’s’ Russell Wilson sounds like the kind of quarterback who won’t lose you a game. Via Biggs:

“He’s been steady, he’s done what they asked him to do and he’s mobile in the pocket, makes great decisions and has just been productive for them.'”

  • Nick Eaton at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer reviews what went wrong in Miami last week. It appears that the Seahawks took an extra week off after getting one with their bye. The good news for the Bears is that it continued a series of bad road performances for the young Seahawks team. Tim Booth at the Associated Press reviews the team’s road struggles and points out that they didn’t just start this year. The bad news? They may be showing signs of breaking out of it is this statistic is any indication:

“In Seattle’s previous five road games, Wilson performed markedly worse than he had at home. All eight of his interceptions this season he threw on the road. Before Sunday’s game, he had a passer rating of 65.8 on the road compared to 122.0 at the CLink.

“But on Sunday, he went 21-of-27 — including 16-consecutive completed passes — for 224 passing yards, two touchdowns, no interceptions and a stellar passer rating of 125.9.”

Elsewhere

  • Potash on how Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder takes advantage of the presence of Adrian Peterson in the Vikings backfield:

“According to Pro Football Focus, Ponder has completed 63 of 93 play-action passes for 623 yards, four touchdowns and one interception this season. His quarterback rating on play-action is 96.3, much better than his 80.6 mark when it isn’t used. Play-action passes also make up 29.5 percent of his throws, the third-most among quarterbacks.”

  • Whatever else you might say about the Vikings, if you have a left tackle, you are well on your way to stability. From Pompei.
  • Here’s an interesting point made by Judy Battista at The New York Times that has also been noted by several of my friends:

“Q. Why do the Giants seem so inconsistent? – Crabsail, Locust, N.J.

“A.
Let me answer that with another question: Have you seen many teams you’d call consistent this season? Even the ones with the best records have seemed unstoppable some weeks and barely able to hold it together on others. That’s the nature of parity.”

  • profootballmock.com also has the real reason for the sprinkler “failure” in Miami:


One Final Thought

Neil Hayes at the Chicago Sun-Times inteviews an anonymous scout on the state of the offensive line:

“How can an offensive line bullied by the 49ers dominate an above-average Vikings front seven six days later?

“‘It happens all the time,’ said a veteran NFL scout who specializes in offensive line play. ‘Green Bay got shattered by New York [on Monday night]. They weren’t close to what they were capable of doing. Watch them this week.

“‘It’s human nature. I can’t explain it. Nobody can. If you could you would be a billionaire. If you could define human emotion when it comes to a football team or human performance we wouldn’t be having this conversation right now. It happens. It just does.

“‘You wonder sometimes. You want to count on this and you want to count on that but you can’t count on anything. There’s an emotional factor and sometimes it rules the game.'”

“‘Sometimes there’s an urgency on a football team that’s difficult to define,’ the scout said. ‘The 49ers had it against the Bears. The Bears had it against the Vikings. When the Vikings beat the 49ers, it was the other way around. Explain that one to me. Why that happens I can’t tell you.”