Very Quick Comments: Bears at Packers 11/27/15

Both the best and the worst thing about watching football on Thanksgiving is that you get to watch it with family. Surrounded by almost 20 of the closest people in the world to me, many of whom grew up watching football with me, is one of the greatest pleasures I get all year. But concentrating completely on the game and taking notes was simply impossible. I might as well have been watching in the middle of a hurricane. So my notes on this wonderful Bears victory will be brief and to the point if for no other reason than I don’t have as much as usual to say.

Defense

  1. The Packers game plan was clear from the outset and they never deviated from it. Play three wide receivers, thus forcing the Bears into nickel, then obliterate them and wear them down with Eddie Lacy up the middle over and over and over again. Bears defensive coordinator Vic Fangio, on the other hand, must be one of the most stubborn men on earth. As with Adrian Peterson two weeks before, he flat out refused to do anything special to stop Lacy.  This was the battle of wills that was waged all night. Lacy had over a hundred yards rushing but it wasn’t enough.
  2. Give the defensive backs a lot of the credit for this win. Though Lacy continually took chunks of yardage up the middle, whenever Aaron Roger dropped back to pass, it was a tough exercise. Over and over again Rogers made time with his feet as he avoided the pass rush. And over and over again, right down to the last play, he still could not find open receivers. It was a wonderful display by a unit that, at least up until now, I didn’t consider to have much talent. Like a lot of things about this team, I’m now going to have to re-assess this.

Offense

  1. As most regular readers know, I’m not much of a Jay Cutler fan. Repeatedly over a period of ten years, Cutler has flat out quit in tough games, especially in Lambeau. He’s still the guy who quit on Denver so long ago.  And he’s still the guy as late as last year who gave up against New Orleans to the point where he was actually benched for the now departed Jimmy Clausen.
    But fair is fair. This is the game that I was pointing to all year as Cutler’s watershed. Based upon past history, it’s exactly the type of game he should have collapsed in. When the Packers came out swinging, confused him, put a lot of pressure on him, and forced him to throw a near interception early in the first quarter, I thought that’s what was going to happen. The offense started with repeated three and outs and I was convinced the Packers were going to wear the courageous Bears defense down to a nub.It didn’t happen. Cutler hung in there and the Bears re-grouped. It was ugly but they managed to possess the ball and keep the defense off the field. And it was largely due to Cutler and his mobility and the fact that he kept calm and adjusted.It’s going to be very hard to continue to trash Cutler from here on out. This was a big game for him.
  2. Give credit to some of the lesser known receivers who stepped up in this game. Marquess Wilson and Marc Mariani both had big catches throughout the game. Due largely to their efforts along with the return of Alshon Jeffery, the Packers had a great deal of trouble getting the Bears off of the field on third and long, especially late. Wonderful job.
  3. The Bears offensive line had a tough time handling the Packer defensive line. I credited a lot of the Packers success Sunday against the Vikings to the deplorable state of the Minnesota offensive line. But the Packer defensive line is pretty good and the battle in the trenches was enjoyable to watch. The Bears had just over 100 yards rushing. Not as good as you’d like but also not a complete shutdown.

Miscellaneous

  1. Want to know why Cris Collinsworth is the best color man in the game? Look no further than the wonderful job he did pointing out how the Packers defensive linemen were shooting inside to beat the Bears on stretch running plays. I’m convinced that there are few others that would have picked it up despite the obvious penetration that the Packers were getting.
  2. Special teams weren’t good enough. They allowed at least one huge run back that set the Packers up and the Bears 30 yard line. You can’t ordinarily get away with that against the Packers anywhere, especially in Lambeau.
  3. If you had told me that the Bears were going to win a game against the Packers where they had 12 penalties to their three, I would have refused to believe it. The officiating left a lot to be desired but to be fair, the poor calls were on both sides. The Bears aren’t going to get away with that often.
  4. As is their habit, the Packers had a lot of drops. They’re finding it harder to overcome them than usual this year. Jeremy Langford had a particularly tough time catching the ball in this game. If it was the rain, he’d better learn to adjust. He’s got a lot of wet football ahead of him.
  5. Not surprisingly, the two Packer turnovers were huge in this game. In contrast to last Sunday, the Bears didn’t have one. This is especially notable in regard to Cutler. Nice work, there.
  6. I’m in the state of shock and its not going to go away any time soon. Time after time I would watch Eddie Lacy carve out huge chunks of yardage and shake my head.  But then I’d look up at the scoreboard and the Bears were still ahead.  Honest to heaven, I still can’t figure out how it happened.
  7. Up until this game, my assessment of the Bears has been one of a talent deficient but well-coached team, especially on defense. But how talent-deficient can they possibly be and still beat the Packers in Lambeau?  It’s obvious that I’m going to have to spend some time re-assessing this team. I’d still like to see more but based upon the last two games against two of the better teams in the league, I might be under-estimating them.

 

Revising Expectations for the Bears

Jon Greenberg at ESPN is revising his expectations for the Bears:

“In the beginning … we predicted 6-10 for the Chicago Bears and it seemed just about right.”

“But then Jay Cutler returned [from injury] ahead of schedule and things settled down, and now, weeks after fans stopped watching games between their outstretched fingers, this looks like, knock on Mike Ditka’s pompadour, it could be a wholly respectable team with a longshot chance of making the postseason.”

The Bears are on a hot streak and Cutler is certainly a big part of that. But Cutler or not, I’m sticking with 6-10.

The Bears are 4-5 and at this point in the season, I think that’s great. But let’s not forget that they are the same team that lost to the Lions a month ago. They’ve won two games since then but they’ve gotten a lot of help from two teams that, frankly, played well below their talent level. Such things have a bd habit of evening out and more often than not, given decent coaching and a good environment, teams end up right where their talent level says they should.

I’m not disparaging the Bears here. I think they’re a well-coached team that is making progress every week. But Denver is a much better team that is unlikely to give the game away with poor discipline in the same manner that the Rams did. And I don’t care how badly the Packers are slipping at the moment, I can’t believe that they won’t pull it together and beat the Bears on Thanksgiving. I also see the Vikings as a loss in Minnesota. After that, the Bears are still a team that’s going to be no more than a coin flip against Washington, San Fransisco, Tampa Bay, and Detroit. If they win half of those, that’s two more wins. And that’s where I’m still sitting.

Different Strokes for Different Folks Lead to Different Consequences

Jeremiah_Ratliff_bears_2014
Jeremiah Ratliff

Rob Demovsky at ESPN reports that Packers head coach Mike McCarthy gave his players almost eight days off over their bye week. That’s nearly double the minimum four days that the NFL Players Union requires.

I find this to be interesting because Bears head coach John Fox went with the minimum four days rather than give the players the maximum amount of rest the way that McCarthy did.

I’m not saying that Fox did the wrong thing. The Bears are a young team who undoubtedly needed the extra work. I’m sure they did what most teams do over the bye – they tried to correct problems that have been identified via self-scouting. And I’m sure there are a lot of problems.

The Packers are a veteran team and one that’s undefeated at that. Perhaps there are some guys who still needed the work and perhaps there aren’t.  We’ll have to wait and see how they do but they undoubtedly have fewer things to worry about correcting than the Bears. McCarthy is a fantastic 8-1 after the bye during his tenure but Fox is a pretty respectable 10-3. I’d say both coaches know what they’re doing and what their team needs.

But there may have been one negative factor that fell out of Fox’s decision to work his team. It’s all well and good to get young players into the building for needed extra work but it’s quite another to ask veteran players to do it, correction of problems identified via self-scouting or not. A lot of these guys have families and they were undoubtedly looking forward to the time off. It doesn’t take much imagination to wonder whether veteran defensive tackle Jeremiah Ratliff wasn’t one of them and whether that factored into his decision to show up “in no condition for work” on Wednesday. Perhaps Ratliff had decided to take the extra day of the bye to relax and do whatever it is that he did a little early, team demands or not. Knowing that your biggest rival a couple hours away was giving the players more than a week probably didn’t help.

Again, I’m not saying that Fox did the wrong thing. But there are consequences that have to be weighed whenever a decision like this is made. The Bears may well have lost Ratliff as a consequence of this one. It’s well known that Ratliff was a mentor for the younger defensive linemen including rookie Eddie Goldman. Even rookie center Hroniss Grasu sought him out for advice.

Perhaps the best lesson Ratliff could have taught these players was his final one when he pushed the team over the edge and was released. Perhaps the long-term benefit of a few extra days of practice was worth the loss. And perhaps it wasn’t.

Sorry. Still the Same Jay.

Dan Wiederer at the Chicago Tribune on quarterback Jay Cutler‘s performance Sunday:

“[C]an we take a quick intermission here for a PSA to remind our audience that Cutler’s career arc did not experience a dramatic shift based on Sunday’s final drive? Can you imagine how different the discussion would be this week had he and the offense not converted a fourth-and-5 from their own 25 with 1:30 to play to extend the game-winning drive?

“Yes, it’s acceptable to credit Cutler for another fourth-quarter comeback victory. But only if you also acknowledge that Sunday’s game probably should have become a routine Bears win had their quarterback simply added to a 19-17 lead earlier in the period rather than throwing a back-breaking interception.

“Cutler’s toughness? Documented long ago. Cutler’s error-prone tendencies in key moments? Documented long ago. Cutler’s ability to bounce back? Documented long ago. So give him credit for Sunday’s effort. It’s deserved. Let’s just slow down the parade proclaiming that the entire organization has now fully rallied behind him and will never look back.”

jay-cutler-3Amen.

Few people are more critical of Cutler than I am. So let me first say that I actually mean what I’m about to say – all credit to him for the game winning drive. I thought it was great and I’ll say that not every QB could have done it. Jimmy Clausen probably doesn’t move in the pocket like Cutler and probably doesn’t win Sunday. Some of those throws threaded the needle. Honestly, I was thrilled.

But I think its necessary to point out that it was at home against a below average team that has been a tire fire in the defensive backfield for four games now. It appalls me to see people like Hub Arkush at chicagofootball.com give Cutler an “A-“ for an effort that yielded a QB rating of 60 just as it disturbed me to see people heaping praise on him for an effort in week one against the Packers where that same rating was less than 30.

In any case, we’ve known for some time that Cutler can look good against teams like the Raiders under those conditions. The problem is that he saves his worst performances for when the team needs him most at his best – on the road against an very good teams in prime time.

Thanksgiving at Lambeau still looks like a very ugly match up to me. That’s not entirely because of Jay Cutler but its going to remain an ugly match up as long as he is the Bears quarterback.

The Truth Behind the Lies

Benjamin Disraeli once said, “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.”

Bearing that in mind, Ian Rapoport at nfl.com tweets this little “statistical” tidbit:

A later tweet from Rapoport corrected the mistake. Rogers had actually graded at -0.8.  OK, noted.

Many people wonder why, given ridiculous statistics like this, fans and media continue to quote Pro Football Focus. The reason is pretty obvious – they’re the only game in town.

Anyone who writes an opinon about anything knows that opinion will be stronger if they can back it up with something that is, theoretically, objective. Quoting statistics from PFF seems to be one way to do that. The reality is, of course, that PFF’s grades are just as subjective as anything you or I might say based upon our own observations. PFF’s observations are, of course, one more factor to consider. But they shouldn’t carry too much weight. Certainly not as much as fans and media tend to give them.

Nevertheless, don’t expect a decrease in the number of people quoting ridiculous player ratings from them any time soon. Until someone comes along who can offer and alternative, PFF is what you get.

Should the Bears Have Signed James Jones? Only if Aaron Rogers Came with Him.

Brad Biggs at the Chicago Tribune answers another question:

“Why didn’t the Bears claim James Jones off waivers before the Packers grabbed him?… Seem[s] Jones was much better than what the Bears had on their roster. — Greg M., Hayward, Wis.

“Jones was a vested veteran when the New York Giants terminated his contract and that made him a free agent, eligible to sign with any team he wanted. I am guessing GM Jerry Reese and coach Tom Coughlin regret that decision right now. New York released wide receiver Preston Parker earlier this week after five drops in two games. But this was not a situation where the Bears could have placed a claim for Jones. Even if the Bears were interested in Jones, why would he sign with them when he could return to a team and offense he knows to play with arguably the best quarterback in the NFL in Aaron Rodgers?”

(Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
(Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

Exactly. And it worth asking one further question – “How good would Jones (left) be without Rogers?”

Two teams couldn’t find room for Rogers on their roster – the Oakland Raiders and the New York Giants. Two quarterbacks, one an up and comer in Derek Carr and the other a veteran Super Bowl quarterback in Eli Manning, couldn’t find a way to get Jones the ball. What hope would he have had with Bears quarterback Jay Cutler?

The guess here is that only Rogers could have possibly made Jones as good as he’s been early in the season and its a graphic demonstration of how important he is to that team. How many of their receivers could succeed elsewhere? My guess is that the answer might be “not many”. I haven’t seen one yet who left in the Rogers era and made it anywhere else.

Everyone’s a Critic

Chicago Bears head coach John Fox watches from the sideline during the second half of an NFL preseason football game against the Cleveland Browns, Thursday, Sept. 3, 2015, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)
                                                                                                                                                 AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh

Adam Kilgore at The Washington Post writes a thought provoking article on head coaches make such apparently “stupefying” game-management decisions.

The bottom line is that Kilgore claims that the job is too big for one person. The typical NFL sideline is a mass of confusion where head coaches are forced to make time-sensitive decisions in a pressure-packed environment.

I’m on board with that. What I’m not on board with is one of his examples of poor game-management last weekend:

“Late in the fourth quarter, trailing by 15 against the Packers, the Bears scored a touchdown. [Head coach John] Fox made the same inane choice almost every coach makes. In a nine-point game, Fox elected to kick the extra point instead of going for two, making it an eight-point game.

“The decision stemmed from the backward process of favoring hope over practicality. The Bears choose to keep it a one-possession game, but at no benefit. It still needed a two-point conversion to tie. But now it had sacrificed the chance to know whether it would require only a touchdown or a touchdown and a field goal. The Bears surrendered the opportunity to know how aggressive it should play strictly for the sake of appearance.”

That touchdown “late in the fourth quarter” was scored with 34 seconds left in the game. To suggest that this is enough time to score a touchdown and a field goal to me is, itself, “stupefying”. The truth is that if Fox had chosen to go for a two point conversion and failed, the game would have been over. He chose to take the one point instead, thus keeping it a one score game and giving his team hope that they could still pull it out.

I neither heard nor read any criticism up until I read this article over Fox’s decision. The best you could do is argue that this decision was a coin flip. But I’m inclined to support Fox on this one.

Photos of Jason Pierre-Paul’s Hand Hit the Web. And Other Points of View.

Bears

  • Mark Potash at the Chicago Sun-Times points out that Adrian Amos had a generally solid NFL debut against the NFL’s best quarterback. I was surprised that the Packers didn’t challenge him more. But maybe they had so many other spots to exploit that they couldn’t get to them all.
  • Kevin Fishbain and Arthur Arkush do an exceptionally nice job of breaking down the Bears in this video (which, unfortunately, they won’t let me embed). They quickly hit all of the major problems to be corrected in the coming weeks – red zone offense, downfield passing, getting off the field on third down and getting pressure on the quarterback. Plenty of things to watch for and plenty of room for improvement to look forward to with this team.
  • Sunday’s most significant accomplishment? Probably the play of tight end Zack Miller, who went 1,429 days between appearing in regular-season games.
  • Dan Wiederer at the Chicago Tribune does a nice job of breaking down the Bears problems in the red zone. Look at it here, it appears that the problems were varied and its hard to put it down to one particular thing. Tough there’s no doubt in my mind that they needed to be able to run the ball more down there. Perhaps trying to get the ball to tight end Martellus Bennett, a large red zone target, would have helped as well.
  • Quarterback David Fales was added back on to the practice squad as predicted here.

Elsewhere

  • Those who find their way into MetLife Stadium during a New York Jets game this season can now enjoy a breakfast bagel for the low, low price of $50.img253004201
  • Giants players are sticking up for quarterback Eli Manning after running back Rashad Jennings let it out that Manning had told him not to score in the final drive of their game against the Dallas Cowboys. Manning did not know that the clock wouldn’t start again after a declined penalty within 5 minutes of the end of the game. He therefore assumed that the Giants would be able to run down the clock as long as they kept possession.What really made this maneuver dumb was that had the Giants scored a touchdown, they would have made it a two score game with about a minute left. They should have taken the touchdown under any circumstances where that is the case.
  • If you’ve got a strong stomach you can see photos of Jason Pierre-Paul‘s hand here.

One Final Thought

Peyton Manning‘s teammates are calling the media reports questioning his arm strength “blasphemy”. What can I say?

Bears Wide Receivers Need to Step Up for Offensive Season to Be a Success

Brad Biggs at the Chicago Tribune is spot on with this comment:

“If the Bears want to continue to have success running the ball, they’re going to have to find a way to open up the passing game downfield. Yes, Alshon Jeffery was limited in returning from the left calf muscle injury, but there will need to be a vertical element to the offense in order to keep defenses honest, or they are going to start cheating up and really choking down some of the things the Bears had success with. “

Don’t hold your breath. This was a problem all preseason with all of the quarterbacks. The Green Bay Packers are a good team but they aren’t exactly going to be known for their defensive backfield play. And yet the Bears still couldn’t solve this problem.

Deep routes aren’t Eddie Royal‘s forte so one of the younger receivers is simply going to have to step up in order to give Jeffery some help and quarterback Jay Cutler a legitimate second option. Marquess Wilson had a fifty yard reception on what looked to me like a broken coverage but other than that, he was largely silent Sunday. Cameron Meredith could step up. If something doesn’t develop along these lines, things could get pretty ugly.

Imagine That. Some Encouraging Words From a Packer.

Those looking for encouragement – and I think we all are – will find some in the weekly “10 Thoughts” column by Brad Biggs at the Chicago Tribune. He quotes Packers guard T.J. Lang:TJ_Lang_(cropped)

“‘They were playing us nickel to our sub package and rolling a safety down late to try to help against the run, which is a lot of the same stuff we saw against San Francisco. I think it is a good defense. I think they are only going to get better the more they play. By Thanksgiving next time we see them, I think that is going to be a new team. Obviously, you can tell there are some learning curves there with it being a first-year system, but they’ve got some good players.'”

“‘Last year, they were pretty vanilla,’ Lang said. ‘We didn’t see a lot of different stuff out of them. I think they had one or two blitzes. At this level, you’re going to sniff that out every time. They were way different this year. I think they did a good job of changing some stuff up against us, especially the third-down package. Three-guy rushes, a couple empty blitzes there trying to get pressure, they are definitely more complex.'”

All good points.

I’m not the type to wait until guys leave town to start bashing them but its hard to understate how much better I like the current staff relative to the recent past. Playing vanilla works if you’ve got a lot of talent. The Bears didn’t then and they don’t now. So you have to do some things to make things happen.

All of the games won’t all be like last Sunday. The Bears are going to be a different team once they start getting to the point where the instincts start taking over. And the Packers are a very well coached team. There are going to be some teams – some of them in the NFC North, who aren’t going to handle things as well as the Pack did. I’m looking at you, Minnesota.

The Bears aren’t going to win any championships. But they’re going to be a factor before it’s all said and done.