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.

Quick Comments: Green Bay at Chicago 9/13/15

Offense

  1. The Bears made no secret of their desire to run, starting the game with double tight ends for the first two plays. The Packers, of course, put eight (and sometimes nine) in the box. It was fairly obvious early on that the Packers were going try to force Jay Cutler to beat them. To the Bears credit, they kept running the ball and, for the most part, did it effectively. The game became a contest of wills at that point.
  2. Jacquizz Rogers got a carry in the first series, indicating that the Bears are going to be determined to get another running back into the game to relieve Matt Forte. Jeremy Langford got a carry in the second series. Forte was still in the vast majority of the time, though. As the last coaching staff found out, its hard to take him off the field.
  3. It fairly obvious that the Bears were determined to utilize Forte to the fullest. The Bears lined up him as a receiver as well as in the backfield. I guess that’s not a shock as when you have a defense that is playing the run, you can get him on a linebacker fairly easily. He made his share of mistakes, dropping one touchdown and stepping out of bounds on the other. But I think few people are complaining. He had a nice game.
  4. The Bears offensive line was fascinating to watch this game. They mixed blocking schemes, sometimes going with a zone scheme, sometimes firing off. Generally speaking they did a wonderful job of blocking this Packers defense – much better than any of us thought they would.
  5. Kyle Long started at tackle, with Vlad Ducasse at guard. Long had some growing pains as expected with a holding call in the first quarter. But generally he played well
  6. The Packer defense often did a poor job of tackling this game and it really hurt them trying to stop the Bears on the run.
  7. It was hilarious to watch Jay Cutler at the line of scrimmage. Offensive coordinator Adam Gase must have Cutler convinced that he’s Peyton Manning.
  8. Nevertheless, I can’t say that Cutler had a good day. He was inaccurate too often and he held the ball, too long. To his credit, he often chose to pull it down and run it rather than forcing an interception.
  9. Marquess Wilson showed up with a big 50 yard completion in the fourth quarter. As color man Troy Aikman pointed out early in the broadcast in relation to the Packers, your wide receiving corp is only as good as your third receiver. Its time for Wilson to defecate or get off the pot.
  10. I kept wondering why the Bears ran the ball so well, then went to the pass so often in the red zone. Why not try to keep it going?

Defense

  1. The Packers came out with the no huddle offense and forced a three and out. It was a good start.
  2. Randall Cobb didn’t look affected by a bad shoulder. He had a reasonably good game. Of course, James Jones was the star, making some wonderful catches against some good coverage.
  3. The Packers went with two fullbacks and two tight ends active. It was a sign of things to come as the Packers game plan was clearly to take control of the line of scrimmage and run right at the Bears, complemented by a nice ball control passing game with a liberal amount of play action sprinkled in. Generally speaking they ran the ball well. But the lack of discipline on offense killed them. You can’t commit that many penalties and depend upon the running game.
  4. It was interesting to watch Eddie Lacy run the ball. The Bears did a good job of clogging up the middle and Lacy frequently just ran into the pile. But then, after pausing, he just bounced outside. It was surprisingly effective given how slow the play was to develop.
  5. Will Sutton occasionally got penetration, just like he did in the preseason. He might be a factor this year.
  6. The Bears played mostly man coverage and to my great surprise they sometimes didn’t do too badly. They lack recovery speed and they still looked rough in their technique. But generally speaking, they made the Packers work for their completions until well into the second half. Unfortunately for the Bears, the Packers generally did a good job against some good coverage.
  7. Nice job by Packers offensive coordinator Tom Clements calling this game. There was a lot of emotional upheaval in Green Bay when Mike McCarthy gave up play calling duties. Looks like much ado about nothing to me.
  8. Aaron Rogers escaped the pocket to do damage too often. As I said above, the Bears were in man coverage instead of the zones that they’ve specialize in the past. That means the defensive backs have their backs to the quarterback. This may be something we see a lot this year.

Miscellaneous

  1. Apparently play-by-play man Joe Buck was so excited about this game that he forgot to shave. (Yes. I’m old.)
  2. Unshaven look aside, Buck did a marvelous job of calling this game and was clearly ready for the season to start. Troy Aikman reminded us of why he’s FOX’s number one color man with some astute observations. He pointed out early that the Bears were getting to the line of scrimmage early to allow Cutler more time to audible into the right play and, of course, he saw as well as I did that this was going to be a contest between the Packers run defense and the Bears run offense. This was a well-called game.
  3. There were too many penalties in this game on both sides, but especially by the Packers, who continually shot themselves in the foot and wasted opportunities. The Bears did the same thing but waited until the second half to really get going with it. We now know why the Bears have been hesitant to move Vlad Ducasse into the starting lineup. He had at least two false starts, one on the first series in the red zone. The Packers committing three penalties alone on the Bears second scoring drive. You can add holding on David Bakhtiari on apparent TD in second quarter and holding on another play on the same drive on Brian Bulaga.
  4. Bears special teams were a disappointment today. Robbie Gould made all of his field goals and Pat O’Donnell had a wonderful 55 yard punt just out of bounds in the first half. But after a pretty good preseason, the kickoff coverage was putrid. The Bears have some work to do.
  5. The good news: the Bears didn’t turn the ball over until the fourth quarter (a badly interception from Cutler – what else is new). The really bad news: the Bears didn’t get any turnovers. It’s great to limit mistakes but they’re going to have to make som plays if things are going to happen for them.
  6. I kind of felt sorry for the referee in the first half. He gives the Bears a timeout when they didn’t have time to get set and he has Rogers yelling at him in one ear for not letting them snap it and John Fox yelling in the other for letting them snap it too soon. What’s a guy to do?
  7. Poor challenge by John Fox on the third quarter pass to Devante Adams on Kyle Fuller. All of the replays showed that he was in bounds.
  8. Well, it was nice while it lasted but you kind of knew the way that the first half went and the way the Packers kept shooting themselves in the foot that the better team was eventually going to win this game.To the Bears credit, they did exactly what they had to do today. They hung in despite a lack of talent by playing a good, generally disciplined football game. There were some breakdowns and some penalties in the second half but generally they looked well-coached, something that we haven’t been able to say around here for quite some time. The future looks like it might be bright. The distant future, to be sure. But there’s a future, nevertheless.

 

Forte Jerseys Burning Hot in Wisconsin. And Other Points of View.

Bears

  • Rich Campbell at the Chicago Tribune states categorically that the Bears defensive linemen will play one-gap. But I’m reasonably certain that it will depend upon who the player is (e.g. Eddie Goldman Vs. Will Sutton) and what defensive alignment they are in. It will be interesting to see how they handle it.
  • Campbell quotes defensive coordinator Vic Fangio on the defense’s lack of talent.

    “We’re going to have to make our own building blocks. We need to make the guys that we have here better.”

    I think that’s the way its done no matter how much talent you have. But it’s going to take some time.

  • Patrick Finley at the Chicago Sun-Times unleashes this zinger:

    “The early leader for Bears Quote of the Year came when outside linebacker Pernell McPhee was asked this week to describe Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers.

    “‘Hall of Fame,’ he said. ‘Two words.'”

  • I suggested on Friday that head coach John Fox was laying in the weeds by characterizing his top three wide receivers as “questionable” despite the fact that they practiced all week. But consider this via Finley. Broncos with a questionable tag appeared in games only 35 percent of the time last year under Fox. It does make you think.
  • Bears running back Matt Forte on the fact that his jersey, not Rogers’ is the best selling jersy in Wisconsin since the end of last season:

    “There must be a lot of Bears fans in Wisconsin. Either that, or they’re buying it to burn it or something. I don’t know.”

Elsewhere

One Final Thought

I don’t usually shill for anything but I’m going to make an exception and recommend that readers support Hub Arkush at chicagofootball.com by becoming a Pro Member at the site. Hub is the former publisher of Pro Football Weekly, a magazine that went down with the dawn of the Internet age. He’s not always right and I often don’t agree with him but he’s usually willing to say things that other people aren’t willing to. We need more like him.

This is an informative site largely focused on the Bears. It also doesn’t hurt that its easy to navigate (though I could wish that as a paying customer I wouldn’t have to sell myself to Google to read some of the articles). It’s a good, reliable source for fans who want to go above and beyond in their understanding of what’s going on with the team.