Path to Bears Improvement Lies in Playing Faster on Defense

As disastrous as the third preseason game against the Kansas City Chiefs was for the Bears, it is important to note that it wasn’t all bad.  In particular, I have done my best to point out that the defense wasn’t nearly as bad as it appears.

A good part of the reason why Kansas City moved the ball so well was that they flat out executed almost as efficiently as it could be done.  They simply played a great game offensively.  Short, quick passes are hard to stop when that’s the case and all you can do is be patient and wait for a mistake.  Former Bears head coach Lovie Smith made a living doing that in Chicago with a passive cover-2 defense that worked reasonably well for as long as he was here.  But if teams like the Chiefs refuse to make mistakes, look out.  You are going to have a problem as a defense almost no matter who you are.

The second factor that needs to be accounted for is that the offense completely hung the defense out to dry.  They held the ball for only 8 minutes in the first half, leaving the starting defense in a state of exhaustion by half time.

A look at the game showed me one Bears defensive iimprovement that is a very, very positive development.  They are playing much faster than they did last year and, as a result, they appeared to be much more aggressive.  Defensive tackle Will Sutton agrees.

“We’ve got a couple more guys who are more familiar with the scheme this year, including myself and [linebacker Lamarr] Houston, who obviously got off to a slow start last year.

“But we do have a lot more guys in position who are more familiar with the defensive scheme. So it allows you to fill a bit faster, a little more confidence.”

Everyone in the Bears front seven was faster to the ball than we saw last year, especially in defense of the run.  And where that  happens, good things will follow.

The “Jay Face” Makes a Frequent Early Appearance. And Other Points of View.

  • Let’s start off with something that I can be positive about.  If you call this positive:  I don’t think the defense was as bad as everyone thinks.

Kansas City’s offense is of the death by 1000 cuts type where they dink and dunk you to distraction.  The only thing that you can do is be patient and wait for them to make a mistake.  If they don’t make a mistake…  well, then you hope you can stop them when it becomes a short field.  For the most part, that’s what the defense did until they got worn down to a nub.  A difference in time of possession in the first half of 22:00 to 8:00 will do that.

The run defense was “OK” as the Bears allowed 4.4 yards per carry in the first half but, again, they were worn to a nub by the end.  Linebackers were playing down hill and looked fine in coverage.

I thought the pass rush was fine and despite the fact that Kansas City quarterback Alex Smith was getting rid of the ball quickly, they managed to hit him hard on occasion.

Cornerback is a problem but we knew that.  The injury to Tracy Porter won’t helpKyle Fuller was already out after undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery. None of the other cornerbacks the Bears used against the Chiefs has ever played in an NFL game: Jacoby Glenn, Deiondre’ Hall, Kevin Peterson and Taveze Calhoun, De’Vante Bausby and Joel Ross.

Bottom line, I agree with the coaching staff that the Bears defense needed to play a little tighter.  But I thought they were playing fast to the ball and being patient and I didn’t have much problem with them.

  • Unfortunately, no surprise, the “OK” label cannot be given to the offense.  There were no first half turnovers and the Bears only had 3 first half penalties so I can’t say that they were shooting themselves in the foot.  The best explanation I have of what happened is simply failure to execute.

The offensive line wasn’t bad and, in fact, Charles Leno and Cody Whitehair were quite solid.  Young Cornelius Edison, thrown into the breach at center, held his own.  His head was on a swivel and he looked like he was more than aware of what was going on.  Ted Larsen had more than his share of struggles with his second position change in as many games but I expect the veteran will settle down once he settles into one position.

The running backs played to their talent level.  The tight ends were a non-factor but we’re all used to that by now.

Perhaps most disappointing were the two drops by Alshon Jeffery, the drop by Kevin White to go with a couple of poor pass routes and some poor throws and inconsistency from Jay Cutler.  These things didn’t seem to happen much last year.  Is it a coincidence that the Bears have a new wide receivers coach, a new quarterback coach and a new offensive coordinator?  On a related note, it’s a bit worrisome that the offense hasn’t been consistently ready to play that may also be a sign of some bad offensive coaching (see below).

But the good news is that this is all correctable.  For instance, there won’t be many games once the season starts where Jeffery drops two passes no matter who the coach is.  The players simply need to concentrate more on what they’re doing.  Its the preseason and you can hope that they’ll do that once the meaningful games start.

  • Fifth round running back Jordan Howard has been getting a fair bit of attention from certain segments of the media lately.  Howard was drafted as a power running back and its seems that, though he’s being envisioned as a being a force near the goal line, some segments think he’s exhibiting the ability to do more than that.

“I didn’t realize he was that quick,” running backs coach Stan Drayton said earlier this month. “I’m excited about that.”

We still have a long way to go before we know whether Howard exceeds his draft status but, based upon what I’ve seen, I’m less enthusiastic about him than most seem to be.  He’s exhibited none of the vaunted power that we’ve been told he has in any of the preseason games and at 6-0, 222-pounds he’s not as big as I’d like for such a role.  For instance, Jerome Bettis was 255 pounds.  Admittedly, Bettis is a pretty high standard to hold anyone to but you get the point.

Howard could be showing a lot more in practice and if so, we can hope that it will be showing up in games soon.  But until then, he looks like just another guy to me and this all feels an awful lot like preseason fluff.

  • Mark Potash at the Chicago Sun-Times gave us some focal points for the game Saturday against the Chiefs and this one caught my eye.

“Negative plays

“Unless Jay Cutler, Alshon Jeffery and Kevin White turn the offense into an NFL revelation, the Bears figure to have little margin-for-error on offense. Penalties and sacks have stunted the Bears’ offense throughout the Cutler era. In a current state of flux, the Bears need to stay clean to give themselves the best chance for growth.”

This is all true.  However, last year one thing the Bears offense did an uncommonly good job of, for them, is digging themselves out of such holes on third down.  It’s early but Adam Gase, now the head coach of the Dolphins, seems to be continuing to get themes out of his team on third down.  The Dolphins converted 5 of 9 in the first half on Thursday.

In addition to avoiding negative plays, the ability to continue to overcome them when they happen might be at least as important under new offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains.

  • Speaking of Loggains, John Mullin at CSN Chicago did a marvelous job of describing the potential for rocky relations between him and Jay Cutler in this article.

Cutler has a history of losing faith in his coordinators and when that happens, his performance usually starts to collapse the minute anything goes wrong in a game.

As Mullin points out, Loggains is far less accomplished than some of the other coordinators that have gone down in flames with the Bears with Cutler at quarterback.  Meanwhile Brad Biggs at the Chicago Tribune wasn’t out right critical after Saturday’s poor offensive showing.  But it’s telling that he did pull out a quote from running back Chris Johnson in 2009 as he discussed the Bears offensive struggles:

“A lot of the plays when the offensive coordinator [Loggains] was calling them, they were predictable,” Johnson told ESPN. “Everybody could tell what was coming.”

If it was just predictable play calling, I’d have to give Loggains a break in the preseason as everything stays vanilla.  But the bigger fear that he’s simply a poor coordinator is much more deep and disturbing.

For instance, it was only one play but it is very bothersome that the delayed blitz continues to work against the Bears quarterbacks, who seem to be helpless when its thrown their way.  Having it happen repeatedly the first preseason game, that’s annoying.  Having it still happen in the third game?  Is it because they don’t know what to do or there’s nothing built into the play to allow the quarterbacks to handle it?  Either way there’s no excuse for it.

The deep fear is that the Loggains offense will remain “uncoordinated” where players continue to make mistake after mistake and never seem to quite be on the same page ala former coordinator John Shoop.

Regardless, Adam Gase is the only offensive coordinator that Cutler ever seemed to click with and he only did that for one season.   Gase didn’t have to deal with that second season when things often got rougher between Cutler and his coaches.

The adjustments made between preseason game 1 and game 2 were a good start.  The offense looked better in the Patriots game than it did against Denver in the first game in a disastrous 22-0 loss.  There was a lot involved in that (the Patriots chose to play the game extremely vanilla) but some adjustment by the coaching staff was certainly a part of it.  Unfortunately the game against the Chiefs was a huge step back.

But this is just the preseason.  Will Loggains be able to make the proper adjustments during the season?  Gase had a reputation amongst the players for calling the right plays at the right time that was laudable.

“When I’m in the huddle…and we get a play call,” offensive lineman Kyle Long said of Gase, “there’s never a time where we look at each other and think, ‘Oh [darn].’”

Will Loggains be able to keep his head in the eye of the storm and continue that?

This is a relationship that we can keep an eye on throughout the entire season but its unlikely that the relationship between Cutler and Loggains would really deteriorate until late in the year.  Cutler probably wouldn’t lose respect for Loggains immediately.  It will take time and a series of trials in meaningful games where the help that he thinks is needed doesn’t come.  And with a young team that promises to lose as much as it wins, those trials should be plentiful.  If that loss of faith happens, Loggains’ vocal personality and bluster would only make the poor relationship  worse.

Bottom line, we’d better all hope that Loggains is more Adam Gase than Mike Tice.  Long time Cutler observers could not have failed to notice that there was a lot of “Jay face” out there on Saturday.  If that continues and he loses confidence in Loggains, we could be looking at another tire fire as the season winds down.

  • Next up is the Cleveland Browns who got spanked by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 30-13 Friday night.

The Browns defense has been awful this preseason and this third game was no better as they gave up 20 points in Tampa Bay’s first four possessions.  Bear in mind that Tamp Bay isn’t bad but they aren’t exactly an offensive juggernaut, either.  The Browns ranked No. 27 in yards allowed, No. 29 in points permitted a year ago.

Defensive coordinator Ray Horton likes to blitz and use tricky formations.  He may well continue to do that even with the back ups playing on Thursday.  The Bears offense has not handled such things well and it will be interesting to see if the players are prepared for it.

Talking the Doubters Off the Ledge. And Other Points of View.

The Bears have completed their second preseason game and are moving o to their third, and most important (if any of them are important_ contest.  Here are ten thoughts on the team as they enter the most crucial stage of their offseason.

Hroniss Grasu’s season-ending injury — and the subpar play of the offensive line in the preseason opener — put the light back on Pace’s decision to release Slauson, who replaced Grasu and Will Montgomery at center on two occasions last season. They would have had the replacement for Grasu right there.

“Maybe they would and maybe they wouldn’t. Slauson was everything you’d want in a teammate with the Bears, a respected leader on and off the field. But Slauson didn’t grade out as well with the new regime as he did with the old. Even without Grasu, they Bears are confident they can grow better with [Cody] Whitehair at guard and Ted Larsen at center.”

It’s worth emphasizing that it wasn’t the the Bears didn’t think Slauson was good.  Anyone could see that he was.   It was that they were looking for more athleticism at the position because it better fit the blocking scheme that they want to run.  Last year the Bears mixed schemes in an effort to adjust to the players that they have.  You can’t, after all, do everything in one year.  This year, they wanted to get the players they needed to do what they want to ideally do.

It’s all part of the rebuilding process and though this may turn out to be a particularly trying step down that road, in the end the Bears believe that it will be worth it.

“I’ve already written off the season. Will they draft in the top 5 in 2017? — @jgboom23

“Don’t know that I am going to be able to talk you off the ledge here, but that’s putting a lot of stock in the preseason opener. I don’t think the Bears are ready to be playoff challengers this season, but stranger things have happened. You’ve got to keep in mind that teams that own the No. 5 pick in the draft are generally coming off really bad seasons. Since 2010, the team with the fifth pick has had either four or five wins and that’s a bad, bad season.”

Good grief, its a little early to be giving up completely.  I totally agree with Biggs that the defense should be improved, though there are significant concerns about the defensive backfield.  At minimum they could be fun to watch with a much improved front seven.

Let’s not forget that. Along with the rest of the NFC North, the Bears have one of the easiest schedules in the league based upon last year’s performances.  If they come out of this year with less than the 6 wins they had last year, I’ll be pretty surprised.

“Why did the offensive line look so terrible on Thursday? Is it the weakest position group on the team? — @KleinTime69

“I don’t think the offensive line is going to be the weakest position on the Bears. In fact, with some good health, I think the O-line could turn into one of the better units on the team by the end of the season.”

Could not agree more with this.  Assuming Ted Larsen gets his feet under him this could be a better than average offensive line, particularly compared to those around the rest of the NFC North.

However, I think the words “with some good health” need to be emphasized.  We haven’t seen Mike Adams or Amini Silatolu yet but what I’ve seen of the rest of the back up offensive linemen has not impressed me.  A rash of injuries at any position along the line could mean bad things for the offense this year.

  • Speaking of the offensive line, I was struck by a comment that  Kyle Long made about J’Marcus Webb when they were in training camp in Long’s rookie year, 2013.  Long was making mistakes and wasn’t correcting them and he hadn’t learned the playbook as well as he needed to.

“J’Marcus was just like, ‘You’re never going to be able to play if you don’t learn this,'” Kyle said. “He was laughing. J’Marcus and I are buddies. But he was telling a rookie, ‘Hey, you’re the first-round pick. If you don’t learn this, heads are going to roll.’ Whether that’s your quarterback or the head coach or the GM or the running back.”

Webb didn’t do much while he was here.  But this was probably the biggest contribution he could have possibly made to the team.

  • We heard plenty of questions from fans about the possibility that Daniel Braverman would replace Eddie Royal as the slot receiver this year as the hype around Braverman was built.  Braverman is an under-sized seventh round pick with speed that tends to light it up in non-contact practices and develop into “little engine who could”-type fan favorites.

But like so many of these types of players before him, Braverman disappeared once the lights came on and the contact began.  Despite Royal’s absence in the concussion protocol and having many chances to show what he could do in the first two pre-season games, Braverman has practically disappeared.

Eleven Bears have more receiving yards and the team has a glut at the slot receiver position.  Far from competing to start, it looks to me like Braverman may be in danger of not making the roster at all.  He will have one more pre-season game, the fourth, to show what he can do.  He’ll be worth watching closely.

  • Biggs had an interesting note about the Bears personnel groupings Thursday night.  The Bears ran nearly half of their plays out of a double tight end personnel grouping.  Biggs notes that the Bears ran only 198 plays total out of that grouping last year.

This grouping will undoubtedly help the running game and I’m sure that’s its primary purpose.  Biggs also notes that they had 4 snaps (15% of the total) with a fullback on the field.  But there’s a reason why Adam Gase rarely used it last year.  The Bears didn’t, and don’t now, have two good tight ends on the entire roster.  Zach Miller can catch a pass when healthy but he’s it.

There’s a new sheriff in town in Dowell Loggains.  But you have to wonder if this isn’t a sign that he’s going to do what he prefers over what the roster tells him to do.  The days of playing to the team’s strengths may be over.

It was unlike Bennett, who  always likes to entertain, and it was notable that former Bears linebacker Shea McClellin wasn’t available to the media all week either.  So, perhaps, it not too surprising that after Rich Campbell from the Chicago Tribune called Bennett’s refusal to meet with the media a “weak move” in this video, that Doug Kyed from NESN.com, who better knows how the Patriots do business, suggested that it might be a “team issue”.

Patriots head coach Bill Belichick hates distractions and one way to be absolutely sure nothing distracted the team and the players from football last week would be to refuse to allow the former Bears players to comment.  Chicago fans wouldn’t have been surprised if Bennett, in particular, would have created some complications had he been allowed.

“It wasn’t the offensive line. While Kyle Long played well and is clearly more comfortable back at right guard than he ever was at tackle, Charles Leno, Cody Whitehair, Ted Larsen and Bobby Massie all struggled at times, and Larsen in particular looks like he may be a bit over-matched at center.”

I always try to read Hub’s comments because I think he’s willing to say thing that other people won’t.  But having said that, sometimes I wonder if he’s watching the same game I am.

The offensive line was much better against the Patriots across the board, particularly at center where Larsen appears to be settling in.  I think sometimes people get the impression that an offensive line is struggling when they’re zone blocking because its not generally the kind of mauling style where you get lots of push off of the line of scrimmage.  But generally speaking, I thought the Bears got push when they needed it, especially in the first quarter.

I’m not saying there weren’t hiccups.  There were and I’m particularly keeping an eye on Massie in pass protection. I also don’t think that the line hasn’t gelled into a coherent unit that is working together effectively, yet.  But their performance in the first half, like that of the offense in general, was at least average overall.

To my eye, center Ted Larsen played much better in the game Thursday night against the Patriots.  Its evident to me that Larsen really does have a feel for zone blocking and he does seem to be able to use an opponent’s momentum against him to open up holes.

Similarly, I thought back up Cornelius Edison also played better.  He needs to.  The competition behind him is likely to be fierce with the addition of former Colts Khaled Holmes.  Holmes is a former fourth round pick and the Colts had high hopes for him as a starter before finally giving up and letting him go.

This is not a trivial dilemma for the Bears.  Whoever wins the job is going to be one injury away from starting.  And injuries always happen in the NFL.  With the edge in experience, the tie should go to Holmes.  So Edison needs to take advantage of every snap he can get to show his potential.

  • Next week’s opponent, the Kansas City Chiefs, is an interesting group.  The starters  took It to the Rams and their vaunted front seven on Saturday night on the first drive and though they struggled a bit more after that, they still managed to produce 17 point under quarterback Alex Smith before he ceded the ball to Nick Foles.   The Kansas City offensive line could provide an interesting test for the Bears front seven which the team believes has improved greatly.

Speaking of Foles, although his two possessions produced only 3 points, the team moved the ball while he was in the game.  Foles is in need of rehabilitation after a disastrous stint with the Rams and it should be interesting to find out if his old mentor with the Eagles, Andy Reid, can pull it off as the head coach of the Chiefs.

The Chiefs receivers, Jeremy Maclin and Chris Conley, should also present an interesting challenge for the young Bears defensive backs.  Maclin is no surprise but the 6’3” 205 lb Conley, drafted in the 3rd round in 2015, also flashed with 3 receptions for 66 yards.  Travis Kelce is also showing himself to be one of the best in the game and the Bears should find out fairly quickly if they’ve solved the issues they’ve had their first two preseason games covering the tight end.

Bears Concerns About Hard Knocks Genuine, Make Sense

Mike Florio at profootballtalk.com passes on the news (as reported locally) that the Bears have no interest in being on HBO‘s Hard Knocks. Which really isn’t news since it’s no different from the stand that they’ve consistently taken over the years:

“[Bears chairman George] McCaskey’s position generally about the show isn’t new or surprising. The Bears have become one of the most secretive organizations in football, routinely declining interview requests and at times alienating local reporters with a seemingly gratuitous lack of honesty and candor (e.g., the Kevin White injury). Part of the attitude comes for the ill-advised, Belichickian ‘anything we say can and will be used against us’ mindset. But the Bears also have developed a strong desire to funnel news and access through their own website, via EXCLUSIVE! sit-downs between, as a practical matter, coworkers.

“So maybe the real message is that the Bears would do Hard Knocks, but only if they had full control over the content — and if the episodes would appear solely the team’s official, in-house website.”

Florio is, of course, quite correct in that the Bears have become more secretive under the influence of head coach John Fox. But he’s wrong in his conclusion.

The Bears aren’t refusing to be on the show because they want control over the content. Every team wants that and, to an extent, has been given it.

The Bears concerns are more genuine and require nothing more than common sense to see. They’re afraid the show will be a distraction which, despite politically correct protestations to the contrary, it certainly has to be.

In any case, the Bears will never volunteer to be on the show as long as the McCaskey’s own the team and as long as they are hiring like-minded executives to run it. Despite that, it is possible that they will be on. But the guess here is that it will happen only if the league can’t find a volunteer and asks them to do it for the good of the collective business and not with any extra-ordinary strings attached.

Looking at Some Interesting Pending Free Agents with the Chiefs

Dave Skretta at the Topeka Capital-Journal reviews the Kansas City Chiefs players that are set to see free agency.

There are some interesting names here. Sean Smith is a 28 year old physical cornerback that would look good in a Bears uniform, Jeff Allen might look good at right guard and, frankly, even Chase Daniel, who learned to be an NFL quarterback from Sean Payton with Ryan Pace‘s Saints might be a possibility.

The Chiefs probably aren’t going to be able to re-sign all of these guys. It will be interesting to see who shakes loose and whether the Bears will have any interest.

Quick Comments: Bears at Chiefs 10/11/15

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Offense

  1. As had been their habit, the Bears came out in a double tight end set. They continued to run the ball on first down but limited success forced the to pass predominantly on the other downs.
  2. The Bears relied heavily on wide receiver screens and quick throws to the outside. Otherwise they stuck to short throws and the running game. It’s possible that they didn’t trust the offensive line to protect Jay Cutler.
  3. The offensive line was under siege in pass protection. They did a little better in blocking the run but overall it wasn’t a good day for the unit.
  4. Having said that, I thought Kyle Long generally held his own. Long’s getting better every game. Neither Long nor Charles Leno got much chip help from the tight ends.
  5. Rookie center Hroniss Grasu got blown up on a sack that turned into a touchdown as Jay Cutler fumbled in the end zone. The knock on Grasu is that he’s undersized and needs a year in the weight room. He was just plain overpowered on the play. He also was frequently pushed into the backfield when run blocking, as well. The Chiefs tried to confuse the Grasu and offense by crowding the line with a fair bit of blitzing. I’d say it was success. Grasu had a rough day.
  6. Speaking of the blitz, the Chiefs were apparently doing a good job of taking away Cutler’s hot receiver when the they brought the house. Cutler apparently had nowhere to go with the ball.
  7. To Adam Gase’s credit, it didn’t take long for him to counter the Chief’s blitzes, especially on third down. He went to the screen pass as soon as it became apparent that was the plan.
  8. The Bears did a good job juggling snaps between the three running backs. It seemed like everyone got their carries.
  9. Cutler was up and down. Sometimes he makes some wonderful throws, as he did on a 33 yard pass to Marquess Wilson near the end of the third quarter and on another 22 yarder to Wilson for a touchdown in the fourth quarter. Otherwise, though, he had a rough game accuracy-wise with a fair number of passes that left me shaking my head. Once again, I certainly can’t complain with the two minute drive to win the game.
  10. Martellus Bennett had a tough game. The Chiefs did a good job of playing tight coverage on him and limiting his effectiveness as Cutler’s only really good receiving option outside of Matt Forte.
  11. I thought the pass interference penalty that set up the game winning TD pass was a good call as Kansas City cornerback Marcus Peters turned late and didn’t make a play on the ball.  But I admit it was questionable.

Defense

  1. The Bears played a great deal of nickel today, especially in the first half. You have to wonder if the injury to safety Antrel Rolle had something to do with that. Things changed in the second half as they started pounding the Bears with the run and the Bears went more with their base 3-4.
  2. Kansas City relied heavily on the short passing game as is their habit. The Bears countered by running more zone defense than usual, presumably to limit the run after the catch.
  3. I spent a good part of the first half wondering why the Chiefs weren’t handing the ball off to Jamaal Charles more, especially given the fact that is a standard way to beat the kind of nickel zone defense the Bears were running. They finally tried to get him going in the second quarter and he did well until leaving with an injury in the third.
  4. Very interesting to watch Charles run. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen a runner who is better at pressing the hole and using his blockers.
  5. Smith got rid of the ball fast but the few times he held the ball the Bears got some pressure on him over a much maligned Kansas City offensive line. They didn’t resort much to the blitz.
  6. Tracy Porter pretty much gave up the second Kansas City touchdown himself by aggressively attacking De’Anthony Thomas to the inside. Thomas ran to the outside and there was no one out there to stop him. It was one of a number of missed tackles and bad angles taken by the Bears defense over the course of the day.
  7. Kansas City has made a living attacking the middle of the field against other teams and they did a fair job of taking advantage of Shea McClellin today. But they seemed to like passing the ball out to the edge better today. It’s possible that they were targeting the Bears lack of speed on defense.
  8. Kansas City also tried to target nickel back Sherrick McManis by putting Jeremy Maclin in the slot. It was successful as Maclin had a pretty good day (8 catches, 85 yards) up until he bobbled the ball with 2 seconds left in the game to turn a 57 yard field goal into a 66 yard attempt.
  9. I thought Willie Young came on to show some people what he could do today. The Bears have gotten very little in pass rush from the linebacker position on the other side of Pernell McPhee and I’m wondering if we might not see more of him in the future.

Miscellaneous

  1. Sam Rosen isn’t the best play-by-play man to have for an NFL game. John Lynch did a surprisingly good job with what I thought were some insightful comments. Pam Oliver was her usual self – which is fine.
  2. One again, the punt return team had a holding penalty in the first quarter. That’s become a problematic habit. The Kansas City punt return team took their turn with a block in the back in the second quarter.
  3. Far too many penalties again for the Bears as they had 6 for 49 yards with much of that coming in the first half. Zack Miller had a false start. So did Charles Leno. Leno also had a hands to the face call. Martellus Bennett had a hold. Sherrick McManis got caught holding Jeremy Maclin in the second quarter. There was a critical face mask penalty on the kick coverage team with 11 seconds left in the game.
  4. Too many drops for a team that can’t afford to have any. Martellus Bennett was responsible for a lot of them including a critical one on the last drive in the fourth quarter. Kansas City also had their share of problems with drops. Jeremy Maclin had one. Jamaal Charles had another.
  5. As far as turnovers go, they don’t get much worse than the Cutler fumble in the endzone to give up the touchdown. I’d say that got the Chiefs going and set the tone as much as anything. To their credit, neither team had any more.
  6. This was a nice win for the Bears and their improving defense.  Its said that this is a coaches league.  The Bears are showing themselves to be well coached as they overcame a big talent deficit to pull this one out.

Chiefs Tight Ends Are Dangerous but the Key to the Game is Still the Offensive Line

Steve Rosenbloom at the Chicago Tribune previews the Bears game against the Chiefs:

“Tight end Travis Kelce has 21 catches for 293 yards and two TDs in the first four games. He also leads NFL tight ends in yards after the catch. He’s Rob Gronkowski with fewer viral videos.

“[Shea] McClellin, the wrong linebacker chosen by the wrong general manager, hasn’t made a play in the passing game this season. And now he gets this guy.

“McClellin, who’s playing inside linebacker because there’s no one else to coach, seems perpetually in the trail technique. And now he gets this guy.

“The Chiefs offense will throw the ball between the hash marks. It will create picks and decisions because Andy Reid loves high-low routes, especially crossing patterns. It will teach us about McClellin’s progress, athleticism and instincts.”

Presumably Rosenbloom picks on McClellin because he’s the former first round pick – and I won’t say he’s wrong to do so. But it’s worth pointing out that his teammate inside, Christian Jones hasn’t been much better. Both look lost in coverage.

Having said that, both should get plenty of help this week. The Chiefs have one wide receiver who can catch the ball down field and that’s Jeremy Maclin. The Bears will undoubtedly do what the Bengals did to Maclin last week – roll the safety to his side. Other than that the entire Chiefs offense is short passes and handing the ball off to Jamal Charles and everyone on the defense except cornerback Tracy Porter and safety Adrian Amos will likely be keying on that.

Rosenbloom thinks McClellin is the key to this game but my money is on a patchwork offensive line. The Bengals made that pass rush look pretty ordinary last week and that gives hope that the Bears will do the same. But anyone who watched this team play the Broncos in week 2 knows that they’re ferocious when they’re on their game. And they’re almost certainly licking their chops at the thought of facing a very wounded Bears offense.

Forget McClellin and the Bears defense. The Bears will go as the offensive line goes this week.

Cornerback Play a Key to Bears Victory Over the Raiders

Brad Biggs at the Chicago Tribune from his excellent “10 Thoughts” column after the Bears – Raiders game:

“The biggest difference on defense a week after the Bears showed improvement in a loss at Seattle was the play of Tracy Porter. He stepped into the starting lineup even though Alan Ball, who was questionable with a groin injury suffered during the week in practice, was active. Porter looks like someone who will stay in the starting lineup after successfully handling an assignment to follow Raiders rookie wide receiver Amari Cooper from side to side.”

“His comeback [from a hamstring injury] against the Raiders was strong and while the Bears ultimately would surely prefer to have Kyle Fuller in a place where he can be the matchup cornerback, he’s not there right now. The Bears have to hope he sees elements of Porter’s game in this scheme that can help him improve along the way.”

I like the way that the Bears handled Cooper, who is the Raiders biggest offensive threat by far. It’s true that the Bears chose to put Porter on him, a show of some confidence. But its also true that Porter got a lot of safety help – as well he should. You could argue that Fuller got the tougher assignment in that he was in man coverage on the other side most of the game without that kind of help. It was against much inferior receivers but still, its nothing to sneeze at.

To Cooper’s credit, he still found some success on Sunday. But the Bears limited him in a way that hasn’t happened often in the young season. As Biggs points out, there can be little doubt that the Bears will try to handle Jeremy Maclin the same way when they play the Chefs next week.

Kansas City – Denver: What We Learned

Jan 5, 2013; Houston, TX, USA; General view of the NFL Wild Card logo on the field before a game between the Houston Texans and Cincinnati Bengals during the AFC Wild Card playoff game at Reliant Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports ORG XMIT: USATSI-119966 ORIG FILE ID: 20130105_sal_ad1_152.JPG
Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports
  1. Peyton Manning‘s arm is shot.Yeah, I know. He threw a dramatic game-winning touchdown. And he also threw a number of other nice passes.  But he also threw quite a number of balloons, especially in the first half. When everything is perfect for Manning and he’s got his feet underneath him with a clean pocket, he’s fine. But he’s no longer the playmaker that can make up for other team deficiencies. Which brings me to the next point.
  2. The Broncos need to adjust to Manning’s obvious physical deficiencies. He’s still a smart, savvy quarterback who is one of the best in the business pre-snap. But he’s not going to be able to completely adjust to head coach Gary Kubiac‘s new offense by continually getting under center and running play action. At least not yet.  Manning was a different quarterback when Kubiac put him into the shotgun more often and/or when he was in the two minute offense. Suddenly Manning was reading the blitz and getting the ball out before the Chiefs could touch him. Kubiac is going to have to shelve some of his offense, at least temporarily, until Manning gets his feet back under him.
  3. The Chiefs have a pair of very good tight ends, at least one of which has come out of nowhere. Travis Kelce I’d at least heard about but James O’Shaughnessy was a complete surprise. Both of these guys are athletic and dangerous. It should be fun watching them this year.
  4. These are two of the best defenses in the NFL – we knew that going in. But, even given that, I’m very concerned about both of these offensive lines, especially Denver’s. The Broncos gave up three sacks and the Chief gave up four. Most significantly, Denver had only a paltry 60 yards rushing. That ‘aint good, folks.Denver did a lot of shuffling alone its offensive line in the offseason and its possible that they will gel as the season goes on. But for now, a bad offensive line combined with a physically limited Peyton Manning isn’t a good mix.
  5. On a related note, someone has to settle the Broncos down as they gave away so many personal foul penalties in the first half that all Kansas City had to do was collect them and, as former Chiefs coach Hank Stram put it, “matriculate” their way down the field. I appreciate physical play but you still have to make them earn it, boys.
  6. Also on a related note, is there any doubt that Denver defensive coordinator Wade Phillips is one of the best in the game? He does nothing but win everywhere he goes. He’s one of those guys who is simply born to be a coordinator instead of a head coach. He won a chess match last night against a great offensive mind.And that brings us to Andy Reid.  I’m beginning to wonder if Reid also isn’t simply a born coordinator. He certainly doesn’t appear to be a big game coach and some of the decisions he made from the sidelines last night were head scratchers. I appreciate aggressiveness but putting the game in the hands of Alex Smith by throwing the ball, especially right before half time, was bad news. Reid may have taken the Chiefs as far as they’ll ever get with him as the coach.
  7. Turnovers kill. Jamall Charles and Alex Smith. Protect football. ’nuff said.

The Rich Get Richer. The Bears Don’t. Yet.

Dan Wiederer at the Chicago Tribune reports that the Bears once again received no compensatory draft picks.

These can be as high as third round picks depending upon the nature of the lost free agents the year before. For instance, the Lions could receive a third round pick in 2016 after the loss of Ndamukong Suh. The acquisition on Haloti Ngata after the loss of Suh was by trade and wouldn’t count against them in the formula used to calculate who gets what picks.

It’s easy to dismiss these often low round picks as being unimportant but they’re not. As has been said many times, the draft is a crap shoot and the more rolls of the dice you get, the more likely it is you’ll come up with a good player. The rich get richer in this respect because the good teams tend to be the ones that lose the good players. The Broncos, Chiefs and Seahawks all received four compensatory picks and the Ravens and Texans were awarded three apiece.

Meanwhile the Bears are stuck in what amounts to a catch 22. They have to sign free agents to make up for misses in the draft and they’re more likely to miss in the draft because they don’t have enough picks. Last year the Bears signed a slew of players – defensive ends Jared Allen, Lamarr Houston and Willie Young plus safety Ryan Mundy. This year they’ve already signed linebacker Pernell McPhee, safety Antrel Rolle, guard Vladimir Ducasse and wide receiver Eddie Royal. As Brad Biggs at the Chicago Tribune points out, they’re likely to sign quite a few more as they bargain hunt in the secondary free agent market:

“One veteran agent described it as a stare-down between clubs and players. Clubs are looking for budget buys with the goal of signing many players to minimum-salary-benefit deals. Players who thought they would be in line for something more are still trying to wrap their minds around the idea of playing for less. Both sides are waiting for the other to blink.”

“The Bears need to add defensive linemen. Jeremiah Ratliff and Ego Ferguson are likely to line up at nose tackle. The options at defensive end are not quite as clear. Coach John Fox said the ideal player for the scheme is a ‘longer three technique.’ Of course, the model for the position is the Texans’ J.J. Watt, but aspiring to find a player with his skill set and actually doing it are two different things.”

The Bears are also said to be interested in center Stefen Wisniewski.  They will need to sign a considerable number of other players to fill out the depth chart as well. Some of those signings could come at the league meetings which are currently being conducted – Adam Jahns at the Chicago Sun-Times points out that agents are working the hallways and courtyards of the Arizona Biltmore in Phoenix.  All of these signing could count against them.

No one is suggesting that teams aren’t being penalized when they lose a free agent – the compensatory draft pick is never close to the same value as the free agents lost. Nevertheless, the draft is the life blood of every team and those picks can become valuable players acquired for a cheap price. I look forward to the day when the Bears will be getting more chances to hit the lottery in this respect because it means that they will be ranked amongst the elite franchises. The only way that they’re going to get there is to start consistently hitting on the few draft picks they have, alleviating the need to run out and sign free agents to fill holes all over the field.  They also have to resist the temptation to make the splash signings that can often look better on paper than on the field.  Fortunately general manager Ryan Pace seems to be avoiding the temptation to do that. Again, fro Jahns:

“The win-now pressure that seemed to drive Emery isn’t as prevalent. Pace, who will meet with the Chicago media on Tuesday, is widely regarded in league circles to have a big rebuild on his hands, and the draft is the best way to do that.

Until the Bears are finished rebuilding, fans just have to be patient and wait for success to come their way.  Fortunately, this time it looks like it might be the proper way.