Steelers Look Like Season-Long Disappointment Waiting to Happen

Gene Collier at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette regales his readers with a description of how the Steelers covered (or more accurately failed to cover) Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski last night.

“There were any number of reasons to expect a burst of [Patriots quarterback Tom] Brady virtuosity Thursday night, not the least of which was the presence on the Steelers sideline of Shamarko Thomas and Cortez Allen, the two defenders most urgently charged with solidifying a suspected secondary this season.

“That neither could earn a starting assignment in the opener sent a bad moon rising over [Steelers head coach Mike] Tomlin’s team, a dark karma it only exacerbated by the curious way in which it attempted to cover monster tight end Gronkowski, perhaps best described as running after him helplessly as he cruised toward the end zone.

“Gronkowski scored three touchdowns and fellow Patriots tight end Scott Chandler a fourth. Not even by putting Thomas and Robert Golden on the field at the same time in dime coverage could new defensive coordinator Keith Butler spin any combination of coverage that could be deemed, uh, coverage.”

I know a lot of media experts are high on the Steelers this year and they’re considered to be a Super Bowl contender based upon their offensive potential. But that offense shot itself in the foot far too often last night with a turnover and a team total of 8 penalties for 77 yards against a mediocre Patriots defense.  Two missed field goals didn’t help.  I saw nothing from the Steelers offense to convince me that they’re going to be able to make up for what looks to me like a well-below average defense of their own.

There have been rumblings about dissatisfaction with Tomlin in Pittsburgh. They’re a franchise that’s known for its stability when it comes to head coaches but I’m already starting to wonder if he won’t be in trouble by December.

“The Drill with the Bell” and Other Points of View

Bears

  • Brad Biggs at the Chicago Tribune rightfully describes the Bears situation after the third exhibition game as abysmal. The most significant highlights:

    “This team is short on talent, and you didn’t need to watch the most significant of the four exhibition games to know that. The Bears’ drafts from 2009 through 2014 — six drafts totaling 40 selections — produced four of the team’s starters in the 21-10 loss to the Bengals.”

    “Wide receiver Alshon Jeffery should return soon enough from a calf injury and make it five starters from those six drafts. That’s it. Cornerback Kyle Fuller, offensive linemen Kyle Long and Charles Leno and inside linebacker Shea McClellin are homegrown talent from those drafts. The core that general manager Ryan Pace and coach John Fox inherited is abysmal. When Fox said he wanted to underpromise and overdeliver when he was hired, you can bet he knew he couldn’t promise much. Not right away.”

    “The team is going to be flush with salary-cap room after this season when Jeffery comes out of contract, and Pace won’t have a long list of his own players to lock up long term. The Bears could be a major player in free agency, but that’s a trap. Free agency is for plugging a hole, not laying a foundation.

    “The Bears’ only way out of this predicament is to draft better. Pace and Fox need two and probably three draft classes to really build a foundation. That much was reinforced Saturday night.”

    The key phrase: “two and probably three draft classes to really build a foundation.” Up to this point most people have been saying “at least one more”. But I always thought at least two sounded more like it. And lets not forget that by the time that third additional draft is over, a lot of the talent on offense will be significantly older. So that side of the ball needs young talent almost as much as the defense does.

    Bottom line, this team is officially rebuilding from scratch. Bears fans had better be in this for the long haul if they’re going to find any enjoyment in the performance of their team over the next few years.

  • Hub Arkush at chicagofootball.com also was gloomy after the game but did note some positives, including this one:

    “I do think we learned that Rashad Lawrence is either the third or fourth best receiver on the roster right now, depending on how you rank him against Josh Bellamy, and he should make the team. If you view it objectively, Lawrence has shown more in a Bears uniform than Marquess Wilson has in two-plus seasons.”

    Here’s hoping that Arkush is right in this evaluation. Having young players like Lawrence emerge is one of the few good about a dismal injury situation.

  • Arkush also has some interesting thoughts on the inside linebacker situation that I happen to agree with:

    “There has been a perception throughout camp that [Shea] McClellin and [Christian] Jones have earned those spots, but the reality is they were just given to them because they are perceived as the best options.

    “Jones is a great-looking prospect but appeared completely lost against the Bengals.  McClellin keeps getting credit for looking comfortable and learning the position, but the reality is he has shown no signs he is physical enough to play the position or can make plays less than 5 or 10 yards downfield.

    “It’s time to give [Mason] Foster and [Jon] Bostic some fraction of the chances McClellin and Jones have enjoyed.”

    Jones and McClellin were the initial choice over Foster because of their relative youth and upside. Bostic’s been injured. But its time both got the chance to show what they can do in the middle after a poor showing by McClellin and Jones against the Bengals, especially in coverage.

  • Two time Pro Bowler Tim Jennings was undoubtedly the most surprising cut Sunday. But I was also taken aback when young cornerback Al Louis-Jean was cut. Louis-Jean has the length that the current coaching staff was seeking at the position but apparently wasn’t progressing fast enough after a promising start to his career last summer.
  • It looks to me like Zach Miller has won the battle for the third tight end spot. Adam Jahns at the Chicago Sun-Times notes that he’s been playing a lot of fullback with the first team offense and he’s been the Bears choice as the second player in two tight end sets. Martellus Bennett was a given and Dante Rosario is a very valuable special teams contributor. The Bears carried three tight ends last year.
  • Everybody should be holding their breath for another Kevin White-style injury revelation. Not only did Alshon Jeffery not play in the game against the Bengals, he wasn’t even healthy enough to make the trip to Cincinnati. Via Jahns. The other injured wide receivers watched from the sideline. It’s hard to trust this regime after the White affair and their initial description of Jeffery’s injury as minor, despite the fact that he was in a walking boot afterwards, looks more and more like it may have been another smoke screen.
  • If you think you’ll feel better if former Bears head of scouting Greg Gabriel blows smoke up your rear end, read this.

Elsewhere

  • Having said that, Gabriel and I do agree on Bills (in my opinion likely starting) quarterback Tyrod Taylor. Taylor is mobile and has been much more accurate than I expected during the preseason. He’s been head and shoulders above both Matt Cassel and, especially, E.J. Emanuel. If Taylor is as good as he’s looked, the Bills may be just good enough offensively to find their way to the playoffs behind an excellent defense.It’s worth noting that Manuel was promised a start in the third preseason game and got it. But he threw only two passes and got only 10 minutes of work. He’s looked very bad in the previous games and reportedly hasn’t been much better in practice. Taylor and Cassel have likely both surpassed him.
  • Michael David Smith at profootballtalk.com discusses the possibility that Robert Griffen III may not be ready to start the regular season. The Redskins, who initially said he’d be ready to play in the third pre-season game against the Dolphins, suddenly changed course, claiming that the doctors still want him to be held back for “one or two weeks”. He has the support of ownership but RGIII hasn’t looked good this preseason and the football people reportedly want him gone from the team altogether. Head coach Jay Gruden would love to see Kirk Cousins take the job away in week one. The Bears play the Redskins December 13.
  • The Animal Rescue League is pulling an October event out of Heinz Field in protest of the Steelers signing of Michael Vick.

    “‘While we understand that Mr. Vick has made an effort to atone for his past mistakes and has worked to help strengthen animal abuse laws, we do not believe that it is appropriate for him to continue a high-profile and influential public career,’ the release [from the League] states.”

    Like everyone else, I abhor what Vick did. But let’s bear in mind that this isn’t a Ben Roethlisberger situation where Vick bought his way out of a rape conviction. Vick did his time on the dog fighting conviction and now he should be able to continue living his life, “high-profile and influential public career” or not.

  • Conor Orr at nfl.com explains what he learned from the Vikings – Cowboys game Saturday:

    “Completely understand the Vikings’ reticence with Cordarrelle Patterson, but my goodness, he is the most athletic player on the field every time he leaves the bench. It is a type of Tavon Austin situation that has to be taken care of so as not to waste Patterson’s prime years.

    “Vikings offensive coordinator Norv Turner and head coach Mike Zimmer mentioned a certain precision lacking in his routes. But just look at this kick return! Something has to give.”

    Patterson is Percy Harvin. All potential and no production. He’ll flash and entice and if the Vikings are lucky, they’ll sucker another Seattle into a trade once they give up on him.

Next Opponent

The Cleveland Browns play the Bears Thursday at Soldier Field. A few notes:

  • Keep an eye on the Cleveland defense. Though the starters probably won’t see much action, the defensive line has been impressive in its ability to penetrate to stop the run.
  • Also keep an eye on Cleveland returner Shane Wynn. He’s looked to me like he might be special.
  • Don’t expect to see Johnny Manziel. He’s out with an elbow injury. It’s a shame because he’s been looking like a real quarterback in the preseason. There’s still some hope there for Browns fans.
  • Don’t expect to see former Bears quarterback Josh McCown, either. According to Mary Kay Cabot at the Cleveland Plain Dealer head coach Mike Pettine has already said he’s not playing. McCown had a very good tune up game against the Buccaneers on Saturday. His passer rating was 113.9.
  • One of the more interesting things to watch for will be how the Browns handle Terrelle Pryor. He didn’t play Saturday (or in any of the preseason games) with a lingering hamstring injury. The former quarterback is trying to make the roster as a wide receiver.

One Final Thought

This unique Jets drill where offensive linemen keep pass rushers from getting past them to ring a bell caught my attention. From Ben Shpigel at The New York Times:

“That tinny sound signifies superiority or regret, serenading the linebacker who bulled past, or mocking the lineman, like a sad trombone, who failed to stop him. In other pass-rush or pass-protection drills, heavyweight bags or dummies or even sacrificial equipment managers or coaches simulate the quarterback.”

“‘You do not want to hear that bell,’ guard Brian Winters said.”

This is a clever idea. It’s one thing to lose or win an encounter in a drill. Its another thing altogether for everyone within a hundred yards to know. Something tells me linemen on both sides of the line of scrimmage are concentrating extra hard leading up to the start of the season.

Brief Impressions: 2015 NFL Draft

  1. Did someone tell the ESPN crew that there was no smiling allowed on the set? I’ve never seen a more somber first round telecast in my life.
  2. There seems to be a belief around the league that second overall pick Marcus Mariota might have been an owners pick. The Titans aren’t supposed to be for sale but the general belief appears to be that they are. There’s a theory that interim president Steve Underwood put pressure on the Titans front office to draft Mariota in order to make the franchise more valuable.
  3. I’m not surprised that the Redskins decided that they didn’t want to draft the consensus best player in the draft, Leonard Williams. But I am surprised that they couldn’t find a way to trade pack. Brandon Scherff adds to an offensive line that general manager Scot McCloughan evidently wants to make tougher as they look to become the kind of ground and pound running team that the Cowboys were last year. But I’m having a hard time believing there was no market for that pick. Scherff has short arms and isn’t considered to be a great offensive line prospect, especially if he’s going to be put at right tackle. The Redskins should have been able to pick up Scherff or another lineman later in the round.
  4. The Browns pick of Cameron Erving at 19 overall as a guard appeared to be a puzzler. Erving was generally considered to be a potential Pro Bowl center but his performance at tackle when he played the position was not considered to be good and he doesn’t necessarily project as a guard long-term. But a look at current center Alex Mack‘s contract clarifies things. His contract is player voidable in 2016 and apparently, like so many other people associated with the Browns organization, he intends to get out as soon as he can.
  5. On the other hand, I’m still having a hard time figuring out the Andrus Peat pick by the Saints. Terron Armstead seems to be a lock at left tackle. Right tackle Zach Strief is entering his 10th season with the Saints. I suppose he could be the future at that spot but I don’t see an immediate need there. The other positions along the offensive line seem to be similarly set. All I can assume is that Peat was the best available on their board and they took him.
  6. I love the Bears’ apparent free agent signing of Shane Carden. Many will remember that I put up a post on Carden questioning why he was considered only a low round prospect. Now we’ll find out first hand how full of it I am.
  7. I thought it was funny that ESPN‘s Ben Goessling‘s opinion of the Vikings draft so closely mirrored my own of the Bears’ saying, “This draft could be tough to judge for several years thanks to the number of talented, yet unrefined, players the Vikings took.”
  8. Many were surprised by the fall of so many pass rushers so far in the draft. I was not. I thought all of the pass rushers after Dante Fowler were being over-rated by the media in large part because, well, they were pass rushers. The only one I thought was worth a top ten pick other than Fowler was Randy Gregory and he blew his chance with off the field issues. It says here that Shane Ray and Vic Beasley, who went right after the Bears pick at number eight to Atlanta, both have bust written all over them. Bud Dupree might be an average starter by the time he’s developed.
  9. Speaking of pass rushers, its going to be interesting to see how things pan out for Fowler in Jacksonville. Fowler thinks he’s going to be the Leo linebacker (the primary pass rusher) but that doesn’t seem to fit his skills as he would be more suited to the Otto role (strong side linebacker who turns into a pass rusher on obvious passing downs). How he develops there may largely depend upon whether they choose the correct way to use him.
  10. One big loser in the draft appears to be former Bears prospect Matt Blanchard. The Packers drafted developmental prospect Brett Hundley. Scott Tolzien is currently entrenched as the back up. Unless Blanchard shows a great deal of potential or the Packers aren’t as committed to Tolzien as they appear to be, Blanchard would seem to be the odd man out.
  11. There’s a big part of me that likes the Rams’ first round pick of Todd Gurley. He’s the kind of runner that will fit in well in St. Louis and there’s no doubt that the Rams are planning to beat the rest of the NFC West by further overpowering it’s best teams. That means a big time running game and with the selection of Gurley followed by two offensive tackles, they may have added the personnel to do it.

    The problem is that head coach Jeff Fisher is under some pressure in St. Louis to start winning now after a string of seasons in which the team has under-performed. And with Gurley coming off of a very bad ACL injury, he might not be ready to contribute right away. Despite good reports on the condition of the knee, Gurley won’t be ready to practice until halfway through training camp, losing valuable reps to learn things like pass protection. Even worse, players with knee injuries have a bad habit of not getting all the way back to where the were before until the second year after the injury. You have to wonder if the Rams wouldn’t have been better off selecting Melvin Gordon, who is very close to Gurley in terms of how the experts had them ranked and who I actually liked better than Gurley anyway.

When Is Due Diligence Called For and When Isn’t It?

Patrick Finley at the Chicago Sun-Times profiles defensive tackle Danny Shelton:

“[G]iven that the team will morph into 4-3 defense on nickel and dime situations, the Bears could be cautious drafting someone who could be limited to two downs.”

“The 6-foot-2, 339-pounder has been compared to Haloti Ngata and Vince Wilfork. But he’s athletic enough that, growing up, he wanted to be Steelers safety Troy Polamalu.”

“He showed that athleticism when, in the rival Apple Cup matchup with Washington State this year, he barrel-rolled along the ground at line of scrimmage before the snap, lining up in a new position, and then sacked the quarterback.”

Having looked at some video of Shelton I can say that the comparison to Wilfork is a pretty good one. He’s plenty athletic and I think its entirely possible that he could be more than a two down player. But even as a two down player he’d be valuable. Finley points out that the Bears might be better off drafting a pass rusher – and they might. But there’s a decent chance that with proven 4-3 defensive ends like Jared Allen and Willie Young on the team, any pass rusher they take could well be restricted to being a two down player as well.

But here’s the paragraph that really caught my eye.

“Shelton talked extensively with the Bears at the Senior Bowl and at the NFL Scouting Combine, and, he said, with a Chicago scout after that. His only official visit after the combine was with the Browns, though he said teams have learned enough about him during his showcases to not need one-on-one visits.”

Do the Bears do their “due diligence” by brining in Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota – two players who are unlikely to be there at the seventh pick. They bring in Mario Edwards and T.J. Clemmings presumably on the off chance they find a way to trade down. But they don’t bring in Shelton, who is likely to be there when you pick and who fits the defense to a T? And not just the Bears – nobody seems to be brining him in.

I don’t get this. Each team gets 30 visits with prospects. The Packers general manager Ted Thompson restricts his mostly to low round players and free agents who weren’t at the Combine. That makes sense. But if you are a team like the Bears, how do you decide which prospects you do “due diligence on” and which you don’t?

The process seems random. Hopefully its not.

Is Mike Wallace the Final Piece of the Vikings Puzzle?

Mark Craig at the Minneapolis Star-Tribune wonders whether the Vikings signing Mike Wallace was a good idea:

“For a guy who scored 60 million bucks a couple of years ago, Mike Wallace sure sounds like he spends way too much time complaining.

“He complained about Todd Haley’s offense at the end of his four-year stint in Pittsburgh. He complained often about his role while cashing $27.1 million worth of Dolphins checks the past two years. Heck, there were reports that then-Dolphins General Manager Jeff Ireland had to escort a visibly angry Wallace off the field after he caught one pass for 15 yards in a 23-10 win over the Browns. And that was after his FIRST game as a Dolphin!

“And, yes, not surprisingly, there are now reports that he’s not too happy about trading in South Beach for Eastern Eden Prairie. I’m sure the Dolphins were chuckling about that possibility when they traded for Saints deep threat Kenny Stills and were looking for places to send Wallace on a one-way go route.

“So if you were to ask me what I think about Wallace joining the Vikings, I’d have to say, ‘I’ll let you know.’ I’ll let him determine whether he’ll be the No. 1 receiver the Vikings covet for Teddy Bridgewater’s next step or a moody malcontent who threatens to be a drag on the second-year quarterback’s promising progression.”

I’ve a sneaking suspicion that this signing is going to work out pretty well for both the Vikings and Wallace. Wide receivers are a different breed and sometimes diva behavior comes the the territory.  Head coach Mike Zimmer isn’t the kind of guy who is going to put up with much nonsense. Wallace is going to find himself fitting into the middle of quite a bit more structure and discipline than he likely had with the Dolphins under Joe Philbin.

Wallace was a star with the Steelers. He averaged yards 19.4 yards per catch as a rookie in 2009 and increased that number to 21.0 in his second season. But his performance plummeted with the Dolphins and that could be a concern.

I’m inclined to cut Wallace a break here. He was stuck with one of the worst deep throwing quarterbacks in the league in Ryan Tannehill in Miami and, as a result, the Dolphins rarely threw the long ball, Wallace’s specialty. The guess here is that he’ll do considerably better with Bridgewater in Norv Turner‘s offense. All in all this could be an opportunity to revive his career and I’m sure he knows that.

You have to like the direction that the Vikings are headed in. With Wallace to boost the passing game and the likely (in my opinion) return of Adrian Peterson, they are going to be a problem for everyone in the NFC North. With the Detroit defense falling apart up front and very possibly in the midst of a similar transition to the 3-4 to what the Bears are undergoing, they look like the primary challengers to the Packer’s dominance of the division in 2015.

On the Value of Free Agents and Other Points of View

Bears

  • Rick Telander and Jim Morrissey at the Chicago Sun-Times breakdown the Bears “victory” over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Sunday. I had to laugh when Morrissey called the first half “unwatchable” because he literally read my mind. I couldn’t stop thinking about what a horrible game it was.
  • Hub Arkush at chicagofootball.com on the “win”:

    “Yes, the Bears did get another win over Tampa. But if they play the same game Thursday in Detroit, they could be looking at another massacre of Patriots- or Packers-like proportion.”

    Someone please spare us.

  • I certainly do understand why linebacker Lance Briggs didn’t want to talk to the media about his groin injury. But its hard not to see him leaving the locker room before media were allowed in as yet another example of what a poor leader he is. Via Patrick Finley at the Chicago Sun-Times. Briggs’ evident lack of respect for Bears head coach Marc Trestman is not helping matter. As Rich Campbell at the Chicago Tribune reports, Trestman preferred to keep the extent of Briggs’s injury a secret, describing it as “day-to-day”. But Briggs doesn’t really care much about what Trestman wants to do. Once again he put his personal agenda ahead of the team and announced on his television show that he’d be out a few weeks. If there was any doubt about whether Briggs would be back its got to be long gone. He has to go.
  • Dan Wiederer at the Chicago Tribune quotes Dave Birkett from the Detroit Free Press on the state of the Lions:

    “No one could have forecast their defense playing this well, and [Ndamukong Suh is] the biggest reason why it has.”

    You’re kidding, right? Who wouldn’t predict that they would play that well? With all of that talent we’ve predicted it every year. All they needed was a dose of discipline. Evidently the focus that comes with getting a new coaching staff was all it took. There’s no excuse for the way that team under-performed under former head coach Jim Schwartz. He was (and is) a punk and his teams reflected that year after year.

  • Brad Biggs at the Chicago Tribune addresses the pending Suh’s impending free agency. His contract ends five days after the Super Bowl:

    “In a late-September report ESPN indicated Suh and the Lions were preparing to part ways and the player was interested in the New York market while the Bears and Cowboys ‘would have some level of interest.’ [Phil] Emery has not engaged in tampering, but he has a track record in three offseasons of being an aggressive player in free agency. He likes making a splash and is driven to put the team in a position to compete for a Super Bowl every season.”

    I have certainly had my problems with Suh over the years (who outside of Detroit hasn’t?). Nevertheless, I’d welcome him to Chicago just like everyone else. Having said that, there’s a part of me that really hopes the Bears don’t try to do this. I’m tired of rooting for a team of mercenaries and I don’t think that this is the way to build an organization. There’s something to the argument that the Bears have built a team of “front-runners”, as one assistant coach from a recent opponent put it (read “the Packers”). Admittedly painting with a broad brush:

    1. free agents who chase the money and/or
    2. free agents who leave organizations to surround themselves with others who can make them better rather than the other way around and/or
    3. free agents who go to organizations that can help them win rather than the other way around and/or
    4. those those who are traded or who force trades because they can’t stick it out where they are…

    No matter how careful you are about who you acquire, I’m not so sure those are the people you build around. Let’s be honest, almost by definition they really are, for the most part, front runners. I’d like to see the Bears stop being the Washington Redskins, stay patient and build the team they want with players who have developed the attitude that they want through the draft.

  • Biggs answers your questions:

    “Why doesn’t the Jay Cutler and Marc Trestman pairing work? Talk of benching, offensive regression and now no passes over 10 yards. — @DarrylConrad via Twitter”

    “The offense has regressed and is certainly in a slump right now. The downfield passing game has certainly been affected. But that’s not just Cutler. It’s the play calling, the offensive line (that has dealt with a handful of injuries) and the wide receivers, who also haven’t been fully healthy this season.”

    I beg to differ. Its now evident that signing Cutler long-term was a mistake. Physically there are no limits to what he can do and this is undoubtedly what led Trestman and Emery to do it. But mentally Cutler is far too limited. He’s a “see it, throw it” quarterback who will never have the ability to throw with anticipation or dissect a defense in the way that is needed to truly succeed at a high level in the NFL. I doubt very much that he’s even trying to extend himself in this direction any more, especially with his money now in hand. All of the things that Biggs mentions are, indeed, problems. But Cutler is the player who is setting the ceiling so low. It might eventually be more than adequate if they start playing with discipline but there’s very little hope that the Bears will ever have a truly elite NFL offense with Cutler throwing the ball.

  • With all of the talk about Trestman losing the team (as he’s apparently lost Briggs) its worth noting the excellent point that Adam L. Jahns at the Chicago Sun-Times makes in his weekly session with Mark Potash answering fan questions. Its at about 1:25.

Elsewhere

  • It used to be that immediately cutting a player after poor conduct sent a message to the rest of the team. Apparently that’s not the case anymore.

One Final Thought

Morrissey argues that there’s something wrong with the world if the Bears get to 6-6:

“Whatever happens Thursday, this team is going nowhere. You can’t fix the defense this season. The offense has turned into a bunch of dump-off passes to running back Matt Forte. Either the Bears officially don’t trust Cutler anymore or Trestman has officially misplaced his imagination. “There are people who subscribe to Bill Parcells’ philosophy of being exactly what your record says you are. But if the Bears get to 6-6, their record will be a big, fat liar.”

I really don’t think Morrissey has anything to worry about. This game shows every sign of being a dumpster fire but I can’t see the Lions giving it away this year like they have in the past. Even then, they beat the Bears twice last year. Arkush elaborates further:

“You like common opponents? The Lions are 5-3 against the Panthers, Packers, Jets, Bills, Vikings, Falcons, Dolphins and Patriots, against whom the Bears are 3-6. They beat the Packers 24-7 while Green Bay has outscored the Bears 93- 31 in the Bears’ two losses.”

It won’t be 55-14. But one of two things is going to happen: either the Lions will blow them out or it will be a “defensive struggle” where neither team has the competence on offense to move the ball out their own side of the field. Either way this one promises to be another painful prime time crap-fest with the added element that this time you’ll be surrounded by relatives that you can’t look in the eye afterwards.

Star Quarterbacks Are People, Too. And Other Points of View

Bears

  • Rich Campbell at the Chicago Tribune notes, as I did earlier, that perhaps the most interesting roster decision the Bears are going to have to make is at linebacker. He’s the first person I’ve read who has suggested this, though:

    “[There might be] two spots for three players — Shea McClellin, the 2012 first-round pick who has converted from defensive end; Khaseem Greene, last year’s fourth-round pick with more special teams experience than McClellin; and undrafted rookie Christian Jones, who has shown himself to be among the Bears’ most physically gifted youngsters.

    “If Jones plays well in exhibition games, the Bears won’t be able to stash him on their practice squad. McClellin, whom general manager Phil Emery has steadfastly supported, must show promise in these exhibitions.”

    .

  • The Bears released their first depth chart of the season as passed on by Dan Wiederer at the Chicago Tribune. It was notable for a number reasons:
    • Though virtually everyone assumes that Marquess Wilson has won the third wide receiver job, the Bears chose to name a starting fullback (Tony Fiammetta) and list Wilson along with Eric Weems on the second team.
    • Weems was the punt and kick off returner, not Chris Williams. Everybody’s favorite underdog, Williams was not listed anywhere on the chart (with Kevin Fishbain at chicagofootball.com pointing out that the third team pair was Josh Bellamy and Josh Morgan).
    • They listed McClellin alone at strong side linebacker. There continues to be some who are wondering if he’s being handed a position he didn’t earn. He’ll be worth watching closely on Friday.
    • Ryan Mundy is your strong safety and Brock Vereen is your free safety. For now.
    • Danny McCray and M.D. Jennings are the back up safeties with veteran Pro Bowler Adrian Wilson nowhere to be found (John Mullin at csnchicago.com notes that he’s listed with the third team). Adam L. Jahns at the Chicago Sun-Times notes that Wilson might be facing an uphill battle to make the roster if he doesn’t start because he doesn’t play special teams.
    • Jordan Palmer apparently has the edge over Jimmy Clausen for the back up quarterback job. Reports consistently indicate that Clausen has been more impressive in camp but I’m starting to wonder if Palmer isn’t simply doing more what the Bears want in terms of taking care of the ball.
    • Shaun Draughn was chosen as the back up running back over Michael Ford and Ka’Deem Carey.
    • Trevor Scott was listed as the fourth defensive end over David Bass and Lane Austen. Bears 2013 draft pick Cornelius Washington appears to be in deep, deep trouble here.
    • The two punters and two long snappers were listed together with the Bears failing to make a choice between the competitors.
  • Mark Potash at the Chicago Sun-Times compares this year’s second team to last year’s. He thinks the depth is better on defense. I would rather say its better on the defensive line. Other than that, I’m not too sure I see a big difference anywhere.
  • Being a punter involves more than just kicking the ball. From Jahns:

    “‘The field goals are different than college,’ said [rookie punter and holder Pat] O’Donnell, a sixth-round pick. ‘Especially here in Chicago, if the wind is blowing left-to-right or right-to-left, the hold changes quite a bit.

    “‘[Kicker Robbie Gould]’s showing me how to adjust to that. He’s been a great mentor for it. He demonstrates it. He works with it every single day. He ­critiques it on film.'”

  • A fan ran out onto the field during Family Fest at Soldier Field. It was notable for this exchange:

    “After pondering aloud why someone would run onto a field full of pro football players, [Judge Adam] Bourgeois asked [John J.] Annoreno, ‘Why you gotta be so silly?’

    “Annoreno, still bedecked in a Jay Cutler jersey, had no answer for the judge.

    “‘I bet if you sat across the street in the county jail, you’d know,’ Bourgeois said.”

    Moron.

Elsewhere

  • Brad Biggs at the Chicago Tribune visits Lions training camp:

    “The Lions lit about the last fire they can under DT Nick Fairley, declining to pick up his fifth-year option for 2015 that would have cost the team less than $6 million. Fairley, drafted 13th overall in 2011, has been a consistent underachiever and has struggled to remain in shape. He still has considerable upside but needs to commit himself, and the Lions are about done waiting for that to happen.”

  • Nate Ulrich at the Akron Beacon Journal think s that Johnny Manziel is closing the gap on Brian Hoyer in Cleveland’s’ camp:

    “In the first unscripted, live action of training camp, Manziel’s run-around-and-create-something-on-the-fly style was on display more than any other time since the Browns drafted him 22nd overall May 8. It’s his greatest strength, though it’s not always evident in a regular practice setting.”

    It’s not always evident in a practice setting because the practice is supposed to prepare you for the games. I don’t know what kind of football they watch in Akron, but “run-around-and-create-something-on-the-fly” doesn’t win games in the NFL. It can help you win games. But if its all you can do, I assure you it will add up to a bunch of losses.

    Assuming that the coaches know what they’re doing and don’t give in to public pressure and assuming the owner doesn’t interfere – a very big assumption – there’s no way Manziel starts unless he learns to throw from the pocket. And nothing I’ve read or heard has indicated to me that he’s anywhere close to having done that.

  • Armando Salguero at the Miami Herald on their penchant for changing offensive coordinators:

    “The folks who love the shifting and motion and so forth love to tell you it helps keep the defense from locking in on guys. It is harder to bracket a receiver who is moving presnap. It also creates indecision for the defense.

    “But the folks that approach offense in a stationary presnap fashion — like the Dolphins did under Mike Sherman the past couple of years — will tell you their way of doing things is also well-thought.

    “‘When you’re stationary as a football team or ahead of your emphasis on stationary, you might be able to make more adjustments offensively, check a play in another direction, redirect things, signal things differently,’ [head coach Joe] Philbin said.

    “‘If you’re snapping a ball and guys are moving, you don’t really have that option. And so you have to kind of go with the play. Your intent is that you’re going to create a little bit of indecision, limit the play speed of the defense with all the shifting and motioning and so forth. The flipside is you’re not always 100 percent sure of the adjustments and you may get stuck into a look that maybe is less than ideal.'”

    “It says here that both approaches have won. Both approaches have been highly successful.

    “The bottom line is talent.”

  • Gene Collier at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette gives a reasonably humorous perspective on the state of the NFL before last nights “Hall of Fame Game”:

    “Real, live, reasonably authentic football returns to your televisions tonight, America, and you’ve really, really missed it, right?

    “Well, me neither.

    “The NFL is the perfect new illustration of that old country lyric: ‘How can I miss you when you won’t go away?'”

    “Most Americans walk around filled to the neck with NFL info, but if you’re planning your own live look-in tonight, you should be aware of some things for which you are perhaps unsuspecting.

    “First, the Dallas Cowboys are not on.”

  • Ray Fittipaldo, also at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, lets us know that, much though he would like for it to appear otherwise, LeGarrette Blount hasn’t changed much since his days at Oregon:

    “[Vince] Williams went up against [Le’Veon] Bell in the backs-on-backers drill Friday before 7,000 fans at Latrobe Memorial Stadium. Williams bull-rushed Bell and pushed him deep into the backfield. The whistle did not blow and they continued to battle until Williams landed on top of Bell.

    “The fight turned into an all-out melee a few seconds later when running back LeGarrette Blount, who was not dressed for practice, rushed to Bell’s defense and dived into the pile. Chaos ensued until coaches were able to break up the fight.”

  • Jim Sohan at the Minneapolis Star Tribune thinks that the Vikings organization has bucked its history and finally stabilized. I would have thought that he’d have seen enough of Rick Spielman as a general manager to know better.

    Full disclosure in fairness to Spielman: Mike Zimmer looks like a pretty good choice as head coach. And Norv Turner is a great offensive coordinator. And I do have a man-crush on Teddy Bridgwater.

    OK. Maybe I need to re-think this…

  • If you’re wondering why I think Brdgewater was a brilliant pick, this excerpt from Matt Vensel provides one reason. Again, from the Star Tribune:

    “After Matt Cassel was unable to lead the first-team offense to a touchdown in a situation in which a field goal wouldn’t cut it, Bridgewater coolly guided the second-stringers 60 yards for a touchdown. Not counting a spike to stop the clock, Bridgewater completed each of his six attempts for all 60 yards and the touchdown, which came on a 20-yard strike to wide receiver Rodney Smith.

    “Chatting with reporters after practice, Bridgewater acknowledged that the two-minute drill ‘went good.’ But he was still stewing over the interception he threw in the red-zone drill moments earlier.

    “‘I’m not so happy about the way it ended as I am [upset] about the interception I threw in the red zone. That’s something I’ll learn from,’ Bridgewater said. ‘Coach Zimmer always stresses that we have to outsmart our opponent. If you have points, try to keep those points. I’m not as happy about the touchdown as I want to be.'”

  • Bob McGinn at the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel interviews Green Bar general manager Ted Thompson. I guess that success is relative in the NFL:

    “Q. The Packers’ only playoff victory in the last three seasons was over the Joe Webb-quarterbacked Minnesota Vikings. Have the Packers underachieved in the postseason from 2011-’13 considering you have a quarterback like Aaron Rodgers in his prime?

    “A. We would have liked to have won more, but that’s the way it worked out. The NFL is not an easy business. We’re aware of that, and when you get in the playoffs it gets turned up several notches. We’re hoping to do better this year.”

    Looked at objectively, the whole division has under-achieved when you come right down to it.

One Final Thought

You know, when its all said and sifted, all-world quarterback Peyton Manning is just as big a geek as I am. Maybe bigger.

Bears Need a Head Man Who Can Coach Quarterbacks and Other Points of View

Bears

  • Dan Pompei at the Chicago Tribune and I absolutely see eye-to-eye on his views on the new Bear head coach, whoever that may be:

“You can’t hire a head coach simply because he is a good play caller or quarterback coach. He has to be more than that. But it sure would be ideal if you could get a candidate who is a good play caller and quarterback coach with the ability to lead, administrate, communicate and sell. That’s what the Packers did when they hired Mike McCarthy. It’s what the Saints did when they hired Sean Payton. It’s what the Texans did when they hired Gary Kubiak. It’s what the 49ers did when they hired Jim Harbaugh. But many, many other teams have tried to go down the same path and found they coach they hired wasn’t everything they hoped he would be. Those coaches still get dirt under their nails doing work they did when they were assistants because nothing is more important than a productive quarterback. But they also delegate much of what they used to do to others.”

These are my thoughts exactly. Its not that people like Hub Arkush who are disappointed more defensive coordinators or coaches without a quarterback coaching background like Ken Whisenhunt haven’t been interviewed don’t have a point. They do. Your head coach has to be a leader above all.

But if possible the Bears need a coach who will permanently fix the quarterback position. I’m not just talking about Jay Cutler. That would be too short-sighted. I’m talking about developing future quarterbacks for years beyond that.

If you are counting on hiring an assistant coach like that, you are inevitably going to lose him to another team in search of a head coach. And finding one isn’t a trivial task as Lovie Smith could tell you. Doing it once would be hard. Doing it more than once would be much, much harder.

In my view the ideal model is the Ted Thompson-Mike McCarthy relationship in Green Bay. It’s not an ideal that would be easy to achieve. But I think you need to shoot for it or something similar. That means a head coach who can coach quarterbacks if at all possible.

  • Dan McNeil at the Chicago Tribune makes a fair point about the emotional upheaval surrounding the Bears head coaching search:

“If it’s fair to postpone the evaluation of a draft class for at least two seasons, it also is fair to be open-minded to a veteran assistant coach getting his first crack at serving as headmaster.

“A head coaching search, coupled with the roster overhaul Emery has in front of him, give me ample reasons to be patient with Emery. It would be silly to gnash teeth and wring hands over the virtual unknown who’s going to stand at the lectern answering questions about his new job sometime in the next couple of weeks.

“Somebody will, but it won’t be me. I wanted Jerry Angelo and Lovie Smith jettisoned long ago.

“I have nothing but time and patience for the Bears to keep evolving.”

  • Mike Florio at profootballtalk.com thinks Bruce Arians makes a lot of sense as the next Bears head coach:

“Arians makes plenty of sense for the Bears, given that they have a quarterback who is a bit of a handful in Jay Cutler. Arians has extensive experience dealing with a difficult quarterback. In Pittsburgh, Arians and Ben Roethlisberger didn’t simply coexist; they were close friends.

So when job No. 1 (or close to it) in Chicago is finding a coach who can work well with Cutler, Arians could be the right answer.”

Whether Cutler actually needs a friend as a coach is a legitimate question. But I tend to agree with Florio that Arians is a good candidate for the job.

  • Former NFL head coach Marv Levy makes a good point via Mark Potash at the Chicago Sun-Times:

“‘The general manager of the Alouettes told me that when I went to Canada, I could have 12 men on the [field]. Then I found out the other teams could, too,’ Levy said with a chuckle. ‘The same things win. It isn’t the Wildcat offense or this or that. If you run, throw, block, tackle, catch and kick better than your opponent — the fundamentals.'”

I’m as guilty as anyone of concentrating too much on X’s and O’s and they are a factor. But I think everyone should always keep in mind that the major difference between winning and losing is good fundamental football and, I might point out, making sure the defese played good fundamental football may have been Lovie Smith‘s biggest strength. Let’s hope, whoever the new head coach is, that we don’t see a step back in that area.

  • Sean Jensen at the Chicago Sun-Times reports that Vikings coaches Mike Piefer and former Bears middle linebacker Mike Singletary will interview for the head coaching position.Pompei indicates that Singletary’s inclusion on the list may be at the suggestion of the McCaskey family which wouldn’t be a surprise.

David Haugh at the Chicago Tribune is off base with this assessment:

Singletary’s not a bad candidate. There was a time when I would have done hand springs to see the Bears interview an ex-player. He’s a bright guy and the odds are good he learned a great deal from his failures in San Francisco. Singletary’s got the same problem Dennison has. No experience coaching quarterbacks. But other than that he’s a fine candidate. Pompei put it best:

“‘I think he’s been ready for awhile,’ Kubiak told reporters on Monday. ‘I think Rick is a very smart guy. He’s selective. I’ve been called on him for about three years in a row now, but I think Rick knows what he wants to do with his life and if he’s going to take an opportunity to be a head coach, he’s going to be selective in what he does. He’s got a great background in the National Football League. He’s a 10-year defensive player in the National Football League. He’s been a special teams coach in the National Football League. He’s been an offensive line coach. He’s been an offensive coordinator. There’s nothing this guy hasn’t done.'”

Except be a quarterback coach. And that’s a problem in a quarterback-driven league.

  • Jensen passes along what Cutler said on his weekly radio show. I found Cutler’s phasing when asked about current Denver offensive coordinator and Bears head coaching candidate Mike McCoy interesting to say the least:

“I think we had two meetings together, and then [the Broncos] kicked me out… I liked Mike. Knows a lot about football, very flexible.”

As I remember Cutler wasn’t “kicked out”. He ran away and quit. Interesting how his mind works.

“The good thing is it’s easier to find blockers for a zone scheme than it is blockers for a man scheme because of supply and demand. There are way more teams that use a man scheme. There also is this to consider: NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has made it clear the league is thinking about making chop blocks on running plays illegal. The backside chop is a staple of zone blocking teams, and could affect their running games significantly.”

  • Pompei runs through the long list of players whose fate at least partly depends on who the new head coach is. The most intriguing will be Brian Urlacher. It used to be that cutting Urlacher would be a problem with the fans. But given that Urlacher felt the need to express his true feelings by trashing them in the media late in the season (without an apology), that shouldn’t be a problem now. Hopefully they’ll do what they think is best without making the mistake of thinking this is still a consideration.

“Coming off his first Pro Bowl nod, how good do you think Henry Melton can be ultimately? Better than Tommie Harris before his injuries? Can he be the best defensive tackle in the NFL? Also, he has to be our No 1 priority when it comes to re-signing our own players, right? — Charles Laughton, New London, Conn.

“The thing about Henry Melton that is unusual is he still has considerable room for growth at the age of 26 and four years into his NFL career. So I would expect him to keep getting better. I’m not sure he’ll ever be better than, say, Ndamukong Suh, who is in another league talent wise. But he should remain among the best defensive tackles in the league. As for the comparison to Harris, he was a special, special player before his injuries. It is possible Melton can be that kind of player. Considering he was a fourth round selection, Melton may have been Jerry Angelo‘s best draft pick.”

Melton is good but he will almost certainly never be Tommie Harris. The Bears will never miss Melton the way they missed Harris after he was injured. The defense was never the same after he went down.

  • Biggs points out that special teams coordinator Dave Toub is in demand as he interviews for the same poisiton with the Panthers and Chiefs. That’s fine but, as Biggs points out, Toub is under contract here and I’d say he’s going nowhere unless the new head coach doesn’t want him – and I’m thinking there’s a fair chance that he will.

Elsewhere

  • According to Sam Farmer at the Los Angeles Tribune Saturday’s game against the Packers is being seen as a referendum on 49ers head coach Jm Harbaugh‘s decision to replace quarterback Alex Smith with Colin Kaepernick earlier in the season:

“Harbaugh chose the path of greater resistance, and in the process bumped up the stakes.

“‘If it all blows up on Saturday, that will take a lot of goodwill out of the bank,’ [former 49ers quarerback Steve] Young said. ‘Now, that doesn’t change much. I mean, [Harbaugh] is still going to be around, still going to be a great coach. But it’s a high-risk situation.'”

  • Pompei has the Packers ranked second in his power rankings. I like the Packers but that’s awfully high for a team with a suspect defense. The Packers are going to have to continue to play the kind of good fundamental ball I saw last week against the Vikings before I’ll believe. I think Pompei is right on the button with the first ranked Broncos and, like Pompei, I like the Seahawks a lot better than most people seem to.
  • The schematic Xs and Os that former NFL safety Matt Bowen writes up for the Chicago Tribune are always interesting but I thought this article breaking down the Packers offensive options against the 49ers pressure was particularly good.
  • This Audible from Pro Football Weekly has the ring of truth:

Jon Gruden wants full control. It’s the same as Bill Cowher and Joe Gibbs and Bill Parcells and any established coach worth his salt who is considering coming back. The problem is — there are not a lot of GMs that want to concede that authority. Why do you think Mike Holmgren is backing down and saying he’ll be happy to just coach?”

“A priest administered last rites. Following kidney removal surgery, his football coach told him he would never play again. He was lucky to be alive. He responded by petitioning the school to be allowed to suit up. The player’s name? Mike Shanahan.”

  • Pitty the girlfriends, NFL fans.

One Final Thought

My mother of all people sent me this joke. A little to close to the truth over the last year if you ask me…

The coach had put together the perfect team for the Chicago Bears. The only thing that was missing was a good quarterback. He had scouted all the colleges and even the Canadian and European Leagues, but he couldn’t find a ringer who could ensure a Super Bowl win.

Then one night while watching CNN he saw a war-zone scene in Afghanistan. In one corner of the background, he spotted a young Afghan Muslim soldier with a truly incredible arm. He threw a hand-grenade straight into a 15th story window 100 yards away.

KABOOM!

He threw another hand-grenade 75 yards away, right into a chimney.

KA-BLOOEY!

Then he threw another at a passing car going 90 mph.

BULLS-EYE!

“I’ve got to get this guy!” Coach said to himself. “He has the perfect arm!”

So, he brings him to the States, teaches him the great game of football and the Bears go on to win the Super Bowl.

The young Afghan is hailed as the great hero of football, and when the coach asks him what he wants, all the young man wants is to call his mother.

“Mom,” he says into the phone, “I just won the Super Bowl!”

“I don’t want to talk to you, says the old Muslim woman.”You are not my son!”

“I don’t think you understand, Mother,” the young man pleads. “I’ve won the greatest sporting event in the world. I’m here among thousands of adoring fans.”

“No! Let me tell you!” his mother retorts. “At this very moment, there are gunshots all around us. The neighborhood is a pile of rubble. Your two brothers were beaten within an inch of their lives last week, and I have to keep your sister in the house so she doesn’t get raped!” The old lady pauses, and then tearfully says,

“I will never forgive you for making us move to Chicago!!!!”

 

“It’s Not Scheme Issue” and Other Points of View

Bears

  • Chicago Tribune columnists Steve Rosenbloom and Fred Mitchell and sports editor Mike Kellams “talk postgame” with former NFL safety Matt Bowen after the Bears’ loss to the 49ers with .

I loved the comment that Bowen made above when asked if [head coach Lovie]Smith would just skip the film review of a rough game coming on a short week. He said he had one coach who did that and he didn’t last long in the league, going right back to college (where he belonged).

“Their problem is that they are a well-coached team that loses big games because they get outcoached. And you know what’s coming next: Smith’s steady hand will right the ship. If [quarterback Jay] Cutler returns, the Bears will bounce back against the Vikings, Seahawks, Arizona Cardinals and Detroit Lions. But eventually the Bears are likely to run into Mike McCarthy and Dom Capers, Jim Harbaugh or Tom Coughlin. And the big question will be more clear than ever: Are Smith, [offensive coordinator Mike] Tice and [defensive coordinator Rod] Marinelli up to the challenge?”

“How is it that Jacksonville Jaguars backup Chad Henne can come off the bench after not having taken a single snap in practice and — with the lowest-ranked offense in the NFL — torch the Houston Texans for 354 yards, four touchdowns and a 133.8 passer rating?”

The reason is that, like the 49ers, the Texans got up for the Bears game. In fact, you could argue that the 49ers tied the Rams last week because they were actually looking past them to this game.

This leads to some great team performances in prime time. But it also leads to some ups and downs over the course of a season that are going to give you some bad games against teams you should beat. To Lovie Smith’s credit, the Bears avaid these kinds of uneven performances by never getting too high or too low. Unfortunately, it also leads to games like the one Monday night where one team is sky high and the other isn’t.

  • I couldn’t help but smile at this passage from Rick Telander‘s column in the Chicago Sun-Times:

“I think it was early in the second quarter of the Bears’ loss to the San Francisco 49ers on Monday night that I started watching the Bears’ offensive line.

“No one ever watches an offensive line. It’s like watching bowling balls getting racked or pigs feeding.”

  • Dan Pompei at the Chicago Tribune came through with his best film review of the season. Lots of things I saw. Lots of extra insight into the things I didn’t. This quote doesn’t sound like much but its something I think we’re going to see more and more of:

“This was a game in which the Bears needed [tight end] Matt Spaeth‘s blocking, but he got on the field for only nine offensive snaps. [Offensive tackle] Jonathan Scott played six snaps as a tight end, however.”

  • This is a terrible blow. Via Sean Jensen at the Chicago Sun-Times.

“The ultimate blame on offense winds up at the feet of Bears coach Lovie Smith, who is a defensive specialist. But he is responsible for all units, not just the defense. If the offense perpetually lacks vitality and creativity, it’s his job to make the moves to create.”

I’m really starting to wonder if Smith doesn’t need to take more of a personal hand in the offense. It seems to me like a guy who can coax defensive players into the proper mindset to make plays so consistently should have more to contribute to an offense with players who so often fail to do that.

“Jay Cutler is not as good as he was a year ago. His mechanics are really bad this year. There was a reason he clashed with Mike Martz — he pushes his quarterbacks hard. You know Cutler does not like anyone riding him. That’s why they didn’t get along. … He doesn’t have tight ends who can play. They can’t pass protect well, and he’s getting beat like a drum. That’s part of it, too.”

“One issue with upgrading over Caleb Hanie as the backup quarterback is the bar was set low. Jason Campbell has experience and is well-regarded, but some believe athletic backup quarterbacks help because when plays break down, they can make plays with their legs. With the issues the Bears have on the offensive line, that makes even more sense. Jay Cutler has made plenty of plays with his legs this season, which has really aided the offense in some games. Campbell isn’t quite as nimble.”

That’s really not fair. You take Campbell out of that game and put Jay Cutler in and you know what you’ve got? The Green Bay game in week two. Different man, same pressure burying them with nowhere to escape to and no time to do it.

In fairness, Biggs does seem to acknowledge this on some level:

“Given the ugly games Jay Cutler has had in prime time, it’s not a bad thing he missed this messy affair. The presence of Cutler alone would not have shifted the balance. Cutler threw a career-high five interceptions the last time the Bears played in San Francisco in a brutal Thursday night loss. Had he played in this game, it likely would have led to more criticism of him from national commentators. Now pundits can pick on Campbell and Smith’s overrun defense instead.”

“If the previous two games have proved anything, it’s that the first half of the schedule was packed with cupcakes. [General manager Phil] Emery has been out on the road scouting in advance of a big predraft meeting next month. He probably didn’t need to see this wreck to know offensive linemen, plural, must be a priority even over a backup quarterback.”

“Don’t be surprised if McCown finishes the season with the team, and not just because there will be elevated concerns about Cutler’s availability once he is medically cleared to return. Some within the organization wanted McCown to stick at the outset of the season but it would not have been a practical decision with three veteran quarterbacks on the 53-man roster. Now that he’s back, it could be a seven-week job for him.

“The coaches like McCown and believe he’s a positive influence in the quarterback room. In a short period of time, he developed a good relationship with Cutler and likes working with the starter.”

Chris Spencer, who started the first two games there, will replace Chilo Rachal, who started the last eight. Rachal had a brutal performance against his former team, the 49ers, giving up one sack and a hurry and getting flagged for two holding penalties. On Wednesday afternoon, the Bears announced that Rachal left the team for “personal reasons” and was put on the reserve/left-squad list.

“According to a league source, the 49ers knew how to “get in his head,” prompting Rachal’s poor performance. The source added that Rachal, in general, is emotional and needs constant positive reinforcement.”

According to Vaughn McClure at the Chicago Tribune Rachal “became extremely upset upon learning of his demotion” and walked out. He has five days to return.

“The topic came up when McClellin was drafted 19th overall and he said he missed one practice after a concussion at Boise State in 2010 and had a minor one the year before. McClellin changed the style of helmet he uses in 2011. There’s no reason to believe this will be a lingering issue for him, but caution is a good idea.”

True enough. But I’m concerned and no one is likely to forget that this was an issue that, it could be argued, should have affected the status of this draft choice. Jerry Angelo certainly took his fiair share of criticism about drafting a guard with a bad back in Chris Williams. You coud argue that a history of concussions should have been even more of a red flag.

  • D.J. Moore is going to have a hard time getting out of Smith’s dog house with statements like this one to Adam L. Jahns at the Chicago Sun-Times:

“‘From what [coach Lovie Smith] told me, it was performance-related,’ Moore said. ‘I don’t know. Whatever they tell me to do, I’ll do, and go to work every day, try as hard I can and hopefully get back out there soon.’”

For the record, the correct answer is “It was performance-related” not “they told me its performance-related.” I confess that I don’t know enough to understand exactly what the problem is. But I can say for certain that if Smith believes his performance is sub-par, then it almost certainly was and I can guarantee he’s been told more than once exactly what he’s doing wrong. He won’t get better until he accepts coaching and does what he’s told and he certainly won’t be playing as much as he should until that happens.

Vikings

  • Somewhat to my surprise, Pompei’s this week 23-20. If it was at Minnesota, I’d agree. But I think the Bears offensive line will have an easier time handling Jared Allen at home. The Bears need to bounce back and win this game. Perhaps I’m overestimating their intestinal fortitude but I’m leaning their way this week.

“Minnesota has improved about as much as any team from where they were last year. Having a quarterback (Christian Ponder) being able to play for a year helped them a lot and getting the running back (Adrian Peterson) helped them more than anything. Anytime you have Percy Harvin and Peterson on the roster, you’ve got a chance.”

“‘[In the past] he’d always look to hit the home run,’ Frazier said. ‘And sometimes that would create negative plays. Now he’s truer to his reads.'”

“The Vikings will devote significant attention to receiver Brandon Marshall — as they did with Larry Fitzgerald in Week 7. They’ll also ask the defensive line to create pressure without needing blitz help.”

The Vikings ate the Cardinals alive with seven sacks.

  • The Vikings are handling their personnel along the offensive line in something of an unusual way. Again via Wiedierer:

Brandon Fusco will make his 11th consecutive start at guard but will again share time with Geoff Schwartz. Meanwhile, at safety, Jamarca Sanford will remain starting alongside Harrison Smith but will also cede playing time in spurts to Mistral Raymond.

The rotation at guard began in Week 6. Fusco has been OK at times but hesitant at others, leaving an opening for Schwartz to step in.”

Rotations at guard aren’t the norm in the NFL where continuity on the line is highly valued.

Elsewhere

 

“If I’m a very old woman who struggles to get around, and Carolina Panther coach Ron Rivera and his players offer to lead me across the street, I decline.

“The Panthers would do great getting her off the curb and past the stripe in the middle of the road.

“But 5 feet from the other side, they’d fall or get nervous or forget the woman was there.

“As light turned to dark, she’d be alone in traffic, dodging SUVs, vans and the occasional city bus.

“The Panthers can’t finish. They failed again to finish Sunday. They needed leadership and inspiration and they needed to adjust. They did not.”

  • Breaking news for The Onion: “Andy Reid Cuts Several Players From Mustache.”




 

One Final Thought

Neil Hayes at the Chicago Sun-Times is as off-base in blamming offensive coordinator Mike Tice for the Bears problems as everyone was when they were blaming Mike Martz. Similarly, runningback Matt Forte refuses to admit what is evident to any disinterested observer. Via Biggs:

“‘I don’t believe in that soft schedule, tough schedule crap,’ running back Matt Forte said. ‘It’s the NFL. Everybody is good.

“‘We didn’t expect it to go like that. We didn’t play well across the board. Nobody. You saw the game. We haven’t done anything really. We have to get better at a lot of stuff as an offense. We haven’t proved anything.'”

This is, of course, exactly what you’d expect him to say. But that doesn’t change the reality. Biggs explains in a commentary which to my mind is absolutely spot on:

“It’s not a scheme issue. What the Bears have is a talent deficiency and this is a deep-rooted problem that goes back to the early years of Jerry Angelo’s administration. I’ve written time and time again how the Bears ignored the offensive line in the draft and therefore had no young players in the system. When Angelo made an effort to get one in 2008, he went bust with Chris Williams, now an ex-Bear. This isn’t a new problem and those who want to cast blame on offensive coordinator Mike Tice need to take a long look at the man who bears ultimate responsibility for the offense: Lovie Smith. But ultimately, what the Bears have here is a personnel issue on the offensive line, one that can be a surprise to positively no one, new general manager Phil Emery included. There is no quick solution and that is the answer no one wants to accept. “

The Bears weren’t at their best Monday. But teams that play really badly usually show obvious signs of it that any fan can recognize. Dropped passes, an excessive number of penalties, a lot of turnovers. The Bears had some penalties and a couple turnovers. But none of it was anywhere near what I’d call excessive.

The truth is that the Bears looked exactly like they did for the first nine games of the season. They just got beat by a well-motivated group with more talent that played well – i.e. by a better team. That’s all there is to it.

Gabe Carimi Is Not Quite Back Up to Snuff and Other Points of View

Bears

  • Sean Jensen at the Chicago Sun-Times quotes a scout on offensive tackle Gabe Carimi for the Bears Extra section:

“He just doesn’t look strong enough. Maybe part of that is the injury. He plays like he’s a 34-year-old.”

I would agree that Carimi hasn’t looked right and he’s been struggling. I don’t think its his strength so much as his quickness. He looks to me like he’s having a hard time keeping up with speed rushes to the outside. Like the scout, I suspect that the knee injury from last year hasn’t fully healed.

“Asked why quarterbacks no longer call their own plays, Tice said, ‘Because they don’t sit in meetings on Monday and Tuesday night and put the game plan in.’ But without hesitating, he added, ‘We did have some no-huddle [against Jacksonville] where we gave Jay some really, really good chances to do ‘either/or,’ and I thought he did a great job with the no-huddle. It was the most extensive that we had. It was another drive that stalled when we had something going, but we’re going to do more of that. We like him managing the no-huddle.’”

Using the no huddle does, of course, make sense. But other than that, expecting modern quarterbacks in the heat of battle to call plays with longer term planning and goals in mind is too much to ask. Most Bear fans will remember that former Bears offensive coordinator John Shoop couldn’t even do it just while standing on the side lines.

  • Potash does make a good point that the way the play calling is handled now leads to delays.

“The complicated nature of play-calling in the NFL that prevents Cutler from calling his own plays also causes its own problems. Offensive coordinator Mike Tice, a first-year play-caller, relays his call to quarterbacks coach Jeremy Bates, who gives the play to Cutler. If it gets there too late, it’s a problem. How many times have we seen an irritated Cutler walking back to the sideline after calling timeout because the play clock was running down?”

Passing plays through the quarterback coach made sense when Mike Martz was the coordinator because he spent his time in the booth. But with Tice on the sidelines, this makes less sense. My suggestion for cutting out the middle man would be cutting out Bates.

  • Potash can’t let go of the idea that Shea McClellin belongs at linebacker.
  • Dan Pompei at the Chicago Tribune suggests adjustments for the season after the bye. Here are a couple that I was in particular agreement with:

“I would not suggest that Brandon Marshall has been thrown to too frequently, because throwing to him has almost always been a good thing.

“But other Bears — [Devin] Hester, Earl Bennett and Matt Forte especially — are going to have to do more than they have as receivers at various points of the season.”

Good teams (like the Packers) are going to find ways to take Marshall away. That’s when the other guys have to get open against single coverage.

“Up until last week, the Bears relied heavily on Cover-2. They broke out a little bit against the Jaguars in an attempt to get eight men in the box.

“For their defense to be all it can be, it will have to be able to play more than Cover-2. It will have to be able to keep offenses off balance by blitzing, mixing in man-to-man, single high, quarters and man free.

“Whether the Bears can be more diverse will depend on how cornerbacks Charles Tillman, Tim Jennings and D.J. Moore and safeties Major Wright and Chris Conte hold up when given assignments that may be a bit out of their comfort zone.”

This is critical. Every team in the league knows the cover two beaters. Bear fans have seen them so often we dream them in our sleep. It works well against bad teams (or good teams playing badly) because they fail to execute. Against a good team on its game, though, its not going to fly. Not only do the Bears need to diversify their coverages in those situations but they have to do a good job of disguising them as well.

Lions

“The Lions, over their last 16 games (not counting pre-season, or exhibition, as it used to be called) are a 6-10 team. Is that an accurate predictor of this season? Can it be worse or will they get better?–Stephen, Windsor, Ontario

“I really expected them to be better, honestly. They have a great young quarterback and maybe the best receiver in football. Their defense should be awesome, certainly not 26th in points allowed. Certainly I didn’t see the rise of the Vikings, either, so that explains one loss – but to lose to the Titans, who are struggling, too?

“It’s not going to get any easier with the Eagles this week in Philadelphia and then the Bears in Chicago. And they still have both games against the Packers, who will be equally desperate, Houston and Atlanta. Unless the defense starts producing some turnovers – they have zero interceptions – I don’t see how things improve much against a very tough schedule.”

  • Of course the Lions beat the Eagles so that’s step one. Watching that game last weekend was a slow form of torture, especially in the first half. You would be hard pressed to find two sloppier teams. The Eagles were constantly bitten by negative plays and turnovers. The Lions consistently failed to take advantage as they were constantly killing themselves with penalties and undisciplined play. Both teams are an incredible waste of talent.
  • The lack of discipline on the part of the Lions was particularly evident along the defensive line. They got a lot of pressure on Michael Vick and they look like they are every bit as good as they were last year if not better. But they were rushing the passer like a blind dog in a meat house with many personal fouls and offsides penalties.
  • Having said that, beware the Lions in the fourth quarter. They woke up and starting moving the ball literally right when the quarter began as if they were just edging up to the starting line before that. Quarterback Matthew Stafford, who was inconsistent despite being under very little pressure all afternoon, suddenly woke up and started finding wide receiver Calvin Johnson underneath. The next week against the Bears could be very interesting, particularly if the Lions somehow manage to clean up their act for such an important divisional game.
  • Pompei, this time writing for The National Football Post writes about the “Wide 9” defensive philosophy where the defensive ends in a 4-3 sceme line up far to the outside. The Lions play it and the Vikings dabble in it.

“There are two primary benefits to the Wide 9. One is it makes it difficult for offenses to run outside. But the real reason teams use it is it gives the defensive ends excellent angles to get to the quarterback.

“‘It puts the fear of God into the offensive tackles if you have guys like Jason Babin, Jared Allen, Tamba Hali, Cliff Avril, Kyle Vanden Bosch, Lawrence Jackson and Willie Young,” [Lions defensive coordinator Gunther] Cunningham told me. ‘All these guys were some of the top speed guys coming into the draft and when you align wide, the OTs have to double kick on pass protection to block the edge. The double kick went out a few years back and now everyone is straight line dropping in the pass, meaning the OTs are holding space to stop the three technique, so the DEs that are wide have a straight line to the 7 ½ yard spot for the QB’s five step drop.'”

“The knock on the Wide 9 is it can leave a defense vulnerable to the inside run. In order for the Wide 9 to work, a defense needs a solid Mike linebacker and a good strong safety, because those two players often are going to be responsible for the B, C and D gaps. That’s why the Lions went after Stephen Tulloch last year, and why the Eagles traded for DeMeco Ryans this year.”

Elsewhere

“Can the officiating and broadcast crews keep up with Patriots when they play their accelerated no-huddle offense? If defenses are instructed to obstruct offense players after the whistle, will the refs call penalties?–Rufus T. Woodrow, New England

A.
I’m sure the broadcast crews were struggling – there’s certainly no time to show replays – because I was struggling. I would look down to jot down a note about the previous play and I’d miss the next one. I can only imagine what the defenses must feel like. Good question about the defenses obstructing players to slow things down – I would guess the officials will keep a close eye on that. That’s not supposed to happen, but it certainly does. Also wonder, as the no-huddle spreads around the league, if you’ll see players faking injuries to stop the clock.”

“How would you list the N.F.L.’s top ten coaches?–Frankly32

“Do I really have to? This is a minefield. This is in no particular order, but here are a few: [Tom] Coughlin, [Bill] Belichick, both Harbaughs [John and Jim], [Mike] Tomlin, Sean Payton, Jeff Fisher, [Andy] Reid, Mike McCarthy, and then some mix of [Mike] Shanahan/Mike Smith/Gary Kubiak – Shanahan has had great success but that was a while ago and he hasn’t had a quarterback until now to be in the same league with Elway, and I want to see Atlanta and Houston make deep playoff runs before elevating Smith and/or Kubiak despite their recent regular-season success.”

I like Batista and she’s one of the reasons I read the Times. And she does say she doesn’t want to do it. But suggesting “some mix of Shanahan/Mike Smith/Gary Kubiak” over Lovie Smith?

One Final Thought

I realize that this is only high school football but it really is amazing.