Imagine That. Some Encouraging Words From a Packer.

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

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

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

All good points.

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

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

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

Quick Comments on the Monday Night Games

Eagles  – Falcons:

  • Sam Bradford didn’t look sharp early. Too many missed passes and miscommunications. This was exacerbated by the job the Falcons did stopping the run. Eagles head coach Chip Kelley gave up on it and decided to lean on Bradford’s arm. It wasn’t a good decision. The Eagles had 8 yards rushing, 117 yards passing and an INT while only scoring three points at half time. Despite running the ball better, the Eagles stuck with the pass in the second half. They had more success in the second half but still lost this game in large part because they the refused to run the ball more.
  • The Eagles had a lot of trouble getting pressure on Matt Ryan and that exposed their biggest apparent weakness. That secondary’s not good.
  • Speaking of Ryan, he was very lucky that he didn’t give this game away.  Two interceptions that really should have been five.  He’ll want to clean that up.  He won’t get away with it often.
  • The Falcons were running the ball surprisingly well and they did a good job of setting up the play action pass.
  • I heard all off season about how the Falcons were quietly building that defense up.  I didn’t get it, myself, until tonight.  They’re far better than I thought.  They’re much faster and much better at the line of scrimmage.  I was damned impressed.

Vikings – 49ers

I was doing a podcast and could only occasionally glance at this game.  I went to bed not long after that.  But I do have some thoughts on what I saw.

The biggest knock on the Vikings going into the season was their offensive line. They did nothing that I saw during this game to ease anyone’s mind. The 49ers harassed QB Teddy Bridgewater and limited running back Adrian Peterson to 14 yards on 4 carries in the first half. The Vikings have been touted as a playoff team. They’re going to have to do better if that’s going to be the case.

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

Bears

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

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

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

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

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

    “Biggest area of concern .?.?.”

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

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

Elsewhere

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

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

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

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

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

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

One Final Thought

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

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

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

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

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

Everywhere, Hub. Everywhere.

When Sacrificing Your Body Isn’t Enough. And Other Points of View.

Bears

  • Hub Arkush at ChicagoFootball.com thinks that nose tackle Terry Williams stood out on Thursday night and I’d agree. But here’s what I thought was the really interesting observation:

    “Now, I’m not so sure Tayo Fabuluje isn’t the second best tackle on the Bears – not including Kyle Long, of course – and shouldn’t be moved into the starting lineup at right tackle.

    “If the Bears are going to have to cover for and live with mistakes from their right tackle, why not suffer with a player with a huge upside.”

    I’ll be honest. I watched Fabuluje during the game and thought the same thing. But the thought was too ridiculous and I forgot about it. But if I wasn’t the only one to notice, maybe its not such a stupid thought after all. Fabuluje moves well for a big man. But there would be a lot of growing pains and most of them would be inflicted upon quarterback Jay Cutler.

    Hub was also happy with David Fales but here I’ll very mildly disagree. I’d have liked to have seen him go down field with the ball more. The same could be said for Jay Cutler. Good for him in that he’s not turning the ball over. But he’s not making any plays, either. John Mullin at csnchicago.com agrees:

    “The other shoe, however, is doing something with the football while you’re not giving it away, and that hasn’t dropped for the 2015 Bears. The No. 1 offense didn’t score a touchdown on any of those 80 Cutler snaps.”

    Cutler’s defenders will point out that he didn’t have Alshon Jeffery, Kevin White or Eddie Royal. Nonsense. All that tells me is that Cutler still can’t throw a receiver open with anticipation. Other people see improvement in Cutler this preseason. I see a guy who will once again be middle of the pack statistically but who will head an offense that won’t be able disciplined enough to run the ball consistently and won’t be able to pass its way out of trouble. Cutler won’t – and will never – produce enough to win.

  • Jeff Dickerson says that he “can’t rule out” the possibility that the Bears would be interested in RGIII. Heaven help us all.
  • Steve Rosenbloom at the Chicago Tribune comments upon Thursday’s game against the Browns:

    “Maybe it’s a result of the lesser quality of opponent throughout the practice games, but it looks like Mason Foster should be starting ahead of [Shea] McClellin or Christian Jones.”

    Just watching the game, I would agree with this. But Foster was cut on Friday. Get used to it.

    To those who genuinely believe that the Bears are going to defy predictions this season and compete for the division, Foster should be a warning sign. The Bears are rebuilding and nothing says that louder than cutting Foster before younger linebackers like John Timu, and Jonathan Anderson. The Bears are evaluating based upon future potential, not present performance.

Elsewhere

  • Related to my comment on Cutler above, Mike Rothstein at ESPN.com answers your Lions questions:

    Q: “I still don’t see nearly enough shots. [Matthew] Stafford has been good but very few passes traveling more than 20 yards.”

    A: “It’s the preseason, so you aren’t going to see a ton of shots. Plus, Calvin Johnson wasn’t on the field at all during the exhibition season so that is going to limit the shots taken anyway. I don’t expect the Lions to turn into an Air Raid offense or anything, but with a healthy Calvin Johnson, a more experienced Eric Ebron and a returning Golden Tate, the chances are there to take more shots downfield. It wouldn’t shock me to see if the Lions take one or two more big play shots per game — but not too much more than that.”

    I was down on the Lions after they lost Ndamukong Suh. And I was dead wrong. They’ve been very impressive in the preseason, both offensively and defensively. Unlike the Bears, they do show signs of being disciplined enough to run the ball with a nice stable of runningbacks, most notably rookie Ameer Abdullah.

    It’s going to be a big year in the NFC North with the Packers, the Lions and the Vikings all showing signs of being playoff level football teams and the Bears have a great opportunity to play spoiler. Failing to take care of business against the Bears could be the difference between a wild card and being on the outside looking in for any of them.

  • Something to keep an eye on within the division is the Vikings kicking situation. Blair Walsh signed what is a lucrative contract extension (for a kicker) with the team in the offseason. Now he’s missing field goals all over the field in the preseason and there’s a great deal of concern in Minnesota. A valid question to ask is whether the team will start going for two point conversions rather than risk Walsh missing extra points. There’s a case to be made that any good offensive team that thinks they can gain two yards more than half the time in such a situation should be doing it anyway.

One Final Thought

Patrick Finley at the Chicago Sun-Times quotes Timu on his experiences as a three-time captain at Washington:

“‘Our thing was, ‘Sacrifice your body and glorify your soul for the team,’’ he said. ‘I took that mindset out of (Washington) and brought it here as a Chicago Bear.'”

“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.

NFC North Starters and Other Points of View

Bears

  • Brad Biggs at the Chicago Tribune answers my question about whether Bears draft pick Adrian Amos is more of a threat to Ryan Mundy or Antrel Rolle. My assumption when I asked this question was that Rolle would play free safety, as he did last year with the Giants, and that Mundy would play strong safety where the Bears would take advantage of his good tackling efficiency. Amos would fit better at free. But to my surprise, Biggs indicates that there is some question about whether Rolle will be at strong safety. Rolle might fit better as a strong safety as to my eye his range is decreasing. But this wouldn’t play to Mundy’s strengths. Who plays what will be an interesting question to keep an eye on when training camp starts.
  • Biggs also answers a question about whether the Bears will keep four nose tackles with the signing of undrafted free agent Terry Williams. The question assumes that Jeremiah Ratliff will play nose tackle, something I’m not too sure he’ll be doing. He could also play end. Another thing to keep an eye on in camp.
  • Conor Orr at nfl.com predicts the Bears starters for 2015. I thought it was interesting that he has Hroniss Grasu moving immediately in as the starter at center. Many think Grasu will need a year of seasoning at guard and/or on the bench before being asked to handle the duties at center. Orr also says that the Bears have “sneaky depth” along the defensive line. I fail to see that.

Elsewhere

  • Orr predicts the 2015 starters for the Lions. I’ve been predicting a fall for the Lions this year for a while. The long standing problem of a poor defensive backfield and the new problem along the defensive line with the departure of Ndamukong Suh could be a very problematic combination for them.
  • Orr thinks that there’s a lot to like about the Vikings starters. Unlike the Lions, they seem to have finally solved their chronic problem at cornerback with Xavier Rhodes and Trae Waynes. Combined with a strong front seven they’re going to be tough on defense. They finally have a quarterback to go with Adrian Peterson on offense. ’nuff said.
  • Orr points out that the Packers didn’t entirely solve their two greatest problems this offseason – weaknesses at cornerback and inside linebacker. He doesn’t think first round draft pick, cornerback Damarious Randall, will be ready to start as a rookie. The Packers coaching staff will once again have to earn their money this year.
  • Orr also pens an article in which analysts Brian Baldinger and former cornerback Solomon Wilcots discuss what the New York Jets are going to do with what is suddenly an excess of good defensive linemen. Leonard Williams unexpectedly fell to them in the draft and he was too good to pass up. The conclusion? Go to the 4-6 defense. This is a fascinating read as both analysts speculate that the combination of the right personnel, the right coach and the right defense to stop the suddenly resurgent power running game in the NFL all combine to make this an interesting possibility. I’m looking forward to seeing what happens with this Jets defense. It has the potential to be the best in the NFL.
  • Hub Arkush at chicagofootball.com says that the owners meetings are mostly hot air insisting that there aren’t many real stories to be had there. One thing I’ll take issue with is his statement on the race that the Rams, Chargers and Raiders are in to get to LA. He insists that “the reality is none of those teams is any closer to L.A. today than is has been at any time in the past”. On the contrary. The reality is that Stan Kroenke is well on his way to building a real stadium which is going to have to be filled by a real team. Someone’s going to do that. We’re a lot closer to seeing at least one team leave than in times past.

One Final Thought

One other thing in Hub’s article that I’m going to choose to take issue with is his continued, emotional defense of the Patriots in the “deflate-gate” scandal. Particularly his statement that Tom Brady and the NFLPA will “take their case to court as they did with Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson, and a truly unbiased judge will throw out the suspension completely after exposing it and the Wells report for the farces they are”.

I’ve stayed away from this as far as the blog is concerned because, after an initial gut reaction on the topic, I’ve decided that I’m not too worried about it. It’s not about football. It’s about the business that surrounds football and I’m not too interested in promoting that.

Nevertheless, I must say that I’d be very surprised if this went to court because in that case Brady would be forced to turn over his electronic communications under subpoena. That’s something I doubt very much he’d be willing to do given that he wouldn’t do it when he and his agent had control over what got turned over during the Wells investigation and wouldn’t do it. The Rice and Peterson cases were different – no one was withholding evidence. And let’s be honest, that’s what this case is all about now. When you are the NFL and you are charged with the investigation of a rules violations (or anything else) and you don’t have subpoena power, you are entirely dependent on the cooperation of everyone involved. That means you have to throw the book at teams that lawyer up in an effort to affect the outcome of the investigation and/or withhold evidence. It’s the only card the league can play in order to allow them to keep order in the league. As was the case with the Saints’ “bounty-gate” scandal, that’s what’s behind the severity of the punishment here.

In any case, I think we may be looking at a situation where Brady would prefer that the doubt about his guilt persists, even if the fact that he didn’t completely cooperate with the investigation does, as well.

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.

Follow the Money

With the first round of the draft over and with running back Adrian Peterson still on the Vikings, Peterson’s agent Ben Dogra makes it appear that he’s changing tactics. Via Kevin Patra at NFL.com:

“‘One of the things that I appreciate with the Vikings is their resolve to say ‘we’re not trading him,’ Dogra told [USA Today‘s Tom Pelissero]. ‘That tells me they value him not only as a football player, but what he’s done for the organization.

“‘I actually, as an agent, not only appreciate it — I accept it. But actions speak louder than words. If that’s going to happen, and you want to keep him, then show him a commitment to make him retire as a Viking. And I haven’t had that solution.’

“Dogra’s public strategy is clearly moving from ‘trade him’ to ‘pay him.'”

Let’s be honest. It’s always been about “pay him”. From beginning to end there was nothing about this that some more guaranteed money wouldn’t have solved.

NFC North Roundtable

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Adam Bringedahl (Detroit Lions), Brian Slattery (Green Bay Packers), Davey Randa (Minnesota Vikings) and I review hot topics currently affecting the NFC North and the upcoming 2015 NFL Draft in . We worked hard on this and I think it came out reasonably light and funny. Give it a listen and don’t miss the where all 32 representatives participated in a mock draft in preparation for the upcoming real thing tomorrow. Also available on iTunes and Stitcher.

Who Has the Edge to Compete with the Packers in the NFC North Post Free Agency

All of the NFC North bloggers at ESPN agree that the best team in the division is still Green Bay but the reasons vary. None of them points to what I think are the most potent mix in football – the presence of quarterback Aaron Rogers combined with the best coaching staff in the league outside of New England.

Most of them agree that the Lions are the team to watch if anyone is to overtake the Packers for the division. I’m going to disagree.

This is primarily a Bears blog so let’s just get this out of the way:  The rebuilding Bears aren’t worth mentioning on this point.

The Packers 

Rich Campbell at the Chicago Tribune examines the importance of Rogers:

Mike McCarthy‘s anxiety mushroomed beyond normal game-week levels in January every time he entered the Packers‘ training room to check on Aaron Rodgers‘ strained left calf.”

“McCarthy also endured losing Rodgers to a broken collarbone in 2013, resulting in an 0-for-November skid that nearly sent the Packers tumbling over the playoff cliff before Rodgers returned and saved the season. It was a jarring reminder that when the quarterback falters, a trap door can open beneath even the most accomplished teams.”

“‘Aaron … gives us the ability to be very aggressive in what we do (offensively), and it’s a lot of fun from that perspective,’ McCarthy said last month.

“Fun for the quarterback-haves sure, but misery for the have-nots.”

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Never doubt the importance of Rogers (above) to the Packers or that he’s the best quarterback in the game with the possible exception of Tom Brady in New England.  And never doubt that hes a key to elevating the performance of the team.  As 2013 showed, theyre below average without him.

The same goes for an outstanding coaching staff on both sides of the ball.  The environment is one where players know how to do their jobs and they expect to win when they do.  With the exception of occasional tacking issues and bouts of dropped passes they’re usually one of the most fundamentally sound teams in the league.

The Lions

Moving on, the Lions lost the primary reason their defense has been dominant over the past few years (Ndamukong Suh) and they haven’t gotten better anywhere else.  As Michael Rothstein at ESPN reviews the Lions roster, I see what many might consider a surprising number of places they need to get better including running back, wide receiver, offensive tackle, offensive guard, defensive end, and cornerback.

I mildly disagree with Kyle Meinke at mlive.com when he touts the Lions success in free agency by pointing to their defensive line and their defensive backfield. And yet they are still their top two needs in this year’s draft.

In fairness to Meinke, he isn’t exactly claiming that signings like Rashean Mathis are all-stars. And I’m not saying that the Lions understated approach to free agency is the wrong one to take. Indeed, I think this is the way to do it:

“‘Here’s what I do know: I do know you don’t win any games this time of the year,’ [Lions head coach Jim] Caldwell said recently. ‘At Indy, we lost every year in the offseason. We didn’t lose too many games during the season, because we didn’t believe in necessarily going (all out) in free agency. We’d pick our spots, and build our team through the draft.

“‘That’s what we do — we basically build our team through the draft. Nevertheless, there are some opportunities out there — like Golden Tate — to go out and make a difference for us.'”

Tate was a nice, big money signing. But nevertheless, they’ve hardly used free agency to plug holes effectively, especially at cornerback.

As Meinke points out, the Lions have not drafted consistently well in recent years.   The odds are good that, four years later, two failed drafts in a row (2010 and 2011) from which the Lions have no players left on their roster are going to catch up with this franchise.  No surprise that Sharon Katz at ESPN categorizes the Lions statistically as the NFL’s worst drafting team.

Marc Sessler highlights the up and down nature of the Lions history:

“We’re not calling for the Lions to tumble off a cliff — not with Matthew Stafford throwing to Calvin Johnson and Golden Tate — but in the past four seasons with Stafford under center, Detroit has won 10, four, seven and 11 games. They’ll pivot back to earth in 2015, leaving the door open for another conference heavy to nab a wild-card spot.”

With the departure of Suh, they may be about to find out how mediocre the talent on that roster really is.  With the magic focus that come with having a new head coach also wearing off, I can’t imagine that they’re not in for a fall.

The Vikings

The Vikings, on the other hand, are a team to keep an eye on this year.  Sessler details some reasons why:

“On the heels of Teddy Bridgewater‘s mostly promising rookie campaign, the team upgraded at wideout by trading for the fleet-footed Mike Wallace while saving $5 million in cap space by dumping Greg Jennings. Wallace gives the Vikings a bona fide No. 1 target to pair with the promising Charles Johnson. If Cordarelle Patterson can shake off last year’s disappointing campaign and Kyle Rudolph can stay healthy, Norv Turner’s air attack will soar. That said, the O-line needs help.

On defense, Zimmer added a pair of former Bengals in cornerback Terence Newman and safety Taylor Mays.

Cornerback is a chronic problem in Minnesota and Newman should help opposite Xavier Rhodes.  Wallace wasn’t used correctly in Miami and could be a significant upgrade over Jennings in my opinion.  Add in the potential return of running back Adrian Peterson and you’ve got a balanced offense and a serious problem when playing Minnesota.

But I like the Vikings even without Peterson.  Why?  I love Bridgewater.  More than any Bears fan has a right to do.  I think he’s still under-rated and is going to turn out to be a top five quarterback in the NFL.  I also love the coaching staff in Minnesota, most importantly offensive coordinator Norv Turner who I think knows how to use the talent that’s given to him.  And I think there’s plenty of talent there to take advantage of.  Chris Mortensen at ESPN apparently agrees in this interview as he repeatedly emphasizes the ability of head coach Mike Zimmer to develop young talent and how lucky Bridgewater was to land in the right place with Turner (below).

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Conclusion

Former Bears tight end Desmond Clark once said that the talent around the NFL on a team by team basis is largely the same.  That leaves quarterbacks and coaches to make the difference.  Those are the two things that can turn average players into good players and good players into great ones.  The only team in the division that has the quarterback and the coaching staff to compete with the Packers is the Vikings. They’re the team to keep an eye on this year.