Bears Defense Must Get Back to Fundamentals

Sean Jensen at the Chicago Sun-Times addresses the Bears defensive problems the last few games:

“The defense was ranked third overall, third in first downs allowed and tied for the league lead in fewest points permitted. But in the five games since, the Bears have allowed 26 points per game, and the defense has dropped to 10th overall and 11th in first downs allowed.”

The Bears players seem to agree:

“When he reviewed film of the game against the Jets, Briggs was disappointed in what he saw from the defense. And if the Bears are going to make a Super Bowl push, he said, he and his defensive teammates need to step it up.

“’It was poor,’ he said. ‘You look at the film, and usually it’s better than you think it is. This definitely wasn’t. It wasn’t the type of football we need to play to win in the postseason.'”

I couldn’t agree more.  The Bears defense hasn’t played with much discipline lately.  Even without reviewing film the average fan can see that the Bears are giving up big plays.  Safeties are biting on short routes.  Linebackers are out of their gaps.  There’s a lot of over pursuit.

Fortunately the solution, or at least a big part of it isn’t tough to figure out:

“’We just have to get back to our fundamentals because we were playing fundamentally good football consistently [earlier] in the year,’ linebacker Pisa Tinoisamoa said. ‘So to get back to that would be the goal.

“'[Recent games have] definitely made us more aware — more conscious — of our deficiencies.’”

Better now than in the playoffs.  So in that respect it’s not a bad thing.  As long as they get a handle on it soon.

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Packers Will Avoid Hester – If Possible

Rob Reischel, writing for the Chicago Tribune, addresses whether the Packers will kick to Devin Hester:

“Packers coach Mike McCarthy called it ‘top secret.’ Several other Packers refused to show their hands.

“Packers special teams standout Jarrett Bush was far more forthcoming. According to Bush, the Packers will do everything they can Sunday to make sure Bears return ace Devin Hester doesn’t touch the football.

“‘I don’t think so,’ Bush said when asked if the Packers would kick to Hester. ‘If he does, it’s going to be an accident.'”

I don’t think so either.

The Packers will, of course, try to punt away from Devin Hester.  But as Bush implies, that doesn’t mean Hester won’t see his chances.  Rob Demovsky writes about the difficulties for the Green Bay Press Gazette:

“Punting isn’t that exact of a science and in the Packers’ locker room on Monday, [Green Bay punter Tim] Masthay explained why. Using a pen and paper, he gave a geometry lesson on angles and explained why a 40-yard punt out of bounds is more than just a 40-yard punt.

“’If you want to hit a 40-yard punt out of bounds, it’s longer than hitting it straight up the field,’ Masthay said. ‘You have to hit like a 47-yard punt, and it’s very hard to hit it exactly where you want to hit it. It’s very easy to hit it (a lot shorter and out of bounds). And that’s why you don’t see guys do it or game plan that way very often.’”

This is the difficulty that the player who McCarthy called, “the best player on thier football team” and its probably one reason why he did.  Hester is an example of why directional punters have become the norm in the NFL.  Getting the ball where you want it is a skill without much room for error and in Hester’s case it like dancing on a razor’s edge.

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The Bears “Best Player” and Other News

Bears

“Word around the league is that the Bears aren’t in a hurry to spend more money on Smith. In fact, they may want to trim some salary off the coaching staff. That could be a lot easier to do after next season than this one.

“Phillips negotiated a bad contract with Smith the last time out because his timing was awful. No need to blow it again when you already have the guy for an extra year.”

  • Brad Biggs at the Chicago Tribune believes that leaving Corey Graham off of the Pro Bowl roster was a snub.  I agree.
  • Biggs also reports that the Bears brought in four punts for a look.  Current punter Brad Maynard will be an unrestricted free agent.  He’s been consistent but he’s also 36 and he’s had health problems.
  • Neil Hayes at the Chicago Sun-Times has this quote about Devin Hester from Green Bay head coach Mike McCarthy:

“He’s the best player on their football team.  They have a lot of fine football players, too. No disrespect to [Julius] Peppers, [Lance] Briggs and the rest of those guys. He’s having probably his finest year there.”

I guess its not exactly the same thing but I tend to think in terms of who the Bears could least afford to lose when asked this question.  Hester wouldn’t be at the top of the list.  I think I’d at least put Peppers, Jay Cutler and probably Brian Urlacher ahead of him.

  • The Bears are talking big about taking this game seriously and I’m sure they’ll try to.  But actions speak louder than words and the fact that Olin Kreutz got a veterans day off indicates that – to an extent – they aren’t treating the practices as seriously as they otherwise would (Via Vaughn McClure at the Tribune).  This seems to be consistent with this statement from Smith is Dan Pompei’s column at the Tribune:

“Most of you reported that we pulled our guys (in the finale in 2005). Even for this game, if there’s someone that’s a little banged up, we’re not going to put him at risk then.”

  • Speaking of Pompei’s column, he gives a well-reasoned opinion of what the Bears will actually do against the Packers Sunday.

In his last eight games, Cutler has a 96.9 quarterback rating on third down. His 54.7 percent conversion rate is the highest in the NFL during that span.

The defense is ranked second in forcing three and outs, are third best at stopping the run and are second in opponent passer rating.

The Bears had a lot of trouble with third down last year and early this year.

The Bears have forced 33 turnovers this season while the Packers have turned it over just 18 times. “Zero giveaways will be an important statistic this week,” McCarthy said

Elsewhere

  • Sam Farmer at the LA Times (via the Chicago Tribune) highlights the fact that if Seattle beats the Rams Sunday night they will be the first ever team with a losing record to make the NFL playoffs.
  • Barak Obama‘s statement commending the Philadelphia Eagles for giving him a second chance is causing an over blown storm of controversy.

I’m not in the habit of making political or social commentary.  But I’m going to make an exception here.

Obama’s statement doesn’t bother me.  The fact that people don’t like it doesn’t bother me.  What bothered me about this article is that of all the organizations to go to for comment the writer went to PETA.

PETA is not just an organization of animal lovers.  They are fringe extremists who, though welcome to their opinion, should not be sought for comment in an informed publication of any kind.  To do so only furthers their agenda and gives them an air of legitimacy that they in  no way deserve.

  • Michael Salfino at the The Wall Street Journal points out via benmaller.com that Michael Vick is 36% worse in cold weather, something Bear fans already know from his visits here.  This may be one of many reasons why head coach Andy Reid hesitated at first to make Vick the starter earlier in the season.  The Eagles won’t do it but they should reconsider their starting options if their road to the Super Bowl goes through Green Bay of Chicago.
  • Dominic Raiola may find himself in some hot water for this graphic suggestion (mlive.com via benmaller.com).
  • Cedric Benson further devalues the Ed Block Courage Award.  Via profootballtalk.com.
  • Green Bay offensive line coach James Campen on how to avoid a letdown similar to the one the Packers had against the Bears in their first game where they had 18 penalties.  Via Gary D’Amato at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

“You have to maintain good and the only way to do that is to strive to be great.”

  • Manish Mehta at the New York Daily News quoted this interesting statistic when talking about the difference between a Jet loss this Sunday, leaving the 10-6 and a Jet win:

When you look at recent Super Bowl history, 11 is the magic number. In the past 10 Super Bowls, 18 of the 20 teams had at least 11 regular-season wins.

  • According to the AP the Bears’ win over the Jets led the way to the highest preliminary television rating for the single-game window in the 13 seasons of the current AFC package with CBS.  Its nice to see CBS get a return on the Bears after televising the miserable contest against the Patriots where they had to switch away to a more competitive game in most markets.
  • Leave it to the Daily News to generate this headline:  “Rex Ryan is yet to put his foot down on issue of Mark Sanchez starting Sunday against the Bills”
  • Donovan McNabb continues to want to have his cake and eat it, too, according to the AP:

“Donovan McNabb sees ‘nothing wrong’ with an inflammatory statement in which his agent attacked Washington Redskins coach Mike Shanahan and offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan.

“Yet McNabb also tried to distance himself from that statement Tuesday in his weekly radio appearance on ESPN980. McNabb said he wasn’t aware that his agent was planning to release the statement before it came out last week.

“‘He put his thoughts into the whole deal, not Donovan’s thoughts,’ McNabb said.”

“No, I want to say, ‘F- you.’ And I mean that in the most professional way.”

  • If the Packers qualify for the playoffs they will be bucking a serious trend to make the Super Bowl.  According to Mike Vandermause at the Green Bay Press Gazette no NFC 6 seed has ever made it.
  • Via the AP we have Fox analyst Tucker Carlson who said Vick “should have been executed” for his role in a dogfighting ring.  Execution?  I mean really…

Can we do it on television?

One Final Thought

Thanks to George Vecsey at The New York Times for highlighting this spoof that could in actuality be of any of 95% of all NFL coaches.

Posted in Chicago Bears, Cincinnati Bengals, Denver Broncos, Green Bay Packers, New York Jets, Philadelphia Eagles, San Francisco 49ers, Washington Redskins | Leave a comment

How Will the Packers Play It Against the Bears Offense? Probably Loose.

Sean Jensen at the Chicago Sun-Times addresses the similarity between the Jets defense and the Packers defense:

“The New York Jets did Sunday what every other Bears opponent would not: They attacked the speedy receivers at the line of scrimmage, and they dared quarterback Jay Cutler to beat single coverage by arguably the league’s best group of cornerbacks, headlined by Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie.”

Its all about the pass rush.  But unlike the Bears who built their defense around getting pressure from the front four, the Jets defense starts with the corners.  They allow them to bring extra pressure from all directions on the quarterback.

“According to an NFC personnel director, there isn’t another team in the conference that plays defense like the Jets. But the Green Bay Packers, the Bears’ opponent Sunday in the regular-season finale, are one team capable of playing that brand, and they’ve done so more in recent games.”

Jensen mentions that the Packers played a lot of cover two against the Bears the first time around.  But the Bears aren’t’ the same team offensively that they were then.  For one thing a lot will depend upon their ability to stop the Bears running game in it, something they are going to find a lot more difficult now than they did then.

And the Packers do always like to be aggressive and they may need to be this game.  The offensive line is better, at least in the second half of games, and Green Bay is going to have a tougher time getting pressure on Cutler if they aren’t a bit more aggressive, than they were the first time around, I think.

The guess here is that Green Bay will still try to sit back in the zone again and wait for Cutler to get impatient or react badly to pressure and make a mistake.  But I think they know that they’re going to have to be more flexible than usual and ready to change depending upon how things are working.  They know the Bears a lot better than the Jets did.  They know their weaknesses and they’ll exploit them.  For instance, I think we can count on occasionally seeing them mix it up, coming out of the defense to bring that corner that Cutler has a bad habit of not seeing coming off the edge.

In any case how watching to see what they do and how successful they will be is just one more thing that makes this a fascinating matchup.

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A Guess As to What Lovie Smith Will Do This Sunday

Let the debate begin.  With the Eagles loss last night the Bears have clinched a first round bye in the playoffs.  They still have a shot at the number 1 seed and home field advantage throughout the playoffs but it is remote.  Should they rest their starters?

I’m going to make a guess here and say that as long as there is something to play for, Lovie Smith won’t do this.  The Falcons and the Saints both play at noon.  If either of them wins, the Bears have no chance at improving their seed and the backups play most of the contest.  Otherwise we may have a legitimate game to watch.

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Some Respect for the Packers

Dan Pompei contrasts the state of the Packers with the Bears going into the game at Green Bay.  He goes through some of the reasons why the Packers have survived through an incredible number of injuries to still have a shot at the playoffs:

“(head coach Mike) McCarthy, who has done an outstanding job with this team, is a candidate for coach of the year.”

“If you do things the right way, you stay true to your processes, your training, your fundamentals, you will have an opportunity to win every game,’ he said. ‘I think we’ve done that this year. We’ve played at a pretty consistent level regardless of all the challenges. I believe in the program. I have an excellent coaching staff.”

“The Packers had an easier time overcoming some of their adversity because they have quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who McCarthy calls the best player on the team and one of the best in the league.”

Good coaching, good talent and depth.  These are really important.  But McCarthy in my opinion leaves the best reason for last:

“(We have) a very healthy locker room as far as character and work ethic.”

Nothing happens in the NFL or anywhere else without character.  The Packers fought like lions against the odds all year to scratch their way to the opportunity that presents itself this weekend.  Collectively they’ve got as much in the way of pure guts as any team in the league and the deserve all of the credit and respect that a Bear fan can give.

Posted in Chicago Bears, Green Bay Packers | 1 Comment

Defensive Line Clearly Disappointing. Reasons Not So Plain.

The Chicago Tribune‘s Dan Pompei gave out some good grades this week.  But like the rest of us he didn’t have much good to say about the defensive line:

“Grade: 2 [of 10]

“The D-line was almost as bad as the O-line was good. With the exception of one 13-play, fourth-quarter series in which the Bears hit [quarterback Mark) Sanchez four times, they didn’t lay a finger on the Jets quarterback.

“There seemed to be some issues with footing and the Jets were picking up the Bears’ stunts well, but it went beyond that. Julius Peppers didn’t have much more of an impact on the game than Marcus Harrison, who was inactive.

On a related note, this quote from Peppers via Vaughn McClure, also at the Tribune, after the game caught my eye:

“We tried to run stunts, we tried to run games on them, and they did a good job of picking them up.  It was similar to the New England game. When you play against good offensive lines, those games don’t work as well. You have to do different things and adjust. And we didn’t adjust.”

First this sounded to me like a bit of an excuse for lack of performance.  Peppers makes that line go and sometimes he has to do it one-on-one (or more).

Second, some criticism of the coaching staff might be implied here.  I’m not sure what more Peppers thought needed to be done.  The Bears mixed in the blitz.  They didn’t do it as frequently as they might have but I can hardly blame them.  When they did do it they weren’t getting to Sanchez.

Whatever was meant, if Peppers wants more creativity out there I hope he’s letting the coaching staff know what he has in mind.  Based upon what we’ve been reading about Rod Marinelli and “creative control” it sounds like they’ll listen.  As long as he’s pointing to himself first when he’s assigning blame for lack of performance.

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Toeaina and Mannelly Extended. Manning Not Likely to Be.

Sean Jensen reports for the Chicago Sun-Times that the Bears have extended the contracts of Matt Toeaina and Patrick Mannelly giving us three more years to struggle spelling Toeaina’s name .  (Its actually not that hard.  Just use every vowel in the alphabet in random order until it looks right.)

Brad Biggs at the Chicago Tribune points out that the Bears have quite a list of players who could be next including Olin Kreutz, Anthony Adams, Danieal Manning and Brad Maynard:

“Signing Toeaina before starting nose tackle Anthony Adams was an interesting move. One source said the team has tried to sign Adams and safety Danieal Manning to extensions, but the Bears have asked all parties in contract talks to be silent, and with the team heading to the playoffs, it’s taboo for players to talk personal finances in the locker room.

“Early money for Toeaina is another indication veteran Tommie Harris, who has started the last three games, could be on his way out. He’s owed a $2.5 million roster bonus June 1.

Adams hesitation might be justified.  He’s an under rated player might command as much or more than the Bears are offering on the open market.  He’s 30 and this might be his last change to cash in.

Manning is a different story.  He’s a reasonably good kick returner and someone might pay him to do that.  But the odds are that the offer won’t be more than the Bears.  Manning has had a solid season but his history indicates that he’s prone to mistakes.  For instance, he bit on a short route last Sunday leading to a Jets touchdown.

Manning has an inflated idea of what he’s worth that was demonstrated when decided to stay away from offseason workouts in an effort to get more money from the Bears.  He was unhappy with the offers he got as a restricted free agent.  My guess is that Manning’s destined to be very disappointed this year as well.

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Playoff Bye Weeks: Good, Bad, and Ugly

Brad Biggs at the Chicago Tribune writes about the significance of having a first round bye, something the Bears can obtain through an Eagles loss tonight or a defeat of the Green Bay Packers on Sunday:

“Statistics show the bye hasn’t meant as much in recent years. Since the NFL expanded the playoffs to 12 teams in 1990, 59 of the 80 teams with a bye (73.8 percent) have reached the conference championship game. But in the last seven years, only 16 of 28 (57.1 percent) with a bye have played for the conference title.”

But that doesn’t mean that the bye can’t be important:

“‘I’d look at it as another chance for us to take another big step when you get a little bit of time off this time of the season,’ coach Lovie Smith said Monday. ‘That’s why the bye is so important. Injuries play such a big part in a team’s success right now.

“‘We have most of our guys healthy, and there’s a reason for that. But we hope we’re in that position of having to deal with having a few days off.'”

The only thing in the article that I really disagree with is this statement:

“Some suggest a team can lose its edge with an extra week off, but that’s more a loser’s lament than anything else.”

I think that recent Bear history can be seen as backing me up.  Biggs points out that the BEars lost their games after the by in both 2001 and 2005.  But its the 2001 game that really sticks with me.  The Bears lost an ugly game to an Eagles team that came in and just plain smashed them in the mouth.  The Bears came out flat and never recovered.

I think with the current coaching staff that the Bears can avoid this pitfall.  As Neil Hayes at the Chicago Sun-Times points out this morning, you could make a case that they are one of the major the strengths of the team.  They’re very experienced and very good at what they do.  Indeed, they are perhaps the main reason why the bye could be a great thing for the Bears.  With that, Biggs provides the bottom line:

The last time the Bears had a week off, the final week of October after consecutive home losses to the Seahawks and Redskins, they used it as a launching point for a five-game winning streak. Their only loss since was the Dec. 12 beatdown from the Patriots.

My conclusion is the same that most players and coaches come to.  That the bye is a good thing on balance and it might be an especially good thing for the Bears.  But a team certainly can lose its edge following a bye week in the playoffs.  That doesn’t mean you don’t want one and that doesn’t mean the Bears shouldn’t try their level best to obtain one.  But if they do, they need to take steps to prevent this from happening.

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Vikings Sports Figure of the Year and Other News

Bears

“ex-Bears player who came up big Sunday? Nathan Vasher made some plays for the Lions in their upset win at Miami. Don’t look now, but Detroit is slowly turning the corner to becoming competitive and the Lions’ upset of the Packers earlier this month looms huge in preparations for this coming Sunday.”

The NFC North could be a monster division next year with the Bears, Packers and Lions.  The Packers aren’t going to be this hurt again and the Bears aren’t going to be this healthy.  I don’t know what’s wrong with the Vikings defensive line but there’s still a lot of talent there even if tackle Pat Williams does retire.  A new head coach could step in there with any kind of a decent quarterback and win a lot of games.  The division will be very competitive.

“If the Packers defeat the Bears to reach the postseason, they could wind up as the No. 6 seed. That scenario could push the Bears to the No. 3 seed, meaning they would have a rematch at Soldier Field the following weekend.”

I have to be honest.  The Packers are just about the last team I’d like to see the Bears play in the playoffs.  They match up better with almost any other NFC team likely to make it.

‘‘’We’re a halftime team,’ receiver Devin Hester said. ‘We go in and fix everything that needs to be fixed and come out and make sure we’re successful with it.’”

“I don’t want to diminish what Chicago accomplished because they made some plays, but that wasn’t our best.  We’ve got to get back. There’s no excuses. We’ve got to get back.”

Elsewhere

    • The east coast blizzard that postponed the Eagles-Vikings matchup and kept the Jets in Chicago overnight Sunday has raised a lot of concerns about the Northeast Super Bowl awarded to New Jersey for 2014.  From The New York TimesGeorge Vecsey.

    This really sounds to me like much ado about nothing.  Snow is common and if necessary they’ll play in that.  But it would take a pretty rare event to shutdown a Super Bowl or even cause major problems playing and attending the game.

    • The Pioneer Press Sports Figure of the Years?  The 12th man.  Specifically the one in last years playoff loss against New Orleans:

    “So it makes complete sense to make The 12th Man the Pioneer Press’ Sports Figure of the Year, even if this is our first recipient to go nameless. True, (Naufahu) Tahi put the Vikings over the limit, but The 12th Man represents everyone involved in the fiasco, all those who made it possible and turned it into a moment every bit as infamous as The Knee and Hail Mary and the Love Boat in franchise lore. Maybe more.”

    “It set up a year of great expectation and, too often, greater disappointment.”

    “Minnesota was never the same.

    “The state or the team.”

    • Tim Tebow may have inserted himself into the Broncos future but not necessarily because of his on field performance.  As pointed out by Judy Battista at The New York Times there were only 5700 no shows for a meaningless game against the Texans Sunday.

    One Final Thought

      Vikings cornerback Asher Allen in repines the the Pioneer Press’ question:  “Which was the best Christmas present you received as a kid?”:

        “”I never got a Christmas present. Never. We don’t celebrate Christmas. We do Christmas throughout the whole year. Every day is Christmas. As long as you get up, every day is Christmas.”

        Posted in Chicago Bears, Minnesota Vikings | Leave a comment