The Real Question: Can Joe Webb Throw?

Vikings rookie starter Joe Webb was full of apparent confidence when asked by Sean Jensen at the Chicago Sun-Times about Bears defensive end Julius Peppers:

“When I asked him whether he ever has seen a defensive lineman as fast Julius Peppers, Webb said: “No, but has he seen anybody move like me from the quarterback position?”

Now that you mention it, probably yes, he has.  But the point is well taken.  The Bears task Monday will be halt the Vikings ground attack and they’ll likely do everything they need to stop that first.

Assuming the Bears are prepared to do that, the real question is whether Webb can make things happen with his arm.  Given that he’s a raw rookie who the Vikings drafted as a wide receiver until Brad Childress decided to mold another lump of untapped potential into Tarvaris Jackson, I’d say that’s unlikely.  But you never know.

Do the Bears Still Have the Advantage in Cold Weather?

Neil Hayes at the Chicago Sun-Times answers your questions:

“Q: Playing Monday’s game in the land of Harry Potter colors (maroon and gold), which team do you think would be a better cold weather team, the Slytherins or the Gryffindors? — Seedy Backslash.”

“A: Great question. I would’ve said the Bears until they played Sunday’s game against the Patriots as if they had rather been under an electric blanket. Obviously, the Vikings are a dome team. You would like to think the Bears would have the advantage in temperatures that are expected to be as low as minus-18. We’ll have to wait and see if that’s the case.”

They’re going to have the advantage. The Bears’ problems last week were with the slick, snow-covered surface, not with the cold.  With any luck there won’t be any snow during the game, itself, and the surface at the University of Minnesota will be more clear of it.

But even if its not, the Vikings have nothing to play for in freezing temperatures.  I can’t believe once they get out into it that an of them will want to be there.  The Bears just need to minimize distractions from the task at hand.  If they quit worrying about the state of the field and concentrate on the game, they should have the advantage.

Points of View, December 16, 2010

Bears

  • Sean Jensen at the Chicago Sun-Times wrote one of his nice human interest pieces on an unlikely friendship has helped defensive tackle Tommie Harris through adversity this season.
  • Apparently they are selling naming rights for statistics now.  Jensen points out the Bears rank dead last in something called the “New York Life Protection Index”, which measures a team’s ability to protect the passer.
  • Mike Mulligan, also at the Sun-Times, points to the incredible good heath that the Bears have enjoyed as a huge factor in their success.  I can only agree.
  • Perhaps I’m a bit biased but seems a shame that Lance Briggs‘ outstanding season is being reward by being only third in the an voting at outside linebacker.
  • Patrick Mannelly gets some well deserved dap.

Elsewhere

“The owners need to find a way to get the labor situation resolved fast. If it’s not done sooner, I don’t know that Bill Cowher or Jon Gruden will find jobs. You’re talking about some of the best football coaches in the National Football League. They clearly want back in and are good for the game, but there is not a place for them, not with the uncertainty. They are not coming cheap. … You know what suffers — it’s the product on the field.”

I made the point some time ago that the owners could be firing head coaches early in an attempt to give the interim guys a good shot at earning the job.  It cold be much cheaper than paying two coaching staffs not to work during a lockout.  Its what I’d do in this situation and I don’t consider it to be a good sign that teams are possibly resorting to this.  It means they really aren’t sure a deal will get done.

  • Mike Klis at The Denver Post throws out Jim Fassel‘s name as a possible successor to Josh McDaniels as Broncos head coach (via Mike Florio at profootballtalk.com).  I never understood why Fassel can’t find another job in the NFL.  He led the Giants to a Super Bowl and is known as a good offensive mind.  He might be a good fit in Denver.
  • Dan Steinberg at the Washington Post reports (via Florio) that Donovan McNabb was booed as he attended a Wizards home game.  Rumors have been rampant that the Redskins are thinking of starting Rex Grossman and I guess the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence.  As much as I like Grossman and am rooting for him, I really don’t think Washington fans know what they’re likely in for if that happens.

One Final Thought

I will be away on a business trip today, through Saturday so there will be few if any posts until Sunday morning.    Have a good time in the malls. –Tom Shannon

Weather Will Now Be a Factor For the Monday Night Game Against the Vikings

The Bears will now be playing at TCF Bank Stadium at the University of Minnesota Monday night.  This is an outdoor stadium.  For those who might be wondering, snow continues to fall in the area and the long range forecast indicates that this will continue through Sunday night.  Temperatures for the game will be 15-20 degrees.  The wind chill, of course, could be much worse than that.

This should be just one more factor among many that will favor the Bears.  The Vikings aren’t the Patriots.  They’re a dome team with nothing to play for and there is a distinct possibility that they will turtle up in this kind of weather.

Can One Game Derail a Season?

Matt Bowen at the Chicago Tribune writes about recovering from a bad loss like that the Bears endured on Sunday:

“I have never been a believer that one game can derail a season. Get through training camp, the first three months of the season and then fold after a bad loss in December? It shouldn’t happen, but it can if the proper adjustments aren’t made and these corrections stemming from Sunday aren’t treated with importance.”

I don’t have much doubt that this is true, particularly coming from an ex-NFL player.  But there is a danger here.

Certainly as long as you see the film and you recognize that you made mistakes, you know that you can correct them.

But what if you are D.J. Moore or Tim Jennings, who were both tabbed with covering Wes Welker one-on-one and got ruined?  What do these guys do when they get totally out classed not because of poor technique but because the other guy was just better?  What if you are their teammates and you are thinking the same thing?  What if you look at the tape and you think, “Man, our coaches got thoroughly played.  And they’ll never be good enough to keep up with these guys”?

Everyone from the front office down to the average fan knows that there’s only so much you can do to compensate for a lack of ability.  That’s how you get a loss of confidence.  That’s how one game can derail a season.

I’m not saying this is going to happen.  But if enough players saw these kind of things enough on tape, the Bears are going to have a long remaining three games.

It’s all about confidence.  It’s all about improvement.  Perhaps most importantly, its all about faith.  Faith in your coaches.  Faith in your teammates.  Faith in yourself.  Here’s hoping this team has enough of it.

Points of View, December 14, 2010

Bears

“Branch explained what was discussed.

“‘It was good conversation.'”

“‘He said he was about to clean me off,’ Branch said of Wright. ‘Guys are always talking. But, like I told him, I’ve been playing a lot of football. I have a lot of football under my belt for me to just run a route and not think that you’re going to be there.

As a general rule, my experience is that its the quiet guys who get the job done.  That certainly appeared to be the case Sunday.

  • Much is being made of Wright’s failure to get over the top and cover Branch deep on the last play of the first half, which resulted in a touchdown.  But as Brad Biggs and Matt Bowen at the Chicago Tribune point out, let’s not forget that Charles Tillman also failed to divert Branch and allowed him to release to the outside, something that simply can’t be allowed in those situations.

“Did (the poor technique by both players) cost the Bears the game? No. They were trailing 26-0 before the touchdown. But it was indicative of how poorly prepared the Bears were and how they suffered major breakdowns in technique for the second week in a row.”

Tillman’s error didn’t really matter because Wright was so late.  But even if he hadn’t been its very possible the Patriots would have scored anyway.  Tillman had a terrible game.

“While Tom Brady had the kind of game that only further cemented his MVP and Hall of Fame credentials, this game magnified an even bigger difference between the Patriots and the rest of the NFL — they block better.”

They certainly do and the difference between the teams was noticeable not just on the offensive line but all over the field.

Elsewhere

Mike Florio at profootballtalk.com comments upon Tarvaris Jackson’s performance at quarterback for the Vikings last night:

The Vikings had rookie Joe Webb at quarterback for part of the fourth quarter Monday night.    They may as well get Webb some practice, because he’s the only Vikings quarterback on the roster that’s likely to be back next year.

Both Jackson and Webb were former head coach and all around genius Brad Childress’s projects.  The Vikings are already reportedly considering moving Webb moved back to wide receiver, the position for which he was drafted.

Brett Favre may well be put on injured reserve and the unsettled quarterback position bodes well for the Bears, who play the Vikings this week.

One Final Thought

Though I sympathize with their plight, I wasn’t too thrilled with Jets defensive end Shaun Ellis’ reaction to Rex Ryan’s comments after they lost to the Dolphins 10-6 (via Mark Cannizzaro of the New York Post):

“’According to Rex we played [bleepy].  He said we weren’t good enough. I guess we needed a shutout. I guess that’s what he was talking about.”

Yes, that’s exactly what he was talking about.  You’re supposed to win and lose as a team.  If that means you throw a shutout then you throw a shut out.

Good team members point the finger at themselves first.

Bears Could Clinch the Division This Weekend But Don’t Count On It

The Bears could clinch the NFC North this weekend with a win over the Vikings and a Packer loss.  Both of these things could easily happen.  But only if conditions are right.

First let’s take a look at how the Bears are reacting to the way that the Patriots dominated them.  This is what tight end Greg Olsen is saying via Neil Hayes at the Chicago Sun-Times:

“It still hurts. We took a lot of pride in playing well, and it was a big stage for us, and we didn’t take advantage of it at all.

“‘But we have to move on. One loss could become two, and then you’re snowballing down the wrong path. We have to bounce back. We play the Vikings — a division game. Maybe a week from [today], we’ll be celebrating being NFC North champs. We’ll see.”

Sounds good.  As long as they aren’t assuming they are going to beat the Vikings and they concentrate and give it full effort this week instead of letting the post-game hangover affect them.  There’s still a chance that they could play the Vikings in the Metrodome and the Bears have lost seven of their last eight there.  If they don’t, they could be playing outside at the University of Minnesota which, as Sean Jensen, also at the Sun-Times, points out, may not be much better.  It isn’t like the Bears looked fast on the snow Sunday.

But I think the Bears can handle the Vikings.  What is more in doubt in my mind is the Packers-New England game.  Yes, I’m aware that the Patriots have won 26 in a row at home.  And I’m aware that Aaron Rogers might not play.  Without him, the Packers are almost certainly sunk.

As I pointed out last week and as numerous people have pointed out since the game ended, the Patriots were practically built to beat the Bears.  They specialize in executing a patient, short passing game that works well against the cover two.  As Don Pompei at the Chicago Tribune pointed out yesterday, the Patriots forced the Bears to play a lot of man-to-man because they are so good at setting up mismatches with their personnel against zone defenses.

So the Bears problem was that they don’t specialize in playing man-to-man.  The Packers do.  In contrast to the good match up that the Patriots had against the Bears, the matchup with the Packers defense is terrible.  They play tenacious man-to-man defense and they have the personnel to do it.  You could argue that even their backups are better at it than the Bears starters are, particularly in the snow.

And, of course, there’s always the possibility that coming off of two tough wins, the Patriots could let down.  Things like that don’t happen to Bill Belichick‘s teams, you say?  All you have to do is remember that the Browns beat them 34-7 just last month.  No one is in top form all the time.  Though the best do manage to minimize it, it’s human nature to let down at least a little in these situations.

I know it was garbage time and I know better than to make a big deal of it.  But I’ll say out right that the Patriots played a very sloppy second half against the Bears and if they play at all like that against the Packers with Rogers in the line up, home game or not they’ll lose.

So even if the Bears react properly and come out on fire against the Vikings, the Packers aren’t going to just lay down and die.  The Patriots could have their hands full next week.

Bears Defense Needs to Be More Versatile to Compete Against the Elite

Dan Pompei made one of his usual astute observations about yesterday’s game for the Chicago Tribune:

“The Bears also played a heavy dose of man-to-man, especially against nickel personnel. In fact, they played man on about half the snaps.

“They tried D.J. Moore on Wes Welker man-to-man. Result: 17-yard reception. They tried (Tim) Jennings on Welker in man-to-man. Result: 12-yard reception.

“The Patriots’ multifaceted offense took the Bears out of what they do best. They are not built to play man-to-man any more than a rear-wheel-drive sports car is built for a Chicago winter.”

The Patriots are very good at dictating match ups when going against teams who play a zone defense.  A good part of that is because they can dictate personnel with their tight ends, then line up Welker or another player in a position to get a favorable match up.

Looking at it in retrospect, the only way that the Bears were going to effectively defend against the New England offense was going to be by playing man-to-man.

As Pompei points out, the Bears just aren’t built to do that.  Their defensive backs were signed and/or drafted to play zone and, when they’ve got their heads in the game and conditions are right, they’re pretty good at it.  But if they want to compete with the elite teams, their defensive backs are going to have to be more versatile.  Otherwise losses like yesterdays are always going to be a possibility.

Bears Need to Take Close Look at Their Mental Preparation

Mike Mulligan brought up a point for the Chicago Sun-Times that I know is probably running through many people’s minds this morning.

“But the thinking was the Bears were beyond this sort of game, yet another in a series of historic losses. It has been going that way for the Bears the last couple of years.

“They don’t just lose; they set some kind of record for futility en route to disaster. It happened last year against Cincinnati and Arizona and earlier this year when they gave up an NFL- record nine sacks in the first half of a road loss against the Giants.”

This is something that the Bears seem to struggle with.  All teams have bad games but when they do it, everything seems to collapse at once.  I can’t believe that there weren’t signs that this was coming last week.  Perhaps the players were too tight or too loose in practice.  Perhaps they didn’t appear to be focused.  Whatever the signs were, the Bears coaches obviously missed them or, if they didn’t, they didn’t do anything about it.

Players as individuals have to get themselves ready to play but getting the team as a group prepared to play is Lovie Smith‘s job.  He’s got to recognize when a large percentage of the team doesn’t appear to be ready to play.  Right now he should be questioning his evaluation when performances like yesterday’s come along with no apparent warning.  Good teams with good coaches just don’t lay eggs like yesterday’s.

Smith has a lot of former head coaches on his staff.  Perhaps a talk with them is long overdue.  At minimum, its time for some self evaluation.

The Bears Were at a Disadvantage on the Slick Soldier Field Surface Against the Patriots

There were all kinds of reasons for yesterdays 36-7 debacle against the New England Patriots.  But I thought Bears defensive tackle Tommie Harris came up with one of the main problems that perhaps people aren’t considering in the locker room after the game (via Neil Hayes at the Chicago Sun-Times):

“Nobody was making excuses afterward as player after player agreed with linebacker Lance Briggs’ assessment that this had been a ‘butt-whipping,’ although defensive tackle Tommie Harris did say the Patriots’ defensive scheme may have given them a built-in advantage in the wintry conditions.

“‘If you’re a fast defense, you play better on turf and other fast surfaces,’ Harris said. ‘Their defense is a 3-4, so their guys stand up, so traction isn’t a problem.'”

Last week I pointed out that one of the keys to the game was going to be the Bears defense playing particularly fast against the Patriots.  Then the snow came.

With Lovie Smith as the effective defensive coordinator and with Mike Martz as the offensive coordinator, the Bears have effectively brought the St. Louis Rams blue print of the late nineties to Chicago.  That plan is built based upon speed.  But the Rams play in a dome.  The Bears don’t and, though the problem hasn’t reared its head much previously, it was obvious that the footing hurt them more than the Patriots yesterday.