Game Comments: Bears Vs. Patriots, December 12, 2010

Defense

  1. Bears came out playing passive in the cover-2 in the first quarter. They had nickel personnel on the field on first down.
  2. The Patriots obviously anticipated what the Bears were going to do and they responded by running the ball and they did it very well.
  3. That wouldn’t have been so bad if it hadn’t been for the fact thay the Bears weren’t stopping them from passing either.  If you can’t stop the pass with nickel personnel on the field its going to be a long day.  It was.
  4. Eventually the Bears started putting in the standard front seven more often and bringing an eigtth guy into the box in running situations.  They haven’t had to do that for most of the year but they did here.  This did help stop the run but Patriots quarterback Tom Brady passed at will.
  5. Color man Phil Simms almost immediately pointed out the significant fact that the Patriots offensive line was expected to block the Bears pass rush without help.  The fact that they did was a huge key to their victory.  The pass rush wasn’t getting to Brady quick enough under the circumstances.
  6. The Patriots run the play action really well.  Of course it starts by running successfully which they did until the Bears gave in and started to scheme to stop it, giving the pass.
  7. The Patriots executed the passing game to perfection finding the holes in the cover-2 defense all day, especially by throwing over the middle.  The gaps were huge particularly when the linebackers got sucked toward the line of scrimmage by the play action fake.
  8. The Bears just weren’t playing fast enough or tight enough to stop a balanced Patriot offense that was executing well.  The footing had a devastating effect.
  9. The last play of the first half was a disaster.  Charles Tillman let Branch release to the outside.  He got no help over the top.  Absolute disaster.
  10. Terrible game for Tillman.
  11. Give the Bear defense credit.  They continued to give good effort in the second half and really laid some good hits.

Offense

  1. The Bears came out running and it looked like the right thing to do.  They were getting yardage and the Patriots seemed perfectly happy to give it to them by staying in their standard 3-4.  But the Bears didn’t execute well enough, consistently enough to do what they had to on the ground.  This was true particularly when they tried to run up the middle.
  2. On a related note, the Bears offensive line was particularly bad today.  The Patriots defensive linemen got penetration and generated negative plays all day.
  3. I don’t know what it was with quarterbacks not sliding today but after watching Aaron Rogers get a concussion I grimaced when Bears quarterback Jay Cutler took off with the ball.  He’s got to start sliding.
  4. The protection was really bad for Cutler and the Patriots got good pressure up the middle.  Once it got to be about 24-0, the Patriots just started rushing all out, knowing the the Bears had to throw the ball.  In fairness to the line they did improve in the second half (as usual).  But it was way too little, way too late.
  5. Cutler did throw the ball pretty well today.  He’s got the arm to compete in this kind of weather if he has time to throw.  I know he was intercepted twice but he was simply trying to make something happen under trying circumstances.
  6. For a team that dominated the game the way they did, the Patriots didn’t tackle very well.

Miscellaneous

  1. Jim Nantz and Phil Simms did a very good job.  It’s tough when the game is so uncompetitive.  I really appreciated the occasional wide shot that CBS gave the television viewers.  It allowed us to get a glimpse of the formation before the camera zoomed in more closely.
  2. The special teams were both good and bad.  Good with the returns as Danieal Manning had some good ones.  Bad with the kick coverage as the Patriots had some good returns as well.  The ball was dead which made kicking difficult.
  3. The Bears deferred on the coin toss giving the ball to the Patriots first.  I was mildly surprised because one of the keys is to keep Brady and that offense off the field.  No harm done.
  4. The turnovers were, of course, killers.  The Patriots converted them into points and things really snowballed in the first half because of it.  The Bears, on the other hand, missed repeated opportunities to get turnovers of their own – opportunities which they usually take advantage of.  Not a good game.
  5. The Patriots didn’t drop many balls in the first half.  They let down and dropped quite a number of them in the second half.  The Bears had maybe a few more than usual but relatively speaking it wasn’t a serious problem.
  6. The Bears, again, had far too many penalties.  As usual, the offensive line was the main culprit.
  7. The Bears seemed to have a lot more trouble with the footing than the Patriots did.  It wasn’t really  the slipping around that was so obvious but they looked tentative on their feet and it limited their mobility.  The Patriots looked like they were much quicker and more sure footed.
  8. Thank goodness the Packers lost to the Lions today.
  9. The Tweet of the game comes from Brad Biggs of the Chicago Tribune: “In his team speech last night, @ZachZaidman reports Lovie Smith was so emotional, some players teared up. Anyone cry at halftime?”
  10. The Bears didn’t play well and they didn’t handle the footing very well, either.  But those things can be corrected.  Their biggest problem today was that this was an awful, awful match up for them.  The Patriots look and play like they were almost designed to compete against cover two defenses like the Bears.  The loss was disappointing and I’m as frustrated as anyone.  But, unlike some fans, I’m also not going to be calling this a team full of frauds, either.  Circumstances and their offensive line just conspired against them today.  Here’s hoping they learn from it and are better able to handle them later.  There’s still hope that over the next month that offensive line will solidify and come together to make a playoff run.  But they’d better hurry.

Points of View, December 12, 2010

Bears

  • I made a big deal about the Bears handling cold weather better because they practice outside.  So its not surprising that today’s opponent, New England, who also is used to handling cold weather, is also doing so.
  • Jason La Canfora of the NFL Network reports (via Brad Biggs at The National Football Post) that Lions defensive end Cliff Avril was fined $15,000 fine for unnecessarily striking Jay Cutler in the face area.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. High hits lead to bad things. Period. Get used to it.

Elsewhere

“Q: In your opinion, over the last 15 seasons, who has been the league’s best quarterback, Tom Brady or Peyton Manning? — Kevin Armstead

“A: That’s like asking which super model you’d rather take to the prom. Both are great, obviously. If I had to chose I’d probably take Brady because he hasn’t had as much consistency with surrounding personnel or with coordinators and he has won three Super Bowls to Manning’s one.”

Give me Manning any day.  He does more to carry the Indianapolis Colts with less talent than Brady generally has to with the Patriots.

Expectations for Skelton are and should be low.  But I’ll say this.  I watched the quarterbacks workout on the television broadcast of the NFL combine last spring and the microphones picked up Skelton’s ball literally whistling as it left his hand.  He’s got some physical tools.  It should be interesting to see what he can do with them.

One Final Thought

I loved the reason special teams coordinator Dave Toub gave to Vaughn McClure at the Chicago Tribune for keeping kicker Robbie Gould after a try out involving four other kickers in 2005:

“Out of those five guys, Robbie had the best kickoff leg. Nobody came in and just blew us away. … He wasn’t crappy, so we kept him.”

It’s always nice to impress with your brilliance.  But sometimes it pays just not to screw up too badly.

Many Factors Combine to Make the Bears-Patriots Tilt Among the Most Interesting of the Season

Brad Biggs did a nice interview with Chicago Tribune colleague and former NFL safety Matt Bowen which concentrated on the special problems the Bears face against the Patriots.  Among the more interesting aspects of the match up which were addressed was this one:

“What is the challenge to covering their rookie tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez, who have combined for 10 touchdowns?

“They want you to play your standard 4-3 and to use Gronkowski as the down tight end and Hernandez as a wide receiver so they give you a three-wide receiver look with that deuce (two tight end) personnel.”

“Do you leave your base personnel on the field? They’re going to throw the ball. OK, you’re going to play nickel. They have a ton of one-back runs with BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Danny Woodhead.”

This is exactly what Bears offensive coordinator Mike Martz would like to accomplish with Greg Olsen.  He wants teams to guess whether the Bears will run with him in at tight end or if they will use him as a receiver.  He hopes to create mismatches.  That’s why it was and is so critical for Olsen to get better as a blocker.  He needs to be effective if the Bears are going to run with him in the game.  It prevents teams from simply playing a nickel defense and defending him strictly as a receiver.

The guess here is that’s exactly what the Bear will do to the Patriots tight ends.  They’ll keep nickel personnel on the field and try to stop the run with it as they did against the Lions.  With Nick Roach’s health being questionable anyway, they may want to keep nickel back D.J. Moore in the game more often anyway.  The Bears success defensively might hinge a lot on how much better the Patriots running game is than what the Bears saw last week.

Personally, if I were Lovie Smith, I’d try my best to disguise coverages more effectively than usual, something that they planned to do more of this year.  Even if in the end they still play cover-2 more often than not early, it will give them the option to subtly change the game plan to cover the shorter routes more effectively should the Patriots be executing their underneath game particularly well against it.

Smith has to be ready to be flexible.  He has to see what’s happening and adjust to the Patriot game plan and their execution.  In that respect, the Bears also have to worry about the other side of the ball:

“What should the Bears expect from Bill Belichick‘s defense?”

“Something they haven’t seen before.”

Although Bowen is a former defensive player, some of the more interesting aspects of the article focus on the Bear offense:

“Much has been made of the Bears not throwing the ball downfield. Are you surprised offensive coordinator Mike Martz resisted the urge to go deep during the five-game winning streak?”

“I’m not surprised, just because of how good the defense and the special teams are playing.

“He’s working within that role, ‘How many points do I need to win?’ It’s not a very high-risk offense right now. Matt Forte is running the ball and they’re not running deep routes. That’s why Earl Bennett is showing up so much. They’re running those three-step drops and he plays on the inside. It’s a quick, easy throw for (Jay) Cutler.”

It hard not to notice Cutler has been leaning a lot on Bennett recently.  Certainly if I can see it, the Patriots coaching staff can.  I think we can count on them concentrating upon taking away both Bennett and Olsen underneath.  Therefore it will be extremely important for Cutler to be ready to distribute the ball to other players.

I would be remiss if I didn’t highlight at least one of the more interesting factors that Biggs’ fellow journalist, Mark Potash at the Chicago Sun-Times, pointed to as well:

“(Patriots offensive tackle Vince) Wilfork has size and mobility in the mold of the Redskins’ Albert Haynesworth, who gave the Bears plenty of trouble. (Bears Center Olin) Kreutz and guards Roberto Garza and Chris Williams containing Wilfork will be key. The Bears’ communication on the line has improved of late, and they’re better equipped to handle opponents of Wilfork’s ability.”

Kreutz traditionally has a tough time with large defensive linemen and it makes handling the 3-4 particularly difficult.  If Wilfork is pushing him and his fellow guards into the backfield all game it could be a long day.  The Bears undoubtedly will choose to attack the edges again rather than attack Wilfork.

Anyway you slice it, this will be a wonderful challenge for the Bears and a great game with many interesting facets to watch.

Lovie Smith’s Challenge. Coach Needs to Adjust to Patriots Not Belichick.

One of the best pieces of advice my father ever gave me was when we talked about what I should do for a living.  He told me not to worry about money.  “Do what your heart tells you to do.  Make sure its something you like.  If you do, then you’ll probably be good at it and the money will follow.”

This more or less worked for me.  Though I’ll never be rich, I do like what I do and I make enough to live on.  But what was important here was the broader lesson.  If you take care of things on the ground level, success on the broader scale will follow.  Because I like what I do and I think I’m reasonably good at it, I’m reasonably comfortable financially and I consider myself to be reasonably successful overall.  And if you really cut to the bottom line, I’m reasonably happy.

In the Chicago Tribune today, David Haugh encourages Bears head coach Lovie Smith to be creative against Patriots head coach Bill Belichick:

“Chances are rare any coach will out-Belichick Belichick or out-Brady Brady. But Smith needs to try anyway to use his noggin so we shake our heads in disbelief.

“Add a new wrinkle in the return game. Dare to dabble in something that may not work defensively. Have the Bears run a flea-flicker since the Gary Crowton era?”

Mark Potash at the Chicago Sun-Times puts is even more bluntly:

“That’s how you beat Belichick. You have to be Belichick.”

These columns highlight one of the problems that Smith faces.  They suggest that Smith alter his game plan to out coach Belichick.  I would suggest that is putting the cart in front of the horse.  What Smith has to do is adjust to what the Patriots do as a team and let success against Belichick flow from that.

Belichick has such a reputation as a great coach that it can, I think, become a distraction which can keep other coaches from concentrating on the more basic, more important things.  Smith can’t be worried about out dueling the other coach.  What Smith has to worry about is how to use his personnel to neutralize Wes Welker‘s quickness.  He has to worry about Tom Brady‘s accuracy.  He has to worry about the Patriot’s underneath passing game and he has to think about how to counter that.

Bottom line, if Smith takes care of business and thinks about the ground level aspects of the game that make up the big picture, he’ll come out ahead of Belichick in the end as a natural result.  Like with everything else in life, it starts with the little things.

New York Giants Stuck in Kansas City. Game at Vikings Could Be Delayed

BREAKING:  The New York Giants team flight to Minneapolis has been diverted by a snowstorm to Kansas City (via profootballtalk.com).  The Giants were forced to conduct their Saturday walkthrough and pre-game meetings in Kansas City’s MCI airport.  Now according to Giants vice-president of communications Pat Hanlon says the team will be spending the night in Missouri.

Its being speculated that the noon game could be delayed until 3:15 PM or even until Monday.  WFLD, the local FOX affiliate in Chicago, is currently scheduled to show the Packers at the Lions, which should be unaffected.

UPDATE:  The games has been postponed to Monday night at 7 PM.  The game will only be shown in Minnesota and New York.

Damage to Albert Haynesworth’s Reputation May Be Worse Than Potentially Considerable Financial Loss

Redskins owner Daniel Snyder, GM Bruce Allen and head coach Mike Shannahan all refused to say whether they would seek to get a part of suspended defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth‘s bonus money back.  But defensive coordinator Jim Haslett had much more to say and if half of it turns out to be true, it sounds like they might have a shot (from the Washington Post via benmaller.com):

“I don’t think I’ve ever had a player just tell me he didn’t want to play ‘Okie’ defense [the team’s base 3-4 alignment] and then later say he didn’t want to play nickel versus the run, ‘Just play me on third downs,’ ” Haslett said. “No, I’ve never had that before.

“And we tried to accommodate him. It’s a shame because he’s athletic enough. He can do almost anything he wants. Obviously, he didn’t want to do it. Good athletes can do a lot of different things. Basketball players – guards can play forwards, they can play different positions. I watch throughout the league; I see wide receivers do the ‘Wildcat.’ I think to myself, ‘If you’re a good enough athlete, you can do almost anything you want. You’ve just got to want to do it.'”

I’ve never been a big fan of taking a player’s signing bonus money back unless they clearly signed it wit the idea of breaking the terms going in.  But to flat out refuse to do your job seems like a pretty good justification to me.

One thing is clear.  The Redskins made a huge mistake in dealing with Hanesworth.  They say that there’s always a team out there willing to take a chance but Hayensworth is going to have to practically play for free if any team is going to do it again.  Even then I wonder if the damage done by having this kind of cancer on the team wouldn’t offset the advantage.

Mental Strength Brings “Bear Weather” Back to Chicago

They say that 90% of life is showing up.  I’d add that the key to at least half of what’s left is doing it with a positive mental attitude.  No matter what we do, if we approach it in the right frame of mind, with the proper motivation and with faith in ourselves and our abilities, the task becomes easier to accomplish.

It used to be that people would comment about “Bear Weather” and I’d have a good laugh.  The Bears under Dave Wannstedt and Dick Jauron always seemed like they were absolutely miserable in cold weather.  Certainly they were no better than their opponents.

That’s all changed now under Lovie Smith (via Brad Biggs at the Chicago Tribune):

“The Bears are acting like it’s business as usual. In terms of just the temperature three of the eight coldest games at Soldier Field have been played during the Lovie Smith era.

“‘For us it’s the typical Chicago game in December,’ Smith said. ‘Do we game plan for it? Yes. This is our home-field advantage. Or I shouldn’t say advantage. It’s at least our home field we play on. You prepare for all situations that come up each week. Again, it’s not like we’re going to start doing anything differently than we normally do at this time of the year.'”

The Bears seem to play better in cold weather under Smith for a variety of reasons.

First, the Bears practice outside, particularly when they are preparing for cold weather games like the one on Sunday promises to be.  This allows them to get used to the idea and to adapt to the cold.  Dick Jauron, in particular, believed in practicing inside in an effort to save his players and keep them healthy.  But if you don’t practice under game conditions, you don’t play well under game conditions and that was born out time after time during his tenure.

The other factor that is worth highlighting is the presence of veterans like Olin Kruetz, who leads the way by encouraging players, particularly the linemen, to wear shorts with no sleeves during practice and in the games.

This might seem like useless bravado but it’s not.  Kreutz understands that much of success in life comes simply from knowing that obstacles can be overcome.  That includes the problem of playing in cold weather where it is at least half mental.

Yes, a player who wears shorts to practice in cold weather or who doesn’t wear sleeves during the game is going to be a little colder.  But he’s also going to realize that even with little buffer from it, the cold isn’t that bad – certainly nothing that’s going to keep him from getting through it and playing well in the process.  He knows that he can play better without sleeves than his opponent who is bundled up on the other sideline can with whatever protection against the cold such things provide.

All of this gives Bears players a mental edge over both the weather and the opponent.  And, as with the rest of us, its that edge which can mean the difference between winning and losing.

Looking Ahead, Bears Probably Will Be Targeting the Tackle Position in the Draft (Again)

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

Q: Despite a recently revitalized offense, the o-line is an obvious weakness and will surely be addressed either through the draft or free agency. The question is which of the five players is targeted for replacement? We know that (GM Jerry) Angelo loves his draft picks so Chris Williams and J’Marcus Webb could be safe. We know that Lovie loves his veterans so Olin Kreutz and Roberto Garza could be safe. And we know the Bears love their money so Frank Omiyale could be safe because they won’t want to pay him a starters’ salary to ride the pine. So who do you think will be replaced and who do you think should be? — Big Bear

“A: I don’t think of it as who gets replaced. They need to continue to collect offensive line talent and let performance dictate who plays. That said, the careers of Kreutz and Garza are winding down. They need to start developing their eventual replacements. With Garza also serving as the backup center, that’s a position that absolutely must be addressed. Omiyale has done a decent job at left tackle, especially since he spent all of the preseason on the right side, but they shouldn’t pass up a tackle prospect, either. Left tackle is a critical position in every offense but especially so in Martz’s scheme.”

I would generally agree with the answer if not with all of the sarcasm in the question.  But I’m going to guess that barring yet another expensive dip into the free agent market, Frank Omiyale is your left tackle next year.  The Bears are probably going to be drafting low in the first round and that’s not where you find left tackles.

Much more likely, they’ll draft a big, athletic right tackle to replace J’Marcus Webb who has struggled mightily on that side and who, to me, just doesn’t look like he’s got the physical ability to block pass rushing defensive ends.  Webb was only a seventh round pick and I don’t think its going to break Jerry Angelo’s heart if he’s relegated to a back up role.  Here’s hoping he does a better job of evaluating whoever they pick up than he did with Chris Williams.

Points of View, December 10, 2010

Bears

  • Fred Michell and David Kaplan at the Chicago Tribune got this quote from Bears safety Chris Harris on what the Bears will do against the Patriots:

“‘It’s not really what our opponents do, in our eyes, especially on defense,’ Harris said. ‘It’s about what we do. … If we read the keys in this defense, you should be able to play pretty good football.'”

One of the most fascinating things for me this Sunday will be to watch the matchup between the philosophies involved.  Lovie Smith believes in doing what you do and lining up your best eleven against theirs.  Bill Belichick is a tinkerer who believes you can get more out of your best eleven by scheming your opponents quite a bit more than that.

“So anybody else cringe at (offensive coordinator, MikeMartz promising to include more deep passes against the Patriots?”

The answer is, “Yes, I cringe.” The offensive line still isn’t ready to protect Cutler as he takes deep drops.  But the fact remains that someone eventually is going to take away the Bears running game and short to mid-range passing game and dare them to throw deep.  It could happen this week and if it does, the Bears are going to have to do it whether they are ready or not.  When that time comes, the media and fans will blame Martz.  But the real culprit will be the people who patched together that line.

Elsewhere

“And while watching on DVR Thursday’s edition of The Dan Patrick Show, Dan pointed out this two-pack of tweets from LeBron’s Twitter page: ‘Watching [SportsCenter] and Trent Dilfer is talking bad on how Peyton Manning is playing as of late! In his wildest dream [Dilfer] could never do the things Peyton does on the field. Good or bad! People get on TV and think they can say whatever they want! And it’s always former players! Crazy!!’

“Dilfer is now an analyst. Whether Manning is a better player than Dilfer was is irrelevant to the analysis of Manning’s current struggles.

“Then again, a guy who is constantly surrounded by enablers and sycophants likely can’t grasp the concept of criticism, constructive or otherwise.”

Its the total lack of logic in the argument that really struck a cord with me.  I find this constantly when discussing issues with people.  Instead of addressing the topic, they’ll bring up a peripheral issue that is totally irrelevant and consider it to be a defense.  Its irritating under normal circumstances but its particularly so when it comes from a source like James.

One Final Thought

Haugh also had this interesting interview with Blackhawks senior advisor Scotty Bowman:

“Who does a legend call to talk?

“‘You have a few people in the game that you’ve known to lean on, maybe some astute businessmen who have some sort of formula that works. (But) it can be lonely,’ Bowman said. ‘I remember once talking to Don Shula about this, and we said the same thing. I never said it publicly, but my biggest regret with some of the teams I had was I never told them how good they really were and how I appreciated them.'”

The Key to Winning the Patriots Game – Speed, Speed, Speed.

Its not often that you can boil a game down to one specific aspect that will determine who wins.  That isn’t the case this Sunday either.  But its close.  Brad Biggs at the Chicago Tribune puts his finger on the biggest problem for the Bears:

“‘You definitely have to work it down the field (against the Bears), which is our kind of offensive mentality anyway,’ (Patriots wide receiver, Wes) Welker said. ‘And when you get your chances, take advantage of them.’

“Dink and dunk is what (Patriots quarterback, Tom) Brady might do better than anyone. It’s not that he can’t make all the throws downfield, but he’s patient and fully willing to take what you give him.

“His ball placement is such that he delivers passes where receivers can make the next move.”

This is the problem.  Biggs describes it as being special to the defensive backs and the solution as being pressure from the front four with good fundamentals, which is all true.

But more than anything from the linebackers back into the secondary the Bears have to be sharp mentally, react quickly and play very, very fast.  Receivers must be tackled immediately upon catching the ball.  That’s always true but its especially important this week because the Patriots execute very, very well.  You aren’t going to see receivers dropping many balls this week like you did to some extent when the Bears played the Eagles and the Lions.  They aren’t going to give the Bears anything.

Oh, and just as an aside, here’s hoping strong side linebacker, Nick Roach, can play healthy this game because the Patriots can run the ball, too.  I don’t think the Bears will be able to stop them with a nickel defense like they did against the Lions, either.

The Patriots are balanced and the Bears can’t be flat or we’ll have another 2009 Bengals game on our hands.  For those who weren’t scared for life or who simply have blocked it from memory, that was the game when Cedric Benson and the rest of that offense did pretty much whatever they wanted against the Bears.  That’s probably not going to happen with a healthy Bears defense on the field this year.  But the fact remains that this is an awful matchup for the Bears.  The 2010 Patriots are as good as any team in the league since the 49ers of the eighties at playing the underneath passing game.  They’re very, very good at getting mismatches and more than ever if a receiver gets separation there’s serious trouble waiting.  Here’s hoping that, as they have against most of the other teams they’ve played this year, they can limit the damage.