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.

Players Agree Not to File a Collusion Claim. For Now. Joy.

In what he claims is a “somewhat positive sign”, Aaron Wilson writes that the players won’t be filing a collusion claim right now for the National Football Post:

“‘The NFL & NFLPA have agreed to extend the deadline for the players’ to file a collusion claim,’ the statement said. ‘This agreement does not prevent the NFLPA from filing a collusion claim at future date. We are continuing to work toward a new CBA that will be good for players, owners and fans.'”

Well, I will say this.  At least we won’t have to hear about one more nuisance filing by the union aimed at pressuring the owners into an agreement – even though it won’t work.

The NFLPA has been screaming for months that how a lockout is coming.  So now what does the union do?  Scream that they couldn’t possibly have simply believed what the believed what the players said.  If that’s kind of logic that they are using at the bargaining table, we all might as well stop planning for a 2011 season now.

Turf for Soldier Field? Ask the Players.

A column for Chicago Sun-Times weighed in on the natural grass Vs. artificial turf debate at Soldier Field:

“Soldier Field may be the league’s worst, but that doesn’t mean Bears players want the team or park district to do anything about it. On the contrary, the majority of Bears players, when asked whether they’d prefer to play home games on natural grass, artificial turf or an artificial/natural hybrid surface, said they’d keep the field as is.

“‘I like it the way it is because we know what we’re dealing with,” safety Chris Harris said. “It gives us an advantage. We know the conditions. Both teams play on it, but we’re more aware.'”

And there is also the fact that the Park District is likely to fight the move to consider:

“Nobody is expecting changes at Soldier Field any time soon. Team president Ted Phillips has said he’s awaiting ongoing studies on player safety before making any decisions. The park district maintains the stadium as a multipurpose venue, and other events require grass fields.”

“Hybrid surfaces such as the one at Lambeau Field aren’t practical at such a busy venue, which means the status quo may be the best — and only — alternative.”

I don’t know if there’s a right answer to this question but, such practical issues aside, to me this debate should always come down to what the players think is best.  They have to play on it.  I understand that they don’t all agree but if, as the article claims, this is really what the majority wants, its easy enough to keep things as they are.

UPDATE: Brad Biggs at the Chicago Tribune reports:

“But in an anonymous poll of Bears players conducted by the Tribune last year, 36 players were asked about their preference, and only 12 said they wanted to stay on a grass surface.”

This is in contrast to what was said above.  Perhaps the players can’t make up their minds either.

In Defense of Jeff Fisher

I always like reading Mike Florio’s profootballtalk.com blog because he isn’t just aggregating news.  He bring sometimes very strong opinions.  And he feels pretty strongly about Titans coachJeff Fisher:

“Some think that, if Fisher is fired in Tennessee, he’ll end up getting the job in Dallas.

“If he plans on getting any other head-coaching job in the NFL, Fisher will need a darn good explanation for the apparent reality that his team has quit on him.”

I’ve heard Florio interviewed enough to know that he can’t understand why people belive Fisher is such a good head coach.  As an admittedly biased fan of the former Bear, I’m going to take issue.

It well known that coaches around the NFL have a defined shelf life.  Its roughly 6 or 7 years give or take.  After that, Players have heard it all before.  They get comfortable.  The message from even the best head coaches goes stale.  If the head coach is a particularly emotional guy, it can do that even more quickly.  If he’s Mike Singletary it happens in less than a full season.

Fisher has lasted 16 more or less competitive seasons with the Titans.  Sixteen!  And not only that, he did it with Bud Adams, one of the worst, most meddlesome owners in the NFL constantly interfering.  Fisher’s an even tempered, defensive mind who understands players and who has consistently gotten the most out of them when other “geniuses” in the NFL have failed.

In those 16 years how many players have left the Titans to go on to better things elsewhere?  On the other hand, how many have left and failed?

Want to know how valuable Fisher is?  Ask Eddie George.  Better yet, ask Albert Haynesworth.  How much has Mike Shanahan gotten out of him this year?

I’m not saying that Fisher is the greatest head coach in the history of the league.  But he deserves his due in terms of respect.  And he can coach my team any time.

Lockout Threat Has Owners Hiring “Interim” Head Coaches Early

Jaguars owner Jerry Richardson is promising changes in a letter to PSL holders in Jacksonville (via Steve Reed at the Gaston Gazzette).  But Mike Florio at profootballtalk.com questions Richardson’s commitment:

“‘I want all of you to know that we plan to look at every aspect of our organization,’ Richardson wrote. ‘What we do in the future will entirely be geared toward putting the best possible team on the field. I am committed to fielding a winning team, and I’m willing to invest the resources necessary to make it happen.’

“Plenty of Panthers fans would take issue with that last statement. If anything, it appears that Richardson has tightened the belt. And there’s a growing belief that, when it’s time to hire a new head coach, Richardson will refuse to dish out the kind of money that would attract a guy like Bill Cowher.”

In Richardson’s defense he’s likely going to face a problem this year that all of the owners are facing.  Its the collective bargaining agreement.

With so much financial uncertainty its going to be very hard for anyone to dish out money to do anything to change any organization.  How can you hire a new coach and a new staff only to pay him a huge mount of money through a lockout?  I know that protections against a lockout have already been built into contracts and will continue to be.  But who is going to want to pay two coaching staffs even a minimum amount of money not to work?

What’s most likely to happen in places all over the league is what’s already happening in Denver, Dallas and Minnesota.  Fired head coaches will be replaced by assistants who are already being paid.  This is why head coaches are being fired especially early this year.  In Minnesota, owner Zygi Wilf can already claim that his team got better under interim head coach Les Frazier.  In Dallas Jerry Jones can say the same about Jason Garrett.  These owners can now claim that they did the best thing for their franchises while simulataneously protecting themselves financially in a lockout.  Obviously Broncos owner Pat Bowlen, who fired Josh McDaniels early,  is hoping he’ll be able to claim the same about interim head coach Eric Studesville.

I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see Richardson do the same.  But it won’t be to hire Cowher or Bill Parcells or Jimmy Johnson or anyone else like them.  No one around the league will be looking to do that.  Its going to be a great year to promote assistants this off season.

Urlacher Confident Despite Big Plays by Lions

From Brian Urlacher via Vaughn McClure at the Chicago Tribune:

“I was pissed off a halftime (of the Lions game), too. But it was three plays: the long run by Jahvid Best and the two passes, with the Calvin Johnson touchdown. That’s all they had the whole game. They led to points, sure, but they had 123 yards on three plays. They didn’t do (anything) besides that”

That’s true enough.  But it was those plays that made all of the difference.  Those three lapses are going to be the difference between winning and losing most of the time when you play a bend but don’t break defense the way that the Bears do.

Urlacher knows that.  But he’s better off not minimizing it.

Penalty or Not, Lions Lack of Discipline Yet Another Reason Why They Don’t Win

Kudos to Brian Van Ochten writing for the Grand Rapids Press at mlive.com for nailing the real issue behind Ndamukong Suh’s unnecessary roughness penalty:

“In the fourth quarter, referee Ed Hochuli didn’t hesitate to toss his flag upon seeing Lions superstar rookie defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh take what appeared to him to be a cheap shot to the back of the neck or the helmet of Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler as both players approached the sideline.

“It resulted in a personal foul that put the Bears in a first-and-goal situation.”

“It happened in the season opener at Chicago, right?

“The ruling that stripped Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson of an apparent go-ahead touchdown in the final moments of that contest because he failed to control the football all the way to the ground, was just the beginning of it, right? It was such a rotten call that even Jim Joyce could smell it.”

“It happened on Suh’s phantom horse-collar tackle against the Dallas Cowboys, right?

“It happened on tight end Brandon Pettigrew’s offensive pass-interference call against the New England Patriots on Thanksgiving Day, right?”

“‘I don’t care if it’s a penalty or not,’ Suh insisted.

“The problem is he needs to learn to care about that stuff.”

“‘What for?,’ Suh responded when asked if he should adjust his game due to the officiating. ‘There’s no reason to.'”

“It’s up to the Lions to become a much more disciplined team if they hope to get through the painful process of learning to finish games.”

Dead on.  If the Lions are ever going to win games, they have to be disciplined or they are going to continue to find ways to lose games.  The difference between the Bears and the Lions was never so evident than it was on the two controversial penalties the Lions incurred against them.

Sure, Johnson “looked” like he caught the game winning touchdown pass against the Bears in week one.  But calls to change the rule that cost him that catch buried the lead.  He dropped the ball at the end of the play when every receiver in the NFL knows very well that you have to get up off the ground with it in your hand to erase all doubt.  Otherwise, you open yourself up to the call that was made.

As I said in my game comments Sunday, whether you thought the call against Suh was a good one or not, the fact remains that if he thinks even for an instant and shoves Cutler with his forearm just six inches lower, there’s no question of a penalty on the play.  GM Jerry Angelo said it best:

“The officials made the right call. It’s unfortunate. I understand the heat of the moment, but our players know better.”

Guys like Brian Urlacher might not like it but the Bears do know better.  Defensive players aren’t allowed to run around and be neanderthals anymore.  They have to think about where they are hitting players and lower their target in the same way that offensive blockers have to stop before blocking a man in the back.  Its a tough thing to do in the heat of the moment but players on good teams do it.

The message is clear.  If you can’t play under control and with discipline, you aren’t going to be playing at all.  You learn or you lose.

Bears Ability to Stop the Run Huge in Lions Victory

That may sound like a rather obvious and mundane headline.  But its not.  Here’s why via Dan Pompei at the Chicago Tribune:

“The Bears played their nickel defense on 72 percent of the Lions’ snaps.

“The Bears used nickel in part because the Lions played a lot of three wide receivers. But they also used nickel at times against personnel groupings that do not necessarily call for nickel defenses. They played nickel on first down 11 times, and they were in nickel for 13 running plays.”

Pompei goes on to point out that the Bears may have preferred nickel with strong side linebacker Nick Roach sidelined for most of the game.

The reason this is significant?  I can remember situations less than a year ago when the Bears couldn’t even stop the run with the standard front seven.  They were constantly bringing an extra safety into the box, especially when current linebackers coach Bob Babich was the coordinator.

Now the Bears are stopping the run with just two linebackers in the game.  It’s a measure of just how much better this defense is this year over past years.

Bears Road Game Against the Lions Had Home Game Feel

From The Detroit News:

“Chants of ‘Let’s go, Bears,’ rang throughout the day, occasionally getting shouted out by Lions fans. At several points Bears defensive players were imploring the crowd to make some noise.

“‘Chicago is a close town, only four hours away,’ (Drew) Stanton said. ‘So it’s not surprising. We anticipated that it might be an issue, so we were prepared to go to a silent count if we needed to.'”

I have never in my life heard of a team needing to prepare to go to a silent count at home.  Apparently the Bears are still traveling well this year.

Vikings Peaking at Wrong Time for Bears

Though the Bears have generally met teams at the right times this year, their luck may run out against the Vikings on the road in two weeks.  The Vikings played like dogs early in the season, most notably losing twice to the Green Bay Packers, who are on the Bears tail in the division race.  But since Vikings Interim head coach Leslie Frazier took over, the Vikings have played well.  They beat the Bills convincingly yesterday despite losing quarterback Brett Favre early to a shoulder injury.

This may be a piece of bad luck for a Bears team that has been particularly lucky this year.  There are no easy wins in the NFL but the indications are that the Vikings game in Minnesota will be a much tougher win than Green Bay’s was.  Here’s hoping they will be up to the challenge coming off of a game next week against a New England Patriots team which has to be considered elite.