Decision on Class Act Matt Forte Can’t Come Until the Offseason

Dan Wiederer at the Chicago Tribune quotes running back Matt Forte on the Bears letting his contract run out before making a decision on what to do moving forward:

“Forte expressed his desire for a contract extension last offseason, even offering to restructure his deal to give the Bears a salary cap boost for 2015 while also obtaining his own job security. But new general manager Ryan Pace made it clear he wasn’t interested in discussing a new deal at that time.

“And while Forte understood the decision, the limbo also bothered him.

“‘I would respect it more if it was just like, ‘Look we’re not going to re-sign you.’ … Because then I would know.”

Forte_Camp_2009Unfortunately the Bears couldn’t do that then and they can’t do it now.

First, they probably haven’t made the decision, yet. What if running backs coach Stan Drayton strongly suggests that Langford can’t carry the load and that both backs would be better sharing it? What if they decide that they can’t carry Ka’Deem Carey as a reliable back up?

ON the more positive end of the spectrum, what if offensive coordinator Adam Gase meets with the front office after the season and describes new plans to use both Forte and Jeremy Langford at the same time? Forte has plenty of value as a receiver on a team that could certainly use more threats at the position.  And they’ve got the cap room to keep him as a luxury in such a role.

Second, and more important, the next two games could end up making what will be a difficult decision, easy. What if Langford sustains a serious injury on Sunday that jeopardizes his future? Suddenly resigning Forte becomes a priority.

In any case, whether the Bears keep Forte or not probably depends a great deal on whether they can keep him at their price. That will depend upon what his value is in free agency and there’s no way to know that until he actually hits the market.

One thing is certain. Whoever gets Forte is going to get a consummate professional and a class act. Fans here are going to wish him well and welcome him back whenever they can. That’s worth more than any contract any team could offer.

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Will Trent Baalke Be the Owner, Too?

Anyone wondering what the problem is with the 49ers need wonder no longer. Darin Gantt at profootballtalk.com comments:

Trent Baalke’s apparently doing more than delivering players such as defensive backs Jimmie Ward and Jaquiski Tartt for the 49ers.

“He’s apparently coaching them up, too.

“Though they have a complete and (allegedly) functioning coaching staff, Ward and Tartt say that Baalke’s often on the field during practice giving them tips.”

Here’s Baalke’s employment history from Wikipedia:

“1998–2000 New York Jets
Personnel Scout
2001–2004 Washington Redskins
2001–2003 National Scout
2004 College Scouting Coordinator
2005–present San Francisco 49ers
2005–2007 Western Region Scout
2008–2009 Director of Player Personnel
2010 VP of Player Personnel
2011–present”

Do you see defensive backs coach in there anywhere? Do you see coach of any type in there anywhere? And yet Baalke considers it to be his job to do it.

The problem with teh 49ers isn’t retirements and it isn’t bad luck. It’s Baalke. He’s a megalomaniac, control freak who took one of the best teams in football and tore it apart brick by brick. He’s now undermining the coaching staff full of “Yes men” that he put together to coach the motley crew that’s left.

As a Bears follower I don’t care that much. But as a football fan I’m offended and the sooner this guy finds his way to the unemployment line, the better off we will all be.

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Brandon Browner Sets the NFL record for Penalties

There are two weeks to play yet but Saints cornerback Brandon Browner has already broken the NFL record for penalties. Browner was flagged for the 23rd time this season (21 accepted) on Monday night. The previous record was set by Texans tackle Chester Pitts in 2003. The list of Browner’s accepted penalties according to Kathleen Terrell at nola.com:

Defensive Holding – 10
Unnecessary Roughness – 3
Face Mask – 3
Pass Interference – 3
Illegal Block Above the Waist – 1
Illegal Contact – 1
Offsides: 1

Browner was signed by the Patriots in 2014 after spending three years as part of a very good Seattle defense but didn’t prove to be effective without the supporting cast there. After signing with the Saints this season he has  been flat out the worst starting cornerback in football, ranking 117 and dead last one the list according to Pro Football Focus. It wouldn’t surprise me in the least if Browner was out of the league in 2016.

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Average Fan Loses in Network Prime Time Choices

Paul Schwartz at the New York Post comments upon the state of the Giants:

“Gee, wonder how happy the NFL and TV network suits are about their decision to flex Sunday’s Giants-Vikings game to the prime time Sunday Night Football stage on NBC? The Giants could be eliminated before they take the field and might be without [Odell] Beckham, their one true superstar, because of a suspension. “

Beckham has been suspended for the game pending appeal after committing an NFL record six personal fouls with some out of control reaction to the physical coverage he was getting from the Carolina Panthers. The Giants could be eliminated before the game if the Redskins clinch the NFC East with a win over the Eagles Saturday night.

Despite that, I doubt that anyone is regretting the decision to move the Giants. First, the Eagles and the Redskins are both miserable football teams and the game should effectively be a coin flip (the Eagles opened as four point favorites). But more to the point, the game involves the Giants which means CBS and the NFL Network get the New York market. The guess here is that only the Chicago market is more lucrative and that only because the Bears are the only team in town. Like every other NFC North team, the Vikings have a national following and barring a complete collapse they are probably playoff bound.

They could probably find a better game but networks don’t care about the quality of the match up. They care about viewers. Sometimes that means the average NFL fan loses.

Posted in Chicago Bears, Minnesota Vikings, New York Giants, Philadelphia Eagles, Washington Redskins | Leave a comment

Behind Enemy Lines: The Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Things you should know about the Buccaneers as the Bears head out to face them this Sunday in Tampa Bay:

  • Buccaneers running back Doug Martin has 1305 yards rushing on the year in a contract season. That’s only nine yards behind the Vikings Adrian Peterson for the league lead. The Bears did an adequate job stopping Peterson on Sunday and they’ll have to do the same or better against Martin. It will be interesting to see if they choose to put eight in the box against Martin as they did against Peterson or if they choose to try to stop him with the standard seven which has been more their habit this season when facing good running backs.
  • Not to be forgotten in the running back mix is Charles Simms. Simms is one of the best at catching balls out of the backfield this year. He is one of only four running backs in the NFL with at least 400 yards rushing and receiving. The others are Devonta Freeman, Mark Ingram and Giovanni Bernard. He’s averaging 4.7 yards per carry. Add in the threat of Austin Seferian-Jenkins, who returned this month from a shoulder injury that had left him sidelined since week 2, and this is all bad news for the Bears who have struggled to cover both running backs and tight ends with their linebackers. Look for the Buccaneers to take full advantage of that match up.
  • Bears quarterback Jay Cutler will have a reasonable opportunity to get back on track this week. Of course, the Bucs defense might be saying the same thing about the Bears. The Buccaneer’s secondary has been their biggest weakness this year. Opposing quarterbacks have completed a NFL high 69% of their passes against them this year. Opponents have a passer rating of 100.3, fifth highest in the NFL, and its 107.9 the past three games. They’ve made Ryan Mallett, Matt Hasselbeck and Case Keenum look like franchise quarterbacks.
  • On the other hand, the Bucs have been very good against the run. They held Rams rookie Todd Gurley to 48 yards on 21 carries on Thursday. They are tied with Denver for the league lead at 3.3 yards per carry. Again, this doesn’t bode well for the Bears who rely on ball control and defense when they are playing well.
  • This game will be a contest to see who will have the worst first quarter. Like the Bears, the Bucs are becoming notorious for their slow starts. They have averaged just 3.4 points in the first quarter. Greg Auman at the Tampa Bay Times reports:

    “‘It affects your game plan when you’re playing from behind, obviously,’ rookie G Ali Marpet said after Thursday’s 31-23 loss. ‘Our mentality is to run the ball first, and it takes you out of that, which is frustrating.'”

    Tell me about it.

  • The Bucs are also struggling on special teams. They gave up two long kickoff returns to the Rams, a 44-yarder on the opening kickoff to set up a touchdown and a 102-yarder that led to a fourth-quarter field goal. We can hope the Bears are headed in the opposite direction after a good effort Sunday against the Vikings.
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Quo Vadis Kyle Long

Brad Biggs at the Chicago Tribune describes the action just after half time yesterday after the Bears began with a successful onsides kick:

“The Bears took over on their own 47-yard line with a chance to score and make it a field goal game. Three plays later, veteran defensive end Brian Robison swiped Kyle Long’s hands and sacked Jay Cutler to force a fumble, the second straight game a defender has come from Cutler’s right to force a turnover.

“‘It was a huge play for us,’ Robison said. ‘You definitely want to try and change the momentum back.’

“With good field position, the Vikings scored quickly as Stefon Diggs came across the middle and wasn’t accounted for in coverage (how many times have we seen that in the past month?) for a 33-yard touchdown. What could have become a 3-point game was a 24-7 game. “

Quarterback Jay Cutler give right tackle Kyle Long an irritated look after Long allows a strip-sack against the Vikings on Sunday, December 20, 2015. (NFL Gamepass)

Quarterback Jay Cutler gives right tackle Kyle Long an irritated look after Long allows a strip-sack against the Vikings on Sunday, December 20, 2015. (NFL Gamepass)

The look that Cutler gave Long after this play (above) pretty much said it all. There’s a certain amount of frustration building over Long’s play for a number of reasons.

A quick look at the Bears roster shows me these offensive linemen:

Vladimir Ducasse, G
Patrick Omameh, G
Matt Slauson, G
Nick Becton, T
Jermon Bushrod, T
Tayo Fabuluje, T
Charles Leno, T
Kyle Long, T
Hroniss Grasu, C

At tackle the Bears have the experienced Bushrod, who could be back to being a starter-quality left tackle as his back heals up. They also have Leno, who is developing into a quality left tackle and may take Bushrod’s place. In that case, Bushrod could play either side. And finally there’s Fabuluje, who has wonderful athleticism and quick feet that might make him valuable on either side (probably the right) with a year of development.

Taken together with Long, the Bears have a glut of good tackles. Long’s absence at guard, on the other hand, has made that situation problematic. Slauson is solid on the left but Omameh misses too assignments and allows too many sacks. Ducasse, whose habit of committing penalties made the overall team problem with this even worse, wasn’t even good enough to hold off Omameh in competition for the right spot. Neither option is really good enough to be a back up much less a starter.

I’m willing to be patient with Long and let him have this year and the offseason to develop. I’m willing to take the coaches’ word and that of most of the members of the media that he’s got the talent to play the tackle position. If the Bears were short at tackle, I probably wouldn’t even be questioning the decision to put him there. But its tough to watch the Bears struggle at guard when they’ve got a more tackles than they know what to do with.

Given all of the above, you’d hate to think the Bears turned a Pro Bowl guard into an average to below average tackle. I wouldn’t like to see them yanking Long around without giving him one position to work at. But I’m continuing to wonder if leaving him at right guard at the beginning of the season wasn’t the best thing to do long-term. And I’m starting to wonder if moving him back wouldn’t be best for everyone.

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Perhaps the Most Worrisome Problem

Dan Wiederer at the Chicago Tribune breaks down a Stefon Diggs 33 yard touchdown pass that seemed to encapsulate the day the Bears had Sunday:

“‘I saw the ball released out of ([quarterback Teddy] Bridgewater‘s) hand and I saw Diggs coming back across the field by himself,’ [cornerback Alan] Ball said. ‘That’s when I realized we were in trouble. … A lot was going on. I need to go back and look and see how that was supposed to be played.'”

Of all the things that bothered Wiederer on this play, and there was, indeed, a lot to digest, the one thing that bugs me the most is that the Bears didn’t straighten this out immediately on the sideline. I think it should have been obvious who had who and not taking care of the problem left the Bears open to making the same mistake again.

What might be worse is if either Ball or Tracy Porter already know who was responsible but was unwilling to be accountable by pointing the finger at himself.

Either way this is a bad sign.

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Quick Game Comments: Bears at Vikings 12/20/15

vikings_at_bears_2014-624x350Offense

  1. The Bears tried to run their usual ball control offensive game plan. They came out in a double tight end set and tried to establish the run. They eventually found that wasn’t working and tried spreading the field instead but it didn’t really matter.  The Vikings did a good job of getting penetration up front and did a reasonable job of limiting Matt Forte (8 caries, 47 yards) and Jeremy Langford (11 carries, 46 yards) on the ground.
  2. The Bears really got beat up front and that made the difference in the game. The Vikings simply beat both Hroniss Grasu and Kyle Long in particular like a drum. Long got beat for two sacks (one resulting in a Jay Cutler strip and turnover) and the line as a whole gave up five.
  3. The Vikings were, as usual, very effective with the occasional blitz though they really didn’t need it.
  4. Alshon Jeffery scored a touchdown but was really pretty much non-existent in this game as it was his only catch. It may not be a coincidence that it came the play after Vikings cornerback Xavier Rhodes left the game with an injury. Terence Newman was left to cover him on the play.
  5. Zack Miller (6 receptions for 54 yards) had another reasonably good game and Eddie Royal (5 receptions for 31 yards) came off of the injured list to make his presence felt.
  6. Jay Cutler (26 of 37 for 231 yards) missed Eddie Royal deep on what would have been a long gain and he threw one interception on what was supposed to be a screen to Matt Forte but overall he didn’t have a bad game.

Defense

  1. The Vikings also came out trying to establish the run and they were more successful with Adrian Peterson (18 carries, 63 yards) and Matt Assiata (5 carries, 28 yards). Peterson was running particularly well. Unlike the last time these teams met, the Bears felt the need to occasionally throw eight into the box to stop the Viking running game. They may have felt that Teddy Bridgewater couldn’t beat them. If so, they were obviously wrong.
  2. The Bears got beaten at the line of scrimmage by what has been a miserable Vikings offensive line. This was a pretty poor performance by the Bears front seven.
  3. The Vikings took full advantage of the miserable Bears linebacker situation with a series of short passes over the middle and to running backs out of the back field. Stefon Diggs once again burned the Bears with 3 receptions for a very damaging 55 yards. Kyle Rudolph had a couple receptions for 21 yards and wasn’t the factor I thought he’d be after the Bears were burned so badly by Jordan Reed last week. But the real damage was done by running back Jerick McKinnon, who had 4 receptions for 76 yards. The Vikings were splitting him out wide in the same way the Bears have had a habit of using Forte this year.
  4. Willie Young once again collected a sack, the Bears only one of the day. He’s turning out to be a bright spot this year.
  5. Hats off to Teddy Bridgewater (17 of 20 for 231 yards). He was nearly perfect today. The first touchdown pass to Diggs was a beautiful throw.
  6. The Bears defense got off to a rough start as they looked unorganized with a lot of switching around and pointing on the Vikings first drive. They didn’t look ready to go today.

Miscellaneous

  1. The Bears special teams were better today. They did a particularly good job of returning kick offs for good gains, giving the offense reasonable field position. Sherrick McManis got an onside kick to start the second half (though the Bears lost one later in an effort to come from behind).
  2. The Bears had 6 penalties for 39 yards which is an improvement. But the ones they had were damaging. They’re still getting too many holding calls, including one against Hroniss Grasu on the first play of the game that brought back a Matt Forte 35 yard run.
  3. Drops weren’t a significant factor in the game.
  4. The Bears aren’t going to win many games where they lose the turnover battle. This one was no exception. Kyle Long gave up a strip sack and Jay Cutler threw an interception on an attempted screen pass that I’m sure he’d like to have back.
  5. This game was pretty simple. The better team won. There are all kinds of things like turnovers and penalties that factored in but they really didn’t matter. The Bears lost one-on-one battles all over the field, highlighting their lack of talent and experience. They got beat at the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball. The linebackers got beat by the fast McKinnon. The defensive backs got beat by the receivers like Diggs. The game quite simply showed the difference in where these teams are at right now with the Bears rebuilding and the Vikings rightfully competing for a division title.
Posted in Chicago Bears, Game Comments, Minnesota Vikings | Leave a comment

Quarterback Escapability Against the Bears an Acceptable Compromise

Steve Rosenbloom at the Chicago Tribune offers this assessment:

“The Bears have allowed TDs on the ground and in the air to Blaine Gabbert and Kirk Cousins in consecutive losses at home, and I’m wondering, is that a condition that qualifies fans for medical marijuana?”

This is a natural result of the fact that the Bears have played more man-to-man defense than they have in the past. With their backs to the quarterback, defensive backs aren’t as likely to be able to see him escape the pocket and help out as they would be in zone. Add that the Bears have chosen to rush the passer with abandon rather than with the discipline that coaches like Lovie Smith thought was necessary to keep the quarterback in the pocket and the result is what you’ve seen the last couple weeks.

It looks to me like the Bears are risking these runs as part of their overall philosophy.  The idea is to get more sacks with better coverage and more concentrated effort on the part of the defensive front, making the ability of the quarterback to escape the run an acceptable risk.  If the Bears had better pass rushers, such a risky strategy wouldn’t be necessary.  As it stands, they are only 18th in the league in sacks and with few talented blitzers, they haven’t been able to closing the gap.

Until the Bears get better talent on the defensive side of the ball, they have to do what they have to do to get more pressure on the quarterback while making necessary sacrifices.

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Hroniss Grasu Is the Key to the Success of the 2015 Draft Class

Steve Rosenbloom at the Chicago Tribune makes a pertinent comment on the state of the Bears offensive line:

“As good as second-round draft choice Eddie Goldman and fifth-rounder Adrian Amos have performed, it’s scary for Ryan Pace’s draft class that third-round choice Hroniss Grasu gets steamrolled so easily.”

grasu

Hroniss Grasu as an Oregon Duck

I don’t know about Pace but it certainly is disturbing to me. The third round is usually reserved for elite talents that have just one or two little things that keep them from being elite players. It’s a round you have to hit on to find starters and the Bears have a poor history of doing so. Since 2010 only Will Sutton and Cris Conte have had anything that you could consider to be close successful careers. Sutton only emerged this year so the jury is still out on him.

The book on Grasu is that he needs a year in the weight room. Bears fans are praying that’s true. The 2015 draft, outside of Grasu and injured wide receiver Kevin White, has been reasonably productive. Eddie Goldman, Adrian Amos, and Jeremey Langford are all starter quality players who have made significant contributions this year. even the sixth round pick, offensive tackle Tayo Fabuluje, shows surprising athleticism for a man his size and he looks to me to have enormous potential. But the draft class won’t really be a success unless Grasu comes through as a solid starter for years to come.

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