Archive for September, 2011

Week 3: Packers at Bears – 7 matchups to watch

So the Bears came crashing down to earth after a dominating Week 1 performance against the Falcons by being crushed by the Saints in Week 2. The most disheartening aspect of the Saints game to me was how badly and thoroughly we were PHYSICALLY beaten—our defensive line was swallowed up by their defensive line, their defensive line pushed back our offensive line, their RBs ran over our back seven, and the Saints’ blitzes almost sent our franchise QB Jay Cutler off in four pieces. To add injury to insult, we lose our starting RT Gabe Carimi and 3rd-down slot WR Earl Bennett to injuries. The only good thin I can think of about last week’s game is that it is over.

So, after getting blitzed and spread-passing attacked out of the Superdome, we get to face the Packers—with QB Aaron Rodgers and the king of the zone blitz, Defensive Coordinator Dom Capers. This would be an easy game to pick against the Bears in upon first glance. And, to be perfectly honest, this game has the capability to get away from the Bears really quickly if they don’t improve ALOT of things from last week. But do not forget, that the Bears split the regular season series against the Pack last year; and the Bears actually had the ball with a chance to tie or win in the NFC Championship Game against the Packers—all with a backup quarterback in the game. So theses two teams are not as far apart as last week’s results—or the media—would have you believe.

Here are the 10 matchups that will prove most critical to the Bears’ success on Sunday:

1) Bears’ Blitz Pickup (TE Kellen Davis, TE Matt Spaeth, and RBs Matt Forte and Marion Barber) versus Packers’ Extra Pass Rushers. The Packers sacked Jay Cutler 11 times in 3 meetings last season; however, only 4.5 of those 11 came from what you would call their ‘every-down’ rushers—meaning the front 3 and LB Clay Mathews. Secondary rushers, or guys who only blitz on specialty blitzes, accounted for the other 6.5 sacks. The Bears’ TEs and RBs had a heck of a time blocking ANYBODY against the Saints, and expect the Packers to test this early.
Also, QB Jay Cutler will also have to be quicker to bring the ball down and run, in order to slow down the Packers’ pass rush—for all the Saints’ blitzing, Cutler only ran the ball 1 time, and gained 12 yards. His running ability was causing a problem for the Packers in the NFC Championship before he went out with the knee injury.

2) Packers’ OT Chad Clifton versus Bears’ DE Julius Peppers. Peppers was held by the Saints to one—count ’em—ONE solo tackle; and no pressures on QB Drew Brees. I expect him to come out really put forth alot of effort in this game to make up for last week. On the flip side, Clifton and the rest of the Packers’ offensive line had a heck of a time with Peppers last season—especially in the first game last year, totalling 18 penalties—most of those holding and illegal procedure calls—not to mention the 8-10 holding calls against Peppers that were not called. Peppers has to get Rodgers thinking about his safety and not letting him focus entirely on the coverages downfield.

3) WR Roy Williams versus CB Charles Woodson. Williams will be back after missing last week with a groin injury; I think the Packers will put Woodson, the more physical of their two corners, against him. This will be an interesting matchup not only in the passing game but in the running game—Woodson is one of the better run-support CBs in the NFL; and Williams one of the better run blockers at the WR position. Woodson and the other Packers’ CBs pushed Bears’ WRs Johnny Knox and Devin Hester around in the last two matchups last year—knocking off the timing of our passing game. These are the types of CBs we went out and signed Roy Williams to matchup against.

4) Returner Devin Hester versus the Packers’ coverage units. Devin Hester has 2 of his 10 career punt returns against the Packers. The Packers have had trouble covering punts so far this year, giving up an average of 25 yards per runback. This could be the x-factor between two pretty evenly-matched teams.

5) TE Jeremichael Finley versus the Bears’ LBs. Finley abused the Bears in the first meeting last year, catching 9 passes for 120 yards; he then missed the final two meetings after being placed on season-ending IR. Part of the Packers’ passing philosophy is to bait your LBs and safeties in with alot of slant and hitch routes with their WRs, then gash you up the seams with Finley. The Bears’ LBs have to remain disciplined and keep a guy on Finley, or he can end up piling up huge yardage against us.

6) Mike Martz versus Dom Capers. Much was made after last weeks’ Saints-Bears game about the Bears’ 12 run plays versus 51 pass plays. However, I think the try to cram the ball down the Packers’ throats on Sunday. one thing that does bother me about the BEars’ offense is that e have two of the fastest WRs in the league in Devin Hester and Johnny Knox; yet we almost never run go (or fly) routes or drag routes straight across the middle—the two patterns that BEST utilize a wide receiver’s speed advantage. The Packers’ secondary is NOT known for the blzing speed; their All-Pro safety Nick Collins is out for the season, leaving little-used Charlie Peprah and Morgan Burnett (who is making his 3rd career start) covering the deep half of the field. If I were Martz, on the first play I would run a play-action, leave 8 guys in to pass prtect, and send Knox and Hester on go routes on opposite sides of the field, see where the deep safeties go, nd throw the ball 60 yards down the field for Knox or Hester to run under. In the least, you put the treat in the back of the defenses’ minds.

At any rate, this game will test the Bears’ offensive coaches’ ability to make adjustments. We were very weak on our edge pass protections last week; so you know the Packers will look to test that early on, and we will see what the Bears will do to (hopefully) improve in this area.

7) Matt Forte versus whoever tries to cover him. None of the Packers’ linebackers can cover Forte. So, do they just let him have his yards? Do they put a safety or Woodson on him? Two guys? Can the Bears do enough in the screen game to slow down the Packers’ pass rush?

MY PREDICTION: The winner of this game the last 3 meetings has scored 24, 10, and 21 points. And in each those 2 games with 20+ points, there was a defensive or special teams TD. In other words, alot of defense; not much offense. So I say BEARS 23, PACKERS 17.


Daily Recap: Wednesday, 9-21-2011

– In spite of all the personnel turnover this offseason, the Bears special teams are maintaining their place among the NFL’s elite.

– The NFL admitted today that the Darren Sproles’ TD against the Bears was not a TD, and should have been reviewedbut blamed a faulty beeper for the missed call.

– I personally believe it is posturing to make the Packers game plan for a few different scenarios, but Chris Harris says he is “50-50” for this week’s game against the Packers.

– In other injury news, Earl Bennett is looking like a scratch for Week 3.

Bears Daily Recap: Tuesday, 9-20-2011

– Following the debacle in New Orleans came the obligatory Monday and Tuesday confessions and self-finger-pointing. For the offense, here. For the defense, here.

– Arguably the greatest center in Bears’ history, Jay Hilgenberg sees promise in our young offensive line.

– Injury updates for OT Gabe Carimi; SS Chris Harris; . Nothing specific on whether WR Earl Bennett will play on Sunday after leaving the last game with a bruised chest. RB Marion Barber and WR Roy Williams are expected back at practice on Wednesday.

– Mike Ditka came to QB Jay Cutler’s defense, saying he needs more help from his entire supporting cast.

Week 2 Review: Bears pounded by Saints, 30-13

I do consider myself as die-hard a Bear fan as it gets; but the second half of Sunday’s beating at the hands of the Saints was hard to watch. I started having flashbacks of the Giants game at Meadowlands last year, one which Jay Cutler was knocked out of after suffering 8 sacks. In the first half.

As far as the pass protection goes, people are quick to blame the injuries to OT Gabe Carimi and OG Lance Louis, or the insertion of OT Frank Omiyale as reasons we had some trouble keeping Cutler upright. Upon further review, Omiyale played fairly well for being thrown into the fire against the Saints, and i expect him to do well going forward. The injuries never help, but every team has to deal with injuries—it is not an excuse for performance or execution. I will give my take on why our offense struggled later. But onto the review of the key points from my preview of Week 2, from last Thursday:

1) Bears’ tackling. Our defenses’ tackling was very average. There were a few impressive stops—most notably, a Tim Jennings’ tackle that forced a field goal from the Saints early in the 3rd quarter—but we had trouble bringing down rookie RB Mark Ingram and RB Pierre Thomas; and had a hard time even catching Darren Sproles.

2) Saints’ TE Jimmy Graham versus the Bears’ LBs. Graham finished the game as the Saints’ 2nd-leading receiver with 6 catches for 79 yards, including a 31-yarder.

3) The Bears’ Offensive Line versus The Superdome Crowd. The Bears committed 6 penalties for 47 yards, including 2 false starts on substitute OT Frank Omiyale. Even worse, there were numerous missed assignments on pass protection which led to alot of unnecessary hits on QB Jay Cutler. Whether those missed assignments were not a product of missed audibles, and just crappy blocking, we may never know. But the crowd was certainly a factor.

4) Kick and Punt Coverages. This was actually not a factor on either side, as neither return man really got anything going.

5) The Saints’ offensive line versus the Bears’ defensive line. This was a matchup the Bears HAVE to win in every game for the Cover-2 philosophy to work. They were dominated most of the game by the Saints’ offensive line; and they looked slow in pursuit. Take this for a contrast : In Week 1, Matt Ryan of the Falcons dropped back 48 times and was hit 11 times and sacked 5 times—a sack percentage of 11 percent. In Week 2, Drew Brees of the Saints dropped back 38 times, was hit just 2 times and sacked only once, a sack percentage of 2.5 percent. We must do a better job of creating pressure from our front four going forward.

Now…onto the pass protection troubles. I think there is are many facets to this problem that we need to fix before Jay Cutler gets killed:

A) I don’t know if we will ever know the reasoning behind the play-calling, but Matt Forte ran for 50 yards on 7 carries in the first quarter; and had 3 carries for -1 yards the rest of the way. Now, maybe the lack of running in the second half was a result of being down and trying to catch up…but what about the second quarter? Especially when you take into account the hostile environment…and how scrutinized our offensive line was all pre-season…you gotta get them into a rhythm and build some confidence.

B) Not having Roy Williams and Earl Bennett hurt, but I think it speaks ALOT to the ability of Devin Hester and Johnny Knox as receivers (or Cutler’s confidence in them; or both) that rookie Dane Sanzenbacher got a majority of the ‘clutch’ looks once Bennett went down. It is obvious that Hester and Knox have NO CLUE in the passing game.
– They do not break off routes on 8-man blitzes and get open quickly. They do not beat the jams and give Jay a good targets. There was one play in particular, where the Saints showed an 8 man rush, pre-snap. Jay takes a two step drop and looks for Hester or Knox out on the edge, expecting them to run a slant or a hitch. The only problem? Both Knox and Hester are running go routes and have not even looked back. Which is probably a good thing, because all they would have seen was Cutler getting thrown to the ground. Again.
– They do not make the clutch catches routinely. Hester, Knox, and Sanzenbacher all dropped very catchable passes that would have extended drives, or at least showed the Saints that we could be functional on blitz reads, and perhaps slowed the blitzes down somewhat. One thing I notice in this regard is that Hester, Knox, and Sanzenbacher NEVER come back to the ball to shield the defender and thus give Jay an easier target to throw into. They are always falling to the ground, away from Jay—which allows the defender to easier get in the way of the pass.
– Alot of people will blame this on Jerry Angelo for drafting smurf WRs who are not terribly physical, or not going out and getting a number one WR-type. But Hester and knox have been WRs now for 3 years apiece; you KNOW they have been coached up on how to do these things. There are WRs in the NFL with the same body types that do very well in third-and-short situations—Wes Welker, Steve Smith, just to name a couple—HESTER AND KNOX JUST HAVE TO EXECUTE.
– in other words, if you are going to try to win with those two guys, then you have to alter the game plan. ALOT. Keep 8 guys in to block for Jay, send Knox and Hester on go routes, have Jay chuck it 60 yards, and see if they can out-run the CBs and catch up to the ball. Its what we used to do with Bernard Berrian a few years back, because he had alot of the same deficiencies as Knox and Hester.

C) A coach can draw up the best plays and protection plans in the history of the NFL…but eventually your players have to MAN UP AND BLOCK SOMEBODY. Our OTs, TEs and RBs routinely whiffed on blocks, and nearly got Jay killed. Kellen Davis had a couple; Kahlil Bell had a really bad whiff on an inside blitz. Having Barber back will help there, as he is more of a physical presence than Bell. But again, blitz pickup is more about “want to” than skill. Us Bears fans had the chance to witness one of the best ever, Walter Payton—and he was only 5 foot-10 inches; maybe 200 pounds. As for Davis, maybe it is time to leave Speath in there full-time, or see what rookie Kyle Davis can do; because Kellen Davis looked SOFT in the Saints game.

D) I am not letting the coaches off of the hook on this one. On the 80-yard TD pass to Devery Henderson, credit Saints’ head coach Sean Payton for calling the play. Most coaches have a tendency to not try those deep balls against the Bears’ Cover-2 defense, and just are satisfied trying to 5-yard slant us down the field (eg.- The Falcons in Week One). Payton knew he had to stretch our defense out to open up some running lanes for his RBs and underneath passes to RB Darren Sproles and TE Jimmy Graham. So, even if Major Wright doesn’t get beat and the pass is incomplete, Payton’s purpose would have been served. I NEVER see the Bears doing this anymore. You have two of the fastest WRs in the game in Knox and Hester. You have one of the strongest arms in the game in Cutler. THROW THE BALL DOWN THE FIELD A COUPLE OF TIMES—if nothing else, you will loosen up the underneath stuff, or at least get Hester and Knox a cushion from the CBs, so they do not have to try and beat press coverage.
And please—when we are losing by 3 scores midway threw the fourth quarter and you have 2 backup offensive linemen in the game and your franchise QB has been getting beaten to a pulp all game long, PLEASE TAKE JAY OUT OF THE GAME, RUN THE BALL, AND LIVE TO FIGHT ANOTHER DAY. As we learned by the Giants’ debacle last season, it is just one game—we still won the NFC North last season, regardless of that game.

The good news? Our coaching staff made the adjustments last season, after the Giants game, and we went on to win the NFC North. So don’t write off our team just yet—just know they have some stuff to fix before Sunday.

Random thoughts about NFL’s Week 2:

Just some quick, random thought about some other games going on in the NFL today:

1 ) DO OR DIE IN WEEK 2? There are quite a few teams, especially in the NFC, with playoff aspirations who are going to be facing tough opponents while trying to avoid an 0-2 start. The Saints host (our) Bears in New Orleans, the Falcons host the Eagles in Atlanta. Dallas travels to San Francisco, and you have two games where BOTH TEAMS are 0-1—the Buccaneers face the Vikings in Minnesota, and the Giants host the Rams. For the Saints, Falcons, Giants, Rams and Bucs, a loss would also mean falling to 0-2 in conference play, which always seems to come into play as a tiebreaker for wild-card berths or home field advantage later in the year. 0-2 is not a death sentence, but you have to consider that 10-6 teams have missed the playoffs the last couple seasons; so you are basically putting yourself in a situation where you HAVE to win 11 of 14 games the rest of the way, to be assured a spot in the postseason. Even more interestingly, if the Falcons and Bucs both lose, they will be facing each other in Week 3 in a game where one team potentially saves their season, and the other team ends theirs.

2 ) POTENTIAL WEEK 3 MATCHUPS OF UNBEATENS. Should the Packers beat the Panthers in Charlotte today, and the Bears beat the Saints in New Orleans—it sets up a Week 3 matchup of 2-0 teams that could go a long way in determining who wins the NFC North. Same with New England and Buffalo (no, seriously—Buffalo) in the AFC East. Winning that game would essentially put you up 2 games in the division.

3 ) 1,000 YARDS PASSING—IN ONE GAME? The Patriots will be facing the Chargers today, one week after Tom Brady torched the Dolphins for 500+ passing yards. The problem is that they allowed Chad Henne of the Dolphins to throw for over 400 yards in that game. The same Chad Henne who was almost benched if the Dolphins could have pulled off the preseason trade for Kyle Orton. The same Kyle Orton who couldn’t beat out Rex Grossman for a starting job in Chicago a few years back. So after giving up 400+ yards to a mediocre-AT-BEST quarterback on Monday night, who do the Patriots get? PHILIP RIVERS OF THE CHARGERS. (On a side note, there was an interesting read by Michael Wilbon about how dominating defenses are a thing of the past.) We might see the first 1,000 combined yards passing game in NFL history.

4 ) SLOW STARTS. The performance of the Titans’ RB Chris Johnson should be fair warning to the Bears in regards to the Matt Forte contract situation. Johnson held out for a majority of the preseason, and obviously has not worked himself into playing shape yet, as he was limited to 24 yards on 9 carries and 25 yards on 6 catches. The Bears have always been good at taking care of their own in a timely manner, and Forte is an integral part of the offense we run. We could not afford a slow start from him.

5 ) IF A KICKOFF RULE IS CHANGED, AND PLAYERS STILL RETURN THE KICKS, DOES IT MAKE THE GAME SAFER? We saw three kick returned for touchdowns on opening weekend. Returners are running kickoffs back that they catch 8 yards deep in the endzone. The main effect I think this rule will have is it will place a premium on kickoff specialists who can put air under the ball—thus allowing their coverage to get downfield; and coverage teams that resemble punt coverage teams, as opposed to your ‘normal’ kickoff coverage teams—with more receivers, cornerbacks, and safeties as opposed to linemen and linebackers—players who can get up to top speed faster, since coverage team members can no longer get an unlimited running start. One thing is for certain—it hasn’t discouraged any of the elite return men from trying to run one back.

6 ) DOES THE NFL SCHEDULE MAKER LIVE IN DETROIT? If you look at Detroit’s schedule, after playing the Buccaneers (who are a marginal NFC playoff contender at best) in Week One, they do not play a road game against a team with a winning record until Week 10, when they travel to Chicago to face the Bears. Which seems pretty difficult to imagine, since they have the NFC South on their schedule, along with Green Bay and the Bears. The schedule lines up for Detroit to be able to be 6-3 or so going into that game with us.

7 ) NO LOVE FOR THE BEARS. The Bears (vs the Saints), Jaguars (vs the Jets) and the Chargers (vs the Patriots) are the ONLY 1-0 teams who were picked UNANIMOUSLY to LOSE their Week 2 games.

8 ) WELCOME TO THE PASSING ERA. Of the 16 games in Week One, 14 of a possible 32 quarterbacks threw for at least 300 yards. 4 quarterbacks threw for 400 yards. On the contrast, only 7 of a possible 32 running backs ran for at least 100 yards. Furthermore, in 3 games, the running back on either team did not even reach 60 yards. It will be interesting to see if this becomes a trend that continues throughout the season.

Week Two: Bears at Saints—What to Watch For

The Bears opened some eyes with their dominating, 30-12 victory over the Falcons at home in Week 1. It was eye-opening, I think for a couple main reasons: 1) Jay Cutler completing over 65 percent of his passes for 300 yards and 2 touchdowns; and 2) holding the Falcons’ highly-regarded offense to a pair of field goals. So the Bears have gotten through the first part of what is arguably the hardest 3-game stretch of their schedule with a win, and now travel down to New Orleans to face the Saints in Week 2. After watching the Packers put up 21 first-quarter points and 42 total points, it seems like the key to this game will be whether the Bears’ defense can contain Drew Brees and the potent Saints’ offense. Digging a little deeper, here are some things to watch for in this game that could determine the outcome.

LB Nick Roach and CB Tim Jennings stop Falcons' WR Roddy White in Week 1

1) Bears’ tackling.The Saints run alot of the same style offense that the Falcons employ, with alot of quick passes and run-after-the-catch. In Week 1, Drew Brees had 6 of his 32 completions travel more than 10 yards in the air; 11 of the 32 were dump-offs to RBs Darren Sproles and Pierre Thomas. The Packers tackling was horrendous, and gave the Saints more than a few third-down conversions that extended scoring drives. Conversely, the Bears’ tackling was superb, for the most part, and limited Pro-Bowl WR Roddy White to less than 8 yards per catch, and QB Matt Ryan averaged just 6.5 yards per pass attempt. The Bears will get a slight reprieve as Saints’ WR Marques Colston will be out for this game, recovering from a broken collarbone.

LB Nick Roach may play inside or outside this week

2) Saints’ TE Jimmy Graham versus the Bears’ LBs. This becomes even more crucial should the Bears be without MLB Brian Urlacher, who left the team on Wednesday following the death of his mother, and whose status is understandably uncertain for Sunday. Graham is a rising star and is excellent at finding seams in the middle of the field. It will be the responsibility of LBs Lance Briggs and Nick Roach to cover those seams between the hash marks. I expect to see the Bears in alot of nickel and maybe even dime packages should Urlacher be unavailable.

The Bears can be sure the Superdome will be LOUD on Sunday

3) The Bears’ Offensive Line versus The Superdome Crowd.Bears’ tackles J’Marcus Webb and Gabe Carimi played relatively well in their first NFL games at left tackle and right tackle, respectively; but did give up 4 sacks—not to mention a missed cut block that led to the Falcons’ only touchdown, on an interception return. The crowd will make it difficult to audible protections and hear the snap counts—which could lead to false starts and missed assignments—and we know that Saints’ Defensive Coordinator Gregg Williams loves to dial up blitzes. False starts change 1st-and-10’s to 1st-and-15’s, and change 3rd-and-shorts to 3rd-and-longs—limiting the penalties will be key.

4) Kick and Punt Coverages. The Bears did a great job covering kicks against the Falcons’ Pro Bowl returner Eric Weems, holding him to 3.3 yards per punt returns and 16.5 per kick return. The Bears face another test this week with Saints’ returner Darren Sproles, who has 5 return for touchdowns in his 78 career games. The Saints gave up a 108-yard kickoff return for a touchdown to rookie returner Randall Cobb of the Packers, and now face the best returner in the history of the NFL in the Bears’ Devin Hester. On turf. With two such evenly-matched teams, a big special teams play could be key.

DE Julius Peppers and DT Henry Melton pressure Falcons' QB Matt Ryan

5) The Saints’ offensive line versus the Bears’ defensive line. Again, the possibility the Bears might be without Urlacher make this a matchup the Bears have to win. The Saints gave up 3 sacks on 49 pass attempts in Week One, a pretty impressive performance, considering they were going against the Packers’ pass rush. On the flip side, the Saints average less than 4 yards per carry. The Bears’ defensive line combined for 5 sacks and 10 other tackles for loss against the Falcons. 3 of those sacks came up the middle from DTs Henry Melton and Amobi Okoye—the battle between Melton, Okoye, and Anthony Adams against the Saints’ OGs Carl Nicks and Jahri Evans and C (Ex-Bear) Olin Kreutz will be a key one to watch.

MY PREDICTION: I expect this to be a high-scoring game. And I expect a big return by Devin Hester to be the difference as the Bears go to 2-0 with a 31-27 win.

Brian Urlacher’s mother, Lavoyda, passes away at 51

Fresh off a big win versus another NFC contender this past Sunday, and one of his best performances as a Bear that garnered NFC Defensive PLayer of the Week honors, things turned tragic for Brian Urlacher—-whose mother Lavoyda passed away suddenly at the age of 51 at her home in Texas. Our prayers and deepest sympathies go out to the Urlacher family during this tough time.