1) Indianapolis – Andrew Luck, QB, Stanford
2) Washington – Robert Griffin III, QB, Baylor
3) Minnesota – Matt Kalil, OT, Southern Cal
4) Cleveland – Trent Richardson, RB, Alabama
The #5 pick belongs to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Early consensus has been that they would draft CB Morris Claiborne from LSU. But that was before they gave excessive amounts of money to CB Eric Wright in free agency. Do they invest more money for a potential franchise shut-down CB? Or draft WR Justin Blackmon to team up with Vincent Jackson? Vote below…
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.
– In spite of all the personnel turnover this offseason, the Bears special teams are maintaining their place among the NFL’s elite.
– 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.
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.
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.
The Bears started off the season just about as well as a team could start off a season with a 30-12 thumping of the Falcons, one of the media’s preseason’s NFC darlings. The media, who have been very eager to write the 2011 Bears off ever since the end of the lockout, have attributed the Bears’ dominance over the Falcons from everything to lucky bounces to early season jitters to playing on real grass. The fact remains, however, that the Bears would have been up 20-3 at halftime (not just 16-3) had Cutler not over thrown a WIDE-OPEN Kellen Davis on a third-and-goal; and the Falcons’ lone touchdown came on a returned interception late in the fourth quarter, when the game was essentially over. With all that being said, here are my THREE STARS for Week One:
1) Brian Urlacher, LB – Finished with 10 tackles, 1 interception, and a 12-yard fumble recovery for a touchdown. Was all over the field in the way that only Brian Urlacher can. Of all the players in the NFL, the lockout might have been most beneficial for him, as it let him rest up for the season—he looks faster than he has in 5 years.
2) Jay Cutler, QB – Completed 70 percent of his passes and averaged 15 yards per completion. Took 4 sacks, but showed improved maturity in throwing the ball away on a couple instances and took a couple sacks instead of throwing the ball into coverage. That being said, he did have a couple potential interceptions dropped and cost us a touchdown on that overthrow at the end of the first half. Overall, if Jay continues this pace and ends with 5,000 yards passing and 30+ TDs, we should be in excellent shape.
3) Henry Melton, DT – Alot of people would put Julius Peppers here, as he had 2 sacks and probably altered the Falcons’ game plan more than anyone else on our defense. However, in his first career start, Melton was UNBLOCKABLE as the “Tommie Harris” 3-technique tackle. He finished with 2 sacks, 2 other tackles for loss, and 7 quarterback hits. At this rate, teams will not be able to slide blockers over to Peppers—which should keep all opposing offensive coordinators up at night.
Now lets look at the keys to the game from Friday; and evaluate how we did:
1) Good Tackling. I said if the Bears tackle well, we should hold them to under 20 points. Our defense did even better than that, holding the Falcons’ offense to just 6 points. We had 4 sacks, 2 forced fumbles, and an interception. There were a couple of coverage lapses—one in particular on a 20-yard seam route to TE Tony Gonzalez—but a really good overall game by our defense.
2. Pass protection. The Falcons had 4 sacks, but overall the line protected Jay pretty good. On the Cutler interception, OT J’Marcus Webb has to do a better job of cutting that DE who batted the quick pass up in the air. I thought Chris Spencer did a great job filling in for Lance Louis—and I think he might keep the starting spot, even when Louis gets healthy.
3. Our WRs versus the jam. Overall, orur WRs did a good job getting open; Roy Williams had a good game before he injured his hamstring. One of the aspects of Williams’ game that wasn; treally talked about upon his signing this offseason was his ability to block—and he had a couple really good blocks—-one on a pass to Hester, one on a pass to Forte—that sprung them for long gains.
4. Punt Coverage. Really good job here—I am not sure why I ever doubted a Dave Toub-coached special teams unit. held Eric Weems, last year’s NFC Pro Bowl returner, to 3.3 yards per return.
5. Cutler’s decision making. I give Cutler a free pass on the interception-turned-touchdown. I am not sure why we were still passing at that point; or why Cutler was even in the game at that point. But he threw the ball away on a couple plays, where 2 years ago he might have tried to force a pass; and a couple of those sacks were the result of him just taking the play for what it was, not trying to be Superman, and living to fight another down.
FINAL PREDICTION: The name of the game in the current NFL is being able to create big plays. I think the Bears are more suited for this than the Falcons, and—especially being at home—-the Bears beat the Falcons in Week One, 28-17. The final score was 30-12. Pretty good, huh?
The only good thing about the lockout and subsequent late-starting training camp was that it made this preseason fly by; and all of a sudden, here we are at Opening Week. Experts have said that the scheduling gods did not do us any favors the first 3 weeks—versus Atlanta; at New Orleans; and versus Green Bay. I think this could end up being a plus for the Bears; especially when you consider if we can get through this cluster of games at 2-1 or even 1-2; our schedule is noticeably easier for the final 12 games—especially the final 6 games of the season, which gives us an advantage for a late-season playoff push.
At any rate, we open the season at home against the Falcons; a trendy pick by the experts to be an NFC contender—led by (overrated, in my book) quarterback Matt Ryan, running back Michael Turner, and wideout Roddy White. A win here could be huge later in the season, when head-to-head tiebreakers could determine playoff spots, seeding, and possibly home-field advantage. Here are some things that are key for the Bears to come out of Week one with a win:
1) Good Tackling. Matt Ryan averaged about 6.5 yards per pass attempt last season, which was actually a career-high for him. Which means the Falcons throw alot of bubble screens, slants, hooks, and quick outs. They rely on players like Roddy White, Tony Gonzalez and (now) Julio Jones to break tackles in space in order to create big plays. In fact, the Falcons only had 2 plays the ENTIRE GAME over 15 yards—a 40-yard TD catch and run by White and a 16-yarder by Gonzalez—both the result of missed tackles that would have limited those plays to 4- 5 yards. We did do a good job on Michael Turner, limiting him to just 30 yards on 13 carries. But he is one of the premier RBs in the NFL, and he is a load to bring down.
Coincidentally, the Thursday night game between the Packer and Saints would have been about a 21-14 game if either side was tackling well. It looked like a charity flag football game at times. I am not sure if this was a fluke, or a result of a shortened training camp, or the reduced number of padded practices—but this bears watching in al the week one games, not just the Bears game. If the Bears miss alot of tackles, our defense could be in some trouble. If we tackle well, the Falcons should have trouble putting up more than 20 points.
2. Pass protection. We have a 2nd-year player in his first year as a left tackle (J’Marcus Webb) and a rookie right tackle (Gabe Carimi) going against top-tier pass rushers in Ray Edwards and John Abraham. I expect us to run the ball ALOT early; and a game plan that attempts to get Forte out in space in the passing game matched up on the Falcons’ LBs and safeties, who are not known for their speed. I also expect to see alot of help from TEs Matt Speath and Kellen Davis on those edge rushers.
3. Our WRs versus the jam. The Falcons play a TON of man coverage, relying on their pass rushers to cause inaccurate passes and generate takeaways. Their CBs like to play up and aggressive on opposing WRs. However, they were exposed TERRIBLY in their last playoff game against the Packers, because if they are left to cover WRs for more than 2 or 3 seconds, or forced to try to make one-on-one, open-field tackles, they struggle. Heck, their CBs had trouble guarding our WRs during our last meeting in 2009, as Cutler threw for 300 yards and 2 TDs. Our offense’s downfall last season was the inability of our WRs to get open against in-your-face, physical CBs. Knox, Hester, and Bennett all look like they added some strength this offseason—not to mention the addition of Roy Williams—and we will see if this results in improved play in beating jam coverage, and better windows for Cutler to throw into.
4. Punt Coverage. I do not expect to see that much action in the kickoff return game, as both Robbie Gould and Falcons’ KO specialist Michael Koenen can bury the ball into the back of the endzone from the new 35-yard line kickoff line. However, the Bears and Falcons boast Pro-Bowl punt returners in Devin Hester and Eric Weems, respectively. And the Bears had some trouble covering punts last season, and now have a new punter and as many as 5-6 new players on punt coverage. Field posistion will be huge in this game, and one big punt return either way could be the difference.
5. Cutler’s decision making. One of the most under-noticed things about the Bears’ 2010 season was how QB Jay Cutler’s decision making improved over the last 8-10 weeks of the season. Knowing when to take what the defense gives you, or when to scramble if nothing is open. As we saw in the Thursday night game, one turnover by the Saints early in the game put them in a 14-0 hole they could never overcome. When you play elite teams, you cannot give them anything easy in the way of good field position or defensive touchdowns. As long as Cutler makes smart decisions, I really do not see the Falcons moving the ball at will against our defense.
FINAL PREDICTION: The name of the game in the current NFL is being able to create big plays. I think the Bears are more suited for this than the Falcons, and—especially being at home—-the Bears beat the Falcons in Week One, 28-17.