Monday, October 20, 2014

Bears derail against the Dolphins

Coach Trestman has a better handle on this team than you, me, the media or the fans.  
~Mike Ditka

The Bears lost, and while its a bitter pill to swallow, so did a number of other good teams in the NFL, SEA being one along with the 49'ers.  I am puzzled by the media's total lack of understanding of the game and the teams we face each week. Who said Miami was a bad football team?  Actually if you look at them, we could have easily seen that the Bears O was going to be in for a tough one.

Miami beat the Pats, came seconds to beating a hot Packers team. The Dolphins have one of the better all around defenses in the league.  Our offense is and has been struggling, so yes while they lit up a weak Falcons D, there should have been no illusions that the Bears might be in for a long day. I have written often enough about while the Bears are improving, they at best an average team. A 8-8 team. I don't care about the supposed high powered offense we have, look at two others teams with high octane offenses, Atlanta and New Orleans (combined 4-9), that have likewise derailed.

You can have all the talent in the world, but if there is inconsistent play, none of it matters. Dropped passes, senseless penalties, fumbles/INT, poor communication and to a degree poor game management (coaches and QB) leads to failure, especially to a better than average defensive team. Then you add in a still weak defense, yes it has improved but still a liability, each game becomes tenuous.  

You can have great coaches, wonderful game plans but until the execution is seamless, we are going to get games like this. The problem is, the Bears still have so many holes, that seamless execution is like a mirage, you think you see it, and even believe you taste it but in the end, it is just that, a mirage.

For me, the Miami game is a true reflection of the bigger issues at hand, here they are ...

Defense:  The Dline is much improved, and that is where Emery spent the money. So that is a good thing. Linebackers are just bad (Williams, McClellin, Briggs and Greene) and will kill us every Sunday.  The Dbacks are inconsistent, Jennings is not that good and honestly never really was. Fuller is the future but now he is out for a time with a broken hand and hip pointer.  While the coaching staff has done a great job with the limited talent it has, don't expect wondrous things.

Special Teams: Far too much was made about the ST unit. Yes, they got off to a shaky start, but Joe D seems to have gotten them into a groove.  Williams had two nice KR's, 25 and 50 yards, O'Donnell creamed his punts and the coverage units are finding some consistency.  Funny how the media has gone quiet on this!

This lead us back to the offense.  I am not going to belabor my earlier point, or things I have written in the past how intricate things are with offensive football.  If it was based on talent, and good offensive coaches, then the Bears (along with ATL and NO) would be undefeated.  There is no point getting into the woulda, shoulda or coulda's it doesn't change the fact that the Bears offense is not clicking right now.  I will say this, having played offense in college, there is a certain flow, rhythm that has to occur regardless of the talent. If you don't have it, or things are a shade off,  having the best players, finest offensive minds , the best game plan will mean little.    

Can things change? Yes and no. I think we are in for a roller coaster ride this season, and not unexpected. Maybe the outburst in the locker room was good, some would say long overdue, that might bring the O together and get things sorted out.  The media and fans want blood at the expense of the coaches and that is a joke in its own right. One of those be careful for what you wish for things.

Like I have said before, you have to wait till the season ends to truly measure where we are and where we are headed. Living game to game is a fools paradise or hell as the case is right now.    

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Bears look tough against Miami

Let's start today with some good old fashion smash mouth style foot ball!  .... Sharpton laying some wood

Well the Bears sit at 3-3, and now they face two tough opponents in Miami and New England. Miami due to their defense prowess and the Patriots, well they are the Patriots.  So for me we are looking at 3-5 or 4-4. Not saying we can't beat both, but we are going to need a real boost of the Falcons game to do that.

So let us look at what we need to do to get past Miami.

Offense will be the key.  The Bears are running into the number one rated defense.  The best against the run, and highly active pass rush.  They also have a good pass coverage group, so Cutler will have to have an even better game than last week.  We need everyone to be in synch and the pass blocking has to be spot on.

The defense , which is now ranked 5th against the pass, is facing an interesting O in the Dolphins. The have a decent running game and a good O line, but they are anemic in their passing game. So the obvious key here is to stop the run and force the pass. It will be interesting to see who play LB this weekend for this will be a pivotal position against Miami.

Interesting note on special teams is that Miami is as bad as the Bears have been ... actually the Bears are getting better each week on Special Teams . The Bears rank 28th and the Dolphins 31st, so anything can happen here, and funny or not so funny, but could be the game breaker!

Miami will be an interesting test for the Bears. If the build of the Falcons win then maybe we have a shot at 5-3, if not we will be lucky to be 4-4 at the break.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Chicago Bears 2-3 ~ Where do we go from here

Coach Trestman has a better handle on this team than you, me, the media or the fans.  
~Mike Ditka

It was a tough loss, the media has already exploited it for it's negative agenda. The fans crying like the season is over. Frankly I'll pass.  I am going to try to be more big picture, put the appropriate context to the misguided perceptions, the ridiculous set of expectations, and the reality what this team is about.

The Bears sit at 2-3, like the Saints and the Falcons. Interesting to note, four of the teams the Bears have played are 3-2, only the Jets are struggling at 1-4.  The NFC North, DET and GB at 3-2 and CHI and MIN at 2-3. So it still a horse race, regardless of what fans and media are predicating going forward. The amusing thing is no one knows what will happen over the next 11 games, so even suggesting a final record is foolish and a waste of time. 

Before we cover where the Bears go from here, I want to touch on a couple of things about the Panthers game. The first situation was the fumble recovery by the Panthers PR and returned for a TD. Several people stroked out over the fact there was a loose ball ala GB. Not true! There was a pile up to get the ball, it squirted out. like a rugby scrum, right to the PR who was standing there. Also, in looking at the film, a Bear player dove to the ball squirting out but was a second late.  It was a freak play, and that is football. To convey anything else, is just silliness.

Is it me or does it feel like the Bears are getting harassed by the officials?   Some of these calls lately are truly mystifying. There seems to be a litany of bizarre, lets reach into that arcane parts of the rule book calls.  I know people say that is part of the game, but some of these calls affect momentum, scoring opportunities.  The pass interference on Marshall, that was so obvious, resulted in an interception that would have resulted in potential points. I won't get into the all of sudden illegal blind side blocks penalties, but the NFL has as serious creditability issue, it is slowly eroding the game.

Okay, the game got away from the Bears. Like it has never happened before and will certainly happen again.  The media and fans (twitter especially) have gone off the deep end. Calling the team mediocre, pathetic and for the most part are now on a witch hunt.  The first response to all this craziness was what were fans/media expecting?  Anyone that looked at the roster could calmly have ascertained this 2014 Bears team had the potential of being good, but so many things had to break their way.  The reality is we are still rebuilding from the scourge of Smith/Angelo years.

There are 22 new players on the 53 man roster from 2013.  That is half, and if anyone believes that a matter of a few week of practice. this team would be hitting on all cylinders, well nicely put that was the first mistake.  Don't get me wrong, there have been some serious improvement, look at the DLine. Much better against the run than last season, and that is where Emery spent the money.  Houston and Young are off to good starts. Houston is tied for first in the NFL with QB hits at 6, along with 11 QB hurries.  Ferguson and  Sutton have stepped as rookies, combined they have 17 stops (no gain or loss).  Truly a bright spot, and once Allen can get it together we should even be better. 

However, that is only one third of the defense. Since there is only so much money to spread around, the LB and DB's have been mildly short changed. I have spoken at length about those weaknesses, and each game they show themselves, usually at the worst times.  The good news here is that Bostic seems to be getting better each week, Fuller is showing himself to be worthy of his first round status. I do think it is time to play Vereen. Conte is done, gimpy shoulder, and two concussions in three games, probably means he is going to be parked for a while.  

Now to the offense.  So much has been written about how great this offense should be, and on paper it probably should be a top tier O.  If you ever played the game, you learn quickly that for an offense to be good, it requires consistency and a sense of perfected timing.  It is easy for an offense to get untracked when any of those two elements get messed with, and that has happened this year. Now some of the naysayers will say that is an excuse, but the reality its not. For an example, Slauson returned to the line up for the Panthers game. No doubt without practising  for several weeks he would be rusty. It showed on Cutlers sack fumble. Matt erred on his blocking assignment, left Ola on an island, resulting in sack fumble.  We can go through several other issues, WR being injured, dropped passes at the wrong time, turnovers, penalties all resulting in throwing an offense off track. Also remember, this is only the start of the second season of Trestman/Cutler. It took Peyton/Brees three seasons of frustration before they hit their stride (25-23).  

If I am going to be critical of the coaching in the Panthers game it would be directed at Kromer/Trestman for not picking up the adjustment made by the Panthers D. The old axiom of keep running it till the stop it is still valid, were Kromer/Trestman failed was to recognize it sooner. Again, show me where a coach hasn't fallen prey to being myopic to his game plan.  

To wrap this up, I am not making excuses for the Bears players or coaches.  The reality is regardless of the hyperbole of win now, supercharged O or whatever is an exaggeration at best.  We do have the ability to be a good team this year and have 11 games to show that they are, but if you look at it with common sense in the context what you have to work with,  this team is a work in process. 


Friday, October 3, 2014

Mel Tucker is not to blame

Over the last couple days, I've have bitten my tongue over the constant inane chatter about firing Mel Tucker.  Why is it when we win, everyone says, "great team victory", "wow, what a team effort", but when we lose the instant response is, "Fire Tucker" (along with blaming Cutler too)?  I just shake my head, and thankfully now Cutler and recently Mike Ditka have expressed it well. Paraphrasing from both, we the fans, especially the sports writers (except two), have no idea what is going, we think we do but we don't!  Thank you Jay and Mike, we are not DC, we are not in the film room or game planning meetings.  Also, thanks to technology and ex players being analyst we hear stuff that we really are clueless about.  Remember the old saying? We know just enough to be dangerous (and to a degree look .... well not saying it). Now that I got that off my chest, let me tell you why you don't want to fire Mel Tucker ...

1. It doesn't matter how great the scheme, or the plan is, if you don't have the players to execute it with discipline and consistency it doesn't matter.  Look we know what happened last season, so no reason to regurgitate it. Emery did a great job in free agency and the draft, however, there are still holes, rookies playing, meaning we are still rebuilding.  Take a look:

Dline:  The big focus in free agency and draft.  Huge improvement, there is no denying it.  Losing Ratliff and Allen for the GB game, probably hurt, but that is the game.  If the fans (writers mainly) felt Houston was a pass rusher, mistaken!! He is more of a run stopper and does put pressure on the QB in the way of hurries, but he is NOT a sack machine.

Linebackers:  This group is soft and I am being kind. Briggs is trying but is a shadow of what we had grown used to seeing. Williams has never lived up to the past, Bostic is better and good to see  him finding himself. Shea is injured and that might hurt as well.  This group is inconsistent and not nearly top flight as it once was.

Dbacks:  I've said it before this group is shaky, and has a tendency to give up the big play.  Losing Tillman hurts if nothing more of having his presence on the field. Jennings is average to above average (forget the Pro Bowl crap) he is Jekyll & Hyde.  Fuller is our future but like all rookies will have great games and then get schooled by the likes of Rodgers. Did you really expect Frey to be the answer at nickel?  He struggled last season, was injured early in camp and then cut twice, do I need to say more. McManis looks like he could be the guy, but got hurt so who knows. For me toss Vereen in there and let him get experience playing.  Safeties? Better but still uneven and lacks consistency.

So all in all we have an average defense, that can play well and then can look awful. With that many holes still existing, what did we expect? Funny how when the Bears beat the 49'ers and the Jets, analyst remarked how innovative and creative Tucker's schemes were, but lose to the Packers, he is dull, same old thing. I just laugh and remember what Ditka said.  So even with this average D they still have improved over last season and that is coaching ...

2. Statistical Improvement:  I am not going to belabor this, but the stats reflect the defense has improved against the run, no quibbling about that.  The pass rush has been inconsistent, a lot has been put on Young because of Allen not really hitting his stride. It seems it has been one thing after another with Allen. Birth of his child, sore back and now pneumonia, with all that is it any wonder he has not been playing the way we expected him too?  The pass defense is like I said shaky, and still gives up that unexpected big play regardless of the pass rush. Example, Young was all over Rodgers, and he still completed a 23 yard pass to Rogers, Aaron was on his back foot and leaped to get the pass off over Willie.  Rogers was wide open!

3. Aaron Rodgers:  As much as I hate to say it, Aaron has the Bears number.  Lovie's record against Aaron Rodger, 2-8, and that is with Bears playing good defense.  No matter what we do, how well we play, it just seems Aaron Rodgers plays big against the Bears. Hard to swallow but it is what it is. Oh, and for those that still hold to Lovies being the defensive messiah, his record against winning teams (over .500) as Bears HC? 19-38, that's right he only beat a winning team 33% of the time.

Last thing, many fans and writers wanted somebody else other than Tucker. So here you go, Gregg Williams, the bounty hunter, is with the Rams, ranked 30th.  Ray Horton with the Titans, sitting at 20th, oh and Babich, Lovies DC, now with the Jaguars, ranked 31st.  One last one, Lovies Smith ? 24th with Tampa ...  Mel Tucker, 14th!!


Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Chicago Bears week 4 by the numbers

After four weeks the Bears are sitting at 2-2. In regards to the NFC North, Detriot is 3-1 and playing some good football.  Everyone else is sitting at 2-2.  Thursday night GB v MN should be interesting. So after the game with GB, am sure the Bears have slipped in the rankings, so let's take a gander.

Overall Team Efficiency: The Bears dropped to 14th in the rankings from 5th.

Offense: 14th (was 11th)
Defense: 14th (was 4th)
Special Teams 20th (down from 18th)

Team Offense: Last week ranked 11th, so pretty steady.

Passing: 16th

Both stayed near the same as last week.  

Team Defense:

Pass: 10th  down from last week
Run: 16th same as last week

Offensive Line: The Oline ranks 15th in run blocking and 13th in pass blocking.

Defensive Line: 17th against the run, but the real good news is the rank 2nd on power success. Currently opponents are successful 43% on 3rd/4th downs two yards or less.   On the pass rush, they line ranks 11th.

The Bears still rank highly on drive success, 76% success scoring a touchdown or getting a first down. Also per Football outsiders, Martellus Bennet is ranked number 1 tight end.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Bears lose ~ Game Reflections

I have a lot to say on this game and most of its not about the game itself.  I wasn't distraught by the loss one bit, and frankly, I think the Bears come out of it okay mentally. That was my worry. Did the Bears get blown out, flattened like the media purports? NO Was it Cutlers fault or Tuckers? NO.  It was a game where our weaknesses as a team plays into their strengths, and there lies our undoing.

Yesterday, in my version of keys to the game, I stated our defensive backfield would have to have a good game, simply, the didn't.  The Bears are still in a rebuilding stage there and defensively overall. People believe if Ratliff and Allen had played the result would have been different, who knows but no likely.  Its not about Tucker and scheme, its about execution and when you have less talented players playing better talent you are going to get beat, more often than not.

First off, everyone is blaming the pass rush.  The Bears didn't have one, neither did GB (Julius Peppers was a none factor). In fact, when you look at the metrics, both teams have nearly identical stats on pass protection. Bears are like ranked 9th, GB 10th. So both QB's had plenty of time to pass, in fact, Cutler is ranked number one when under pressure with a 70% accuracy rating. What's the difference? GB defensive backs are better than ours, that's it.

Let's be realistic,  Frey is not the answer, let's accept that, time to let Vereen give it a go.  Fuller will be a good one, but as a rookie is learning and will make mistakes and he made several yesterday. I am sorry, Jennings is not great, average at best. On the Safeties, Mundy got beat badly and that set the tone right off, Conte was okay but not great. I don't think it would have mattered if the rush was even remotely better, Rodgers would have found Cobb or Nelson all day long.

The good news is we handled the run well.  The defensive line and linebackers did a good job. GB finished with 56 net yards.  Yes, the only ran the ball 18 times, but we still stopped them. Small solace but still a bright spot.

I believe we as fans, have to set an appropriate expectation, that when we  face a elite QB, our defensive backfield will struggle regardless of the pass rush. Turning the blame on Tucker is ridiculous, some were screaming  that there was no disguising coverages, but like Matt Bowen pointed out, when a team runs an up tempo offense, the dbacks only have time to get into position. Regardless, if we had better players, the coverage would have made a difference. We are two players away from resolving this weakness.

The offense had a good day. Cutler managed the game well. The two interceptions were not really his fault. However, they did shift the momentum of the game.  The way the game was going you had to know it was going to be whoever got that first break and unfortunately it was GB.  The running game took advantage of a weak defensive line against the run. Forte and Carey combined for 194 yards!  I thought the game plan was excellent, and it was good enough to win. Overall, the offensive line played well.

I am not going to get into the referees, there were some bizarre calls made. The Bostic holding was like "Huh, the dude barely moved".  It's part of the game and we just have to deal with it.

So we are now 2-2 and head to Carolina.  The Bears next three opponents are all beatable. So we could argue we will 5-2 or at least 4-3, Atlanta being the toughest of the them all.  Like I said yesterday, the biggest concern was how the Bears handled this psychologically, and I believe they are fine.  Still improving but our weaknesses are still glaring.



Sunday, September 28, 2014

Bears v Packer ~ keys to victory

Sunday has finally arrived!  Over the week, I have given a lot of thought to this game, and how important is it in the whole scheme of things.  Overall, it was a quiet week, just some minor roster moves, most of the injured (from Jets game) are going to play. Jared Allen will be a game day decision but other than that is is business as usual.

How important is this game? Simply said, all the games are important, but this one is more psychological for several reasons. One, it to erase last seasons nightmare. Second, to put a stake in GB's heart as they seem to be floundering. Thirdly, to continue the improvement that we have seen each week.  If the Bears lose is it the end of the world? No, but depending how it goes, could have some profound effects at least in the short term.

It doesn't matter how good or bad either team has been playing, we all know that both teams will step it up, so throw out the past form and get ready for an intense game. So here are the keys as I see them today.

1. Running game.  The Pack are ranked around 30th against the run, if there was a time to get it going with Forte this is it.  If we are successful running it will open the door for Cutler to shred an average pass defense.

2.  Santonio Holmes.  With Marshall not at 100% (I suspect he will play), and knowing GB will key Jeffery and Bennett, it is time for Holmes to step it up.  He has caught one or two passes per game, and they have been critical catches, but today we need him to makes some big plays.

3. Defensive Backfield.  Rodgers has a way of getting that big play against the Bears Dbacks.  If there was ever a game to stop it, this is it. It is also a redemption game for Conte, not that I blame him entirely for that season ending play, but a good effort will remove the taint that has been unwarranted.
4. Jay Cutler. Jay has been playing well, showing strong leadership. A win here would break the constant buzz about Cutler not being able to beat GB.  If he continues to play like he has, and not fall prey to "I have to do it all" then we will be in good shape.

That's it! There is really nothing extreme here. The Bears need to play with discipline, not panic if things go awry, and stay to the plan.

Prediction: Bears 24 Packers 17