Bears

Asik's improvement can be attributed to confidence

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Asik's improvement can be attributed to confidence

Omer Asiks improvement with the Houston Rockets can be attributed to one thing: confidence.

Of course, more playing time always helps. The third-year Turkish big man is averaging a career-high 30 minutes per game coming into his return to Chicago against his former club, which easily tops the 12.1 and 14.7 minutes he averaged his first two seasons as the front line anchor of the Bulls Bench Mob.

Along with more minutes, Asik is averaging 10 points, 11 rebounds and one block per contest.

Omer has been fantastic, Rockets coach Kevin McHale said. I think any time you ask someone to stretch their minutes from spot minutes 14, 12, 16, 18, to 30 minutes (per game) youre never sure what youre going to get, but hes been fantastic. Omer has been great. Hes been rebounding the ball at a high level, been a real diligent worker, has been working on his game and been real solid defensively in the paint. Hes been fantastic.

Hes handling the ball a little bit more, hes rolling, hes making passes and hes just doing a lot of different stuff, he continued. But hes a young guy. I think anytime that your role really expands, its a real good opportunity for him to grow and he has been. I think his offense has been growing, his free throw percentage is way up and I think a lot of that is just confidence. I just see a more confident player.

McHale hasnt had the chance to fully work with Asik on adding to his low-post moves, saying, Weve done some stuff, but not as much. Well do more as we go along. He had a lot of adjustments to make, the last thing in the world he needed was to think about 10 other things. So we tried to narrow it down for him. Hes done a lot of work and hes going to keep progressing.

While the Bulls still boost one of the leagues best defenses, allowing opponents just 91 points per game, its clear theres a void defensively without Asik backing up Joakim Noah, but Tom Thibodeau sees the loss, but appreciates the gains more.

I think Jo playing more minutes has helped him develop, Thibodeau said of Noah, whos having a career season. We liked having both of them, it didnt work out for us. Were happy for Omer. Hes a great guy, did a great job for us here.

As the Bears begin to form an identity, special teams need to catch up

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USA Today

As the Bears begin to form an identity, special teams need to catch up

If you squint, you can start to see the Bears forming an identity. The offense, at its best, will control the game with Jordan Howard and an offensive line that’s improving with cohesion over the last few weeks. The defense will stop the run, rarely blow assignments and — at least last week — force a few turnovers. 

Those can be the makings of a team that's at least competitive on a week-to-week basis. But they also leave out a critical segment of this group: Special teams. And that unit is obscuring whatever vision of an identity that may be coming into focus. 

Jeff Rodgers’ special teams unit ranks 29th in Football Outsiders’ DVOA ratings, and is below average in all five categories the advanced statistics site tracks: field goals/extra points, kickoffs, kickoff returns, punts and punt returns. 

Had the Bears’ just merely "fine," for lack of a better term, on special teams Sunday, they would’ve controlled a win over the Baltimore Ravens from start to finish. But a 96-yard kickoff return (after the Bears went up 17-3) and a 77-yard punt return (which, after a two-point conversion, tied the game in the fourth quarter) were the Ravens’ only touchdowns of the game; they otherwise managed three field goals. 

Rodgers didn’t find much fault with the way the Bears covered Bobby Rainey’s kickoff return — he would’ve been down at the 23-yard line had the officiating crew ruled that Josh Bellamy got a hand on him as he was tumbling over. But the Bears players on the field (and, it should be said, a number of Ravens) stopped after Rainey hit the turf; he got up and dashed into the end zone for a momentum-shifting score. 

“A lot of our players stopped, all their players stopped,” Rodgers said. “There were players from both teams who came on to the field from the sideline. So there’s a lot of people on that particular play who thought the play was over.”

That return touchdown could be chalked up to an officiating-aided fluke, but Michael Campanaro’s punt return score was inexcusable given the situation of the game (up eight with just under two minutes left). The Bears checked into a max protect formation, and no players were able to wriggle free and get downfield toward Campanaro (Cre’von LeBlanc, who replaced an injured Sherrick McManis, was knocked to the turf). Rodgers said O’Donnell’s booming punt wasn’t the issue — it didn’t need to be directed out of bounds, he said — and instead pointed to a lack of execution by the other 10 players on the field. And not having McManis isn’t an excuse here. 

“We expect everybody to play at the standard at which that position plays,” Rodgers said. “I don’t put that touchdown on one guy getting hurt, but you’d always like to have your best players on the field.”

In isolation, the special teams mistakes the Bears have made this year can be explained — beyond these two returns, Marcus Cooper slowing up before the end zone was baffling, yet sort of fluky. But while the Bears’ arrow is pointing up on defense and, at the least, isn’t pointing down on offense, these special teams mistakes collective form a bad narrative. 

“We take those players, we practice it, and like all mistakes, you admit them and then you fix them,” coach John Fox said, “and then hope to God you don’t do it again.”

Fantasy Football Fix Podcast: Midseason trade targets and who you should sell high on

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USA TODAY

Fantasy Football Fix Podcast: Midseason trade targets and who you should sell high on

Rotoworld and NBC Sports fantasy analyst Josh Norris joins the Fantasy Football Fix Podcast to discuss if Derrick Henry's time in Tennessee has finally arrived. Plus, the CSN Fantasy crew analyzes which players you should sell high on and who you should target in midseason trades.