Preps Talk

Bears hurt by Rodgers, helped by special teams

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Bears hurt by Rodgers, helped by special teams

A first quarter of allowing the Green Bay Packers 30 total yards should have been a sign of good things to come. It wasnt, although only so much of that again, as in Minnesota, can be put on the defense.
Green Bays 21 points could have been more but for Mason Crosbys continuing FG woes (misses from 42 and 43 yards) and fumbling the ball away at around midfield.
But the Bears played better than the 391 yards the Packers amassed, which were largely the result of poor play in the secondary on multiple occasions. The defense sacked Aaron Rodgers three times and had hits on him four other times in addition to four tackles for loss.
Put in perspective: three sacks, four hits, four tackles for loss, four passes defensed, one forced fumble, or 16 impact plays on 71 snaps by one of the NFLs best offenses. Not as many as the group would want and not as many as the Packers executed against the Bears, but the Packers only had to go 26 yards on one scoring drive.
DEFENSIVE LINE C
Corey Wootton had a hand in two first-quarter sacks of Aaron Rodgers, joined by Julius Peppers on the second as the Chicago defense shut down the Packers on third downs. Wootton and Peppers each finished with credit for 1.5 sacks and each added five tackles, a tackle for loss and two quarterback hits.
A problem was that no other defensive delivered virtually any impact. Israel Idonije moved inside to tackle with Henry Melton down with a chest injury but had no recorded contact with Rodgers. Same for tackles Amobi Okoye and Stephen Paea. The overall performance was creditable but allowing Rodgers to escape the pocket on several key situations was catastrophic.
LINEBACKERS C
The position group was hit with more misfortune when Geno Hayes was inactive with a knee injury, forcing Blake Costanzo to start at SLB. Costanzo, starting the first game in his six-year NFL career had two tackles.
Lance Briggs forced a third-down stop with a blitz in the first quarter and had a game-high nine tackles in a strong leadership performance. Nick Roach batted down a pass in the second quarter and finished with six tackles in addition to recovering a fumble caused by Charles Tillman.
The Packers rushed for 113 total yards on 32 carries. DuJuan Harris had one run of 21 yards and Ryan Grant broke one for 14 yards but the Bears closed down most of the Green Bay runs before they did serious damage.
SECONDARY F-
Aaron Rodgers was able to abuse the secondary in some part because of insufficient rush pressure but his 291 total yards (on 23-of-36 passing) marks the fourth time in 14 games that an opposing quarterback has thrown for more than 250 yards.
James Jones annihilated the secondary with TD catches of 29, eight and six yards and Randall Cobb led the Packers with six catches for a total of 115 yards. Four Green Bay receivers had at least one catch of 19 yards or longer and the Packers were repeatedly able to convert third-and-longs against shabby coverage.
A crucial drive to even the game at 7-7 was a defensive abomination. Multiple tackles were missed for one first down; D.J. Moore and the safeties lost Cobb on a broken play for a 31-yard conversion on a second-quarter third down to sustain the drive. Then Kelvin Hayden was completely beaten for 29-yard TD by James Jones.
Chris Conte was second with seven tackles and was hit with a questionable interference call. But the secondary came up with virtually no big plays to offset the spate of them allowed to the Packers.
COACHING D
The Bears uncharacteristically blitzed Aaron Rodgers more than their norm and did some damage early in the game. But the Packers appeared to adjust and exploit the defense which again failed to protect its edges against a dangerous mobile quarterback and paid for it.
Execution was the real problem; no scheming covers up for coverage breakdowns, missed tackles and lost containment.
SPECIAL TEAMS
The Packers tried to give the Bears a way back into the game with a bizarre call for a trick play on a punt return. The gaffe was recovered by the Bears and overall special teams play gave them points and chances.
KICKING A-
The position group made what it could out of limited chances. Olindo Mare was perfect in his first two FG tries as a Bear, both from 34 yards, after the offense blew touchdown opportunities. He does not have Robbie Goulds leg for kickoffs, with two of four for touchbacks.
Adam Podlesh continued strong work with a 40.2 net on six punts and three of those inside the 20.
COVERAGE A
Green Bays first five possessions started at the two-, 14-, 26-, 11- and 26- yard lines after punts and a kickoff. None of the nine Packers possessions after kicks started better than the Green Bay 26.
The heads-up work on Green Bays fake punt resulted in a takeaway that the offense did nothing with.
RETURNS A-
Devin Hester was restored to kickoff returns over Eric Weems. Hester gave the Bears field position with a 24-yard punt return in the first quarter. Hester averaged 14 yards on three punt returns and 31.5 on his two kickoff returns.
The unit gave the offense field position consistently. Nine Bears possessions started at the Chicago 31 or better.
COACHING A
The Bears were prepared and disciplined throughout. Penalties remain a mild concern but the overall scheming contained the Packers while setting up the Chicago offense repeatedly.

High School Lites Week 9 football roundup

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High School Lites Week 9 football roundup

High School Lites featured plenty of great action on Friday night as NBC Sports Chicago had highlights of many of the area's top matchups. Some playoff dreams came to fruition while others crashed and burned. 

Watch tomorrow as the IHSA playoff brackets are revealed tomorrow on NBC Sports Chicago+ at 8 p.m. Be sure to also follow us on Twitter @NBCSPreps for all of the latest IHSA football scores and highlights. 

DRIVE: Prairie Ridge: Episode 10

Wintrust Athlete of the Week: Back of the Yards QB Jeremiah Harris

St. Xavier Team of the Week: De La Salle Meteors

Friday's Top 25 Games

No. 1 Lincoln-Way East 18, No. 19 Bolingbrook 14 

No. 2 Prairie Ridge 55, Dundee-Crown 14

No. 3 Maine South 56, Niles West 9

No. 4 Marist 42, Joliet Catholic 14

No. 5 Lake Zurich , Mundelein

No. 6 Phillips 53, Clark 0

No. 9 Homewood-Flossmoor 50, Sandburg 14

No. 10 Barrington 40, Conant 19

No. 11 Huntley 45, McHenry 7

No. 12 Naperville Central 35, Lake Park 21

No. 13 Hinsdale Central 42, Hinsdale South 14

No. 24 St. Charles North 35, No. 14 Batavia 28

No. 16 Wheaton North 20, Waubonsie Valley 10

No. 17 Crete-Monee 52, Cahokia 8

No. 18 St. Rita 47, Marmion 14

No. 20 Lyons 31, Oak Park-River Forest 14

No. 21 Nazareth 48, Marian Catholic 7

No. 22 Oswego 30, Plainfield Central 0

Mount Carmel 35, No. 23 Providence 34

Other Highlights

Tinley Park 29, Evergreen Park 0

T.F. South 21, Oak Forest 14

Glenbard North 24, Neuqua Valley 14

St. Edward 29, Wheaton Academy 28

Marian Central Catholic 44, St. Patrick 21

Saturday's Top 25 Games

No. 7 Loyola vs. Brother Rice

No. 8 Glenbard West vs. Proviso West

Cubs will be open for business as Theo Epstein weighs trading hitters for pitching

Cubs will be open for business as Theo Epstein weighs trading hitters for pitching

Theo Epstein answered questions from the Chicago media for more than an hour on Friday afternoon at Wrigley Field, but the most interesting part might have been what the Cubs president didn’t say, something along the lines of: These are our guys.

Or at least Epstein didn’t give the same full-throated endorsement of The Core that he delivered after engineering the Jose Quintana trade with the White Sox this summer, getting an All-Star pitcher without giving up anyone from the big-league roster.

Whether it’s the way the Los Angeles Dodgers dominated the Cubs throughout the National League Championship Series that ended Thursday night, the inconsistencies and frustrations during a 43-45 first half of this season or the reality of losing 40 percent of the rotation, you walked out of that stadium club press conference thinking big changes could be coming.

“We’re going to pursue all avenues to get better,” Epstein said.

The Cubs already understood this would be a challenging time to dramatically reshape their pitching staff, with Cy Young Award winner Jake Arrieta, Big Boy John Lackey and All-Star closer Wade Davis about to become free agents.

The Cubs don’t really have many (any?) high-end, headliner prospects left to trade after borrowing heavily from their farm system to acquire Aroldis Chapman for last year’s World Series run and get Quintana to help solidify the rotation through 2020.

All of Major League Baseball is looking beyond this winter and preparing for the monster free-agent class that will hit the open market after the 2018 season.

Meaning it’s time for the Cubs to make some difficult decisions about all these young hitters they’ve collected.

“It may or may not be,” Epstein said. “Those choices, they’re not unilateral things. You can’t sit there and decide: ‘Hey, this guy, we’re moving him.’ Because you don’t know what the return might be. You don’t know how the different moving parts might fit together.

“I think going into the offseason prepared to make some tough choices and execute on them — and keeping an open mind to anything — is appropriate under the circumstances where we have some obvious deficits and we have some real surplus with talented players who are really desirable.”

Let’s assume All-Star first baseman Anthony Rizzo, MVP third baseman Kris Bryant and catcher Willson Contreras are essentially untouchable.

The Cubs used the ninth overall pick in the 2015 draft on Ian Happ with the explicit idea that the college hitter should be on a fast track and could be flipped for pitching later: Is it time to sell high after the rookie just put up 24 homers and an .842 OPS?

During an exit meeting with Albert Almora Jr., Epstein said he couldn’t promise an everyday job in 2018, though the expectation would be more responsibilities: Think anyone else would be interested in a potential Gold Glove center fielder who’s already playoff-tested?

Do you want Addison Russell or Javier Baez as your everyday shortstop for the next four years? Is there an American League team willing to bet big that Kyle Schwarber will crush 40 homers a year as a designated hitter?

The Cubs have to ask themselves those types of questions, which could mean getting outside of their comfort zone and taking on some riskier pitching investments and sapping the strength that has turned them into the dominant force in the NL Central.

“We’ve really benefitted from having two or three extra — and ‘extra’ in quotes because they’re not really extra — starting-caliber players on the roster,” Epstein said. “That helped us win 97 games in ’15, 103 last year, 92 this year. That’s as big a part of the club as anything.

“Having an Addison Russell go down and being able to move Javy Baez to shortstop — that’s an obvious example of it. But those things show up every week for us. There’s a day where someone can’t make the lineup and someone else slides in and you’re still starting eight quality guys. That’s huge.

“Sooner or later, you reach a point where you have to strongly consider sacrificing some of that depth to address needs elsewhere on the club. There’s no sort of deadline to do that. But I think we’re entering the phase where we have to be really open-minded to that if it makes the overall outlook of the team and organization better.”

Translation: The Cubs are open for business. Make your best offer.