Cubs

Bears-Panthers preview Bears ball

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Bears-Panthers preview Bears ball

The 2012 Bears are scoring 27 points per game, offense and defense combined. Three of their six games have been against defenses ranked in the top 10 (Dallas, Detroit, St. Louis).
But for all that the offense has done well keeping the Bears defense off the field on average more than 33 minutes per game, one lost fumble all year and a total of three turnovers over the last four games something is still missing.
Wanted: next-step offense
The offense ranks 22nd in yards per game, 25th in passing despite the playing teams with a combined 14-17 record in games other than against the Bears to this point.
The offense has scored just one touchdown in three of the Bears six games.
Weve got to do our part on offense, said quarterback Jay Cutler. Defense has been carrying us for a while. Weve got to make some strides offensively this week. We missed a lot of things in the second half against Detroit. Weve got to clean it up.
The Panthers should provide a forum for that cleanup.
Carolina ranks 20th in points allowed (24.0 per game) and doesnt stop anything especially well. The Panthers are 19th against both the run (120.3 yards per game) and pass (245.8), and are a lowly 26th in turnover ratio with a minus-4 (vs. the Bears at plus-13, No. 1 in the NFL).
Panther problems
Of more immediate significance, however, Carolina allowed 16 points to Seattle and 19 to Dallas in their last two defeats. Their problems have not been on defense.
And the Bears have problems of their own coming, in the form of road trips to Tennessee and San Francisco and home against Houston over the next four games.
We need to be 6-1, said offensive coordinator Mike Tice. Have you looked at our schedule coming up? We need to be 6-1, and we need to take care of our business. Thats the key in this business -- dont get ahead of yourselves like we did once, and take each game, you know the clich, one at a time.
The Bears have adhered generally to the balance formula that has served them well in particular over the last two years. With Jay Cutler coming in with bruised ribs from his hit by Ndamukong Suh, his already moderate 2012 accuracy may be in more question, possibly putting a larger load on a Bears run game that has begun to reach its levels of the past couple of seasons at this point.
Thinking on the run
Running backs have averaged 135 yards per game over the last three games and Matt Forte has averaged 4 or more yards per carry in all five games hes played. Expectations are that the Bears will eschew the exotic and simply force Carolina to prove it can deal with the run, which creates big-strike opportunities via play-action.
I think Jayll be fine, Forte said. Regular offense.
Carolina is trying to replace middle linebacker Jon Beason, lost for the season with a knee injury. Rookie and No, 9-overall draft pick Luke Kuechly started the first four games at weakside linebacker, moved to the middle and had 34 total tackles and an interception over the last two games.
But teams are converting 45.1 percent of third downs on the Panthers. The Bears are a very respectable 41.4 percent, up from 32.5 percent for 2011, and if the Bears can keep their offense on the field and their defense resting, the Panthers will be in trouble.
Weve improved in most categories, with the exception of third down 27th, said coach Ron Rivera. Weve been below average as far as third down is concerned. If we have one issue weve got to get shored up, it has been our third-down play. Weve gotten after teams.

Javy Baez, the Cubs' versatile King of Swag

Javy Baez, the Cubs' versatile King of Swag

Even his teammates are having a hard time wrapping their minds around Javier Baez, the farmer.

Anthony Rizzo asked the flashy infielder before one of the panels this weekend at Cubs Convention, “What is it you do exactly? Feed chickens?”

The exchange garnered a good laugh from the crowd, but let’s be honest: only Baez could make feeding chickens look as cool as feeding a double play ball at Wrigley. Having asked at least 10 different Cubs players this weekend which teammate has the most swag, it was always Baez. And there was never any hesitation. 

Like the bling that hangs around his MLB logo-tatted neck, Baez dazzles on the field as well. His tags are a thing of beauty. You can just imagine young ballplayers around Chicago imitating the swipe, much like a Michael Jordan fadeaway jumper. Whether manning second or short, the 25 year-old All-Star has become a must-see defensive player.

Last season Baez took over at shortstop as Addison Russell dealt with a strained right foot/plantar fasciitis problem. In 30 games Baez thrived at his natural position, so much so he left some wondering if the Cubs would consider flipping Russell back to second base.

Baez has the more traditional, powerful shortstop arm, but Theo Epstein will tell you when you look at Russell’s defensive rankings compared to other shortstops, he’s a special player in his own right as well.

One thing’s for sure: the Cubs are fortunate to have that kind of depth up the middle. Joe Maddon made it clear last September that without the play of Baez, it’s doubtful the team would have been in position to clinch the division.

“We have two legitimate shortstops," Maddon said. "It’s very unusual to have that.”

Sure, a great problem to have. But how does it play out for the Cubs when all is said and done?

Does Baez take over at short with Russell moving to second, or is it Maddon having a tough conversation with Ben Zobrist and plugging No. 9 in as his everyday second baseman? There's Ian Happ, too. Is he the Cubs' second baseman of the future with Russell/Baez being the trade chip that lands a frontline starter?

All viable options, but just for fun in the video above we put Baez on the spot at Cubs Convention and asked him: Are you a shortstop playing second, or a second baseman playing short?”

He flashed a big grin and said a second baseman playing short. In other words, he gets it.

His bling doesn’t blind him from being a team player. "El Mago," the magician, knows his time is coming. A process that will begin in a few weeks when the Cubs report to Mesa.

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Should Bears use Jags/Vikes as blueprints and build an elite defense over offense?

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USA TODAY

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Should Bears use Jags/Vikes as blueprints and build an elite defense over offense?

On this episode of the SportsTalk Live Podcast, David Schuster (670 The Score), Dan Cahill (Chicago Sun-Times) and Jordan Bernfield join David Kaplan on the panel.

The Bulls keep on winning. Should they try to make the playoffs? NBCSportsChicago.com’s Vincent Goodwill joins the guys to discuss.

Plus, with Bortles, Foles and Keenum starting in this weekend’s Championship Games should the Bears prioritize improving their defense this offseason?