Fire

Bears-Titans preview: Bears ball

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Bears-Titans preview: Bears ball

The Tennessee Titans have not defended anything particularly well. So:
If the Bears cannot run the ball at will on a defense standing 28th in yardage and 26th in per-carry averages allowed;
if they cannot throw at will on a unit ranked 31st in third-down stops, 30th in sacks per pass play and 30th in overall yards allowed per game;
then the Bears offense may want to forget about getting off the bus running and just stay on the bus.
We dont have to get exponentially better, insisted quarterback Jay Cutler. We just have to take one step at a time, each week each player gets a little better at a time and by the end of the year well be where we want to be.
They most definitely are not where they want to be now. Despite the addition of Brandon Marshall, the Bears rank 25th in passing yardage per game (195.6). Last year they were 18th (222.7).
Curiously perhaps, while some talk is over whether or not running back Matt Forte is getting the ball enough, the Bears are averaging 124 yards per game vs. last years 114.7 at this point.
Remember the Titans
The Titans are being perceived as a get-right game for the streaky Chicago Bears offense. It would be a mistake in judgment if that filtered into the Bears locker room the way the misperception of the Carolina Panthers appeared to, judging from the results of the first three quarters last Sunday and players acknowledging that they came out flat.
Carolina allowed the Bears all of 61 yards until the final possession of the third quarter when Jay Cutler found Earl Bennett for 24 and 11 yards on successive plays. Even that trace of a pulse amounted to nothing when Robbie Gould missed a field goal, meaning that with 7 minutes remaining in the game, the supposedly explosive Chicago offense had put all of seven points on the NFLs 20th-ranked scoring defense.
If that happens against the Titans, an offseason of adding Michael Bush, Brandon Marshall, Chilo Rachal and other pieces like Jeremy Bates to coach Cutler would appear to have added very little to the overall.
Tennessee is 31st in points allowed (32.1 per game). Of some immediate concern, for the last three games, the Titans are allowing an average of nearly 25 points per game, and they won two of those games.
Breakdown avoidance
The Bears have allowed an alarming 11 sacks in the last two games. They are credited with accounting for nearly a third of the years sack totals for Detroit (five of 17) and Carolina (six of 20).
The operative word there is Bears because Cutlers propensity to hold the ball too long has directly contributed to an estimated half of those takedowns.
And it is Bears because so many different players are having breakdowns in an overall where one missed block can offset every other one being made.
We talked about a couple weeks ago, Dont be The Guy to mess up, and we took turns all the way across the board being the guy, Tice said. We had a lot of individual breakdowns of guys physically across the board.
The Titans play a 4-3 with undersized speed rushers on the edges, one in particular that has left the Bears with some scar tissue.
Kamerion Wimbley delivered what arguably was a turning point the wrong direction last season as an Oakland Raider when he intercepted a Caleb Hanie pass and returned it 73 yards to set up a first-half field goal that took away a go-ahead scoring opportunity and appeared to unravel Hanie and the Bears, who lost that and the next four games, and the season.
Wimbley, with 2.5 sacks and five QB pressures, will typically line up at right end at 255 pounds about the same size as Green Bays Clay Matthews with a 70-pound disadvantage vs. left tackle JMarcus Webb. He had a sack of Hanie last year and one of Cutler in 2009, a game in which Cutler was pressured into a passer rating of 66.7.
Wimbley is a former No. 1 pick (Cleveland). Left end Derrick Morgan (278 pounds) was Titans No. 1 pick in 2010. And the starting secondary has a total of 22 NFL seasons, with three 6-footers and 5-10 corner Alterraun Verner.
Scary team, Marshall said. Theyve got some guys on the back end that have played the game for some time now.

Playoff scenarios and scoreboard watching will permeate Sunday for Fire

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Playoff scenarios and scoreboard watching will permeate Sunday for Fire

The Fire will have to keep the travel itinerary open.

Heading into the final day of the regular season on Sunday, the Fire can finish anywhere from second to fifth in the Eastern Conference. As it stands, the Fire sit third and would host a first-game playoff game, but could also head on the road to Columbus in the first round or even earn a bye.

Depending on what the Fire do in Houston in the regular season finale and what happens elsewhere there are six possible scenarios for the Fire. The Fire could hold onto the No. 3 seed and host the New York Red Bulls, drop to fourth and host either Columbus, Atlanta or New York City FC, fall all the way to the No. 5 seed and travel to New York City or move up to the No. 2 seed and earn a bye into the conference semifinals.

In order to get the bye, the Fire must win and have NYCFC fail to beat Columbus. A draw in Houston would result in a home game in the first round, regardless of other results.

“Definitely things can happen,” defender Matt Polster said. “We’ve looked at it obviously. Columbus can do something and then we do something obviously things happen. It’s not that we don’t look at it as players, but at the end of the day we just want to win.”

Winning in Houston won’t be easy considering the team has an 11-1-4 record at home this season. On top of that, Houston is also fighting for playoff positioning. The Dynamo clinched a playoff berth last weekend and could move into a top four spot with a win and some help.

Expect the Fire to control the possession. Houston likes to play on the counter to utilize speedy attackers Alberth Elis (10 goals, 4 assists), Mauro Manotas (9 goals, 5 assists) and Erick Torres (14 goals, 3 assists).

“We know they’re fast up top so I think for myself, especially being very attacking-minded I definitely have to play a little bit more defensive and wait for the right opportunities to go forward,” Polster said. “Maybe more something like Montreal with (Ignacio) Piatti.”

The Fire’s midfield will still be shorthanded with Bastian Schweinsteiger expected to sit out to continue to rest his calf injury. Juninho returned to training this week after missing the past five games and could play next to Dax McCarty. The Brazilian described the injury as chronic with a bone bruise and some cartilage issues, but he said he feels 100 percent now.

All 11 MLS games on Sunday will start at 3 p.m. The Fire will be on NBC Sports Chicago+ with coverage starting with Fire Pregame Live at 2:30 p.m.

The other games of importance to the Fire are Columbus at NYCFC and Atlanta hosting Supporters’ Shield-winning Toronto. Coach Veljko Paunovic said he will be drawing on his experience coaching the Serbian Under-20s for how to handle the scoreboard watching aspect of the day.

“Obviously you cannot ignore what’s going on in the other games,” Paunovic said. “We know what we have to say or not say and when to say and all these things so it’s a craft that this job is.

“It’s good to know the information. Then you can manage it.”

Big play from Justin Jackson sets up Northwestern's overtime win over Iowa

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USA TODAY

Big play from Justin Jackson sets up Northwestern's overtime win over Iowa

Justin Jackson is one of the top 10 rushers in Big Ten history for a reason: He's very, very good at this football thing.

Put it was a big play Jackson made not as a ball-carrier but as a pass-catcher Saturday that set up Northwestern's second straight win, a 17-10 takedown of Iowa in Evanston.

Jackson took a pass from quarterback Clayton Thorson and went all the way down to the 1-yard line, picking up 23 yards and shedding multiple tacklers on the game's biggest play.

Two plays later, Thorson plunged in for the go-ahead score. Iowa failed on a fourth-down conversion attempt on its ensuing overtime possession, ending it with a dropped pass that finished the game.

The game's result rapidly altered the social-media conversation, which moments prior had been mighty critical of Pat Fitzgerald, who made a controversial decision at the end of regulation.

Iowa tied the game at 10 on a field goal inside of two minutes to play, forced to kick after a false start was committed on fourth and 1. Fitzgerald had a minute and a half and two timeouts to try to get his own team into field-goal range for a shot at a win but instead ran the clock out and headed to overtime.

Fitzgerald explained after the game that the blustery wind at Ryan Field played a big role in that decision, plus his team had a long way to go against an Iowa defense that played well throughout the game.

Northwestern's defense was very strong, too, holding Iowa to 312 total yards, only 89 of which came on the ground. Hawkeyes quarterback Nathan Stanley was also picked off in the second half for the game's only turnover.

Jackson finished with 93 rushing yards and 38 receiving yards. Thorson was 21-for-36 passing the ball for 192 yards. Backup running back Jeremy Larkin scored the Wildcats' lone regulation touchdown.

The win improved Northwestern to 4-3 on the season and 2-2 in Big Ten play. After a 2-3 start, the Cats have won back-to-back games and take on a ranked Michigan State team next weekend.