Cubs

Bears-Vikings preview: Bears ball

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Bears-Vikings preview: Bears ball

With or without Cutler, Bears O facing myriad problems
The Chicago offense was wobbling with Jay Cutler at quarterback. Without him it crashed under backup Jason Campbell, and Cutlers status for Sunday, because of the concussion suffered in the Houston game, remains a question.
Meanwhile, the problems with the Bears offense extend far beyond the offensive line and its shuffling in the wake of six 49ers sacks. So how bad has it all gotten?
The offense has even reached opposing red zones just twice in the past two games and put points on the board on only three of its past 25 possessions.
The Bears offense has scored just one touchdown in the past eight quarters, that a meaningless score at San Francisco when the Bears trailed 27-0. One of the two field goals managed against the Houston Texans came after a takeaway and scoring drive of five yards for a 51-yard Robbie Gould field goal.
The Bears have not scored on an opening drive of either the first or second half in four straight games. And they still rank 32nd on first-down plays at 4.09 yards per.
If there is a positive here it is that the Minnesota Vikings are sixth-worst, giving up 5.01 yards per first-down plays, which are the ones that start possessions off well or not so well, and which have repeatedly had the Bears starting drives with play-calling options limited from the first snap.
The concerns offensively -- the lack of rhythm, the lack of the fast starts, the lack of success on first down -- are still haunting us, said offensive coordinator Mike Tice. We felt like we had a decent plan going in for San Francisco, playing some smash-mouth, getting into that third-and-medium, giving us a chance to convert to stay out of those long situations and giving those nickel pass rushers a chance to tee off. That didnt happen in that football game.
Will it happen vs. Vikings?
The Minnesota Vikings are not the San Francisco 49ers defensively, even though the Vikings did hold the 49ers to 13 points in a Week 3 win. But they do rank eighth in yards allowed per play and yards per rushing attempt and ninth in yards per pass play.
In short, the 49ers are a top-five defense; the Vikings are top-10 in three very key areas against a Chicago offense that is struggling in just about every area.
The Vikings have forced just 12 turnovers (five interceptions, seven fumbles) and allow 22.1 points per game. In the Bears favor: Minnesota has given up 24 or more points in four of the last five games, 30 or more in three of those.
QB questions
The Bears best hope clearly lies with Jay Cutler being past any concussion symptoms. Cutler has played the Vikings six times and has a combined 100.8 passer rating, with 15 touchdown passes and six interceptions.
Since a 38-10 loss in late November 2009, the Bears have scored 36, 27, 40 and 39 points against the Vikings, with only two of the TDs coming on returns, both by Devin Hester.
Maybe its a touch of familiarity, based on what Cutler sees all during the offseason and training camp.
Minnesotas defense is very similar to the defense we have here: Cover-2, Tampa-2, Tony Dungy kind of coaching tree, similar stuff to what we see here, Cutler said. Jared Allen is a problem for us; weve got to account for him. Good linebacking crew, rest of the D-line is good, and the corners and safeties play disciplined football.
Much of the same that we see out of the Chicago Bears and were just going to have to execute, run the ball well and complete passes when we get opportunities.
Matchup concerns
The last time left tackle JMarcus Webb saw Allen the Minnesota defensive end was flying past him on the way to one of three sacks of quarterback Josh McCown in the Bears 17-13 victory to finish last season 8-8.
Webb has allowed seven sacks, three quarterback hits and 22 hurries so far this season, according to ProFootballFocus.com studies. That is an improvement from last years 14 sacks allowed but not enough for the Bears to leave him alone all evening with Allen, who has seven sacks this season in addition to 24 quarterback hits and 11 tackles for loss.
Definitely we will have chip help, Tice said. He knows that. Were going to have to make sure that we account for him every play, every time we drop back to throw the ball, that hes walled up. We have to make sure we know where he is and find him and make sure we have an answer for that. Thats without a doubt.
But the Bears have other concerns of their own, whether Chris Spencer is a sufficient upgrade over Chilo Rachal at left guard, or if Jonathan Scott replacing Gabe Carimi can stop the hemorrhaging of pass rushers past right tackle.
Brian Robision at left end has 5.5 sacks and 13 quarterback hits. Six-time Pro Bowl tackle Kevin Williams has 14 hits to go with his two sacks.
Vikings coach Leslie Frazier was watching last Monday but you dont want to take what happened on Monday night and say OK, thats the blueprint for success, because not all teams have some of the players that San Francisco has, he said.
The problem for the Bears? The Vikings do have some of the players the 49ers have.

Cubs Talk Podcast: 2017 season obituary and previewing an interesting winter for Cubs

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USA TODAY

Cubs Talk Podcast: 2017 season obituary and previewing an interesting winter for Cubs

In the latest Cubs Talk Podcast, Kelly Crull, Patrick Mooney and Tony Andracki close the book on the 2017 season following Theo Epstein’s press conference, looking back at what will go down as the craziest calendar year in Cubs history from last November through the team’s loss in the NLCS this October.

Moving forward, where do guys like Kyle Schwarber, Albert Almora Jr., Justin Wilson and Mike Montgomery fit? Will the Cubs re-sign Wade Davis or go after another proven closer? And how worried should fans be about the offense that completely disappeared in the postseason?

Take a listen below:

Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks visit Niklas Hjalmarsson, Coyotes

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Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks visit Niklas Hjalmarsson, Coyotes

Here are Three Things to Watch when the Blackhawks take on the Arizona Coyotes Saturday night on NBC Sports Chicago and streaming live on the NBC Sports app. Coverage begins at 7:30 p.m. with Blackhawks Pregame Live.

1. Niklas Hjalmarsson's new home.

Brace yourselves, Chicago. It's going to be a weird site seeing Hjalmarsson in a different sweater other than the Blackhawks, where he spent his first 10 NHL seasons and won three Stanley Cups.

Now he serves as an alternate captain and blue-line anchor for the Coyotes, who are the only team still seeking its first win of the season. You know they'll be hungry to snap that skid, especially when there's extra motivation for a player on their team facing a bunch of old friends.

2. Connor Murphy returns to Arizona, too.

The man Hjalmarsson was traded for will also be returning to a place he called home for four years. Murphy's role with the Coyotes increased every year before he was dealt to the Blackhawks as part of a shake-up for both teams, so you know he's going to play with something to prove.

Murphy is a physical defenseman, and has laid several notable big hits this season. His former teammates surely know it, and may want to keep their heads up.

3. Patrick Kane 2.0?

Ever since he was drafted with the No. 7 overall pick in 2016, Clayton Keller has drawn comparisons to Kane. They're both undersized, offensive playmakers, possess supreme stick-handling abilities and are American-born players.

Keller got a brief taste of NHL action last year, but he's secured a full-time spot with the Coyotes this season and has been arguably their best player so far.

The 19-year-old forward paces all rookies with five goals and ranks second with seven points, and leads the Coyotes in both categories. Expect to see his name as a finalist for the Calder Trophy for the league's top rookie at the end of the season.