Fire

Changes expected on Bears offensive line

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Changes expected on Bears offensive line

The assault on the Bears' offensive line didnt end when the group left San Francisco last Monday night. Offensive coordinator Mike Tice said Wednesday that the performances that allowed six sacks of Jason Campbell were being evaluated with an eye toward changing what and who didnt work.

And the quarterback who is expected to be behind that line Sunday against Jared Allen and the Minnesota Vikings was virtually conceding that the front five as it is currently constituted wasnt going to be enough.

Were going to have to help them, said quarterback Jay Cutler. Going to have to do some stuff protection-wise, chip, slant some guys, get the backs involved, some of the tight ends, be smart with our play-calling, try to limit the second-and-longs, third-and-long.

Theres a lot of things to do but ultimately theres going to be some times where weve got to let those five block and theyre going to have to do their jobs well.

That did not happen against San Francisco, where the only blockers to receive tolerable grades were center Roberto Garza and right guard Lance Louis. Not enough.

We have a couple of guys who are solid, who we can win with, Tice said. If three guys fail, you dont have much of a chance.

Right tackle Gabe Carimi was repeatedly embarrassed by bull rushes from undersized edge rusher Aldon Smith. Tice pointedly said of all his lineman that sometimes you have to buck up and win a fight, speaking about the inability of the tackles to handle straight-ahead power rushes.

Its pretty hard to chip and help out on bull rushes, Tice said.

Carimi went down in Week 2 last year with a season-ending knee injury. He has not indicated any problems this preseason and through the first 10 games of his de facto rookie season and Tice acknowledged that Carimi has handled himself as a professional.

But at the end of the day we all need better results," Tice said. Gabe is intense and if something happens early, he gets all worked up and doesnt settle down. It compounds and its happened more than once.

The alternative in a straight-up switch is veteran Jonathan Scott, signed after the first game but whose use has been largely as a third tight end.

Louis shifted from guard to tackle in 2010 and performed well enough in the Bears run to the NFC Championship game. But he has become arguably the Bears best lineman inside, a key if the Bears have any hope of establishing a viable run game.

In any case, Cutler left no doubt that what the front five did against the 49ers would not allow the Bears to be a winning football team.

The way we played against the 49ers, no, Cutler said. Were not going to be successful against anybody playing like that. But I dont think thats who they are. I think theyre better than that. Were going to have to do some things to help them out as well.

Joao Meira spills the first news of the Fire's offseason

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USA TODAY

Joao Meira spills the first news of the Fire's offseason

The wait to find out which players have their options picked up or declined by the Fire might still be a couple weeks, but the first news of a player move in the Fire's offseason came via Twitter.

Defender Joao Meira announced he won't be returning to the club in 2018.

Meira signed with the Fire just before the start of the 2016 preseason after being out of contract in Europe. The Portuguese center back signed a one-year deal with a club option for the second year.

After he played 28 matches with 26 starts in 2016, the Fire picked up his option. He became even more of a fixture at center back in 2017, beating out Jonathan Campbell for the other starting spot alongside Johan Kappelhof. Meira played in 30 regular season matches and made 27 starts, finishing fourth on the team in minutes played (2,412).

That Meira won't be back isn't a major surprise for a few reasons. First, he was out of contract. He was one of two players, along with Bastian Schweinsteiger, on the Fire's roster that the team had no control over for 2018. On top of that, the 30-year-old had made it clear that he wanted to be closer to his home and family in Portugal.

Meira's departure leaves a gap at the center back position for the Fire. Kappelhof, who enters the third year of a three-year guaranteed deal in 2018, and Campbell, who will likely have his club option picked up, enter as the only healthy center backs in 2018. Christian Dean was added in August via trade, but is coming off a broken foot, an injury that has plagued him before. His status for the start of the 2018 season is unclear.

Grant Lillard, a potential homegrown signing and a senior at Indiana, could compete for time at center back next season. He is one of the top rated players in the country for the Hoosiers, which are the No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament. While Lillard could step in from a numbers perspective and would add size to the Fire's back line (Lillard is 6-foot-4), he wouldn't be able to replace Meira's ability on the ball. Meira wasn't as effective of a defender as Kappelhof, but was arguably the best passer among the Fire's center backs and helped alleviate pressure at times.

This also opens up an international spot on the Fire's roster. The Fire went over the alloted total last season, but were able to put John Goossens and Jorge Bava on the disabled list to clear room. Meira's exit gives a bit more flexibility in that department.

Bears-Lions prediction: Will special teams continue John Fox's NFC North woes?

Bears-Lions prediction: Will special teams continue John Fox's NFC North woes?

Only three of John Fox’s 12 wins as Bears coach have been against NFC North opponents, while 12 of his 29 losses have come against divisional opponents. 

That’s a recipe for back-to-back-to-back last place finishes in the NFC North. And if the Bears can’t beat an Aaron Rodgers-less Green Bay Packers team, why could it beat a Detroit Lions team that has a healthy franchise quarterback?

The positive end of that answer is the Bears do have wins over two playoff teams (Pittsburgh and Carolina) while six of their four losses have been by eight points or fewer. Sunday’s game will probably be close, again (if it’s not, and the Bears are on the losing end of it, it would raise some significant concerns about the state of Fox within the locker room). 

So if the game is decided by one possession or less, this could be the difference: Detroit has one of the best special teams units in the NFL, ranking second in Football Outsiders’ DVOA, while the Bears are 28th by the same measure. 

Getting Sherrick McManis back this week should help solidify Jeff Rodgers’ special teams units, but Jamal Agnew has two punt return scores and is averaging 18.3 yards per return. 

“Tough guy — he’ll return inside and outside,” Rodgers said. “He’s got multiple longer returns against people this year. it’s not just, ‘I had a long return in Week 2 or Week 1,’ and kinda held onto that. he’s been productive in a lot of games. certainly a guy that we’ve gotta do a good job against.”

If the Bears don’t do a good job bottling up Agnew, though, he could be the reason why the game flips to Detroit — or, at least, why the Lions keep the Bears at arm’s length. 

Prediction: Lions 24, Bears 16