'Changes' hold ominous signs for Bears


'Changes' hold ominous signs for Bears

At the three-quarter pole of a season, absolute numbers by themselves are one thing. Trend lines are another, and several key ones are trending in decidedly wrong directions as the Bears work to hold course for the postseason.

With three losses in the last four games against teams with winning records, falloffs should be no surprise. But the losses are the effect, not the cause.

Offensively the fact that the Bears are still 32nd in the NFL in yardage on first-down plays (4.28) after committing to improving in that area is concerning because it indicates that the Bears are still setting themselves with too much to pick up too often on subsequent downs.

A month ago, going into the Houston-San Francisco-Minnesota-Seattle stretch, the Bears were at 4.27 yards per first-down play. They were able to survive that as long as the opponents were Tennessee or Jacksonville; not the Texans or 49ers.

Bigger picture, the stunning receiving numbers of Brandon Marshall had the Bears at 29th in passing yards a month ago. Now the Bears are 31st even with Marshall catching 32 passes for 385 yards in the past quarter-seasons games.

Coach Lovie Smith rarely calls out players in public but he left no doubt that the receiver group has not been producing enough outside of Marshall.

I think weve been saying that for awhile, someone needs to step up, Smith said. I think the guys will say that. Hopefully, we still have time.

How much time really remaining?

Time and games, however, are running out, particularly if the trends are going in the wrong directions.

The Bears have a total of six offensive touchdowns over the last four games. They had 15 in the four second-quarter games, but that included six against Tennessee and five against Jacksonville, and five of the 15 were scored by the defense and special teams.

Questions about how good the Bears would be when the takeaway faucet ran a little dry have been answered. Not very.

Defense waning

A month ago the defense ranked No. 6 in rush yards allowed per game (88). Now it is 10th with 103.5, and 22nd in yards per attempt, up from 4.3 per attempt to 4.5.

Not surprising. After allowing only Cedric Benson and the Green Bay Packers to top 100 yards in the first six games, the Bears have held no team to fewer than 114 in the last six, with Houston, San Francisco and Seattle all netting more than 120.

The 3.6 per carry of the Texans went to 4.2 by San Francisco to 5.7 for the Vikings and 5.5 for Seattle.

Usually an optimist like Smith can point to a positive performance somewhere. In the 12th game of the season, when a defense should be hitting its stride, good was nowhere to be found.

Cant even point anybody out, Smith said. Just about every good defensive game weve played around here, weve all had something to do with that player-wise. And vs. Seattle we all had something to do with that performance that were not proud of.

We havent had many of those but it does happen. Got to make sure it doesnt happen again.

Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks look to bounce back against Panthers


Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks look to bounce back against Panthers

Here are Three Things to Watch when the Blackhawks take on the Florida Panthers Saturday on NBC Sports Chicago and streaming live on the NBC Sports app. Coverage begins at 5:30 p.m. with Blackhawks Pregame Live.

(Reminder: Use #AskEdzo on social media and your questions may be answered by Eddie Olczyk, who will be in studio along with Adam Burish, Brian Campbell and Pat Boyle).

1. Another fast start coming?

The Blackhawks had one of their best starts of the season Wednesday in Tampa Bay, and the numbers favor Chicago to dictate the pace of play early again.

The Panthers are tied with the Buffalo Sabres for the fewest goals scored in the first period (13), and have taken a lead into the second period only four times (3-1-0) in 21 games. They are 2-7-1 in the 10 games they've trailed after the opening frame.

The Blackhawks, on the other hand, are tied for fourth when it comes to first-period goals (22) — albeit, five of them came on Opening Night against Pittsburgh — but they are just 4-2-2 in eight games when leading after one period. In fact, they took a 2-0 lead into the second in their most recent game against the Lightning and lost in overtime 3-2.

So while a fast start could certainly be in the cards, the finish must also be there.

2. Take advantage on special teams.

The Panthers are one of two teams ranked among the bottom six in both power play percentage (26th at 16.0) and penalty kill percentage (30th at 73.2).

Meanwhile, the Blackhawks are coming in hot in both areas. They're 6-for-17 (35.3 percent) on the man advantage in their last four games, and own the fourth-best penalty kill unit (84.8 percent).

This is the area to exploit for the Blackhawks going into the matchup, and it could decide the game.

3. Feed Lance Bouma!

In his seventh season, Bouma has faced every NHL team at least five times in his career, with the exception of Vegas (pointless in one game this season).

Bouma is not known for his offensive prowess (72 points in 325 career games), but it's a different story when he plays Florida.

In six career games against the Panthers, Bouma has one goal, six assists and a career-high plus-8 rating. That one goal also happens to be one of his six career game winners.

Florida is the only team Bouma is averaging at least a point-per-game against for his career, so you know what that means: Feed No. 17!

Did Steve Kerr troll the Bulls?


Did Steve Kerr troll the Bulls?

With Kevin Durant (ankle) and Draymond Green (rest) out, the Golden State Warriors had two starting forward positions open for Friday's game against the Bulls.

One of the two starters who replaced them? Jordan Bell. Does his name ring one, too?

Selected by the Bulls with the 38th pick in the 2017 NBA Draft, Bell was eventually traded to the Warriors in exchange for cash considerations.

The Oregon product hasn't played much this season for the defending champs, averaging just 3.2 points and 8.3 minutes in 12 games, but he made his first career start against ... his "former" team. Coincidence?

Warriors coach Steve Kerr (jokingly) explained why he gave the 22-year-old rookie the nod in the lineup.

Prior to the game, Bell also had this to say about his trade:

Bell couldn't have played better in his first career start. In 26 minutes, he recorded seven points, six rebounds, six blocks and four assists in a 143-94 Warriors win over the Bulls at Oracle Arena.