Bears

Bears-Eagles: Three keys for victory

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Bears-Eagles: Three keys for victory

Friday, Nov. 26, 2010
10:50 AM

By John Mullin
CSNChicago.com

Three Keys for Bears

NFL games typically turn on a small number of key individuals, developments or other factors. The Bears' best chances for moving to 8-3 and gaining a valuable edge in NFC playoff tiebreakers lie in three areas:

1. Bears DE Julius Peppers vs. Eagles LT Jason Peters.

This is precisely the kind of significant situation that the Bears had in mind when they invested 91 million in Peppers, who has been to five Pro Bowls. And this is the reason the Eagles acquired Peters, who has been selected for three. Peppers ability to force Michael Vick to unload the ball sooner than planned as well as drive him to his right, not his preferred side for throwing on the move, is critical.

Likewise, the Eagles are counting on Peters to man up on Peppers without constant help from a back, tight end or left guard Todd Herremans. Peppers is coming off a three-sack game against Miami and an injured Jake Long, good enough for the honor of NFC defensive player of the week. The Eagles cannot afford to see Peppers become a repeat winner of the award.

The domino effect here is Peppers driving Vick toward Israel Idonije on the defensive left side. Idonije is having a career year (6 sacks) but is a veteran against the run from his days at tackle. If Idonije can set an edge to his side and deliver some complementary pressure against RT Winston Justice, the Bears can leave Vick to their front four, the preferred approach in their Cover-2.

2. Mike Martzs resolve.

The Bears offensive coordinator has operated with game plans that have produced three straight wins due in no small measure to running the ball 30-plus times in each. Nowhere in Martzs recent past with four different teams has this occurred and the Bears are 5-0 this season when theyve rushed 30 or more times in a game, including Jay Cutler scrambles.

Notable in those five run-balanced victories: In four of the five the Bears averaged 3.4 or less per carry, meaning that Martz has been willing to stay with some semblance of a run game even when it wasnt producing chunks of yardage. Perhaps not coincidentally, those four games, even with the pedestrian per-carry average, the Bears had their four best third-down-conversion rates of the season.

Martz is not afflicted with limitless patience, however. His legacy is founded on big plays and he has a big arm in Cutler and deep speed in Devin Hester and Johnny Knox. The Eagles have averaged allowing 74 rushing yards in their last six games; in the five games of 30-plus carries the Bears have topped 100. The willingness of Martz and offensive line coach Mike Tice to stay with the run when Philadelphia presumably throttles it is a test the Bears need very much to pass.

3. When the pressure comes.

Philadelphia defensive coordinator Sean McDermott is the schematic descendant of the late Jim Johnson. Only two teams (Minnesota, Pittsburgh) had more sacks than the Eagles last season and this year they have pressured opponents into throwing 19 interceptions, most in the NFL. The result is the No. 1 turnover ratio at plus-15 (the Bears are plus-3).

The Bears are 35-7 under Lovie Smith when they have a positive turnover ratio but 10-25 when theyve lost the ball more times than theyve taken it away. Jay Cutler has taken 33 sacks and thrown 10 interceptions, with the effects of pressure readily apparent in his decision-making. That part of his game has gotten better, the line has progressively improved at adjusting to pressures and blitzes, but few teams attack more often and from more directions than the Eagles 10 different players have at least one sack.

Trent Cole has 7 sacks and 26 hurries from his right defensive end position. Frank Omiyale has been arguably the Bears offensive MVP with his play settling the left tackle spot and Omiyale needs to keep Cole from adding to that hurries total.

John "Moon" Mullin is CSNChicago.com's Bears Insider, and appears regularly on Bears Postgame Live and Chicago Tribune Live. Follow Moon on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Bears information.

Three Keys for Eagles

By Ray Didinger
CSNPhilly.com

Three keys for the Eagles in Sundays game against the Chicago Bears.

1. Win the Turnover Battle

These are two defenses that thrive on takeaways. The Eagles lead the league with 26, Chicago is next with 25. The Eagles are No. 1 in turnover ratio at plus 13. Chicago is plus 3. It stands to reason the team that finishes ahead in this area on Sunday will most likely win the game.

Michael Vick has been very good at protecting the football. He has attempted 191 passes without throwing an interception and he lost his first fumble of the season last Sunday. The Eagles are 68-17 under Andy Reid when they win the turnover battle.

2. Contain Devin Hester

The Eagles kick coverage has improved in recent weeks after being really poor early in the season. They had their best game last Sunday, limiting the Giants to 5.3 yards on punt returns and 15.3 yards on kickoff returns. But Will Blackmon, the Giants return man, is no Devin Hester.

Hester is the most explosive kick returner in the game and he is handing punts and kickoffs again after relinquishing some of those duties last season. He proved he has not lost a thing when in Week 10 against Minnesota he returned a kickoff for 68 yards and a punt for 42. He is second in the league in punt returns with a 15.0 yard average and two touchdowns.

3. Avoid a Letdown

It may sound strange to talk about a letdown in a game between two 7-3 teams, but emotionally this is a tough spot for the Eagles. They are coming off three big games in a row Indianapolis, Washington and the Giants and now they are going on the road to play the Bears with another game (Houston) scheduled for Thursday.

It is a lot to ask of the players to get up for all those games, especially when the last game against the Giants was as physical and draining as it was. Meanwhile, the Bears have had a nice 10-day rest since defeating Miami 16-0 on Thursday, Nov. 18.

2017 Bears position grades: Management

2017 Bears position grades: Management

2017 grade: D+

For these purposes, “management” encompasses the coaching staff and front office. We don’t need a lengthy re-litigation of the failures of the John Fox era, so briefly: The offense was unimaginative, predictable and unsuccessful; there were too many head-scratching coaching decisions, punctuated by that backfiring challenge flag against Green Bay; the defense was solid but not spectacular; special teams had plenty of highs (three touchdowns) and lows (Marcus Cooper’s gaffe against Pittsburgh, Connor Barth’s missed field goal against Detroit). Fox didn’t win enough games to justify a fourth year, even if he left the Bears in a better place than he found them back in 2015. But that 5-11 record drags the management grade down. 

But the larger thing we’re going to focus on here is the hits and misses for Ryan Pace in the 2017 league year. The hits: 

-- Drafting Mitchell Trubisky. Will this be a long-term success? That’s another question. But Pace hitched his future in Chicago to a quarterback last April. For a franchise that hasn’t had a “franchise” quarterback in ages, what more can you ask for? If Trubisky pans out, nobody should care that Pace traded up one spot -- effectively losing a third-round pick for his conviction in his guy -- to make the move. 

-- Moving quickly to hire Matt Nagy. As with Trubisky, Pace identified his guy and made sure he got him. The Bears hired Nagy just two days after the Kansas City Chiefs’ season ended with that playoff collapse against the Tennessee Titans, and with the Indianapolis Colts -- who eventually got burned by Josh McDaniels -- sniffing around Nagy, Pace made his move to hire a young, energetic, offensive-minded coach to pair with Trubisky. It’s tough to argue with any of the coaching hires made by Nagy, who had a head start on the competition: He retained defensive coordinator Vic Fangio and that entire defensive staff, kept Dave Ragone to be Trubisky’s quarterbacks coach and hired Mark Helfrich to bring some different concepts as offensive coordinator, and hired a special teams coach in Chris Tabor who must’ve been doing something right to survive seven years and a bunch of coaching changes in Cleveland. Like with Trubisky, it’s too early to say if Nagy will or won’t work out long-term, but it stands out that Pace had conviction in getting a franchise quarterback and a head coach who will make or break his tenure in Chicago. 

-- Drafting Tarik Cohen and Eddie Jackson in the fourth round. In Cohen, the Bears found an offensive spark (who was nonetheless under-utilized) who also was a key contributor on special teams. In Jackson, the Bears added a plug-and-play 16-game starter at safety who looks to have some upside after a solid rookie year. Both picks here were a triumph for the Bears’ amateur scouting department: Cohen wasn’t on everyone’s radar (special teams coach Chris Tabor, who previously was with the Browns, said Cohen’s name never came across his desk in Cleveland), while Jackson was coming off a broken leg that prematurely ended a solid career at Alabama. These were assuredly two hits. 

-- Signing Akiem Hicks to a four-year contract extension. The Bears rewarded Hicks a day before the season began; Hicks rewarded them with a Pro Bowl-caliber season (despite him only being a fourth alternate) and was the best player on the team in 2017. 

-- Signing Charles Leno to a four-year contract extension. Leno may not be an elite tackle, and still has some things to clean up in his game, but he’s 26 and his four-year, $37 million contract is the 14th-largest among left tackles (for what it’s worth, Bleacher Report ranked Leno as the 20th best left tackle in the NFL). The Bears believe Leno is still improving, and could turn that contract into a bargain in the future. But this is important to note, too: Players notice when a team rewards one of its own, especially when that guy is a well-respected former seventh-round draft pick. 

-- Signing Mark Sanchez to a one-year deal. This wasn’t a miss, certainly, and while it’s not much of a “hit,” Sanchez was exactly what the Bears wanted: A veteran mentor to Trubisky. While Sanchez was inactive for all 16 games, he and the No. 2 overall pick struck up a good relationship that makes him a candidate to return in 2018 as a true backup. 

-- Releasing Josh Sitton when he did. Whether or not the Bears offensive line is better off in 2018 is a different question, but file cutting Sitton on Feb. 20 -- when the team had until mid-March to make a decision on him -- as one of those things that gets noticed by players around the league. 

-- Announcing the expansion to Halas Hall. The plan has Pace’s fingerprints on it, and should help make the Bears a more attractive destination to free agents in 2018 and beyond. 

And now, for the misses:

-- Signing Mike Glennon. That completely bombed out. While the Bears weren’t hurting for cap space a year ago, and Glennon’s contract essentially was a one-year prove-it deal, his play was so poor that he was benched after only four games -- when the initial plan was for him to start the entire season to give Trubisky time to develop. The wheels came off for Glennon on his seventh pass in Week 2, when after completing his first six he threw the ball right to Tampa Bay’s Kwon Alexander for an interception from which he never seemed to recover. He’ll be cut sometime soon. 

-- Signing Markus Wheaton. After signing a two-year, $11 million deal in the spring, Wheaton struggled to stay healthy, with an appendectomy and finger injury limiting him in training camp and the early part of the season, and then a groin injury knocking out a few weeks in the middle of the season. When Wheaton was healthy, he was ineffective, catching only three of his 17 targets. That places him with eight other players since 1992 who’ve been targeted at least 15 times and and caught fewer than 20 percent of their targets. He’s another one of Pace’s 2017 free agent signings who’s likely to be cut. 

-- Signing Marcus Cooper. The Bears thought they were signing an ascending player who picked off four passes in 2016 and would be a better scheme fit in Chicago than he was in Arizona. Instead, Cooper was a liability when he was on the field and didn’t live up to his three-year, $16 million contract (with $8 million guaranteed). Dropping the ball before he got in the end zone Week 3 against Pittsburgh was a lowlight. The Bears can net $4.5 million in cap savings if he’s cut, per Spotrac. 

-- Signing Dion Sims. Sims isn’t as likely to be cut as Glennon and Wheaton, and even Cooper, but his poor production in the passing game (15 catches, 29 targets, 180 yards, one touchdown) puts a spotlight on how the Bears evaluate how he was as a run blocker in 2017. If that grade was high, the Bears could justify keeping him and not garnering a little more than $5.5 million in cap savings. If it was low, and the Bears are confident in Adam Shaheen’s ability to improve, then Sims could be cut as well. 

-- Signing Quintin Demps. The loss here was mitigated by the strong play of Adrian Amos, but Demps didn’t make much of an impact on the field before his Week 3 injury besides getting plowed over by Falcons tight end Austin Hooper in Week 1. He’d be a decent guy to have back as a reserve given his veteran leadership -- he was a captain in 2017 -- but given how well Amos and Eddie Jackson worked together last year, he’s unlikely to get his starting spot back in 2018. 

-- The wide receiver position as a whole. Kendall Wright led the Bears in receptions and yards, but his numbers would’ve looked a lot better had he been surrounded by better players. The cupboard was bare at this position, and after the worst-case scenario happened -- Cameron Meredith tearing his ACL in August, and Kevin White breaking his collarbone in Week 1 -- the Bears were left with an overmatched and underperforming group of receivers. For Trubisky’s sake, Pace has to work to make sure 2018 isn’t a repeat of 2017. 

-- The kicker position as a whole. Since we’re focusing solely on Pace’s 2017 moves, the decision to release Robbie Gould and replace him with Connor Barth doesn’t fall into this grade. But Barth had struggled with consistency prior to this season, and Roberto Aguayo didn’t provide much competition in his short-lived stint in training camp. The Bears eventually released Barth after he missed a game-tying kick against Detroit in November, then replaced him with a guy in Cairo Santos who was coming off an injury and, as it turned out, wasn’t completely healthy yet. So the Bears then had to move on from Santos and sign Mike Nugent to get them through the rest of the season. Better consistency from this position will be important to find in 2018. 

A couple moves fall into the neither hits nor misses category:

-- Drafting Adam Shaheen. Tight ends rarely make a significant impact as rookies, but Shaheen was only targeted 14 times last year. He did catch three touchdowns and flash some good chemistry with Trubisky before suffering an injury against Cincinnati that wound up ending his season. The gains he makes with a year of experience under his belt and during his first full offseason as a pro will be critical in determining his success in Year 2, and whether or not taking him 45th overall was a hit or a miss. 

-- Signing Prince Amukamara. This was neither good nor bad, with Amukamara playing solidly in coverage but not making enough plays on the ball and committing a few too many penalties. 

Pace still has decisions to make on a few other potential cuts, including right tackle Bobby Massie ($5.584 million cap savings per Spotrac) and linebackers Willie Young ($4.5 million cap savings) and Pernell McPhee ($7.075 million cap savings). Whether or not to place the franchise tag on Kyle Fuller and potentially pay him $15 million in 2018 is another call Pace has to make before the official end of the 2017 league year. 

But for Pace, did the hits out-weigh the misses in 2017? The Glennon signing imploded, but Trubisky showed signs of promise during an average season for a rookie quarterback. Cooper was a bust, but Fuller emerged as a potential long-term option to cover for that. The most glaring misses, then, were at wide receiver and tight end where, after injuries sapped those units of Cameron Meredith and Zach Miller, there weren’t reliable targets for Trubisky. 

We’ll probably need more time to determine if Pace’s “hits” on Trubisky and Nagy truly are “hits.” But if they are, the misses of 2017 -- Glennon, Wheaton, Cooper, etc. -- will be nothing more than amusing footnotes to a successful era of Bears football.
 

Under Center Podcast: What should the Bears do at guard and cornerback?

kyle_fuller_usa.jpg
USA TODAY

Under Center Podcast: What should the Bears do at guard and cornerback?

With the Bears releasing Josh Sitton and having the option to franchise Kyle Fuller, JJ Stankevitz and John “Moon” Mullin look at two of the first big decisions for Ryan Pace’s offseason plan.

Listen to the full episode at this link (iOS users can go here) or in the embedded player below. Subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts.