Bears

Miller: Bears should beware Rivera, Panthers

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Miller: Bears should beware Rivera, Panthers

Saturday, Oct. 1, 2011Posted: 11:15 a.m.

By Jim Miller
CSNChicago.com

Im nervous for the Bears against the Panthers. Sure, everyone wants to point to first year head coach Ron Rivera, a rookie QB, blah, blah, blah, but here are the facts:

Ron Rivera knows the Bears! He specifically knows the Bears defense and how to attack it. If you think for a minute he was wasting his time in Carolinas defensive meetings all week, you are sorely mistaken. It is not the Bears offense that can hurt the Carolina Panthers chances at Soldier field; it is the defense that could turn the tides on Lake Michigan.

Offensively

The Bears have proven through three games they cannot make adjustments at the line of scrimmage as per Jay Cutlers testimony to the media last week. Thus, its all on the Bears' play caller, Mike Martz.

The Bears will see atypical hybrid 3-4 fronts and blitzes (like Cats = corner blitz) you dont normally see. Rivera does it by necessity to compete.

Chico, in his first year as head coach, does not have the personnel defensively to do what he envisions so hes flexible to the talent inherited. Furthermore, the Panthers are weak in their front seven defensively. Carolina has young defensive tackles and a linebacking core decimated by injuries.

In order to make up for the lack of pass rush, Ron sends an extra defender versus run and pass. The Bears struggled again last week vs. press coverage. It disrupts timing in the passing game by not allowing receivers off the line of scrimmage. They will continue to see it until they beat it. It was why Jay was waiting at the top of his drop to throw the ball. Remember when the greatest show on turf lost to New England in the Super Bowl? Belichick used press coverage.

When Rivera sends an extra defender, Martz will not know when or who it will be, so this should be an interesting game to see if Martz again can predict fronts and coverages through his play calling.

Nobody has blown Carolina out this year so far. Opponents like Arizona are challenged and so is Jacksonville -- whom Carolina beat for their first win -- but even the World Champion Green Bay Packers had to come from behind to win.

Those three teams have experienced coaches and schemes in place at their respective organizations. How is Carolina hanging with them with a new offense and defense installed in a lockout season? The answer is coaching.

Run the Ball!

The Panthers are a far cry from what they once were up front defensively. They have young, inexperienced players who are gap sound no matter if it is 3-4 or 4-3 front. The Bears have to wear them out running the football.

The problem is, which blocking rules are the Bears going to use? 3-4 rules or 4-3 rules? Again, it comes down to Martz predicting the front and if Martz can call the perfect play to take advantage.

There are a plethora of Go Plays he can call for all fronts, but the Bears running game has been stuck in the mud assignment-wise vs. any front. Physically, the Bears were overmatched to run the ball against Green Bays 3-4 defensive front. Now, the question is will they be overmatched with Carolina's jack-of-all-trades scheme?
Defense

The Bears locker room is prideful and they are facing a rookie QB in Cam Newton. The Bears defense even confused Aaron Rodgers a week ago into a Brian Urlacher interception. It looked open, and then it was not.

Therefore, the Panthers are going to press the issue running the football. They have a nice offensive line and quality running backs. Ron knows how to beat a Tampa 2 defense. It is by getting physical for four quarters to wear down a speedy undersized defense.

The Bears are always good at stripping the football, which Ron has addressed all week in practice for RBs DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart to beware. The gameplan is on them, not Cam!

I am nervous for the Bears. Last year, the offensive football displayed got worse before it finally got better after a bye week. The same issues exist in now Year Two of Martzs system. This game against Carolina, like the offense, will be a struggle.

Jim Miller, an 11-year former NFL quarterback, is a Comcast SportsNet Bears analyst who can be seen each week on U.S. Cellular Bears Postgame Live. Miller, who spent five seasons with the Bears, analyzes current Chicago QB Jay Cutler in his "15 on 6" blog on CSNChicago.com and can be followed on Twitter @15miller.

As the Bears begin to form an identity, special teams need to catch up

As the Bears begin to form an identity, special teams need to catch up

If you squint, you can start to see the Bears forming an identity. The offense, at its best, will control the game with Jordan Howard and an offensive line that’s improving with cohesion over the last few weeks. The defense will stop the run, rarely blow assignments and — at least last week — force a few turnovers. 

Those can be the makings of a team that's at least competitive on a week-to-week basis. But they also leave out a critical segment of this group: Special teams. And that unit is obscuring whatever vision of an identity that may be coming into focus. 

Jeff Rodgers’ special teams unit ranks 29th in Football Outsiders’ DVOA ratings, and is below average in all five categories the advanced statistics site tracks: field goals/extra points, kickoffs, kickoff returns, punts and punt returns. 

Had the Bears’ just merely "fine," for lack of a better term, on special teams Sunday, they would’ve controlled a win over the Baltimore Ravens from start to finish. But a 96-yard kickoff return (after the Bears went up 17-3) and a 77-yard punt return (which, after a two-point conversion, tied the game in the fourth quarter) were the Ravens’ only touchdowns of the game; they otherwise managed three field goals. 

Rodgers didn’t find much fault with the way the Bears covered Bobby Rainey’s kickoff return — he would’ve been down at the 23-yard line had the officiating crew ruled that Josh Bellamy got a hand on him as he was tumbling over. But the Bears players on the field (and, it should be said, a number of Ravens) stopped after Rainey hit the turf; he got up and dashed into the end zone for a momentum-shifting score. 

“A lot of our players stopped, all their players stopped,” Rodgers said. “There were players from both teams who came on to the field from the sideline. So there’s a lot of people on that particular play who thought the play was over.”

That return touchdown could be chalked up to an officiating-aided fluke, but Michael Campanaro’s punt return score was inexcusable given the situation of the game (up eight with just under two minutes left). The Bears checked into a max protect formation, and no players were able to wriggle free and get downfield toward Campanaro (Cre’von LeBlanc, who replaced an injured Sherrick McManis, was knocked to the turf). Rodgers said O’Donnell’s booming punt wasn’t the issue — it didn’t need to be directed out of bounds, he said — and instead pointed to a lack of execution by the other 10 players on the field. And not having McManis isn’t an excuse here. 

“We expect everybody to play at the standard at which that position plays,” Rodgers said. “I don’t put that touchdown on one guy getting hurt, but you’d always like to have your best players on the field.”

In isolation, the special teams mistakes the Bears have made this year can be explained — beyond these two returns, Marcus Cooper slowing up before the end zone was baffling, yet sort of fluky. But while the Bears’ arrow is pointing up on defense and, at the least, isn’t pointing down on offense, these special teams mistakes collective form a bad narrative. 

“We take those players, we practice it, and like all mistakes, you admit them and then you fix them,” coach John Fox said, “and then hope to God you don’t do it again.”

Even in a controlled gameplan, Mitchell Trubisky's playmaking ability shines through

Even in a controlled gameplan, Mitchell Trubisky's playmaking ability shines through

While the Bears praised Mitchell Trubisky’s operation of a controlled gameplan in his second NFL start, they’re not losing sight of the special kind of athleticism and playmaking ability the rookie quarterback possesses. Two plays in particular stand out — plays that led to anywhere from a five-to-10 point swing in the game. 

Trubisky’s 18-yard third down completion to Kendall Wright in overtime seems to looks better every time you watch it on film. Trubisky was pressured by two Baltimore Ravens pass rushers, but managed to wriggle free and slide to his right, only to find linebacker C.J. Mosley waiting in front of him. The blend of athleticism and aggressiveness Trubisky displayed in firing high over the middle toward Wright — who made a specular play of his own — is one of the many reasons why the Bears are so excited about him. 

“To be able to throw that ball with both hands in the air and changing your arm angle – that’s why you draft a kid second,” offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains said. “Because of things like that.”

But there was another instinctual, athletic play Trubisky made that was just as impressive, and just as important. Cody Whitehair’s snapping issues cropped up at the Bears’ 13-yard line, with the center sailing a snap over Trubisky’s head and toward the end zone. 

If Baltimore recovered that ball, it would’ve tied the game; had Trubisky simply fell on the ball, it very well could’ve led to a safety that would’ve brought the Ravens within five points about a minute after the Bears took a 17-3 lead. Instead, Trubisky picked up the ball, scrambled to his right and threw the ball away — one of six throwaways he had on Sunday. 

“(That) was a critical, critical play at that time,” Loggains said. 

This isn't to say that two plays — only one of which gained yards — are enough to say the Bears' offense is in a good place. It's still a group that necessitates a controlled gameplan, similar to the one they used with Mike Glennon. But the difference: Trubisky can make plays. 

Briefly, on Whitehair

Since we’re on the subject of another poor snap by Whitehair, here’s what Loggains had to say on that topic: 

“He’s gotten better. We still had one too many. The thing and point I want to make with Cody Whitehair is, obviously wants to talk about the snap, but you’re talking about two weeks in a row of completely dominating. We’re an outside zone team that ran 25 snaps of inside zone because of what they were playing. It changed our game plan and Cody’s a big part of that. The last two weeks we’ve been able to move those guys inside. He’s a really good football player. 

“We’re going to battle through these snap issues. We’re cutting them down. He’s more accurate. He did have the one that obviously is unacceptable and no one owns that more than Cody Whitehair does. But he is a really good football player and let’s not lose sight of the 79 snaps where he really helped the team run the football and you can’t do that without a Cody Whitehair at center.”

Loggains has a point here — if Whitehair were struggling in the run game, against the defensive looks the Ravens were showing, the Bears wouldn’t have been able to run the ball 50 times with the kind of success they had. But the poor snaps nonetheless are ugly and have to be eliminated — imagine the uproar over them if Trubisky didn’t make that play in Baltimore. The Bears' offense won't always be good enough to overcome those kind of self-inflicted mistakes. 

Loggains and coach John Fox have praised Whitehair’s attention to the problem, and as long as Hroniss Grasu is still limited with a hand injury, Whitehair will have some time to work through these issues. One final thought: Who would’ve expected, back in May, that Whitehair would have the problems with snaps, and not Trubisky?