Bears

Moon: Bears have gone from hunter to hunted

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Moon: Bears have gone from hunter to hunted

Saturday, Oct. 1, 2011
Posted: 6:56 p.m.

By JohnMullin
CSNChicago.com BearsInsider Follow@CSNMoonMullin
The NFL is about pressure. Pressure to win. Pressure on quarterbacks. Pressure on defenses.

Coming off an 11-5 season and reaching the NFC Championship game, and then throttling the Atlanta Falcons, the Bears were administering the pressure.

Now, after two straight losses with less than 300 total yards of offense, a total of three touchdowns in those two games and quarterback Jay Cutler completing passes at a sub-50-percent rate, and a defense allowing third-down conversions at a 40-percent rate, the Bears have gone from hunter to hunted.

The 2005 team recovered from a 1-3 start to reach the playoffs but that was the only team in franchise history to start 1-3 and reach the postseason. Even the 1965 Bears, with Dick Butkus and Gale Sayers, could finish no better than third place after stumbling that badly early.

If the 2011 Bears cannot get by the Carolina Panthers (1-2), at home, they will find themselves in exactly that canyon. The NFC North will be all be beyond reach if either or both the Green Bay Packers and Detroit Lions push their records to 4-0, and the climb into a wild-card spot will be almost as steep.

We realize where the others are, but really cant do a lot about them right now, said coach Lovie Smith. But for us, is there urgency? Is this a big game for us? Yes.

We want to finish this first quarter of the season at 2-2. NFC, home game. There are a lot of reasons. But you can start with us needing a win. We havent played well the last couple of weeks, as capable as were playing. Yes, we need to get a win.

As far as the ever-clichd must win, I dont think we need to go that far, Cutler said. We want to win them all. This is an important game for us. Were going to go out there. Were going to do everything possible to win. Theres a lot of football left. Theres a lot of things that can happen. I dont think we need to start panicking quite yet.

Yet could be just 60 minutes away on Sunday.

Pressure mounting?

The question will shift increasingly from a player here or a unit there, and on to offensive coordinator Mike Martz. Simply, if the need is for massive change, its not possible to fire all the players.

Given that the organization invested in a quarterback, No. 2 tailbacks (Chester Taylor, Marion Barber), lead receivers (Roy Williams), tight ends (Brandon Manumaleuna, Matt Spaeth) and offensive linemen (Chris Spencer, Gabe Carimi), expectations exist. Whether or not the particular acquisitions were the best will not be the point, particularly with Martz having had input in decisions.

The natural and inevitable fraying has started in small ways, which is just what happens when teams that know they are good enough to win, dont.

Anytime, I think its across the NFL, whenever youre losing games, theres a little bit of a sense of panic and a sense of doom, Cutler said. Weve just got to get over that.

Matching up

The Panthers have played nothing like the team that bumbled to a 2-14 record in 2010. The reason is simple and obvious: Cam Newton.

The rookie quarterback passed for more than 400 yards in his first two NFL games, losing by seven points to both Arizona and Green Bay. Then he managed a rain-swamped situation for a win over Jacksonville last Sunday.

Cutler is perhaps a little envious, having been sacked 14 times this season and seeing that Newton has gone down just eight times, right about the NFL average of 7.2. And Cutler figures Newton hasnt seen anyone quite like Julius Peppers, either.

Newtons production is pretty impressive, Cutler said. Theyve done a good job protecting him, and hes got some playmakers on the outside. Well see how he does against our guys.

Our guys will have more than just Newton to worry about. When he was a Bear, Greg Olsen was perceived as a coverage matchup problem; too big for safeties, too fast for linebackers. Now he is in Carolina in an offense that also has Jeremy Shockey, making two matchup concerns for a defense that has had three different starting safety tandems in three games.

Rookie safety Chris Conte may be a assigned an expanded role against Olsen-Shockey packages. Conte is a former cornerback who has worked in training camp and beyond in coverage drills with the corners and has brings size (6-2) to the secondary and more speed than strong-side linebacker Nick Roach.

Do not look for the Panthers to follow the approaches of Matt Ryan, Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers, however. All three Bears opponents have rushed for more than 100 yards and the Bears are allowing 4.6 yards per rushing attempt.

Some history

The Panthers have lost nine straight road games but Carolina has never been a good playmate for the Bears, particularly in Chicago. The Panthers set a record for wins by an expansion team (7) in 1995 and gave the Bears a 31-27 scare in Soldier Field.
Steve Smith piled up 218 receiving yards in the 2005 divisional round playoff game in Soldier Field. Smith is older and a little slower but still a bad memory for a number of Bears.

When Smith gets the ball, he's kind of like a running back, said linebacker Lance Briggs. He's not an easy guy to bring down. The lesson learned is just don't take any of these games for granted.

We need this game."

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.

With Josh Sitton on his way out, what’s next for the Bears’ offensive line?

With Josh Sitton on his way out, what’s next for the Bears’ offensive line?

The first major move of Ryan Pace’s 2018 offseason hit on Tuesday, as NFL Network reported the Bears will not exercise Josh Sitton’s $8 million option for 2018. 

The move accomplishes two things for the Bears: 1) It frees up about $8 million in cap space and 2) Removes a veteran from the offensive line and creates a hole to fill, presumably by a younger free agent or draft pick. 

The 31-year-old Sitton signed a three-year deal with the Bears after Green Bay cut him just before the 2016 season, and was a Pro Bowler his first year in Chicago. Sitton played 26 of 32 games in two years with the Bears, but him being on the wrong side of 30 was likely the biggest factor here. If the Bears saw his skills eroding, releasing him now and netting the cap savings while going younger at the position does make sense. 

“Going younger” doesn’t guarantee the Bears will draft Notre Dame brawler Quenton Nelson, though that did become a greater possibility with Tuesday’s move. Nelson might be one of the two or three best offensive players in this year’s draft, and offensive line coach Harry Hiestand knows him well from the four years they spent together at Notre Dame. 

There’s a natural fit there, of course, but a few reasons to slow the Nelson-to-Chicago hype train: Would he even make it to No. 8? Or if he’s there, is taking a guard that high worth it when the Bears have needs at wide receiver, outside linebacker and cornerback? Still, the thought of Nelson — who absolutely dominated at Notre Dame — pairing with Hiestand again is tantalizing, and Nelson very well could step into any team’s starting lineup and be an immediate Pro Bowler as a rookie. 

If the Bears go younger in free agency, Matt Nagy knows 26-year-old guard Zach Fulton (No. 25 in Bleacher Report’s guard rankings) well from their time in Kansas City. Fulton — a Homewood-Flossmoor alum — has the flexibility to play both guard positions and center, which could open the door for Cody Whitehair to be moved to left guard, the position he was initially drafted to play (though the Bears do value him highly as a center, and keeping him at one position would benefit him as opposed to moving him around the line again). There are some other guys out there — like Tennessee’s Josh Kline or New York’s Justin Pugh — that could wind up costing more than Fulton in free agency. 

Or the Bears could look draft an offensive lineman after the first round, perhaps like Ohio State’s Billy Price, Georgia’s Isaiah Wynn or UTEP’s Will Hernandez. How the Bears evaluate guards at the NFL Combine next week will play an important role in how they go about replacing Sitton. 

The trickle-down effect of releasing Sitton will impact more than the offensive line, too. Freeing up his $8 million in cap space -- which wasn't a guarantee, unlike cutting Jerrell Freeman and, at some point, Mike Glennon -- could go toward paying Kyle Fuller, or another top cornerback, or a top wide receiver, or some combination of players at those positions (as well as outside linebacker). The Bears were already in a healthy place cap-wise; that just got healthier on Tuesday. 

Bears cut ties with linebacker Jerrell Freeman

Bears cut ties with linebacker Jerrell Freeman

The Bears began their slew of offseason moves by releasing inside linebacker Jerrell Freeman, according to ESPN's Adam Schefter.

Freeman, 31, signed a three-year, $12 million deal with the Bears in 2016.

In his first year in Chicago he amassed 110 tackles in 12 games but was suspended four games for PED use. He played in just one game lsat season before suffering a pectoral injury that placed him on IR. He then tested positive again for a performance-enhancing drug, resulting in a 10-game suspension that bleeds over into 2018 for two more games, wherever he winds up.