Bears

Moon: Bears must avoid temptation against Packers

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Moon: Bears must avoid temptation against Packers

Sunday, Sept. 25, 2011
Posted: 1:00 a.m.

By John Mullin
CSNChicago.com Bears Insider Follow @CSNMoonMullin
As the Bears began game-planning for the Green Bay Packers, sorting through their own misfortunes in New Orleans and assessing the Green Bay games against the Saints and Carolina Panthers, the first task may have been to avoid temptation.

The Saints and Panthers threw for a combined 851 yards in their games against the Green Bay defense. That is the sort of thing a Mike Martz or any offensive coordinator cannot help but notice.

The idea, however, is expected to be avoiding exactly the kind of game plan that New Orleans and Carolina used.

Because both of them lost their games and the Bears lost their game to New Orleans. Drew Brees threw 49 passes in his defeat, Cam Newton 46 in his and Jay Cutler 45 (not including the six sacks and one scramble). That should have established what hasnt worked against the Packers or for the Bears.

Ironically, however, this may be the week in which Mike Martz can justify turning his quarterback into a launch platform. The Packers have not defended the pass but Martz forfeited some of his influence with the misguided performance in New Orleans.

Much of the early week was spent clarifying, from Lovie Smith on down, that the offense needs to establish, if not that it can run, but that it at least thinks about it. Balance, balance, balance.... And giving the offense the ball in position to do some damage.

Everybody knows what it takes for us to win, said coach Lovie Smith. Defensively we have to take the ball away. When you have two teams like this, a lot of times it comes down to that.

And one other thing, the Bears believe.

In search of returns

For all of the various angles of analysis on dealing with the Packers, the one that has consistently been an indicator of outcome has been the Bears return game. When the Bears make something happen on a kickoff or punt return, they typically win.

In the win last year over the Packers, Devin Hester returned a punt 62 yards for a touchdown. Hester had a 28-yard punt return to set up the offenses one TD. Danieal Manning brought a kickoff back 44 yards for field position if not points.

Contrast that with the 15.5 yards Manning averaged in the 10-3 season-ending loss. Hesters long return was 19 yards. Matters declined in the NFC Championship game, with Manning's average a paltry 15.8 yards on four kickoff returns, none longer than 24 yards. Hesters return efforts shrank again, to 5.3 yards per on his three punt returns.

Through two games this year, the return game has produced virtually nothing.

Johnny Knox has a 30-yard kickoff return but Hester has averaged only 20 yards on five kickoff returns. Hester had one punt return against Atlanta for 14 yards but one for minus-4 yards in New Orleans and had to fair-catch three punts.

We are definitely close, but whats close and whats far? coach Lovie Smith reflected. Return game-wise, we have to get it going. We havent gotten any production from our punt return, kickoff return. But with Devin Hester, the greatest returner of all time, its just a matter of time. Hopefully itll be this week.
Running concerns

Both the Atlanta Falcons (110) and New Orleans Saints (118) rushed for more than 100 yards and averaged a combined 5.3 yards per carry against a defense that allowed just 3.7 per rush last season and was No. 2 in the NFL in fewest rushing yards allowed per game. Neither team ran the ball into the end zone but the trend, if it is that, is alarming. The Saints were 28th in the NFL in rushing yards and Atlanta was 26th in rushing average.

Overshadowed by the Cutler injury firestorm in the wake of the NFC Championship was the fact that Green Bay ran for 120 yards on the Bears and registered their two offensive touchdowns on running plays.

The problem of planning for the Packers is compounded, however, by the simple fact that they are expected to look to pound the Bears on the ground on a day likely to feature rain, and they have Aaron Rodgers regardless of the weather.

We know we have our hands full, said defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli. No doubt about it. But weve just got to tend to our business.

On the receiving end

The true problem with defending the Green Bay passing offense is not that it has a true elite receiver in Greg Jennings, but that it has so many good ones. The Bears had five players catch at least 40 passes but two of them (Matt Forte, Greg Olsen) were not wide receivers. The Packers top four receivers were wideouts Jennings, Donald Driver, James Jones, Jordy Nelson each caught 45 or more, plus the 43 that went to running back Brandon Jackson.

Theyre the best well face all year, cornerback Charles Tillman said flatly. Theres so many of them, individually their effort, their ability to get yards after the catch.

Theyre in a league of their own.

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.

Can the Bears make enough plays to beat the Carolina Panthers?

Can the Bears make enough plays to beat the Carolina Panthers?

Everything changed for the Bears after going up 17-3 last week against the Baltimore Ravens. Mitchell Trubisky’s 27-yard touchdown to Dion Sims was immediately followed by Bobby Rainey running a kickoff back 96 yards for a touchdown, then the offense was bogged down with three fumbles (two lost) on three consecutive possessions. 

But Adrian Amos seemed to seal the game with his 90-yard pick six — that is, until Michael Campanaro ran Pat O’Donnell’s punt back 77 yards for what wound up being a game-tying touchdown after a two-point conversion.

The point is the Bears should’ve cruised to a comfortable win last week; a few critical mistakes didn’t allow that to happen. The Bears haven’t led at the end of the fourth quarter this year, a pretty strong indicator they haven’t played a complete game yet despite having two wins. 

The Carolina Panthers have road wins over the Detroit Lions and New England Patriots this year, and only lost to the Philadelphia Eagles by five points last week (despite Cam Newton throwing three interceptions). The bet here is the Bears keep things close on the backs of a strong defense, but either can’t make enough plays or make too many mistakes to win. 

Prediction: Panthers 20, Bears 16

Three and out: What Ron Rivera likes about Mitchell Trubisky played out this week

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USA TODAY

Three and out: What Ron Rivera likes about Mitchell Trubisky played out this week

Carolina Panthers coach Ron Rivera saw a lot of Mitchell Trubisky last year, with the North Carolina quarterback on TV quite a bit in the Charlotte area. The Panthers, set with Cam Newton, weren’t in the market for a quarterback in the 2017 NFL Draft, but Trubisky nonetheless stood out to the seventh-year Carolina coach and former Super Bowl-winning Bears linebacker. 

For Rivera, more than Trubisky’s arm strength and athleticism jumped off the screen. 

“Leadership,” Rivera pointed to. “When you watch him when he was playing — I love watching guys that either get on their teammates when they’re not doing it or they take accountability when they make a mistake. And you saw that with him.

“… We think the young man has got what it takes. We like who’s he’s gonna become. We do. We think the future can be bright for him. We are big fans here.”

Trubisky took accountability for both of his turnovers against the Minnesota Vikings: The interception Harrison Smith baited him into was certainly his fault, but his sack-strip fumble was more the result of Everson Griffen jumping the snap and blowing past left tackle Charles Leno. Against the Baltimore Ravens, Trubisky also lost a fumble on a sack-strip when cornerback Lardarius Webb hit him and dislodged the ball.

Trubisky’s explanation of that fumble was that he moved off his first read too quickly, causing him to miss Webb making a beeline for him in the backfield. But according to offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains, that fumble wasn’t the quarterback’s fault. 

“That’s because he’s a stud,” Loggains said of Trubisky taking responsibility for it. “We screwed the protection up. We should have been sliding to the guy. The guy should not have been coming free. That’s Mitch taking a bullet that he doesn’t need to take. The reality is he saw the guy coming and tried to get over to the check down quickly but we got to do a better job up front protecting him.”

But that Trubisky was willing to say he was at fault for that fumble plays into why he quickly gained the respect of the Bears’ the locker room. That’s what a quarterback should be doing when speaking to the media after the game — accepting responsibility and deflecting off his teammates, even if he’s not at fault. That kind of stuff doesn’t go unnoticed. 

Stopping Superman

Pernell McPhee offered this goal up for his fellow defensive teammates this week: Make sure Newton stays as Clark Kent on Sunday. 

“He’s a very talented guy, but the only thing I told the defense is let's make him be Cam Newton, not Superman,” McPhee said, referring to Newton’s signature touchdown move. “We don't want him opening up the cape.”

So how does a defense stop Newton from being Superman?

“He’s a very versatile quarterback,” defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said. “Obviously his running the ball, whether it be through his improvising with scrambling on called pass plays, or the called running plays they do have for him, that’s a strength for him. We can’t just focus on stopping that. We’ve gotta stop Cam Newton the passer and the runner. They’ve got good running backs they’re handing it off to and receivers and running backs he’s throwing it to, so you’ve got a total offense to stop.”

One point to note here: Newton threw three interceptions last week against the Philadelphia Eagles and had been picked off eight times this year. A Bears secondary that intercepted Joe Flacco twice last week could have some more shots at takeaways on Sunday. 

High praise

Sunday will mark Thomas Davis’ 156th game in the NFL, with the linebacker playing every one of those with the Carolina Panthers. He played for John Fox from 2005-2010. But where we’re going here is what he had to say about how the Bears run their offense with a rookie quarterback:

“I think this is probably the best running game that we’ve seen from an offense with a rookie quarterback,” Davis said. “You look at some of the other rookies that come in. Teams want to run the ball. But when you look at the physicality and the style of play that this team plays with, I think that really makes the job a lot easier for a young quarterback. So I definitely feel like that physicality in their running game is definitely going to help him out.”

The Bears ran the ball 50 times against a Baltimore Ravens defense that played a lot more Cover-2 than expected. With star linebacker Luke Kuechly out for Sunday, the Bears may try to use a similar strategy, even if Carolina loads the box more than Baltimore did (a little more than once one every three runs by Jordan Howard). 

But if the Bears’ offense is going to have success, it’s going to be behind Howard, Tarik Cohen and an improving offensive line. Maybe Davis’ comments are hyperbole, but he’s also played a lot more football than you and me.