Moon: Bears must avoid temptation against Packers


Moon: Bears must avoid temptation against Packers

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

By John Mullin 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'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.

In moving forward with Dion Sims, the Bears will keep a mix of skillsets at tight end

USA Today

In moving forward with Dion Sims, the Bears will keep a mix of skillsets at tight end

When the Bears signed Trey Burton to a four-year contract worth a reported $32 million (with $18 million of it guaranteed), the natural thought was this: So long, Dion Sims. But the Bears are all but certainly going to hang on to the 27-year-old tight end after his $4 million roster bonus became fully guaranteed on Friday, barring a trade. 

“We like Dion Sims, a well-rounded tight end,” general manager Ryan Pace said on Thursday. “We’re excited we got him.”

Cynically — or, perhaps, fairly — Pace’s comments could’ve been interpreted as part of a play to trade Sims, who signed a three-year contract in 2017. The Bears saw Sims as a strong run blocker with pass-catching upside, but still gave themselves an out after one year that would’ve netted $5.666 million in cap savings. 

Sims didn’t show any of that receiving upside last year, though, catching 15 of 29 targets (51 percent) for 180 yards with one touchdown. Crucially, the Bears have the cap space to keep Sims, even with the flurry of signings they’ve announced this week -- and Kyle Fuller's reported four-year, $56 million extension -- and contract extensions looming for Eddie Goldman and possibly Adrian Amos, too. 

So hanging on to Sims means the Bears value his contributions as a run blocker and are willing to shoulder a $6.3 million cap hit for him to primarily be used in that role. The Bears expect Shaheen to be their primary in-line tight end, with Burton and Daniel Brown, who signed a one-year contract Friday, the more pass-catching-oriented “move” guys in Matt Nagy’s offense. But Sims will still have a role as the Bears look to maximize their production from the tight end position. 

“I think we can use all our tight ends,” Pace said. “I think the Super Bowl champions are a recent example of that, of using a lot of tight ends. They’re all valuable weapons. They’re all a little different. I think they all complement each other. It fits together nicely.”

Bears attitude adjustment already apparent in first wave of free agents

Bears attitude adjustment already apparent in first wave of free agents

The first thing you notice is some swagger, some chips on the shoulders of the newest Bears, and while that doesn’t win any games in-season, let alone in March, it’s something of a positive for a team that’d had a lot of its swagger pained out of it over the past two years in particular.

Receivers Taylor Gabriel and Allen Robinson, tight end Trey Burton, backup quarterback Chase Daniel and kicker Cody Parkey all said the requisite niceties and platitudes on Thursday, all about how much they like the coaches, the organization, all that stuff.

But I’ve seen free agents come and go since real free agency started in 1993. All levels of players coming through, and they all say right stuff. There was something else with this bunch, though, and it wasn’t always there in the past. (More on that in a second.)

So there was Gabriel mentioning how Mitch Trubisky had texted him after Gabriel had signed, and Gabriel first piping in with, “How’s your deep ball?” And Trubisky was right back at Gabriel, one of the fastest players in the NFL, with, “Are you still fast?”

Best guess — they’ll get along just fine.

Gabriel’s first comment on impressions of coach Matt Nagy? Not about his football knowledge, his enthusiasm. No, it was: “Smooth dude, man,” Gabriel said. “I like his swag a little bit.”

Robinson was described by former Jacksonville and current Bears teammate cornerback Prince Amukamara as “a nightmare” to play against because he let defensive guys, even his own, know when he’d had them for lunch. As far as now, a very high bar has been set: “I think for me as a player, it's not my job to make Mitch's job easier, it's to make his job easy.”

Two points on why this comes with a touch more relevance in the case of a Bears team coming off a fourth straight NFC North basement finish:

First, because of what developed on the other side of the football when the likes of Akiem Hicks, Pernell McPhee (describing his style of football as “violent”) and Danny Trevathan came in, even rookie safety Eddie Jackson last year. They brought in attitudes from not just winning organizations, but more important, championship organizations. And they were good enough to walk the walk, even as they struggled through injuries.

The result was that in less than three full seasons, the Bears were a Top 10 defense. Attitudes can be infectious, for good or bad, and the right attitude with the right players made the defense a force, even with its injuries.

What the Bears secured in their first wave of free agents was five players all involved in points production — two wide receivers, a tight end, a kicker and a backup quarterback, whose two mission statements consist of being ready to play winning football if he’s needed and also to be a foundation pillar for the starter, in this case Trubisky.

What makes this a speck more interesting is that Trubisky will be the biggest factor in formation of the 2018-and-beyond Bears, and it was Trubisky whom Leonard Floyd and his defensive mates dubbed “Pretty Boy Assassin” last year because of Trubisky’s give-some-smack attitude anytime he lit up the No. 1 defense just running scout-team plays.

The second observation is that this wasn’t the case last year with Markus Wheaton, Quintin Demps, Marcus Cooper, Dion Sims and certainly not Mike Glennon, last year’s main free agency additions. Some of that’s obviously personality; Glennon and those guys are simply not swagger-smack kinds of guys, and that’s OK, as long as they play with attitude.

Last year’s group, just to use them as a case in point, came from decent programs. But the current top Bears additions include Super Bowl winners (Burton, Daniel as Drew Brees’ backup), a Super Bowl loser (Gabriel, painfully in the Atlanta Falcons’ collapse vs. New England) and a top wideout who had his dream derailed by injury and missed out on his team’s drive to within 2 minutes 48 seconds of a Super Bowl (Robinson).

And while Nagy and the organization are probably wise to counsel patience in the Bears’ recovery climb, the players aren’t seeing it that way.

“You can never underestimate how important youth is and guys who are willing to learn and willing to get better, but then also you look at the city,” Burton said. “They want another championship. They want to win. They want to be winners. You look at the other sports, the Bulls, the Blackhawks, the Cubs, the Cubs just won a couple years ago.

“The city's ready for another championship and like I said, they have a great quarterback, young quarterback, and an unbelievable head coach. They're aggressive and they're ready to win right now.”