Bears

Moon: Bears will be ready for upstart Seahawks

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Moon: Bears will be ready for upstart Seahawks

Monday, Jan. 10, 2011
4:40 PM

By John Mullin
CSNChicago.com

Julius Peppers cut to the chase, and he did it a lot better than the New Orleans Saints did.

The Bears defensive end watched as Seattle running back Marshawn Lynch broke a 67-yard touchdown run to end New Orleans' playoff hopes. What struck Peppers was how many Saints did not do much more than watch as well.

Lynch broke more than a half-dozen tackles and as far as that ever happening against Peppers and the Bears defense, No, he said simply. He repeated the statement with purpose. No.

I watched that play and it was a great play by Marshawn. He ran really hard on that but I saw a few guys miss tackles, get up and start watching. That doesnt happen around here. We get up and run to the ball. Somebodys going to get up and run to the ball.

The effort that he displayed was amazing. It was also a lack of effort on the other side by a couple of guys, and I dont think that well have that problem this week.

The Saints didnt play playoff football, which is somewhat surprising. They were out-coached, throwing 60 passes in a game that didnt require that, and they were out-played.

As for the Seahawks, the style of win over New Orleans may be a decided factor in the Bears favor. The Bears can speak from experience that it is often more difficult to come back from a good win than a bad loss, and the Saints game was arguably the Seahawks Super Bowl. To return to that level emotionally is unlikely, not from the perspective of game day, but from that of devoting every hour to the kind of preparation needed for that kind of win.

They mean it

The Bears came together for their usual pre-practice huddle Monday and broke with a yell that doubled as a mission statement: Champs!

Think its just clichd rah-rah, usual stuff? Think again.

Tim Jennings was a member of the Indianapolis Colts for the first four years of his career, including the Super Bowl game against the Bears as a rookie. But he wasnt sorry to see the Colts lose to the New York Jets on Saturday in the AFC wild-card round and not out of any sort of ill-wishes toward the team that didnt re-sign him last offseason.

I had a little sigh of relief, Jennings told CSNChicago.com, allowing himself a look ahead to where the Bears expect to be. Weve still got Tom Brady to worry about but its a relief to have one great team out of the playoffs.

Theres a couple more, but I didnt want to see Peyton in the Super Bowl.

Serious wager

Wide receiver Devin Aromashodu was wearing a stylish blue-and-orange sweatsuit with a large Auburn across the front. Not far away, defensive tackle Matt Toeainas shoes were sitting in his locker stall with the distinctive O for Oregon.

Their respective alma maters meet Monday night in the BCS championship game. I cant talk about our wagers, Aromashodu said. Hell have to wear this Auburn top for a day and weve got some other stuff.

Toeaina was willing to admit that Auburn had some chance against his Ducks. To a point.

Its a tough game to call, Toeaina said. But Im planning on bringing in one of the six Oregon jerseys I have and let him take his pick.

E-chatting

We can pick this up in our regular Monday on-line chat from 7-8 p.m. tonight on CSNChicago.com. And in the interest of disclosure, I had the Saints defeating Seattle on Saturday, but by less than the 10 points the Saints were favored by (thought New Orleans would win by 7). I did not see the Colts falling to the Jets on Saturday, either. I thought the Colts would win by 3.

I did, however, go with both road teams Sunday, with the Baltimore Ravens over the Kansas City Chiefs but by 3, not the 23 that the Ravens won by. And the Packers really werent that difficult a 4-point pick over Philadelphia.

For this week: Home teams hold serve. The Pittsburgh defense makes the Steelers a touchdown better than the Ravens. Tom Brady will work extra hard in the film room to ensure his Patriots spank the Jets and Rex Ryan. The Atlanta Falcons will have to score late to get past the finally-gassed Packers. And the Bears

Chicago 34 Seattle 20

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?