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Moon: Rodgers asserting dominance over Bears

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Moon: Rodgers asserting dominance over Bears

Tuesday, Sept. 20, 2011Posted: 12:50 p.m.

By John Mullin
CSNChicago.com Bears Insider Follow @CSNMoonMullin
The Bears-Packers relationship (rivalry is just tired at this point) has had some interesting pendulum swings. The Bears hope theyre not in one right now.

The Ditka Bears ruled the 80s. Brett Favre ruled the 90s and into the millennium, and Lovie Smith swung it back to Chicago with his 6-2 run vs. Favre.

Now the Aaron Rodgers time is upon the NFC North, and the Bears. He is 5-1 vs. the Detroit Lions, 3-3 vs. Minnesota and 5-2 against the Lovie Smith Bears, an abrupt and concerning reversal of fortunes. The bigger picture is that for one of the rare times in the long-shared history of the two teams, theyre both good at the same time. But thats another story for another time.

Rodgers was 2-1 against the Smith Bears in 2010; more importantly, the wins came in the two games with the most at stake: Game 16, which was a desperate must-win for Green Bay's playoff hopes, and the NFC Championship game with its ticket to the Super Bowl.

The Bears managed to hold Rodgers below his seasons passer rating (100.2) all three times they faced him. Thats the good news.

The bad news is that even with the level of familiarity that the defense has with Rodgers, only three quarterbacks (including Tom Brady and Michael Vick) put up ratings higher than the 89.7 and 92.5 ratings Rodgers put on the Bears. They improved in the NFC Championship game where they held him to a 55.4 rating based on two interceptions in his 30 attempts, made more remarkable because hed been picked off just 11 times in 475 attempts all season.

BTW, if youre paying attention to this sort of thing, the Packers called 28 running plays (including a Rodgers sneak and two kneel-downs) and 35 pass plays (four Rodgers scrambles) in the conference championship game.
Around the NFC North

The Packers (2-0) have injury problems of their own in the secondary all of a sudden, losing Pro Bowl safety Nick Collins done for the season with a neck injury suffered in the Green Bay win at Carolina. Collins left the field on a stretcher, waved to the crowd but this is a blow to the Packers and a scary moment for a quality player. The Packers were down 10-0 at the end of the first quarter and 13-0 before they started back.

The Detroit Lions (2-0) are close to being officially scary. It wasnt just the 48-3 annihilation of the Kansas City Chiefs coming after the week one win over Tampa Bay. It isnt even that the Lions now have won 10 straight games (final four last season, four preseason, two this year). Its that coach Jim Schwartz didnt seem especially delighted with the performance: We can play better.

The Lions will indeed play better if receiver Nate Burleson makes good on his goal of becoming the black Wes Welker, as described in some detail by Michael David Smith for ProFootballTalk.com.

Minnesota (0-2) keeps getting close to good teams but cant quite get over that hump. Week one it was at San Diego and Sunday it was against Tampa Bay. The Vikings, who put drives of 90 and 75 yards on the Bucs got out to a 17-0 lead on Tampa Bay before losing on a TD run with 31 seconds left.

Mikes likes

The Darren Sproles touchdown run not being reviewed properly in Sundays game was among the things ProFootballTalk.coms Mike Florio didnt like from the weekend as voiced on NBC SportsTalk. Mike also didnt like what he saw in the Seattle Seahawks 24-0 embarrassment vs. the Pittsburgh Steelers, but Bears fans had to seriously like that game and 8 first downs that Seattle managed.
Around the schedule

The Bears will very soon get a look at the early runaway favorite for offensive rookie of the year when they see the Carolina Panthers (0-2) the week after Green Bay. Cam Newton followed his 400-yard debut with a 432-yard effort against the Packers. Notable, though, is that Newton threw three interceptions, which is why his passer rating was a pedestrian 72.0. If those start to clean up.

The Kansas City Chiefs (0-2) lost Pro Bowl tailback Jamaal Charles to IR with whats reported to be a torn left ACL in the Detroit game. Right now the Chiefs are looking nothing like the AFC West defending champions.

The Oakland Raiders (1-1) became the latest victims of the suddenly dangerous Buffalo Bills. The eye-popper was that the Bills rushed for 217 yards on the Raiduhs, who saw their victory vanish on a Ryan Fitzpatrick TD pass with 14 seconds to play.

Kyle Orton just wont go away, much as some Denver Broncos (1-1) wish he would. Orton threw two TD passes in the Denver win over Cincinnati, playing a typical Kyle game with 15-of-25 passing for 195 yards and a passer rating of 111.2. The thing to keep an eye on is Willis McGahee, who rushed for 101 yards.
Must-see TV

Longtime buddy Jay Glazer of FOX Sports and FOX TV is going to be a featured segment on Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel on HBO Tuesday evening at 9 p.m. I havent seen anything on it yet, but the Glaze is one of the better stories youll run across in all of sports.

Glaze has built up an entire MMA presence in addition to his work for FOX, which is among the best anywhere on the NFL. What makes Glaze all the more amazing a story is that there was a time when he couldnt get a job sniff from New York outlets (mostly newspapers at the time) even though he was whacking their beat writers (getting scoopage, as Glaze loved to call it) on a weekly basis as little more than a stringer.

Glaze and I go back quite a few years, had more than a few good times and thisll be fun to watch. Hes a good loyal friend in a business that doesnt use the words good, loyal and friend together often, if ever.

Glaze has his critics (who doesnt?) and I have no idea what tack Bryant and his folks will take. But nobody has ever worked harder than Glaze, whos earned a lot of respect from coaches, players and others within the NFL, and nobody ever gave him anything. He earned it.

Worth a look, trust me.

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.

2017 Bears position grades: Offensive Line

2017 Bears position grades: Offensive Line

2017 grade: C+

Level of need: Medium

Decisions to be made on: Josh Sitton (contract), Eric Kush (contract), Hroniss Grasu (contract), Bobby Massie (contract), Tom Compton (free agent), Bradley Sowell (free agent)

Possible free agent targets: Andrew Norwell, D.J. Fluker, Justin Pugh, Josh Kline, Jonathan Cooper

How the Bears’ offensive line will shape up in 2018 begins with a decision on which the Bears are already on the clock. The team has until March 9 to pick up Josh Sitton’s 2018 option -- or, to put it another way, they have until March 9 to determine if Sitton was/is/will be good enough to justify keeping him and not netting about $8 million in cap savings, per Spotrac. 

For what it’s worth, Bleacher Report ranked Sitton as the league’s sixth-best guard in 2017. If the Bears’ grades of Sitton match those outside ones, then the team probably won’t cut him -- not destabilizing Mitchell Trubisky’s offensive line would be well worth the money in that case. While Sitton turns 32 in June, cutting him would put a lot of pressure on Kyle Long, who hasn’t been fully healthy since 2016. The Bears are hopeful that Long will be back to full strength after multiple offseason surgeries, but releasing Sitton and then signing/drafting his replacement would be a gamble on Long’s health. 

Sitton’s status is the first part of the Bears’ 2018 offensive line equation. There’s also a decision to be made on Bobby Massie, who Bleacher Report ranked as the NFL’s 14th-best right tackle last year but could be cut for about $5.5 million in cap savings, according to Spotrac. It wouldn’t be surprising if the Bears cut or kept both Sitton and Massie for now, then drafted an offensive lineman in the first round (like Notre Dame guard Quenton Nelson or Texas tackle Connor Williams) and released one of them. Or they could keep both through the end of the 2018 season. All those options would make sense on some level.

What wouldn’t seem to make sense is the Bears cutting Sitton or Massie and replacing them with a free agent. This year’s offensive line free agent class, without adding any potential cap casualties to it, isn’t particularly strong. By Bleacher Report’s rankings, the best free agent right tackle is Houston’s Breno Giancomi, who’s 27th in that list -- 13 spots behind Massie. At left tackle, New England’s Nate Solder (No. 22) isn’t rated as highly as Charles Leno (No. 20), who we'll talk about in a bit here. 

The only potential upgrade available via free agency would be Carolina Panthers guard Andrew Norwell (No. 2 in B/R’s rankings), who’s 26 and is in line for a big payday this spring -- but that would seemingly be counter-intuitive to releasing Sitton and then potentially paying more money to a different guard, even if he’s younger and has more long-term upside. The Bears could opt for a cheaper guard in free agency who could have some potential working with respected O-line coach Harry Hiestand -- the Giants’ D.J. Fluker (57th in B/R’s rankings) or Justin Pugh (42nd) fit that mold, as would the Titans’ Josh Kline (37th) or Cowboys’ Jonathan Cooper (38th). Or the Bears could keep Sitton and still sign one of those guys as insurance in case Long and/or Eric Kush, who tore his ACL last training camp, isn’t ready to start the season. 

Tom Compton and Bradley Sowell proved to be serviceable backups last year and could be an option to return, even with a new coaching staff in place. The health of Kush, who was missed as a reliable backup in 2017, will be important in figuring out what the Bears' O-line depth looks like. Hroniss Grasu struggled when he was on the field and missed time due to a hand injury, and despite playing for offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich at Oregon could be on the chopping block before/during training camp. 

We’ll finish here with some thoughts on Leno and Cody Whitehair. Could the Bears upgrade at left tackle and displace Leno to the right side of the offensive line? Possibly, especially if Hiestand believes he can make that move work. But it’d be odd if the Bears shifted Leno off left tackle and then signed someone who’s older and, depending on the evaluator, not even as good as him. 

This is all probably a moot point, since the Bears’ internal evaluation of Leno is what matters here. Leno is 26 and the Bears believe he hasn’t reached his ceiling yet, so more than likely, he’s sticking where he is. At the very least, he’ll enter 2018 with a starting job on the Bears’ offensive line. 

One other offseason objective for Hiestand and the new coaching staff: Keeping Whitehair at the same position. Whitehair’s versatility felt like it worked against him at times last year, with the former regime opting to shift him between guard and center quite a bit from the start of training camp through the early part of the season. That instability seemed to affect Whitehair’s play, as he went through a bizarre patch of snapping issues after moving back to center and struggled to be as consistent as he was in 2016. But Whitehair finished 2017 strong, and keeping him at center for the entirety of 2018 could get him back on track to make his first Pro Bowl. 

2017 Bears position grades: Wide receivers

2017 Bears position grades: Wide receivers

2017 grade: D-

Level of need: High

Decisions to be made on: Markus Wheaton (contract), Dontrelle Inman (free agent), Kendall Wright (free agent), Josh Bellamy (free agent), Kevin White (fifth-year option)

Possible free agent targets: All of them? (But more specifically Jarvis Landry, Mike Wallace, Paul Richardson, Marqise Lee, Ryan Grant, Eric Decker, Albert Wilson, Donte Moncrief, Jaron Brown, Taylor Garbriel, Terrelle Pryor, John Brown, Allen Robinson)

The Bears cannot go into 2018 with a wide receiver core as weak as the one with which Mitchell Trubisky had to work in 2017. That doesn’t necessarily mean they have to go out and sign Jarvis Landry for huge money and then draft, say, Alabama’s Calvin Ridley, but adding multiple reliable wide receivers is a massive need for the offseason. A blend of free agents and draft picks seems like the most likely route.

Before we look at this year’s free agent class, a word on Cameron Meredith, who said this on locker cleanout day Jan. 1: “Training camp for sure I’ll be back. Right now it’s staying on pace so that I can do that. Yes, full recovery.”

The Bears shouldn’t count on Meredith to improve off his 66-catch, 888-yard 2016 season by virtue of him coming back from a torn ACL suffered last August. But it’s also not like any production from Meredith will be a bonus; if he’s even close to the player he was two years ago, he’ll be a significant part of the Bears’ offense.

So if the Bears are counting on Meredith to play in 2018, do they absolutely need to go out and splurge for the best receiver on the market in Jarvis Landry? Not necessarily. Landry reportedly wants Davante Adams money (four years, $58 million, with $32 million guaranteed) and might get more than that if a bidding war develops on the open market.

Would Landry be worth it? He followed consecutive 1,100-yard seasons in 2015 and 2016 with a league-leading 112 receptions in 2017, and won’t turn 26 until next November, so yeah, he very well could be. The Bears should have enough cap space to chase Landry, too.

But for a few reasons, Ryan Pace has either never landed nor pursued the priciest free agents in his three cycles as general manager. He splashed $38.75 million for Pernell McPhee in 2015; that was the 10th-largest free agent contract signed that year and has the 13th-highest amount of guaranteed money, per Spotrac. Danny Trevathan got $28 million in 2016 (22nd among free agents), and Mike Glennon’s ill-fated $45 million contract ranked 11th last year (with significantly less guaranteed money).

The other part of Pace’s free agency strategy hasn’t been under his control: The Bears just haven’t been an enticing destination lately. Cornerback A.J. Bouye -- 2017’s highest-paid free agent -- turned down more money from the Bears to sign with the Jacksonville Jaguars, for example.

The Bears hope that’s changing, with a promising franchise quarterback, a young and affable head coach and a major renovation to Halas Hall. For all the losing, and for all the gripes outside Lake Forest about John Fox, the Bears did have a good culture in their locker room. Selling the future of this franchise should be a lot easier in 2018 than it was in 2017.

Will that all add up to the Bears signing Landry to a huge contract? Not necessarily. The Bears could make a strong pitch and sizable offer, but he could be lured by another team that’s had more recent success (like the Oakland Raiders). Or Pace could continue to look for bargains in free agency, which hasn’t particularly worked out for him in the past, but then take a receiver with the Bears’ first-round pick.

But perhaps Pace will see his long-term vision coming together, and will see a big-ticket free agent like Landry being the guy who puts the Bears over the hump from winning to losing. He could be the franchise’s Jon Lester, or if you’re a hopeful White Sox fan, Manny Machado.

But here’s a counter to the argument for signing Landry: Kansas City’s offense last year didn’t have a big-time outside target. Tyreek Hill’s versatility and explosive playmaking ability made him the Chiefs’ best wide receiver, but he was able to line up at almost any position on the field. Albert Wilson (who’s a free agent) had the second-most targets of among Chiefs receivers with 62; tight end Travis Kelce was targeted a team-high 122 times.

The Bears don’t have a Hill or a Kelce on their roster. Tarik Cohen and Adam Shaheen could be the “light” versions of both, which may necessitate a need for better “traditional” wide receivers. That doesn’t necessarily mean Landry, to be fair.

Mike Wallace is 31 but showed he still has something in the tank, missing only one game the last two years while racking up 1,765 yards and eight touchdowns for the Baltimore Ravens. Paul Richardson had a breakout 2017 with the Seattle Seahawks, catching 44 passes for 703 yards with six touchdowns as an effective deep threat. Marqise Lee had 119 catches for 1,553 yards in the vertically-challenged Jaguars offense the last two years. Ryan Grant has never missed a game in his four-year career and is coming off a career best 45-catch, 573-yard season with Washington. The aforementioned Wilson caught 42 passes for 554 yards with the Chiefs last year, both career highs.

Perhaps no free agent receivers have as much to prove than Terrelle Pryor and Donte Moncrief. Pryor, like Alshon Jeffery, found the free agent market weak in 2017 and took a one-year prove-it deal, but instead turning it into an extension and Super Bowl ring, he bombed with only 20 catches for 240 yards with Washington. It’d be a risk, but if he can get the stink of 2017 off him and flash the talent that got him 77 receptions and over 1,000 yards with the Cleveland Browns in 2016, he’d be worth it.

Moncrief is another interesting name out there. He was targeted over 100 times in 2015 and caught 64 passes for 733 yards and six touchdowns as the big-bodied complement to T.Y. Hilton in Indianapolis, but struggled to stay healthy the last two years, only playing 21 games and totaling 56 receptions for 698 yards.

One other guy to highlight: Allen Robinson. The Jaguars probably won’t let him get away, but even if they do, would the Bears really want to sign him and then have three wide receivers coming off season-ending injuries (Meredith and Kevin White being the other two; Robinson tore his ACL in Week 1 last year). The Rams’ Sammy Watkins is also an impending free agent, but it’d be a huge surprise if Los Angeles let him hit the open market, so he’s not worth considering for the Bears right now.

We’ll see what direction Pace takes next month with free agency. But expect the Bears to return no more than one receiver from their Week 2 lineup -- Kendall Wright (59 receptions, 614 yards) is probably the only guy who could be back, if the two parties want to re-unite. Wright, as it stands for my grade, was the only guy keeping this unit from an “F,” as in a total failure.

Markus Wheaton, who became only one of nine players since 1992 to be targeted at least 15 times and catch fewer than 20 percent of those targets (he caught two passes), is likely to be cut. It’s unlikely Josh Bellamy or Dontrelle Inman will be re-signed (slight chance for Inman, but he disappeared in December). And the Bears probably will decline Kevin White’s fifth-year option, making 2018 a prove-it year for the former first-round pick.