Bears

Mullin: No way 9-3 Bears are just lucky

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Mullin: No way 9-3 Bears are just lucky

Monday, Dec. 6, 2010
Posted: 5:00 p.m.

By John Mullin
CSNChicago.com

Mmmm, maybe not

I don't have a rooting interest one way or the other but I'm not sure I'm buying this.

SI.com's Andrew Perloff, in a segment folded into Peter King's always-enjoyable (if a little heavy on Steelers-Ravens this week) "Monday Morning Quarterback," opines that the Packers will win the NFC North and simply are a better team than the Bears, which Andrew still sees making the playoff and being "dangerous," he said.

Andrew's reasoning: The Packers "have that explosiveness on offense," whereas the Bears are "not making the plays like the Packers are."

He appears to be more fascinated by highlight play like Aaron Rodgers' memorable game-tying pass to Jordy Nelson to force a recent overtime against Atlanta. Andrew sees the "new" Bears as more balanced offensively with the combination of Jay Cutler's passing and Matt Forte's running.

But "when it comes down to it," he concluded, "Rodgers is the MVP and Cutler is just a good player."

You who know me know I am a reporter first and that I had no vested or rooting interest when I pointed out the night of the DenverCutler trade that a restrained reaction might be the call since Cutler had never had a winning season as a starting quarterback since high school.

But right now, he is a very good player, which he was not last season or through the first half of this one aside from isolated situations. I would be concerned about the number of hits Cutler is taking (48 in the last five games, between sacks, QB hits and runs he's made).

But the fact that Cutler is being called a "game manager" (usually a diss of a quarterback) should -- and I think is -- sending a tiny shiver through at least the NFC North. As long as he was just a thrower, even a passer, he could be counted on to error away the moment.

Not any more. The Packers could well win the division but my guess is that it'll be by tiebreaker, in which the Bears, who'll make good my "10 wins or better" prediction for the season, will be the wild-card team absolutely nobody wants to play.

Loud Lovie?
As he has on a number of occasions in the past when he's unhappy with the play of his guys, Lovie Smith let them know about it at halftime Sunday. The particular target was the defense, which was coming in after allowing a third-string quarterback to direct the Detroit offense to 253 first-half yards.

Clipboards did not hit walls, fists did not hit lockers, and players like Julius Peppers seemed to be more stunned by the poor play of the defense than by the Smith equivalent of a hissing match.

But just as players once spoke of "The Look" they dreaded getting from Dick Jauron, they don't like to hear Smith deviate from his fairly constant volume and venom levels.

"He was still mild-mannered but maybe instead of talking at a '5' he's talking at a '9,'" said safety Chris Harris. "Lovie is not a guy who swears. He's still a mild-mannered guy. But when he's angry you know he's angry. His point comes across and gets across to the players the way it should."

Smith's reaction to his reaction was, well, mild-mannered, naturally.

"We weren't happy with how we played the first half," Smith explained. "Guys realized that. As far as the '9,' you media guys know me. I'm a '5' most of the time. I try to be."

Huh?

I'm still amused by some who view the Bears' 2010 results (12 games of them at this point) as "lucky" or "getting the breaks." It calls to mind former Mets and White Sox pitcher Jerry Koosman dismissing former teammate and Hall of Famer Tom Seaver as just "lucky."

"Seaver was just lucky," Koosman said, "because he was always pitching on the day when the other team wasn't hitting."

A few other observations on the whole "lucky" nonsense:

Bear Bryant's legendary proclamation the "Luck follows speed" definitely applies to the Bears, who are a universally fast team.

And my favorite James Bond assessment comes into play: "Once is chance; twice is coincidence; three times is enemy action." Lucky is once; oh-come-on is twice; 9-3 is not lucky.

Lez chat

I'll be on the Comcast SportsNet set for Chicago Tribune Live at 5:30 p.m. (and later rebroadcasts) but then I'll be on CSNChicago.com from 7-8 p.m. for our weekly online chat. Always fun (well, mostly) to noodle over what just happened the day before.

And absolutely, I'll have the Pats-Jets on at the same time.

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: Inside Linebacker

2017 Bears position grades: Inside Linebacker

2017 grade: B+

Level of need: Low

Decisions to be made on: Christian Jones (free agent), John Timu (free agent), Jonathan Anderson (free agent); Jerrell Freeman has reportedly been cut

Possible free agent targets: Demario Davis, Preston Brown, Anthony Hitchens, Avery Williamson, Navorro Bowman, Derrick Johnson

How the Bears rate Nick Kwiatkoski will be the key to figuring out what this unit will look like in 2018. Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio thought Kwiatkoski finished last season strong, but strong enough to rely on him in 2018 as the starter next to Danny Trevathan?

The thing with the Bears’ inside linebackers, though: Trevathan makes whoever is playing next to him better. The problem is Trevathan hasn’t been able to stay on the field — he missed time in 2017 with a calf injury and a one-game suspension, and missed half of 2016 after rupturing his Achilles’. Trevathan hasn’t played a full 16-game season since 2013, so durability is an issue for the soon-to-be 28-year-old.

So that leads to this question: Do the Bears need to find someone in free agency, regardless of how they value Kwiatkoski, who’s also missed time due to injuries in his first two years in the league?

Free agency could provide a few options. Demario Davis had a career high 97 tackles for the New York Jets last year and has never missed a game as a pro. Preston Brown had some decent production in Buffalo and also hasn’t missed a game since being drafted in 2014. Avery Williamson may not be a world-beater but has only missed one game in his four years in the NFL.

The Bears could also opt for someone who fits more of a rotational mold, like Dallas’ Anthony Hitchens, or try to lure a veteran linebacker like Navorro Bowman (who played for Vic Fangio in San Francisco) or Derrick Johnson (who Matt Nagy knows from his Kansas City days) to play next to Trevathan and/or Kwiatkoski.

The Bears could opt to keep the status quo and re-sign Christian Jones and John Timu for depth, and enter 2018 with Kwiatkoski and Trevathan as the team’s starters (Jerrell Freeman, who suffered a season-ending injury and then was hit with his second PED suspension in as many years, was cut on Tuesday). Signing a starting-caliber free agent isn’t out of the question, either, but there is a third option for the Bears if they appear to stand pat in free agency: Draft an inside linebacker in April. If that’s the route they go, Georgia’s Roquan Smith could be the guy. But again, those more pressing needs at other positions could mean the Bears don’t burn a first-round pick on an inside linebacker.

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.