Bears

Mullin: O-line depth, Urlacher back at Halas

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Mullin: O-line depth, Urlacher back at Halas

Thursday, Sept. 15, 2011
Posted: 9:32 a.m. Updated: 11:11 a.m.

By John Mullin
CSNChicago.com Bears Insider Follow @CSNMoonMullin
For reasons very much apart from football, it was good to learn a little while ago that Brian Urlacher is at Halas Hall Thursday morning. Sometimes work is indeed a good place to get away from personal hardship for a while, and it is never easy to lose your mother at any age. Hopefully this is a sign that hes among good friends and is in a place where he can go about his life even bearing the grief of the moment.

Talkin' Bears

Did the Bears overspend for Chris Spencer (at 3 million per for two years) if he isnt good enough to start over Edwin Williams at right guard with Lance Louis hobbled on a right-ankle injury? Why is it that Drew Brees has done worse against the Bears all three times hes faced them than against the rest of the NFL?

These are the kinds of things that Danny Mac and Spiegs and I chat about Thursdays at 10 a.m. on WSCR-AM 670 on The McNeil and Spiegel Show.

The reality with Spencer is that I never look too hard at the money because it isnt strictly a measure of the player; its perhaps more a measure of the market. The Bears thought they needed a center and other teams were flirting with Spencer, who also happens to have been a first-round pick of Bears personnel guy Tim Ruskells back when he was running the Seattle Seahawks.

Either way, and the bigger picture here, is that the Bears have quality depth in a league where thats extremely difficult (and expensive) to get. Williams started last year when Louis went down, was nicked up a bit and the Bears went other directions by moving Chris Williams to guard. All things being equal between Spencer and Williams, a thought here is that Spencer gives the Bears backup at both guard and center. Thatll all work its way out this week.

A more intriguing thought is whether the Bears defense can continue to throttle Brees, and why it has done that in the past. A huge plus from the Atlanta win was the debut of Henry Melton as the starting under-tackle. If the Bears get pressure in the middle the way they did from Tommie Harris, heres what happens:

The Cover-2 of Lovie SmithRod Marinelli has pressure in the quarterbacks face. The Smith scheme thrives on quarterbacks becoming impatient and forcing things downfield against a defense set up to prevent deep damage. Brees wont have No. 1 target Marques Colston (broken collarbone); if he becomes impatient against this defense, hell have a fourth loss to Lovie Smiths Bears.

Which is what I gave Mac and Spiegs, a prediction of a three-point Bears win. Well see.

Do the right thing

Kudos to quarterback Jay Cutler for the London trip package for the Tampa Bay game that his foundation is giving away, plus tix to the Carolina Panthers game. Go to jaycutlersix.com and register.

Working through grief

Expect Brian Urlacher to play Sunday in New Orleans against the Saints. Nothing is official by any means until the middle linebacker says hes in (hopefully some of the reports are more accurate and restrained than the Chester-Taylor-is-released business), but various indications are that hell be in New Orleans.

Teammates privately said Wednesday that theyd be surprised if Lach (as they call him) isnt there, as much for personal therapy as football, and Brad Biggs at the Chicago Tribune tweeted to that effect as well on @BradBiggs.

Personally, seeing him play really would be a positive, and that has absolutely nothing to do with football. His presence is clearly pivotal but dont look for a lot of breathless coverage of this whole thing; when Urlacher is ready to talk about it or his playing, he or Lovie Smith will talk about it.

Bear guy, sort of

Was Sean Payton involved in doing damage to the 85 Bears? Indirectly, probably yes.

Payton played his college football at Eastern Illinois, the program that gave the NFL and the Dallas Cowboys Tony Romo. And he also was one of the Spare Bears in 1987 during the labor impasse that caused the NFL to establish alternate squads which played three games.

When Mike Ditka, sticking up for the alternatesscabsfill-ins(your term here) declared that the real Bears will be the ones wearing uniforms Sunday, he lost the Mike Singletarys, Dan Hamptons and others. The Bears played well after that, even to the 1988 NFC Championship game, but more than a few players said it was never the same between Ditka, who preached loyalty, and the players who felt they didnt get any.

Amen to that

Kicker Robbie Gould ought to be making laws. RG tweeted on @RobbieGould09 this morning that Putting makeup on in a car should have the same consequences as cell phones."

Yup.
Amen to that II Chris Harris on @ChrisHarrisNFL Dear Summer, I really miss you!!!! Its 40 degrees this morning.

Talking football

Ill be getting in the weekly visit with The McNeil and Spiegel Show on WSCR-AM 670 at 10 a.m. Thursday, then hook up with Mike Florio on ProFootballTalk Live at around 11.

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.

How a tired Bears defense shut down Cam Newton and dominated the Carolina Panthers

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USA Today

How a tired Bears defense shut down Cam Newton and dominated the Carolina Panthers

The Bears asked a lot of their defense on Sunday, and every single unit delivered in a big way. 

Midway through the third quarter, on the 11th play of a drive nearing the red zone, Eddie Goldman stuffed Cam Newton on fourth-and-2 to keep the Carolina Panthers from scoring while the Bears’ offense was sputtering to a string of three-and-outs. Akiem Hicks continued what should be a Pro Bowl season with a sack, a hurry and two tackles for a loss. Mitch Unrein teamed up with Goldman to record a sack and played well against the run. 

Leonard Floyd and Pernell McPhee each recorded sacks and consistently disrupted Newton. Danny Trevathan dropped Newton, too, and picked off a pass. Christian Jones was rock-solid next to Trevathan, helping limit Jonathan Stewart and Christian McCaffrey to 58 yards on 21 carries. 

Prince Amukamara tipped a pass intended for Kelvin Benjamin that fell into the waiting arms of Eddie Jackson for a 76-yard pick six; the rookie safety, of course, had that 75-yard fumble return score that set the tone for a dominant defensive day. Kyle Fuller continued to play like a shutdown corner, and Adrian Amos continued his solid play since stepping in for an injured Quintin Demps. 

This name-by-name breakdown is deserved for these players not only for their production, but for playing this well while the Bears’ defense was on the field for 38:35 and 69 snaps. 

Were these players tired?

“Heck yeah, we were tired,” Hicks said. 

But did it affect how they played?

“No,” Floyd said. “To be honest with you we were excited to go back out there, keep on executing. We just felt good today, just playing on a high level and hitting on all cylinders.”

The Bears’ defense hasn’t allowed a touchdown since Jerrick McKinnon gashed them for a 58-yard run in the third quarter of Oct. 9’s loss to the Minnesota Vikings. Say what you will about the Baltimore Ravens’ offensive struggles this year, but the Panthers — led by Newton, McCaffrey and Benjamin — have plenty of playmakers on offense. Newton and the Carolina offensive line were bullied for five sacks and 11 hurries, McCaffrey was largely bottled up, and Benjamin managed three catches on six targets. 

“We want to be on the field, the defense,” Trevathan said. “That’s our job. When we’re put in a tough situation, we’ve got to rise, take that as a challenge. Guys coming in our backfield trying to run in our end zone? No, it’s not going to happen. It’s an attitude and it’s an execution of the plays called and being on the same page, having fun out there and making plays."

The message from the Bears’ defensive players after Sunday’s game was less about their accomplishments, though, and more about what else they can do. But the sense is this defense believes it can be the reason why the Bears can blow past their 2016 win total, which they’ve already matched. 

Still got a long way to go,” McPhee said. “Just keep building that chemistry, that bond. We got a long way to go. We ain’t really done nothing yet. It’s great, now I love it, but we just gotta stay focused, forget about this game and move on to the Saints and go take that.

“… We got a special group, man. We just gotta keep believing in the system and keep holding each other accountable and take it one play, one game at a time.”

This was already a confident group going into Week 7 — Hicks said the Bears’ defense had one of its best weeks of practice leading up to facing the Panthers — but that belief will surely grow after Sunday. If the Bears’ defense can play this well, against a good offense, while being on the field as much as they were, there’s no reason to think this level of success can’t continue. 

“We’re trying to wake the city up, bring the city back to loving the Chicago Bears,” Floyd said. “We’re just going to keep fighting, keep going in and executing. We’re looking forward to next Sunday.” 

View from the Moon: Another sign of culture shift evident within emerging Bears team

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AP

View from the Moon: Another sign of culture shift evident within emerging Bears team

Just win, baby. That really is the whole point, or maybe points – the scoreboard points, not the style points. On Sunday, however, the defense in the Bears’ 17-3 win over the Carolina Panthers accounted for enough of both kinds of points for the Bears (3-4) to matching their win total of last season, and in the process win two straight games for the first time since mid-2015.

How much or what it really means, though, as was the case with the Bears’ win at Baltimore a week ago, will have to play out in New Orleans next Sunday. Because the last time the Bears stacked two victories, it got them to 5-6 in John Fox’s first Bears year, whereupon Robbie Gould missed some field goals and the Bears went into a two-year death spiral, fueled by a year of quarterback turmoil. “I don’t know if [the 2016 win total] is really a benchmark for us, to be honest,” Fox deadpanned.

But that was then, this is now. And a lot is different. A lot. Because in the past handful of weeks, which have seen victories over Baltimore and Carolina after a failed final possession with a chance at a winning score over Minnesota, the Bears have seemed to be pulling up from the death spiral that followed the last time they won two straight.

“We’re definitely trying to change the culture,” said linebacker Leonard Floyd, whose first-quarter sack of Carolina quarterback Cam Newton was Floyd’s fourth in the last four games. Right now, it is difficult not to sense the culture change, regardless of whether the Bears go into their off-week 4-4 or 3-5.

One of the hallmarks of success, in fields far beyond just football, is to win when you’re not performing anywhere close to your best. Everybody does well when they’re “on” and cylinders are firing. Winning when they’re not is another matter.

And the Bears won a game Sunday despite their quarterback taking as many sacks (four) as he had completed passes – this after winning a game (Baltimore) in which Mitch Trubisky threw away almost as many passes (six) as he completed (eight). Probably a pattern that neither he nor the Bears are looking to as some weird winning formula, but if they can win when they don’t play well, just maybe… .

This time at least the Bears managed to close out a game in the standard 60 minutes, which was critical since the defense, while holding Newton and the Panthers to three points. This marked the first time since midway through Newton’s rookie season (2011) that Carolina has been held to that few points, a span of 94 games.

“We didn’t score [a touchdown] as an offense, and defense carried us so we kind of felt salty that we didn’t help out more,” Trubisky said. (Consider that another small culture tweak – in eight years of Jay Cutler and, before that, Kyle Fuller and Brian Griese and Rex Grossman, “salty” was never an accusation anyone would have leveled at the offense, win or lose).

Credit Trubisky with candor and accuracy. The defense did indeed carry the offense, holding Carolina out of the end zone and in the process making it nine-plus quarters and 29 straight opposing possessions that have ended short of the end zone, extending back to Vikings running back Jerick McKinnon’s TD run in the third quarter of the Minnesota game.

It wasn’t always elite on defense. In the course of the first four games this season, the Bears defense allowed nine scoring drives of 60 yards or longer; over the past three games, a total of just two. 

Pulling the camera back to look at more than just the defense:

To put this in some sort of NFL context: No Bears opponent has been below .500 at the time they faced the Bears (Atlanta and Tampa Bay hadn’t played before they faced the Bears). This was not only the Bears’ third win; it was their third win over a team with a winning record (Pittsburgh, Baltimore, Carolina) at the time the Bears faced them. 

Sunday was not without its obvious concerns, big ones in fact.

For the second straight game, Trubisky was sacked four times. This time he appeared to take sacks rather than throw balls away as he did in Baltimore, but Trubisky was still unofficially the only starting NFL quarterback completing less than 50 percent of his passes, and his 4-for-7 day only managed to pull him even at 50 percent.

And an offensive line with a supposedly elite interior-three and a left tackle recently given a contract extension has been complicit in Trubisky taking nine sacks over the past 11 quarters. Actually, to put a little finer point on it, that would be nine sacks in the last 46 drop-backs, although some of those were admittedly Trubisky electives.

“We had more plays called [Sunday], I was just pulling them down, being conservative and taking sacks,” Trubisky said. “I was just trying to play smart, protect the football and get out of here with a win.”

That would be the informal football Gospel according to John Fox, so Trubisky is indeed learning; the downfield fireworks will come when they come. And the Panthers did come into Sunday ranked No. 2 for total sacks in the NFL.

In the meantime, the Bears could go into their off-week following New Orleans within a game of first place in the NFC North, if next weekend they defeat the Saints (4-2) and Minnesota (5-2) loses. The latter isn’t terribly likely given that the Vikings play Cleveland, but the game is in London and the Browns do have to beat SOMEBODY (don’t they?).

Regardless, that’s the math of it all, and the Bears have played themselves back from the abyss to this point. And they clearly are looking forward, not back.

“Guys just know we have a good chance of winning every week,” Trubisky said. Maybe that’s the biggest culture change taking place.