Bears

Rodgers ahead of Favre's success vs. Bears

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Rodgers ahead of Favre's success vs. Bears

Thursday, Sept. 22, 2011Posted: 11:57 p.m.

By John Mullin
CSNChicago.com Bears Insider Follow @CSNMoonMullin
The Bears and fans are facing a very unpleasant football reality.

As far as the Bears are concerned, Aaron Rodgers is better than Brett Favre. Not just the annually retiring Brett Favre; the good one. You could look it up.

Rodgers "is in a league by himself," said cornerback Charles Tillman, a veteran of facing both and answering a comparison question with a comment only about Rodgers.

It may be comforting to note that the Bears held Rodgers below his 2010 season passer rating all three times they played him last season. It may be reassuring to point out that none of the three Packers games last season were decided by more than 7 points and that Rodgers' Packers averaged just 16 points in the three games.

Those would exercises in self-deception.

"I don't know how much 'success' it is," defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli said when asked about reasons for recent success against the Packers.

That "success" in fact left with Favre.

The Bears have played Rodgers seven times. They have won only two. One of those two, game No. 3 last season, featured 18 Packers penalties and the Bears still won 20-17 by coming from behind in the fourth quarter. Only in the NFC Championship game has Rodgers thrown more interceptions (two) than touchdown passes (zero) and the Bears still couldn't beat him.

The Bears have indeed recently held him below his passer standard. The problem is that in other than that NFC Championship game, he has never had a rating below 87.6.

Which means that even when the Bears "control" him, he is very, very good.

But the Favre comparison?

Rodgers is clearly superior to the Favre that Lovie Smith dominated from 2004-2007. That Favre was 2-6 against the Smith Bears.

But Rodgers is arguably a more dangerous Bear-killer already than Favre was at the same stage of his career.

Favre perpetrated his real mayhem on the Bears teams of Dave Wannstedt and Dick Jauron, which with rare exceptions (1994, 1995, 2001) all had losing records and were generally patsies for just about everyone.

Favre and Rodgers have the same regular-season record of 4-2 through their first six Bears games. But Rodgers' came against the '08 and '10 Bears teams, vastly superior to the 1992-94 Bears that were finishing Mike Ditka's Bears run and starting Wannstedt's. The '94 team won a wild-card game but was crushed both times it saw Favre.

People who know both

For Bears who have seen both to speak only of Rodgers in any comparison talk is revealing.

"I don't know," said linebacker Lance Briggs, a veteran of the final four Favre years and the three Rodgers seasons. "I think efficiency-wise this is."

Briggs paused. "Rodgers is up there. It's only two games into the year, but efficiency wise he's got to be one of, if not the best quarterback in the league right now. Playing that way. he's playing lights-out football. He's getting the ball to everyone he needs to get it to. And he's doing it without any interceptions and without any incompletions, or not many incompletions."

Rodgers mercifully was not asked any questions this week about Favre. He endured far too many of those when Favre was still in Green Bay and in the seasons that followed his messy departure.

But Rodgers is already being spoken of in terms once reserved for Favre.

"Rodgers has got an unbelievable release," Marinelli said. "The ball really comes out quick. Very, very accurate. I think he's a tremendous competitor. Then you add his mobility. He's a very, very mobile guy. When he breaks that pocket, boy, he's tough. He's accurate, and he'll run, but he is extremely accurate outside of the pocket."

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.

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?