Bears

Still think Bears absolutely had to have Moss or T.O.?

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Still think Bears absolutely had to have Moss or T.O.?

Monday, Dec. 27, 2010
9:05 AM

By John Mullin
CSNChicago.com

Cleaning out the notebook the day after....

Spot-on

CSNChicago.com colleague and friend Jim Miller, who has been beyond question the most insightful and thorough analyst of quarterback Jay Cutlers play over the last two seasons, takes a quality look at what the Jets game revealed about the play of Cutler and the overall offense in the context of a Super Bowl prospect.

Jim, who knows, oh, just little bit about NFL quarterbacking (check out the 2001 Bears sometime), gets inside the way Cutler attacked the Jets defense. And Jim looks at the things, like pass protection and the wide receivers (T.O. who?), that make the strongest case for the Bears being a whole lot more than just a lucky team at this point of 2010.

And along that line, a good friend and former Big Ten player (and a Bear doubter in the early 010 going) texted me after Sunday with a simple message: That is one good football team. I am a believer.

The Bears may stumble in the playoffs. Someone always does. But this is indeed a good football team. And whats easy to overlook is the fact that on that offense, the quarterback, wide receivers and offensive line are just starting to be what theyre going to be before theyre all finished.

Rex-ing

One of the top national writers on hand for Sundays game (name withheld because it was casual conversation among friends) looked beyond the nonsense in New York and directly at the bizarre fake-punt call that was the point at which that game nosed over and started down for the Jets.

What he saw was the first glimpse of the end of Rex Ryan in New York. The schtick wont be enough was his observation, meaning that as likeable and entertaining as Ryan is, the coaching gaffes will count for far more in the wrong direction and ultimately be his undoing."

Rashied Davis, the Bears special teamer who broke up the Mark Sanchez pass on that play, didnt disagree that some element of arrogance could have played into Ryans decision. Not only on that play, but on the whole business of kicking to Devin Hester, another stupid call after a week of bogus feigning fear of the greatest returner in NFL history, and then tugging on Supermans cape. Bad idea.

From watching HBOs Hard Knocks, he seemed like an arrogant guy, Davis said. So we thought they would kick it to Devin, because all week he was saying Were not going to kick to Devin. But he loves his special teams.

Last laugh I

Anybody really think a couple of Bears assistants havent totally enjoyed the last two weeks?

First theres Mike Tice savoring the second blowout win over the Minnesota Vikings, the team that fired him as head coach via press release in the locker room after a loss.

And now there is Mike Martz, who was fired by Mike Singletary after 2008 when Singletary was in as San Francisco 49ers coach. Singletarys colorful tenure ended 15 games into this season when he was bounced after another highlight sideline scene (for all the wrong reasons) and more poor play.

Martzs season is going along quite nicely, thank you very much.

One head-shaker of full-circle irony here is that Singletarys final deal-killer was his in-game handling of a quarterback situation and his successor could be Jim Harbaugh, whos working wonders at Stanford. Singletary is one of the coaches from the Mike Ditka tree (Ron Rivera, Leslie Frazier, Harbaugh, Ken Margerum) and it was Ditkas bombastic in-game handling of a quarterback situation in 92 that led to his ultimate ouster.

The quarterback back in 92: Jim Harbaugh.

Last laugh II

They wont make a public spectacle of it because thats just not how they and their coach are, but anybody happen to notice what Bears wide receivers did Sunday against perhaps the top cornerback tandem (Darrelle RevisAntonio Cromartie) in the NFL?

Darryl Drake has quietly and very firmly backed his guys ever since the start of last year when the group of Johnny Knox, Hester, Earl Bennett and Devin Aromashodu (with a sprinkling of Rashied Davis) was coming together amid major public doubts.

Anybody still think the Bears absolutely had to have Terrell Owens or Randy Moss?

Flexing

Sunday's Bears-Packers game at Lambeau Field has been moved to a 3:15 p.m. start.

Checking in

We wont have our regular CSNChicago.com chat tonight at 7 p.m. because I need to get in-studio to finish off our Top 10 of 2010 highlights for the Bears (OK, OK, I know, I have a face for radio...).

But well toss around some Bears thoughts on Chicago Tribune Live at 5:30 p.m. And for those of you downstate, well pick it up at 4:40 p.m. on WFMB-AM SportsRadio 1450 as usual this afternoon.

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?