Bears

Super Bowl lessons

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Super Bowl lessons

Super Bowls finish off the playing portion of the NFL year. They also serve as standards for measuring your team, your players, your coaches, whatever, in terms of where you stand vis--vis the elite in the league, and they point to some things you may need to do to get to that level.

1 - Let-em-score touchdowns just arent a good idea.

The Green Bay Packers and Mike Holmgren lost a Super Bowl when they let the Denver Broncos score a go-ahead touchdown in a fourth quarter in order to give themselves more time for an answering score. That didnt happen.

The New England Patriots appeared to go into a matador mode on Ahmad Bradshaws six-yard run for the winning points Sunday. Bradshaw tried not to go all the way into the end zone, stopping just short of the goal line but falling in when he couldnt stop his momentum.

The Patriots lost this Super Bowl when they, like the Packers, could reply with points to overcome the Bradshaw score.

It seems to make sense at the time. But the teams that have done it in the biggest game of all have lost. Not sure how else to really judge the strategy.

2 - Get a high-impact wideout, no matter what it costs.

New GM Phil Emery said he wont be talking about needs or players but the two teams in Lucas Oil Stadium for Super Bowl XLVI each had wide receivers that decide games, and the Bears simply dont have any at this point.

Not a new assessment but the Bears dont have a Hakeem Nicks (76 catches, 1,192 yards and seven touchdowns. Or a Victor Cruz (82 catches, 1,536 yards, nine touchdowns). Or a Wes Welker (122 catches, 1,569 yards, nine touchdowns). Or a Rob Gronkowski (more on that later).

But a point here is that these types of gamers dont come through one portal. They can cost, however, and Emery and the Bears will need to shop aggressively.

Nicks was a No. 1 draft choice. Cruz was an undrafted free agent nugget (sort of a Dane Sanzenbacher thing) who almost was cut prior to this season. And Welker cost the Patriots second- and seventh-round draft picks in a 2007 trade.

The Bears have the No. 19 pick of this years draft. They have four picks in the first three rounds. And the free-agent receiver market includes Marques Colston, Vincent Jackson and Dwayne Bowe.

Jerry Angelo disliked investing No. 1s in wide receivers. Emery said at his introductory press conference that he and Angelo were different. How different, and how much he thinks an elite wideout is worth, will be a factor in whether the Bears are in a Super Bowl discussion a few months from now.

3 - Just get in the playoffs. Period.

The Giants won this Super Bowl after a 9-7 season. The 9-7 Arizona Cardinals were within a historic Santonio Holmes catch of beating the Pittsburgh Steelers a couple Super Bowls ago. The Packers at 10-6 won Super Bowl XLV after qualifying for the playoffs via tiebreaker.

Coaches and players always say just make the playoffs and anything is possible. Couldnt have said it any better.

4 - This is enough Manning for a while. A couple days, anyhow.

Eli Manning said some months ago that he thought he deserved to be considered among the elite quarterbacks in the game. Well, it aint braggin if you back it up.

Manning won his second Super Bowl MVP award and pulled past brother Peyton in the ring race. And Peyton is a longshot to be contending for one anytime soon if for no other reason than the condition of his neck and nerves in his right arm.

Eli completed 30 of 40 passes for 296 yards and a touchdown, without throwing any interceptions despite being pressured enough for three sacks by the Patriots.

And Eli did this with another fourth-quarter comeback, a true measure of quarterback greatness; talk of that is going to running amok for a long time now.

We played smart, Manning said, refusing to get too into personal buzz from the award. There at the end when we had an opportunity in the fourth, quarter, wed been in those situations and we knew that we had no more time left. We had to go down and score and guys stepped up and made great plays.

A problem now is that Peyton will start up again in his taffy pull with Colts owner Jim Irsay. Theyll meet this coming week about Mannings health and whether the Colts will pay the 28 million Manning is due by Mar. 8 or he becomes a free agent. The heavy leaning is toward his release by the Colts.

In the meantime, Manning elder Archie was not about to buck family tradition and be quiet.

I dont know anything about the Hall of Fame, Archie said when asked about the possibility of being the father of two Hall of Fame QBs. Eli is in his eighth year and I know one thing: He might have said earlier in the year that he belonged with the elite quarterbacks. He will not be saying that he belongs in the Hall of Fame.

Well see on that one.

5 - One play doesnt win or lose a game. Also Period.

Unless its one where a Jay Cutler breaks a thumb, that is.

Welker was near tears talking about the fourth-quarter pass that went off his hands deep in New Yorks end of the field with four minutes to play. Instead of a clinching touchdown or crucial lead-building field goal, the Patriots were forced to punt.

It hit me right in the hands, Welker said. I mean, its a play I never drop, I always make. Most critical situation and I let the team down.

Hell put himself in the Hall of Shame somewhere between Scott Norwood and Jackie Smith in the Goats Gallery, but hell be wrong.

Wes was running down the field, it looked like they messed up the coverage a little bit and I threw it to him and he just couldnt come down with it, said quarterback Tom Brady. Hes a helluva a player. Ill keep throwing the ball to him as long as I possibly can.

One play isnt why we lost today.

Big picture: The Patriots did not score in the second half. That isnt all on Welker.

6 - Chicago should never be without a star tight end.

The modern tight end began with Mike Ditka. The Bears may not ever have a Hall of Famer at the position but they are at without one at an elite level when they are all over the NFL as never before.

The Mike Martz tenure in Chicago may have seen the Bears reach an NFC Championship. But the transformation of the tight end position on his watch set the Bears behind the NFL, helped tie the hands of successor Mike Tice and cost Jerry Angelo, who never wanted him running the offense in the first place.

The work of Aaron Hernandez and Gronkowski for New England has been over-covered. But the Bears had their 6-6, 255 tight end and Martz had no use for him. So Greg Olsens value dropped to the point where he had no future in Chicago and he was dealt to Carolina.

On the flip side, Martz wanting Brandon Manumaleuna cost the Bears millions of wasted dollars, which did Angelo no favors with the accounting department, besides contributing absolutely nothing to the offense. Along with that, Kellen Davis was elevated to a level of expectation that he has never hit before.

Nothing is irreversible but Emery and the Bears will be playing catch-up at a position where they had someone who fit the mold that is working against the type of secondary players that struggle against big tight ends.

Imperfect 10: First look at who might be available for Bears in NFL Draft

Imperfect 10: First look at who might be available for Bears in NFL Draft

With the NFL draft three months from this Friday, our Bears insiders JJ Stankevitz & Moon Mullin take their first look at the Top 10 picks and evaluate the Bears options with the 8th overall pick.

Quarterback picks could scramble the Top 10, which would work to the Bears' benefit by pushing talent at other positions down toward No. 8.

GM Ryan Pace has traded up to land each of his last two first-rounders (Leonard Floyd, Mitch Trubisky) and he will have options to move up or down and draft whatever he didn’t secure in free agency.

1. Cleveland Browns 

Moon: Sam Darnold, QB USC

Browns failed to restart their franchise with a QB in ’17. Darnold has flaws and has been a turnover risk, but Browns can’t be picky at 0-16.

JJ: Sam Darnold, QB, USC

Darnold seemed like a lock to be 2018’s No. 1 overall pick a year ago, but he went from a 31/9 TD/INT ratio in 2016 to a 26/13 TD/INT ratio in 2017. Still, the tools are there, and Cleveland could see in him the quarterback who finally leads them out of such a dark stretch of losing. 

2. New York Giants

Moon: Josh Rosen, QB, UCLA

Eli may want to follow Brady and Brees in the longevity dream but Giants need a pipeline’er like Garoppolo was for Brady, and Rosen will need development.

JJ: Josh Allen, QB, Wyoming

How Darnold, Allen and Josh Rosen shake out is going to be fascinating to watch from now until late April, with two of the three likely going in the first two picks. Allen’s stock is high as draft evaluations begin, though that could change between now, the Combine, pro days and then the draft. 

3. Indianapolis Colts

Moon: Bradley Chubb, DE, NC State

GM Chris Ballard will want to give his new coach a jump start and a pass rusher on the fast Lucas Oil turf is a must for NFL’s 31st sack ‘D’ corps. Too high to take a flyer on LSU’s Arden Key with his concerns.

JJ: Bradley Chubb, DE, NC State

Chubb is an absolute menace who instantly would give the Colts’ lackluster pass rush a disruptive jolt. With quarterbacks going off the board in the first two selections, Chris Ballard gets his pick of the best players available — and goes with the best one. 

4. Cleveland Browns (from Houston)

Moon: Minkah Fitzpatrick, CB, Alabama

Letting Joe Haden go hurt in more ways than one and Browns need a shutdown force in division with elite defenses, all except for the Browns’ (7 INT).

JJ: Saquon Barkley, RB, Penn State

The thought of pairing Barkley with Darnold is awfully enticing for a Browns team that hasn’t ranked in the top half of the league in points scored since 2008. Barkley is as complete a running back as you’ll find in the draft, rushing for 1,271 yards but also catching 54 passes for 632 yards at Penn State last year. 

5. Denver Broncos 

Moon: Josh Allen, QB, Wyoming

Since Peyton Manning finished, Broncos have had woeful QB results, and bringing back Brock Osweiler was a low point among several (Paxton Lynch, Trevor Siemian), all playing in ’17.

JJ: Quenton Nelson, OL, Notre Dame

Nelson may be the best offensive player in this draft — and yes, that includes Barkley in this discussion — and has the physicality and athleticism to be a Pro Bowler from Year 1 to Year 10 in the league. Denver needs to address its quarterback situation, and they could opt for Rosen here, but Nelson seems too good to pass up in this spot. 

6. New York Jets 

Moon: Saquon Barkley, RB, Penn State

RBs were devalued a few years ago. Not now, with 6 of top 8 rushers in playoffs, the need for a run game is back in vogue.

JJ: Josh Rosen, QB, UCLA

The Jets could be the landing spot for whatever quarterback is squeezed out of the top two, with 2016 second-round pick Christian Hackenberg looking like a bust at this point. The Jets need to do more to improve their offensive structure around the quarterback with a better offensive line and running game, and could look for Texas tackle Connor Williams here. But in a year that could be a bumper crop of quarterbacks, the Jets get theirs. 

7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers 

Moon: Denzel Ward, CB, Ohio State

Ward was a backfield mate of Marshon Lattimore and consistently solid. Bucs haven’t gone DL at No. 1 in 5 years and want to remain elite up front but Ward projects as day-one starter.

JJ: Minkah Fitzpatrick, CB, Alabama

Fitzpatrick looks like the second-best defensive player in the draft, and the Bucs might be jumping for joy if he falls to them at No. 7. Fitzpatrick could be either a corner or a safety, but no matter where he is, he seems like a good bet to be great. 

8. Chicago Bears

Moon: Quenton Nelson, OL, Notre Dame

Too high to take a WR. OL coach Harry Hiestand developed Nelson, and protecting Mitch Trubisky is a franchise-grade mandate. Texas OT Connor Williams is the other option, with more experience on the edge.

JJ: Calvin Ridley, WR, Alabama

In going through the first seven picks here, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Bears traded out of this spot, since I agree with Moon that it’s probably too high to take a wide receiver. Perhaps Ryan Pace is able to trade up for the third consecutive year to snag Fitzpatrick or Nelson; or maybe he’ll look to trade down to add some more picks and still have a shot at landing Ridley, a corner (like Ohio State’s Denzel Ward), an outside linebacker (like Texas’ Malik Jefferson) or a tackle (like Notre Dame’s Mike McGlinchey, who played under OL coach Harry Hiestand in college) later in the first round. 

9. San Francisco 49ers

Moon: Roquan Smith, LB, Georgia

Pairing a force player with Reuben Foster immediately creates a defensive core, and Smith is a hedge against Foster injury issues. But Alabama WR Calvin Ridley may be too good to pass up as complement to QB Jimmy Garoppolo.

JJ: Courtland Sutton, WR, SMU

The lure of adding a go-to wide receiver to pair with Jimmy Garoppolo — who made a ragtag bunch of pass-catchers look pretty good after getting the 49ers’ starting nod in December — is too strong to pass up here. Sutton caught 62 passes for 1,085 yards with 12 touchdowns for SMU in 2017.

10. Oakland Raiders

Moon: Vita Vae, DT, Washington

Ridley would fit Raiders’ tradition for impact passing offense if he lasts this long, and Raiders very likely to go offense to muscle up for Jon Gruden’s program and support Derek Carr. But Gruden’s Oakland and Tampa Bay teams were stout on defense. 

JJ: Roquan Smith, LB, Georgia

In Smith, the Raiders could see the rock of their defense for years to come under Jon Gruden. This may be a little high for an inside linebacker, though, and Ward could be an option here as well. 

As NFL Draft scouting begins, six players for the Bears to watch in this week's Senior Bowl

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USA Today

As NFL Draft scouting begins, six players for the Bears to watch in this week's Senior Bowl

A decade ago, die-hard football fans — at least those who weren’t also big into Conference USA football — were introduced to a running back from Tulane named Matt Forte at the 2008 Senior Bowl. Forte, who rushed for 2,127 yards and 23 touchdowns his senior year at Tulane, was the 2008 Senior Bowl MVP; the Bears went on to draft him with the 44th overall pick a few months later. 

(The Bears also drafted the 1999 Senior Bowl MVP — Cade McNown — and that pick didn’t work out as well as Forte, to say the least.)

John Fox and the Bears’ coaching staff coached the North team in last year’s Senior Bowl, and from that roster wound up selecting D-II offensive lineman Jordan Morgan in the fifth round. The coaching staffs this year are from the Denver Broncos (Vance Joseph) and Houston Texans (Bill O’Brien), but the Bears will still have a significant presence in Mobile, Ala. to scout prospects this week. 

So as practices begin leading up to Saturday’s game, here are six players for the Bears to watch down in Alabama:

WR Tre’Quan Smith (Central Florida/South Team)

Smith seems to fit the profile of what the Bears lack at wide receiver as the offseason begins: He’s a 6-foot-1, 210 pound explosive playmaker who caught only 59 passes last year…but for 1,171 yards with 13 touchdowns. He may not be a Day 1 or Day 2 guy right now, but if the Bears’ plan winds up being to address their dearth of wide receivers via free agency and the middle rounds of the draft — where value and playmakers can certainly be found — Smith could be someone to circle. 

OLB Garret Dooley (Wisconsin/North Team) 

The Rochester, Ill native doesn’t explode off the stat sheet like fellow ex-Badger T.J. Watt did a year ago (11 1/2 sacks), but Dooley did notch 7 1/2 sacks in 2017. Worth noting here: Wisconsin runs a 3-4, as do the Bears. Getting an up-close look at the 6-foot-3, 246 pound Dooley could begin to show the Bears if he’s worth a late-round flier to help address some of the team’s issues at outside linebacker. 

WR J’Mon Moore (Missouri/South Team)

At 6-foot-3, 205 pounds, Moore has similar size to Meredith (6-foot-3, 207 pounds) and turned in a productive 2017 for the Tigers: 65 receptions, 1,082 yards and 10 touchdowns. If the Bears like what they see in him, he could give them a later-round spin of the wheel at receiver — which could be valuable if they were to pick a receiver in the first or second round. 

CB JaMarcus King (South Carolina/North Team)

The 6-foot-2 King is listed as the tallest corner (along with San Diego State’s Kameron Kelly) at the Senior Bowl, and while he only had five interceptions at South Carolina, he did total 21 pass break-ups in 26 games. As the Bears begin scouting cornerbacks — one of their biggest positions of need — they can begin to find out this week if King’s length could translate into him being a mid-round sleeper in this year’s draft. 

PK Michael Badgley (Miami, North Team) & PK Daniel Carlson (Auburn, South Team)

Both kickers from last year’s Senior Bowl — Zane Gonzalez and Jake Elliott — found regular roles as rookies, with Elliott going to the Super Bowl with the Philadelphia Eagles. The Bears whiffed in their evaluation of Connor Barth, only bringing in Roberto Aguayo for a short-lived competition during training camp, while Elliott was available in September after being waived by the Cincinnati Bengals on cut-down day. The more immediate issue here: Badgley and Carlson each made fewer than 75 percent of their field goals as seniors; Elliott and Gonzalez hit 80 and 92 percent of their field goals in their final collegiate seasons. This may not be as good a pair of kickers in this year’s Senior Bowl, but they’re still worth an early scouting evaluation for a team that needs to get its placekicking situation sorted out.