Bears

Time to sound the alarm? Bears' defense says no

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Time to sound the alarm? Bears' defense says no

Friday, Dec. 31, 2010
3:27 PM

By John Mullin
CSNChicago.com

Throughout most of this season the Bears defense has been little cause for concern. Yardage allowed has been no worse than 10th since the off week. Points allowed has ranked no worse than 10th since week two. The rushing defense has been no worse than No. 4 since week four.

And yet...

The Bears have held just one of their last five opponents to fewer than 20 points per game. That compares with allowing just one of their first five opponents in 2010 to score as many as 20 points in a game. The yardage-per-game ranking that was No. 4 (300) after the second Detroit game has fallen to No. 10 (316). Only the Minnesota Vikings in the Monday Night snowfest (273) totaled less than 300 yards.

I wouldnt say that its time to sound the alarm, linebacker Lance Briggs insisted. Everything weve done is correctable. Plus at the end of the year, offensive coordinators have all years worth of tape to study and scheme off of us. Theres been some good schemes, good game plans against us the last couple games, and its really good for us to see those kinds of things.

We have an idea how teams are going to attack us, whats been successful and what teams are going to continue to do. Weve seen things this year alone that we havent seen in the seven years weve been playing this defense.

The Bears have no plans of any sort to modify dramatically their defensive scheme or even their approach.

The reason is that the sense is not so much that teams are outsmarting the Bears, but rather that the Bears are not playing like the Bears.

I just think that when there are breakdowns, usually theyre our own, said defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli. And they attack us and all of those things. Thats all part of the game. But usually, theyre all correctable and we can adjust to them. And we have our little wrinkle here and there, but basically weve got to go out and really execute well, which were planning on doing.

Sunday would be a very good place to start, even with several starters likely to be pulled at some point of the game. The Packers gained 379 yards on the Bears in their first meeting, fifth-highest output against the defense this season.

Only Tom Brady (351) and Tony Romo (374) passed for more than the 316 yards Aaron Rodgers threw for against the Bears, who did not sack him even once.

Sick Bay

Wide receiver Earl Bennetts ankle improved enough to allow him some work at practice but Bennett is being listed as questionable for Sunday in Green Bay and could be held out of that game to ensure that he is fully recovered when the playoffs start for the Bears two weeks later.

Green Bay placed guard Marshall Newhouse on injured reserve and declared defensive end Cullen Jenkins, safety Atari Bigby, linebacker Frank Zombo and fullback Korey Hall all out with injuries.

No other Packers were listed as anything less than probable, including tackle Chad Clifton, cornerback Charles Woodson, linebacker Clay Matthews, safety Nick Collins and defensive end Ryan Pickett, all of whom were limited in practice at one time or another this week.

Party animal

Lovie Smith isnt making any lavish plans for New Years Eve, just planning on spending the night watching TV in the basement with wife MaryAnne. No game film allowed.

No video, he said. Im going to take tonight off and just spend it with her tonight. Looking forward to that.

But if there isnt any excessive celebration in the works, it doesnt mean that there isnt a true sense of accomplishment as the calendar year comes to a close. Its a great feeling to go through what we have, Smith said. Everybody is upbeat because of what we have accomplished so far. And then to have an opportunity to play against our rival.

Smith clearly likes the idea of facing a team that creates an edge for his own. Indeed, he endorses the NFLs idea of having final games of seasons against division opponents. But even more than that, everyone should play against their main rival the last game of the season, always, where you have a lot to be pumped up about, Smith said. Were looking forward to going up to Lambeau. Weve had some success up there. We hear theyre anxious for us to get up there, and we cant wait to go, too.

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?