Bears

View from the Moon: It's not all about the Bears

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View from the Moon: It's not all about the Bears

Saturday, Jan. 15, 2011
Posted 10:09 a.m.

By John MullinCSNChicago.com
So there I was, looking through the paper and websites, and come to find out

There are other playoff games this weekend! Who knew?

Just kidding.

With all the local attention and debate swirling over Bears-Seattle Seahawks, ranging from matchups to seedings to whatever, the concurrent run-up to divisional playoff games elsewhere in the Lower 48 could have been overlooked.

Not by View from the Moon, however. Some will only matter if the Bears win a couple more games and the AFC winners matter because the Bears are looking at one of them in the Super Bowl. But those are worth a serious look because one will be of potentially vital interest to the Bears, and the other two are third-time grudge matches.

Indeed, one beauty of this postseason is the presence of blood feuds. Pittsburgh-Baltimore. NY Jets at New England. And if the Bears and Green Bay Packers win this weekend.

Actually, the Patriots may not consider the Jets worthy of feud status; who is, for that matter? But the Jets did get a lot further in the 2009 postseason, Rex Ryan is getting more pub than the Pats put together, so maybe just this once.

Ill hold off on assessing Bears-Seahawks until closer to game time. In the meantime:

Baltimore Ravens at Pittsburgh Steelers, Saturday, 3:30 p.m. CT

Easily the most volatile pairing in the 2010 postseason. Ravens pass rusher Terrell Suggs wearing a T-shirt bearing an insulting anti-Pittsburgh (the city) illustration. James Harrison taking time out from paying fines to obliterate someone in a Ravens helmet. Should be fun.

The all-important quarterback edge goes to the Steelers simply because of Ben Roethlisbergers experience and composure under postseason fire. Joe Flacco has been an under-celebrated nugget as far as reaching the playoffs all three years of his career. Flacco posted a 115.4 passer rating in the win at Kansas City, although two of his lesser games this season were against the Steelers.

But if Roethlisberger is a character question off the field, he has been anything but when hes on it.

Pittsburgh has never lost in the playoffs to a division opponent and beat the Ravens in the 2008 AFC Championship game. Neither team can be considered truly explosive on offense. On offense the Steelers ranked 14th in yardage and 12th in scoring. The Ravens were 22nd in yardage and 16th in scoring.

On defense, however, there are virtually no weaknesses. The Steelers ranked second in yardage allowed and No. 1 in scoring defense. The Ravens are 10th in yardage and No. 3 in scoring.

The key to a Baltimore win is the offense getting running back Ray Rice free. More than Flacco, Rice is the centerpiece of the offense, the No. 10 rusher in the NFL (1,220 yards, 4.0 per carry, and 63 pass receptions). Pittsburgh was the NFLs best against the run. Strength vs. strength.

More important than all of that, and where I think the game gets decided, is the turnover situation. One misplay or great play will decide this game. The Ravens were a plus-7 in turnover ratio; the Steelers were plus-17, second-best in the NFL. Sometime Saturday afternoon Harrison will force a fumble or Troy Polamalu will break on an interception and Pittsburgh will move into the AFC Championship game:
Pittsburgh 16 Baltimore 13

In the one the Bears and Chicago will be watching with the greatest of interest:

Green Bay Packers at Atlanta Falcons Saturday, 7 p.m.

The Falcons have been virtually unbeatable in the Georgia Dome since Matt Ryan came to town. Atlanta ranks fifth in points scored and allowed, meaning the Falcons can score and can stop people from scoring. They convert a staggering 46.7 percent of their third downs, best in the NFC and second only to New England 48.2 among remaining playoff teams.

The Falcons have elite fire in both barrels on offense. Roddy White led the NFL in receptions (115) and yards (1,389) and was second in receiving TDs (10). Michael Turner led the NFC and was third in the NFL with 1,371 rushing yards. Tony Gonzalez threw in 70 catches at tight end just for good measure.

But here comes Green Bay, the only team in the remaining eight ranking in the top 10 for yardage both gained and allowed, points scored and given up, and in turnover ratio. The Packers will give up rushing yards (18th ranking) and they dont run the ball as well as championship teams do.

But heres the thing: The Packers went through the New York Giants, Bears and Philadelphia Eagles in their last three games, must-win situations against winning teams with a combined record of 31-17 and allowed no more than 17 points to any of the three.

Aaron Rodgers directed his offense to 45 points in a losing playoff game last season and to 21 and a win this year. He is emerging as one of the NFLs true elite quarterbacks. Ryan has been in just one playoff game, losing a wild-card game as a rookie when he managed a passer rating of just 72.8 against the Arizona Cardinals.

The crucial edge in all three non-Bears playoff games is the quarterback. It is in this one, too.

Green Bay 21 Atlanta 20

New York Jets at New England Patriots Sunday, 3:30 p.m. CT

The Jets have garnered a disproportionate amount of media attention, some of it by design, some of it by New York. When Jets coach Rex Ryan declares a divisional playoff game the second-biggest game in franchise history, behind Super Bowl III but ahead of a conference championship (which he lost to Indianapolis last year), somebody has seriously lost their compass.

The Jets defeated New England 28-14 in Game Two but the Patriots put a 45-3 humiliation on the Jets when the teams met in Gillette Stadium late in the season, a far more relevant case study for the game at hand.

Based on the numbers, the simple reality is that the Patriots are better at virtually everything. The Jets out-rush New England per game and per attempt but in nearly every other offensive category, the Patriots are superior. The Patriots rank eighth in yardage per game; the Jets are 11th. The Jets are 13th in points per game; New England led the league in scoring. The Patriots scored more touchdowns passing (37) than the Jets scoring rushing and passing combined (34).

The Jets are stingier at allowing yards but the two teams are nearly even in the more important scoring defense, 313 points given up by the Patriots to 304 by the Jets.

But the numbers really do not contain the full picture.

Where this game will be decided is in one spot: quarterback. Tom Brady is the NFLs best; Mark Sanchez isnot. Bradys 111.0 passer rating led the league; only Matt Hasselbeck has a lower rating than Sanchez (7.3).

The Patriots led the NFL with a plus-28 turnover ratio due in no small measure to Brady throwing just interceptions all season and the New England secondary intercepting 25 passes. Only the Steelers (21) had more than 19.

What that translates into is one quarterback with a Super Bowl resume against one who is inconsistent and facing a defense that statistically may not be the equal of the Jets but is more opportunistic. The Jets are not good enough to shut down New England but the reverse is most certainly true.

And playoff games are most often decided by quarterback play. For that reason alone:

New England 30 New York 20
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.

Why Dion Sims' return may not lessen Adam Shaheen's role in the Bears' offense

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USA Today

Why Dion Sims' return may not lessen Adam Shaheen's role in the Bears' offense

Dion Sims was limited in practice on Wednesday, but he participated — marking the first practice he took part in since Oct. 27. Sims said he feels “great,” so assuming he’s getting closer to playing on Sunday against the Philadelphia Eagles, that begs the question: What does it mean for Adam Shaheen?

The short answer, according to offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains: Not much. 

“We don’t want to slow down his progress,” Loggains said. “And as long as he’s making steps in the right direction — we’re high on Dion Sims as well — but we do not want to slow down Adam’s progress that way.”

Shaheen has caught all six of his targets the last two weeks, totaling 80 yards with a touchdown and displaying some encouraging chemistry with quarterback Mitchell Trubisky (who was his offseason roommate after the pair were drafted in April). Against Green Bay and Detroit, Shaheen played 52 and 73 percent of the Bears' snaps, respectively. 

The Bears didn’t use Shaheen in Sunday’s critical two-minute drive against the Detroit Lions, though, turning to Daniel Brown instead of their second-round draft pick. Loggians explained that he didn’t want to overload Shaheen with responsibilities after his elevation on the depth chart due to Sims’ illness and Zach Miller’s season-ending injury. So Shaheen was tasked mostly with first- and second-down plays, while Brown became the Bears’ third down and two-minute guy at tight end. 

“It was mainly so Adam could focus in on his role,” Loggains said. “And as he keeps growing that way, we’ll  keep expanding that package for him. But that was the reason why.”

The Bears need Shaheen’s role to expand, though, for him to meet the usual expectations placed upon a 45th overall pick. There are going to be some situations, especially running ones, where Sims has to be on the field, possibly at the expense of Shaheen. But if the Bears were to step back and take a bigger-picture look at their offense, there are some good signs of Shaheen and Trubisky growing together, just as the team hoped when they made the pair their first two selections in the 2017 draft. The return of Sims shouldn’t disrupt that growth. 

“He’s earned the play time the last two weeks,” Loggains said. “He’s played better and better and he had some things on the first level in the blocking game that he needs to improve on that Dion is really good at because he’s played a little bit longer. We do want to play him, continue to grow him, continue to grow him and grow the reps that way, especially without having Zach here. So there is a role that — we’re still missing a little bit of a role that we’re kind of splitting between Adam and Dan. 

“But we’ll continue to play him more, and each game will be a little bit different, how it dictates. But yes, we do see him, his role just like Tarik (Cohen’s) to continue to grow weekly.” 
 

There are no rookie ‘freebies’ for Mitchell Trubisky, but Carson Wentz a good lesson in patience

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USA Today

There are no rookie ‘freebies’ for Mitchell Trubisky, but Carson Wentz a good lesson in patience

The Bears like that Mitchell Trubisky is his own toughest critic, with the quarterback consistently owning his mistakes and shortcomings to his coaches, teammates and the media. After he missed an open Benny Cunningham near the end zone in the first quarter of Sunday’s loss to the Detroit Lions, offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains wanted to rip him, but Trubisky was already “really upset” as he arrived on the sidelines about making such a poor throw. 

After the game, Trubisky said “there’s no rookie excuse,” for some of the struggles he’s had, and for his 2-4 record as the Bears’ starting quarterback. But to an extent, that excuse is valid, even if Trubisky has no interest in using it. 

“He shouldn’t give himself a pass,” Loggains said. “He should hold himself to a very high standard, because we do. but we all know the reality of the situation. He (hasn’t played much) since high school. Every day to this point that he’s taken the field, he’s played better. 

“That’s what we keep telling him — keep stacking good games, we’re gonna keep playing better around you, we’ll keep putting you in good situations, and the wins are going to come.”

Not only is Trubisky currently tasked with learning the Bears’ offense, and the wrinkles that are added to it each week, but he also is still getting comfortable with a group of players he either didn’t play much with, or at all, during training camp, when he was the third-string quarterback. And on top of that, he’s having to deal with opposing defensive coordinators knowing that, and continually throwing looks at him that they haven’t put on film before. 

The experiences and knowledge that will help Trubisky succeed aren’t gained in a week or a few games. They’re gained over the course of a season, and right now, Trubisky is halfway through his first year (he’s made six starts, and barring something unforeseen, has six more to go). 

Consider the growth of Carson Wentz, 2016’s No. 2 overall pick, who’s made tremendous strides in Year 2 as a starter in the NFL. Almost every relevant statistic for Wentz has been significantly better in 2017 than it was in 2016:

Year GS Record Comp% Yards Y/A TD TD% INT INT% Rate Sack%
2016 16 7-9 62.4 3,782 6.2 16 2.6 14 2.3 79.3 5.2
2017 10 9-1 59.7 2,430 7.6 25 7.9 5 1.6 103.4 6.7

That growth can be attributed to a number of things, including the Eagles staffing their offense with weapons like Alshon Jeffery, Torrey Smith, LeGarrette Blount and Jay Ajayi. But Wentz deserves most of the credit for the strides he’s made thanks to applying the experience and knowledge he gained as a rookie to what’s now a 9-1 Eagles team in 2017. 

“It’s really expected when you’re drafted high and play right away that in the second year you transition well and really deliver for your team,” Trubisky said. “It’s good to look at those guys and see where they’ve gone from Year 1 to Year 2 and just talk to them about being a leader in the locker room and trying to improve (off) the weaknesses they see.”

So Trubisky is at least cognizant of the bigger picture, and Loggains has tried to remind his rookie quarterback of the incremental gains he’s already made through six starts. Trubisky wants to be better, and will continue to be hard on himself in his efforts to get better. 

But the optimistic outlook is Trubisky has all the talent and intangibles to follow the Year 1 to Year 2 path taken by Wentz. Perhaps a year from now, we’ll look back on this Bears-Eagles matchup and say it actually wasn’t the optimistic outlook, but the realistic outlook. 

“To me, when you’re in the situation we’re in right now where you’re not winning as many games as we want to, you have to celebrate small victories,” Loggains said. “And for us, with Mitchell, it’s, hey, you did what you needed to do in that two-minute drill to take us down and get us in position. So the growth that way, those one-possession games, he’s going to be the reason why we win those games.”