Bears

Fire, Rolfe prepare to face Revolution

778904.png

Fire, Rolfe prepare to face Revolution

Finally the Fire can see how Chris Rolfe might perform in game situations.

Rolfe was no stranger to the Fire when the club signed him. He is the second-leading goal-scorer in franchise history, and he opted to return to Chicago after a three-year stint playing in Germany.

Two days into training with the Fire, Rolfe went down with a sprained left ankle. It took six weeks for the injury to heal, but Rolfe went through a full workout on Thursday and coach Frank Klopas said hell be available for selection in Saturdays road match against the New England Revolution.

The Fire needs the explosive striker after disappointing losses in the last two matches. The five-game road trip that the team took last week was a disaster a 2-1 loss at Columbus on Saturday in Major League Soccer play followed by a stoppage time defeat to the Michigan Bucks of the Premier Development League in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup on Tuesday.

In retrospect, the Fire should have refused to play the Open Cup match in an indoor facility. Indoor soccer isnt the sport the Fire plays, and injuries can be factor in such matches. The Fire has had enough of those, with Rolfe and Arne Friedrich the primary examples.

Friedrich, the veteran German defender, remains out with a right hamstring strain and is targeting his return for the June 17 home match against the New York Red Bulls. He has plenty of time to rest until then, since the Fire and the rest of MLS goes on break while international matches take over the world soccer calendar. Only midfielder Marco Pappa will be playing games during that period, which begins after the New England match.

Pappa joined the Guatemala national team last week and missed the Open Cup match. He wont play against New England, either, as Guatemala a perfect 6-0-0 with 19 goals scored and only three allowed was terrific in the last round of World Cup qualifying.

In the present international period, he has a friendly with Costa Rica in Guatemala City on Friday night, then the first two matches of CONCACAF Group A play Wednesday, June 6, at Jamaica and a home match June 12 against the United States.

The only other Fire player away during the international period is Victor Pineda, who will train with the U.S. under-20 squad.

As for the New England match, the Fire (5-4-3) will be bolstered by more than just Rolfes return. Sebastian Grazzini, who didnt play at Columbus or in the Open Cup match, is expected back. Klopas opted to rest him, but he went through a full workout on Thursday before the Fire departed for New England.

Not everyone else is at full strength, but Patrick Nyarko, Dan Gargan and Dominic Oduro will be available. Nyarko had to take shots of the pain reliever Toradol in order to play in the last 10 games. Hes had hip, hamstring and rib problems. Gargan (left foot) and Oduro (hamstring) say their ailments are improving.

New England (4-7-1) also had a tough week, losing 3-2 at D.C. United on Saturday before being eliminated from the Open Cup with a Tuesday loss. With 18 points the Fire is tied in points with fourth-place Columbus in the Eastern Conference of MLS. New England is in seventh place.

Bears grades: No rookie 'freebies' for Trubisky, mid-game lulls reflect poorly on coaches

Bears grades: No rookie 'freebies' for Trubisky, mid-game lulls reflect poorly on coaches

QUARTERBACKS: B-

Mitchell Trubisky’s final stat line was fine, and merely "fine:" 18/30 (60 percent) for 179 yards and a touchdown, and six rushes for 53 yards and a lost fumble (that turned into a Detroit Lions touchdown). There were some outstanding throws and decisions made by the rookie, like his touchdown toss to Adam Shaheen and his athletic, instinctive 19-yard scramble on fourth and 13 in the dying embers of the fourth quarter. But there were too many poor decisions and missed throws — for example, two incompletions were the result of low, inaccurate passes (to Benny Cunningham near the goal line in the first quarter and to Daniel Brown on third and six midway through the third). Trubisky was only sacked once after being dropped 16 times in his previous five games, which was an encouraging improvement. He did some good things but admitted after the game he has to be better, and being a first-year starter isn’t an excuse: “You don’t get a freebie because you’re a rookie,” Trubisky said. 

RUNNING BACKS: A

Jordan Howard sparked a big day with a 50-yard run in the first quarter, and averaged a staggering 8.3 yards per carry (15 attempts, 125 yards). Outside of that explosive run, Howard was efficient and effective, averaging 5.4 yards per carry and getting in the end zone on a well-blocked and well-executed 12-yard run. Tarik Cohen played 31 snaps — he played 31 snaps combined against the New Orleans Saints and Green Bay Packers — and was effective both with the ball in his hands and as a decoy to draw coverage toward him on others. His 15-yard touchdown run and subsequent leap into the end zone tied the game in the fourth quarter, and he caught four of six targets for 44 yards. 

WIDE RECEIVERS: D+

There weren’t any egregious mistakes from this group, but Dontrelle Inman, Kendall Wright, Tre McBride and Markus Wheaton combined for 13 targets, seven receptions and 82 yards. That fewer than half of Trubisky’s pass attempts were intended for his wide receivers is disappointing, yet it's not surprising given the struggles this group has had all year. Inman ran a good in-cut route and connected with Trubisky on it to set up Connor Barth’s missed game-tying field goal, which was the highlight of the day for this unit. 

TIGHT ENDS: B+

Shaheen caught all four of his targets for 41 yards and a touchdown, and displayed some impressive chemistry with Trubisky, his roommate when he arrived in Chicago in the offseason. The Bears need to continue to involve their second-round pick more in the offense — him not being on the field during that last-ditch drive in the fourth quarter was strange given his production, and the wide receivers' lack of production, in the game — and he blocked up Howard’s 12-yard touchdown run well. Daniel Brown caught two of his five targets for 23 yards, including a 13-yard catch on third and 10 that sprung the Bears’ opening-possession scoring drive in the first quarter. 

OFFENSIVE LINE: B+

This group kept Trubisky upright, allowing only that one sack and scattering four pressures on Trubisky’s 30 pass attempts. But it was the run blocking from this group that stood out: Beyond the explosive ground gains it set up, the Bears only had two negative running plays on Sunday. Dinging the grade here are two penalties on Kyle Long, especially an unnecessary roughness flag that negated a 15-yard Trubisky scramble right before he lost that fumble for a touchdown. 

DEFENSIVE LINE: B

Detroit wasn’t able to run the ball, with Theo Riddick, Ameer Abdullah and Jamal Agnew combining for 62 yards on 21 carries (a shade under three yards per carry). But the defensive line didn’t do enough to disrupt Matthew Stafford’s rhythm, with Mitch Unrein recording the only sack and one of two hurries (Eddie Goldman had the other) from this unit. 

LINEBACKERS: B

Nick Kwiatkoski made the biggest play of the day for the Bears’ defense with his sack-strip of Stafford in the first quarter, and Christian Jones chipped in with a sack as well (Jones’ sack was key in that it forced the Lions to kick a field goal, keeping the Bears’ deficit within one possession in the fourth quarter). Both inside linebackers played well, the outside guys didn’t make as big of an impact: Leonard Floyd had four tackles, two hurries and one tackle for a loss, Pernell McPhee had three tackles and Sam Acho had one tackle and one hurry. The lack of a pass rush from the guys expected to be pass rushers kept Stafford comfortable in the pocket, allowing him to pick apart a Bears’ secondary that didn’t have its best day on Sunday. 

DEFENSIVE BACKS: D-

Kyle Fuller missed a tackle on Detroit’s first drive and was benched for Marcus Cooper in the second quarter. Cooper struggled mightily, though, playing too soft of coverage on T.J. Jones on a third-and-15, allowing a conversion that sparked a Lions scoring drive that ended with Marvin Jones burning Cooper with a double move for a 28-yard touchdown. Prince Amukamara was flagged for a pass interference penalty for the second consecutive week, too (last week’s against Green Bay was a questionable penalty at best, to be fair). Fuller re-entered the game and dropped an interception, too. The lack of game-breaking plays and the 120.2 passer rating compiled by Stafford combine to earn this unit the lowest mark on the team from Sunday. 

SPECIAL TEAMS: D

Barth’s missed 46-yard game-tying field goal wiped out some good things Jeff Rodgers’ special teams units did on Sunday. Explosive Lions punt returner Jamal Agnew returned three of Pat O’Donnell’s four punts for only 23 yards, and he averaged 18 1/2 yards on four kick returns. But the Bears, as a team, couldn’t overcome Barth’s miss — and at the start of that drive, Cohen probably should’ve taken a knee in the end zone instead of returning the kickoff from five yards deep in his own end zone to the Bears’ 17-yard line. 

COACHING: D+

Dowell Loggains opened up the playbook for Trubisky (and Cohen), and the result was the Bears’ best offensive effort of the year. At times, this looked like a completely different offense than the one the Bears’ ran in the first 10 weeks of the season, with some zone reads, plenty of shotgun snaps and well-designed plays to spring a 24-point effort. But as John Fox said after the game, the Bears are still susceptible to “siestas,” with those mid-game lulls proving difficult to overcome. The Bears have played 10 games in 2017, and not one of them has been a complete, four-quarter effort. That bigger-picture look falls on the coaching staff, and has greater implications than some questionable personnel decisions (like why Shaheen/Howard/Cohen weren’t on the field for the two-minute drill in the fourth quarter). 
 

Is Adam Shaheen finally starting to live up to his potential in Bears offense?

Is Adam Shaheen finally starting to live up to his potential in Bears offense?

"Where is Adam Shaheen?"

It was a fair question and one that was uttered often by Bears fans through the first 11 weeks of the season.

The rookie tight end — a second-round pick (45th overall) this spring — had little impact on the 2017 season through 10 games, playing only around a quarter of the team's offensive snaps.

But Sunday's loss at the hands of the Detroit Lions marked the best game of Shaheen's young career. He caught all four of his targets for 41 yards and a touchdown.

That total doubled his season yardage line, and his four catches were more than he had in the first nine games combined (three). Two of those three catches — and 39 yards — came in the Week 10 loss to the Green Bay Packers, one game prior to Sunday's.

He even made an impact as a blocker, too:

"These last two weeks, playing with the starters has been a big confidence-builder for me," Shaheen said. "Getting those early catches. Hopefully continue to build on it."

Shaheen has gotten his chance to show what he can do in a Bears offense that's missing veteran tight ends Zach Miller (out for the year with a knee injury) and Dion Sims (who missed Sunday with an illness), and he's taken a common sports trope — "next man up" — to heart.

"I feel like I've gotten better every game in the receiving role," Shaheen said. "Taking advantage of the opportunities I've been given.

"The more you rep it in games and the more you're actually out there running around, catching the ball, you build up some confidence."

And with that confidence comes more comfort in the offense and on the NFL gridiron for a raw tight end who played Division-II football at Ashland.

It's a cycle the Bears need to continue as the year moves on and delves into a focus on the future with the 2017 playoffs an extreme longshot at this point.

Even with Shaheen's big game and a clear rapport developing with quarterback Mitch Trubisky, the rookie tight end wasn't in the game on the final drive when the Bears were running their two-minute drill.

Why?

It still comes down to how raw Shaheen is, along with fellow inexperienced players (running backs Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen).

"In a two-minute situation, not everybody on the team knows all of that," Bears coach John Fox said. "We have Adam Shaheen, we have Mitchell Trubisky, we have Tarik Cohen — they are playing in their eighth games in their NFL careers, as rookies.

"They have a lot on their plate as it is, and they can't do everything. They're definitely good, young players, for sure."