Bears

Hits won't stop as long as Hawks have control

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Hits won't stop as long as Hawks have control

GLENDALE, Ariz. For the Chicago Blackhawks, the hits just kept on coming from the Phoenix Coyotes last night. Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, all of the Blackhawks top skill guys were in the Coyotes crosshairs.

The Blackhawks including Toews came out of it just fine health-wise. But facing a team thats more scrap than skill, the Blackhawks can probably expect more of the same from the Coyotes the rest of this series.

The Coyotes doled out 48 hits, according to the score sheet, in their 3-2 overtime victory over the Blackhawks on Thursday night. Yes, that number is high, and one that is a little skewed; the Blackhawks had good puck possession in the first and third periods, which meant the Coyotes were chasing more than dictating. And while the Coyotes would like to have the puck more than they did last night, theyre intent on keeping that physical edge.

Were going to be physical with everyone. We have to be, Phoenix captain Shane Doan said. We cant just let them skate. They have too much skill.

The Blackhawks have a lot of firepower and a lot of speed that the Coyotes will try to curtail. They took their lumps on Thursday night, including Toews, who was back after missing 22 games with a concussion. And although he was sore immediately after the game, Toews is feeling good today and considered that outing a successful test of his recovery.

He figured hed be taking some knocks.

I expected worse, he said about the hits on him. Obviously Im going to be at the net, in front of the goalie. Every chance they get theyre going to take shots. I expected that. Its no big deal; Im just happy with the way I dealt with it. Im going to keep playing and not shy away from that sort of thing.

Thats good, because theyll probably keep coming. While that physical game played a role in Game 1, Phoenix coach Dave Tippett is looking more at the big picture.

Were hoping it plays a role in the series as it progresses, he said. Theyve got some top-end skill that you have to try and make the game hard on. With that being said, you have too many hits when you dont do good things with the puck. But we have a purpose. We want to be physical in this series, that goes without saying.

Phoenix forward Martin Hanzal, who had a team-high eight hits last night, concurred.

Weve got to be physical against these guys because their first two lines they have such good skill, he said. And if you take the puck and time from them, its going to be to our advantage.

The Blackhawks, indeed, often become a target because of their strong puck possession game. And the more hits the other team has, the more they must be dictating things. Still, the Coyotes are good at knocking players off the puck and causing turnovers, something that hurt the Blackhawks last night. So the Blackhawks will weather the black-and-blue storm and keep playing their game.

We have a pretty skilled team. We try to keep the puck in our hands and try to spend as much time in their zone, Marian Hossa said. They like to play physical but we can play smart and get to their net as much as we can.

The Blackhawks being outhit isnt a stunning revelation; its happened quite a bit this season. The Coyotes will keep trying to hit them. The Blackhawks will just keep trying to dodge them and keep the puck with them.

The first few games of the series, we know what its going to be like. We were prepared. We knew they were going to come out crashing and banging, Dave Bolland said. We had the puck a lot and I think were working well pretty down low there, doing things to keep it in their zone. But we can do more to get back in this series.

Can the Bears make enough plays to beat the Carolina Panthers?

Can the Bears make enough plays to beat the Carolina Panthers?

Everything changed for the Bears after going up 17-3 last week against the Baltimore Ravens. Mitchell Trubisky’s 27-yard touchdown to Dion Sims was immediately followed by Bobby Rainey running a kickoff back 96 yards for a touchdown, then the offense was bogged down with three fumbles (two lost) on three consecutive possessions. 

But Adrian Amos seemed to seal the game with his 90-yard pick six — that is, until Michael Campanaro ran Pat O’Donnell’s punt back 77 yards for what wound up being a game-tying touchdown after a two-point conversion.

The point is the Bears should’ve cruised to a comfortable win last week; a few critical mistakes didn’t allow that to happen. The Bears haven’t led at the end of the fourth quarter this year, a pretty strong indicator they haven’t played a complete game yet despite having two wins. 

The Carolina Panthers have road wins over the Detroit Lions and New England Patriots this year, and only lost to the Philadelphia Eagles by five points last week (despite Cam Newton throwing three interceptions). The bet here is the Bears keep things close on the backs of a strong defense, but either can’t make enough plays or make too many mistakes to win. 

Prediction: Panthers 20, Bears 16

Three and out: What Ron Rivera likes about Mitchell Trubisky played out this week

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Three and out: What Ron Rivera likes about Mitchell Trubisky played out this week

Carolina Panthers coach Ron Rivera saw a lot of Mitchell Trubisky last year, with the North Carolina quarterback on TV quite a bit in the Charlotte area. The Panthers, set with Cam Newton, weren’t in the market for a quarterback in the 2017 NFL Draft, but Trubisky nonetheless stood out to the seventh-year Carolina coach and former Super Bowl-winning Bears linebacker. 

For Rivera, more than Trubisky’s arm strength and athleticism jumped off the screen. 

“Leadership,” Rivera pointed to. “When you watch him when he was playing — I love watching guys that either get on their teammates when they’re not doing it or they take accountability when they make a mistake. And you saw that with him.

“… We think the young man has got what it takes. We like who’s he’s gonna become. We do. We think the future can be bright for him. We are big fans here.”

Trubisky took accountability for both of his turnovers against the Minnesota Vikings: The interception Harrison Smith baited him into was certainly his fault, but his sack-strip fumble was more the result of Everson Griffen jumping the snap and blowing past left tackle Charles Leno. Against the Baltimore Ravens, Trubisky also lost a fumble on a sack-strip when cornerback Lardarius Webb hit him and dislodged the ball.

Trubisky’s explanation of that fumble was that he moved off his first read too quickly, causing him to miss Webb making a beeline for him in the backfield. But according to offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains, that fumble wasn’t the quarterback’s fault. 

“That’s because he’s a stud,” Loggains said of Trubisky taking responsibility for it. “We screwed the protection up. We should have been sliding to the guy. The guy should not have been coming free. That’s Mitch taking a bullet that he doesn’t need to take. The reality is he saw the guy coming and tried to get over to the check down quickly but we got to do a better job up front protecting him.”

But that Trubisky was willing to say he was at fault for that fumble plays into why he quickly gained the respect of the Bears’ the locker room. That’s what a quarterback should be doing when speaking to the media after the game — accepting responsibility and deflecting off his teammates, even if he’s not at fault. That kind of stuff doesn’t go unnoticed. 

Stopping Superman

Pernell McPhee offered this goal up for his fellow defensive teammates this week: Make sure Newton stays as Clark Kent on Sunday. 

“He’s a very talented guy, but the only thing I told the defense is let's make him be Cam Newton, not Superman,” McPhee said, referring to Newton’s signature touchdown move. “We don't want him opening up the cape.”

So how does a defense stop Newton from being Superman?

“He’s a very versatile quarterback,” defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said. “Obviously his running the ball, whether it be through his improvising with scrambling on called pass plays, or the called running plays they do have for him, that’s a strength for him. We can’t just focus on stopping that. We’ve gotta stop Cam Newton the passer and the runner. They’ve got good running backs they’re handing it off to and receivers and running backs he’s throwing it to, so you’ve got a total offense to stop.”

One point to note here: Newton threw three interceptions last week against the Philadelphia Eagles and had been picked off eight times this year. A Bears secondary that intercepted Joe Flacco twice last week could have some more shots at takeaways on Sunday. 

High praise

Sunday will mark Thomas Davis’ 156th game in the NFL, with the linebacker playing every one of those with the Carolina Panthers. He played for John Fox from 2005-2010. But where we’re going here is what he had to say about how the Bears run their offense with a rookie quarterback:

“I think this is probably the best running game that we’ve seen from an offense with a rookie quarterback,” Davis said. “You look at some of the other rookies that come in. Teams want to run the ball. But when you look at the physicality and the style of play that this team plays with, I think that really makes the job a lot easier for a young quarterback. So I definitely feel like that physicality in their running game is definitely going to help him out.”

The Bears ran the ball 50 times against a Baltimore Ravens defense that played a lot more Cover-2 than expected. With star linebacker Luke Kuechly out for Sunday, the Bears may try to use a similar strategy, even if Carolina loads the box more than Baltimore did (a little more than once one every three runs by Jordan Howard). 

But if the Bears’ offense is going to have success, it’s going to be behind Howard, Tarik Cohen and an improving offensive line. Maybe Davis’ comments are hyperbole, but he’s also played a lot more football than you and me.