Cubs

Secondary, special teams receive high marks

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Secondary, special teams receive high marks

The Panthers, who average 336 yards per game, had put 306 yards and 16 points on the Bears with 6 minutes still to play in the third quarter. On a 90-yard drive from its six-yard line, for example, Carolina converted plays of 18, 25, 15 and 17 yards, and the Panthers had 10 plays of 15 yards or longer.
Carolina, converting just 31.7 percent of its third downs coming in, converted 10 of 19 (53 percent) against the Bears and were never completely slowed down in a game where the Panthers offense was on the field more than 30 of the first 45 minutes.
DEFENSIVE LINE D
Pressure on Cam Newton was virtually non-existent for too much of the game. Julius Peppers got a first-quarter sack and added another in the second plus two QB hits but no other D-lineman was credited with a hit of any kind on the highly mobile Newton.
Henry Melton forced a key third-down throwaway in the second half to end a drive. Shea McClellin registered a tackle for loss and Corey Wootton deflected a pass.
LINEBACKERS C
Carolina totaled 119 rushing yards between Newton and the running backs but averaged only 3.3 yards per carry. Lance Briggs and Brian Urlacher each had seven tackles, with Urlacher making one for loss in addition to breaking up a pass.
They and Nick Roach were active throughout with early hits on backs, although Newton, Jonathan Stewart and DeAngelo Williams all had at least one run of 13 yards.
SECONDARY B
Maybe the Bears should only schedule big receivers. Steve Smith lit up the DBs for 118 yards and seven catches. His long was 47 and he was missed on throws by Newton on several other routes when he was open.
But Smith didnt score and Tim Jennings intercepted a Newton pass to Smith in the fourth quarter and returned it for a go-ahead TD, the franchise-record sixth this season. Jennings had a team-high eight tackles, all solo, plus a second interception and three passes broken up.
Run support early was strong from Charles Tillman and Major Wright. Chris Conte, who finished with eight tackles, was beaten badly when he took a poor angle on a 62-yard completion to Brandon LaFell to set up a field goal.
COACHING B
The plan was to emphasize rush lanes by both ends and tackles to contain Newton and be positioned for an anticipated increase in Carolina running the ball. The Panthers did try to balance their run-pass with 41 pass plays and 36 run plays, including five Newton scrambles which are virtually tweeners.
SPECIAL TEAMS
Robbie Goulds game-winner was the special-teams story of the game. There were several good sidebars, however.
KICKING A
Even if you miss one earlier from 32 yards, when you convert a 41-yard field goal through swirling win as time expires, when a miss means a loss, you get an automatic A from CSNChicago.com. Robbie Gould also put all four of his kickoffs too deep to be returned.
COVERAGE A
Adam Podlesh punted four times. One was fair-caught. The other three were downed. The Panthers had zero return yards for the game.
RETURNS A
A unique area to evaluate. Devin Hester came out with a clear plan to be more aggressive and popped an 11-yard punt return early. The Panthers were not going to give him chances to beat them on kickoffs and squibbed every kick. Key for the Bears was handling every one without mishap, contributing to an average starting position of the Chicago 32 after six kickoffs.
COACHING A
The coverage plans were drawn up by somebody. No one had a chance to make a tackle but one reason punts and kicks arent returned is because the coverage is too close and Dave Toub units are among the NFLs best.

What Chicago sports fans should be thankful for

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USA TODAY

What Chicago sports fans should be thankful for

Families gather and people talk about things they are thankful for on Thanksgiving, but what are Chicago sports fans happy for now?

Raised expectations on the North Side

Got to be thankful that a “disappointing” season is winning the division and losing in the NLCS. The expectations have skyrocketed, and that’s thanks to a ridiculous nucleus of bats and a steady front office. Not many clubs can say that. Also, though, it’s important to be appreciative of the Wrigley bar stretch. They may charge $8 for a Miller Lite, but it’s always a damn good party.

Javy tags, too. Don't forget Javy tags.

Rebuild sparking hope in White Sox fans

Where to begin? Obviously, be thankful for the plethora of young talent that will soon take over the South Side. Be thankful for Avi Time (while you still can). Be thankful that taking your friends or family to a game won’t cause you to take out a second mortgage. Be thankful for the 2020 World Series and, of course, 2020 MVP Eloy Jimenez. But most importantly, be thankful that Rick Hahn’s phone stays buzzing.

Eddie O back in the booth for the Blackhawks

The Blackhawks are having a rough start to the season, but at least Eddie Olczyk is back in the booth. The longtime Blackhawks broadcaster returned to the booth on Oct. 18 after missing time while undergoing chemotherapy treatments for colon cancer.

With some of the key names from the Blackhawks’ title runs either leaving or being unable to play this season (in the case of Marian Hossa), Blackhawks fans are probably thankful to see a familiar face and hear a familiar voice during games.

Lauri Markkanen leading the Bulls rebuild

OK, there’s not much to be thankful for about the current Bulls team. At 3-13, the Bulls are tied for the fewest wins in the NBA (maybe in the long-term that’s something to be thankful for as well). However, Zach LaVine’s pending debut after his eventual return from injury should help create some excitement.

The thing Bulls fans really should be thankful for this year is the play of rookie Lauri Markkanen. The 20-year-old leads the team in scoring (14.6 points per game) and rebounds (8.3 per game) while shooting at a high percentage (34.2 percent on threes and 50.6 percent on twos). It’s only the beginning of the Bulls’ rebuild, but Markkanen is a good start.

Mitchapalooza

If a few things broke the Bears’ way, Chicagoans could have been grateful that the team was finally out of the cellar. Instead, we’ll settle for the fact that there seems to be some building blocks already in place. Mitchell Trubisky, Tarik Cohen, Leonard Floyd and Akiem Hicks seem to fit that category. Also, some may be thankful that this is likely John Fox’s last season at the helm.

Fire ending a playoff drought

After finishing dead last in MLS in 2015 and 2016, the Fire were one of the most improved teams in the league in 2017. After posting the third best record in the league, the Fire made a first playoff appearance since 2012.

The playoff run didn’t last long with the Fire losing a play-in game at home, but the arrival of Bastian Schweinsteiger and the league’s leading goal-scorer, Nemanja Nikolic, helped fill the stadium with six sellouts and gave Fire fans something to cheer for.

With Leonard Floyd going on injured reserve, will the Bears have a pressing need at outside linebacker in 2018?

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USA TODAY

With Leonard Floyd going on injured reserve, will the Bears have a pressing need at outside linebacker in 2018?

The Bears placed Leonard Floyd on injured reserve Thursday morning, ending the second-year outside linebacker’s season following a knee injury suffered Sunday against the Detroit Lions. Floyd suffered an MCL and PCL injury and will have surgery in the next week, coach John Fox said, and the Bears do not have a timetable for his recovery yet. But that Floyd didn't suffer damage to his ACL is potentially good news for Floyd's recovery timetable. 

Still, with Floyd on injured reserve and out for the season, the Bears’ current outside linebacker depth chart consists of two veterans (Pernell McPhee and Sam Acho) and two practice squad signees (Isaiah Irving and Howard Jones). These final six games of the 2017 season could serve as auditions for all four players for roles on the 2018 Bears. 

If every team needs at least three good pass rushers, the Bears can count on Akiem Hicks and Floyd for 2018, provided Floyd comes back healthy. But who’s the third?

The Bears could save about $7.5 million in cap space if they release McPhee in 2018; if they were to cut ties with Willie Young, who’s on injured reserve right now as well, it would provide $4.5 million in cap relief. McPhee will be 29 in December, while Young will turn 33 next September. 

The Bears won’t necessarily need the cap relief next year, and could certainly decide to keep both players, who’ve shown they’re still productive when healthy. But even if both players are back, the Bears may need to add another outside linebacker via free agency of the draft — remember, the team could’ve began the season with Floyd, Young, McPhee, Acho and Lamarr Houston as their outside linebackers; an injury Houston suffered in the fourth preseason game ended his time in Chicago. 

Needs at wide receiver and cornerback are pressing, but outside linebacker may need to be in that same conversation. If the Bears have a top-10 pick for the fourth consecutive year, plus some cap space, they perhaps could have the ability to address all three needs in March and April. 

That may be looking a little too far into the future, though. The best-case for the Bears is McPhee finishes the season strong and Irving and/or Jones shows something in the opportunities they receive in these final six games (Jones, for what it’s worth, had five sacks as a rookie with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2015). But the worst-case — and perhaps the most realistic — is that the Bears go into the offseason needing to fill at least one pass-rushing spot.