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Super Bowl is set: It's Pats vs. Giants in a rematch

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Super Bowl is set: It's Pats vs. Giants in a rematch

From Comcast SportsNet
Hey, Indianapolis. A Manning will be playing in your Super Bowl, after all. No, not that one. It'll be Eli Manning leading the New York Giants to a Super Bowl rematch against the New England Patriots -- and this time on older brother Peyton's home field. "It doesn't matter to me where you're playing it or the fact that it's in Indianapolis," Eli Manning said. "I'm just excited about being in one." And if the Giants can pull this one off, Eli will have sibling bragging rights with one more Super Bowl ring than Peyton, who missed this season for the Colts after having neck surgery. It sure won't be easy for the Giants, though. Four years after New York stunned previously undefeated New England in the Arizona desert, they'll play a Super sequel. Eli vs. Brady. Coughlin vs. Belichick. The Giants vs. the Patriots. Sound familiar? Here we go again. "It's awesome and we look forward to the challenge," Giants defensive end Osi Umenyiora said. "They are a great football team. They have always been a great football team. We are looking forward to it, and it's going to be a great game." Well, judging from the last time these teams met in the Super Bowl -- David Tyree's jaw-dropping, helmet-pinning catch and all -- it just might be. "Being in this situation is a great moment," Patriots nose tackle Vince Wilfork said. "You have to cherish this moment." New England (15-3) opened as a 3-point favorite for the Feb. 5 game against New York (12-7), but the Patriots know all about being in this position. They were favored by 12 points and pursuing perfection in 2008, but New York's defense battered Brady, and Manning connected with Plaxico Burress on a late touchdown to win the Giants' third Super Bowl. That TD came, of course, a few moments after one of the biggest plays in playoff history: Manning escaping the grasp of Patriots defenders and finding Tyree, who put New York in scoring position by trapping the football against his helmet. "Hopefully, we will have the same result," Umenyiora said. "We still have one more game to go, but this is truly unbelievable." Especially since the Giants appeared on the verge of collapsing with Tom Coughlin's job status in jeopardy just a month ago, when they fell to 7-7 with an embarrassing loss to the Washington Redskins on Dec. 18. "We've been here before," linebacker Mathias Kiwanuka said at the time, "and we'll get back." Boy, was he right. The Giants were facing elimination against the rival Jets and Rex Ryan, who boldly declared that his team ruled New York. Well, Coughlin's crew silenced Ryan with a 29-14 victory. The Giants followed that with a 31-14 win over Dallas in the regular-season finale to clinch the NFC East and get to the playoffs for the first time since the 2008 season. New York dominated Atlanta at home in the opening round. Then came a stunner: a 37-20 victory at Green Bay -- knocking out the defending Super Bowl champions. On Sunday, Manning extended the best season of his career with one more solid performance, and Lawrence Tynes kicked the Giants past the San Francisco 49ers 20-17 in overtime for the NFC title. "I'm just proud of the guys, what we've overcome this year, what we've been through," Manning said, "just never having any doubts, keep believing in our team that we could get hot and start playing our best football." The Patriots are rolling into the Super Bowl having won 10 straight, with their last loss being to -- you guessed it -- the Giants, 24-20 back in early November. "We know they're a great team," Manning said. "We played them already this year. They've been playing great football recently." They sure have. And now Brady and the Patriots are in familiar territory, playing in the Super Bowl for the fifth time in 11 years -- and first since the stunning upset in Arizona. New England hopes to avoid all that sort of drama this time around. Unless it goes in the Patriots' favor, as it did in the AFC title game. Brady was unusually subpar in the Patriots' 23-20 victory over Baltimore, throwing for 239 yards with two interceptions and, for the first time in 36 games, no TD passes. But he got some help from the Patriots' much-maligned defense, which made some crucial stops down the stretch. A few mistakes by the Ravens helped greatly, too, as Billy Cundiff shanked a 32-yard field goal attempt with 11 seconds left -- soon after Lee Evans had a potential winning touchdown catch ripped out of his hands in the end zone. "Childlike joy. It's all about childlike joy," linebacker Jerod Mayo said. "Last night felt like the day before Christmas for me and I haven't had that feeling in a long time." New England last won the Super Bowl in 2005, a long drought considering that the Patriots took home Lombardi trophies three times in four years. There are only a handful of players left from that team, with guys like Corey Dillon, Tedy Bruschi and Rodney Harrison replaced by young up-and-comers such as Mayo, Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez. "It doesn't even feel right, especially playing with the veterans here," Gronkowski said. "I watched them go to the Super Bowl as I was growing up, and now I'm part of it? It is an unreal moment." The constants, though, are Brady and Bill Belichick. And that's been a winning combination for New England, combining to become the first QB-coach combination to win five conference championships in the Super Bowl era. Belichick did perhaps his finest coaching job this season, piecing together a defense that ranked second-to-last in the league during the regular season. That led to plenty of shootouts, and Brady was more than up to the task, throwing for a career-high 5,235 yards while tossing 39 touchdown passes. "They're an amazing team," Patriots owner Robert Kraft said. "They're a great brotherhood; they're a family." And they're all looking to lift another Super Bowl trophy together. Patriots-Giants. One more time.

Bears' offense touts a new identity whose whole is greater than the sum of its parts

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USA TODAY

Bears' offense touts a new identity whose whole is greater than the sum of its parts

When the Bears hired Matt Nagy, they were getting a disciple of the West Coast offense as evolved under one of its foremost practitioners in Andy Reid. What they got when Nagy secured Mark Helfrich as his offensive coordinator was a proponent of the spread offense as practiced by the high-speed Oregon Ducks.

Now what they are developing, based on their respective ideas laid out this week, is an offense that may defy simple descriptors as it incorporates two different systems. But rather than appearing to lack a clear identity, the meshing of schemes projects to be something that is at the same time neither, and both. The result in fact projects to something new, and for a football team in need of some kind of breakthrough on offense and something to actually occasionally confound opposing defenses, that is a very, very good thing.

That was axiomatic in Helfrich’s appeal for Nagy, with both inclined to push stylistic envelopes. “As you could tell from some of the things we did in Kansas City offensively, we were trying to be a little bit out of the box and new wave type of stuff,” Nagy said.

Not that just throwing together ideas ensures anything, good or bad. But from a defensive dean who knows something about the difficulty of going against new concepts, the chances of creating a dangerous hybrid that gets a jump on and forces defensive adjustments are there.

Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio faced the Oregon offense while he was on the staff at Stanford. It was a problem for him. “They had an ‘X and O’ advantage but [also] a method advantage that people hadn’t caught up to yet at that point, and they had good players doing it,” Fangio said on Thursday. “Kind of like back in the ‘90s when we started the zone blitz, and we were ahead of the curve then and we had a lot of success beating teams that possibly had more talent than we did… . At that point the newness was still in their favor.”

That newness has multiple aspects, not all simple to judge at this point.

Under center or shotgun?

Young quarterback Mitch Trubisky is beginning work under his third different offensive staff in three seasons. That didn’t work to the benefit of Jay Cutler (although Cutler was in fact the reason some of those changes happened in the first place), but two things here:

One is that the Trubisky Nagy and Helfrich are inheriting is one with 12 NFL starts. The one that Dowell Loggains was handed came with 13 college starts, so Trubisky’s starting point is advanced from what it was last year.

And the other is Trubisky’s background is in the spread offense. The incoming offense won’t necessarily be that, but whatever form/forms it takes, Trubisky won’t be spending time just learning to take a direct snap.

Nagy/Helfrich also come into a quarterback imbued with the importance of ball security. Despite seeing NFL defenses for the first times, Trubisky’s INT rate of 2.1 percent was only a few ticks higher than that of his entire college career (1.7 percent). Helfrich said that one thing that jumped out about Trubisky “is his accuracy and taking care of the football.”

But Trubisky will again be tasked with learning something dramatically different from what he’d had the year before, being coached into him by three former quarterbacks. “Teaching” will involve a strategy as well as specific tactics: “You have to get in their corner at the beginning, challenge them like heck until that first snap,” Helfrich said, “and get them thinking about as little as possible at the snap.”

Personnel considerations

GM Ryan Pace didn’t plan on making a massive coaching makeover this time last year. But he could scarcely have drafted more accurately for what his team’s offense will be if he’d set out to staff it.

The West Coast and Oregon’s offense make extensive use of tight ends and running backs as receivers. Besides quarterback Trubisky, Pace’s second-round pick last draft was Adam Shaheen, a pass-catching tight end. His fifth-round pick was Tarik Cohen, whose 53 pass receptions ranked second on the Bears and tied for 11th among running backs. (Seven of the 10 ahead of him were components of playoff teams.)

Coincidentally, Pace invested a third-round pick in his first (2015) draft on Oregon center Hroniss Grasu, the starting center for Helfrich and Chip Kelly. Notably, of the 20 offensive linemen on Helfrich’s 2014 Oregon team, only one was listed at bigger than 300 pounds. Even guard Kyle Long the year before played at 300 pounds, going eventually up to 330 with the Bears.

All of which points to the Bears already having myriad pieces in place for what Nagy and Helfrich are designing. Reid himself was a tackle under LaVell Edwards at BYU, another of the crucibles where the West Coast principles were forged, and Nagy comes from the Reid school with an understanding of O-line physiology that works.

Same with Helfrich, who succeeded Chip Kelly as Oregon coach and watched with great interest what Kelly did in the NFL, what worked and what didn’t. Kelly’s Philadelphia Eagles put up consecutive 10-6 seasons before he flamed out and did it running plays at a pace considerably faster than the NFL norm. Not all of his concepts worked, however, and won’t be coming to Halas Hall with Helfrich.

“The biggest difference is literally size and plays,” Helfrich said. “Size of squad and plays in a game. College football, you can run however many plays you want almost – 80 or 90. At the NFL level, that’s not going to happen. You cannot practice like you do in college in the NFL. 53-man roster. Limitations. All those things… . There are a lot of things that we learned from that. And there are a lot of good things they did as well.”

Fire stay busy on draft day, trade David Accam to Philadelphia

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USA TODAY

Fire stay busy on draft day, trade David Accam to Philadelphia

The dominoes continue to fall on the Fire's offseason, and seem to be doing so at an increasing pace.

After making two trades on draft day, the blockbuster move of the day broke after the first round completed. As first reported by Paul Tenorio and later announced at the draft, the Fire traded winger David Accam to Philadelphia for $300,000 in General Allocation Money and $900,000 in Targeted Allocation Money. The $1.2 million total is among the biggest allocation money trades in league history.

The move will have major implications on 2018 due to Accam's production since joining the Fire in 2015, but also because it likely is a move to set up other moves. Accam had his best year with the Fire in 2017 with 14 goals and eight assists while only making 24 starts (30 appearances in total).

However, he had voiced his displeasure about being left off the All-Star Game roster by coach Veljko Paunovic, saying he was "disappointed my coach ignored me." Accam seemed to be appeased when the Fire picked up his option for 2018 in August. With his contract situation somewhat more sorted out, it appeared Accam may still have a future with the Fire despite having previously stated a desire to return to Europe at some point in his career.

While the move is a big one for Philadelphia in getting a player like Accam, the Fire likely aren't done. This is typically not the type of move that is made without another move in mind. Juan Quintero rumors continue to float around with the Fire and Argentine club River Plate both being mentioned as possible landing places for the Colombian international who has scored at a World Cup.

With Accam leaving, the Fire have an open spot for a Designated Player. Nemanja Nikolic and the recently re-signed Bastian Schweinsteiger are the two DPs on the roster.