Bears

Why this is a 'critical' time for Drew Brees

611536.jpg

Why this is a 'critical' time for Drew Brees

From Comcast SportsNet
NEW ORLEANS (AP) -- Drew Brees wants a long-term extension with the Saints completed before the club's offseason training program begins in April. The quarterback also says he is concerned about how New Orleans is being portrayed in the wake of the NFL's bounty investigation The Saints' more pressing concern is not perception, but the reality that Brees may not practice or play under his current franchise tag designation. "I'd say that this is a very critical period here over the next short while until we start April 16th," Brees said Wednesday in an interview with The Associated Press. "What I'm really focused on is continuing to negotiate toward a long-term deal and I really am not going to look too far down the road other than just what's right in front of me. "I want to make sure that this is done the right way." In addition to his disappointment with the pace of contract talks with New Orleans, Brees discussed his concerns about the NFL's bounty investigation of the Saints. Brees said he has been on a "fact-finding mission" since the NFL released some of the findings of its bounty probe on March 2. The quarterback said he doesn't know all the fact about the bounty scandal. He said, however, he is under the impression some current and former defensive teammates are worried they'll be punished, and have their reputations tarnished, primarily because of bravado and tough talk that is not meant to be taken literally, but which is common in football locker rooms. "I feel like the perception might not match up with reality in this thing," Brees said. "I think the perception is that we have our entire team, our entire coaching staff, our entire organization involved in this bounty thing where we're actually going out with malicious intent to hurt people and end their careers, and that's so far from the truth. "I know the NFL staged a two-year long investigation and that they have documentation that proves certain things," Brees continued. "There are still some unanswered questions and things that we don't know, so it's hard to speculate. All I can do is speak on behalf of my teammates, knowing who they are and what they represent, and our organization, how we pride ourselves on professionalism and doing things the right way and treating people the right way." Brees said what bothers him most about the bounty probe is that the Saints are being portrayed as a bunch of "hit men." "That we're a bunch of guys out with malicious intent to seriously injure people and end guys' careers, that we take pride in that, that we compensate guys for that, we incentivize guys for that," Brees said. "That's really disheartening for me when I look at all that we've been able to accomplish over the last six years. ... It's somewhat of a black eye for the organization right now and I would just hope that people would reserve their judgment until all the facts come out, until the truth is known, instead of speculation." Since the Saints were eliminated by San Francisco in the divisional round of the 2011-12 NFL playoffs in January, Brees has been splitting most of his time between homes in San Diego and New Orleans with his two young sons and wife, Brittany, who is expecting a third boy in a little under five months. Brees spoke to the AP by phone from California. He is conducting interviews this week as part of his promotional work with Dick's Sporting Goods, which is offering the chance for a sweepstakes winner to go on a shopping spree with the quarterback. Although he hopes not to miss any work with the Saints, Brees made it clear that he is uncomfortable working under the franchise tag. He noted that the only time he has done so was his final season in San Diego, which ended with a career-threatening injury that left him with few suitors in free agency. The Saints were one of those suitors, and Brees said he intends to end his career in New Orleans, albeit under a contractual agreement that he sees fit. However, Brees declined to answer directly whether he would practice or play if a new extension is not complete by the time next season arrives. "I won't give an answer other than that was never my intent when I entered into these discussions with the Saints," Brees said. "It was to extend the deal and to sign long term and finish my career in New Orleans. ... That's what I'm working wholeheartedly toward and that's really all I can say." Brees is the reigning AP Offensive Player of the Year. In 2001, he set NFL single-season records with 468 completions, 5,476 yards passing and a completion percentage of 71.2. The quarterback is expected to receive a contract paying in the range of, if not more than, the 18 million-per-year deals that Tom Brady and Peyton Manning had signed in recent seasons. Manning, however, was released by Indianapolis after missing all of last season with a neck injury and is back on the free-agent market. When Brees eventually returns to the field, he'll rejoin one of his favorite targets, wide receiver Marques Colston. The Saints re-signed Colston to a five-year deal. But Brees will be without free agent All-Pro guard Carl Nicks, who signed with Tampa Bay. "That's tough. Tough to lose him, period -- even tougher to watch him go to a divisional opponent in Tampa," Brees said. "He's been a mainstay for four years on the offensive line, a huge part of that Super Bowl run and you're happy for a guy like that who's certainly worked hard. You hate to see him go, but that's the nature of our league and this business, and when you draft guys and they become great players, I guess it's impossible to keep them all." Brees added he is confident general manager Mickey Loomis, Saints scouts and coaches, who took a chance on Nicks in the fifth round of the 2008 draft, would find a way to make up for his departure. "We've been very competent at drafting. ... That's a big tribute to Mickey and the scouting department and coaching staff," Brees said. "We've done a great job of finding free agents to fill spots."

Collecting some final thoughts on if Tarik Cohen isn't getting enough snaps for the Bears

Collecting some final thoughts on if Tarik Cohen isn't getting enough snaps for the Bears

John Fox on Friday sought to clarify some comments he made earlier in the week about Tarik Cohen that seemed to follow some spurious logic. Here’s what Fox said on Wednesday when asked if he’d like to see Cohen be more involved in the offensive game plan:

“You’re looking at one game,” Fox said, referencing Cohen only playing 13 of 60 snaps against the Green Bay Packers. “Sometimes the defense dictates who gets the ball. I think from a running standpoint it was a game where we didn’t run the ball very effectively. I think we only ran it 17 times. I believe Jordan Howard, being the fifth leading rusher in the league, probably commanded most of that. I think he had 15 carries. 

“It’s a situation where we’d like to get him more touches, but it just didn’t materialize that well on that day. But I’d remind people that he’s pretty high up there in both punt returns, he’s our leading receiver with 29 catches, so it’s not like we don’t know who he is.”

There were some clear holes to poke in that line of reasoning, since the question wasn’t about Cohen’s touches, but his snap count. Cohen creates matchup problems when he’s on the field for opposing defenses, who can be caught having to double-team him (thus leaving a player uncovered, i.e. Kendall Wright) or matching up a linebacker against him (a positive for the Bears). The ball doesn’t have to be thrown Cohen’s way for his impact to be made, especially if he’s on the field at the same time as Howard. 

“They don’t know who’s getting the ball, really, and they don’t know how to defend it properly,” Howard said. “… It definitely can dictate matchups.”

There are certain scenarios in which the Bears don’t feel comfortable having Cohen on the field, like in third-and-long and two-minute drills, where Benny Cunningham’s veteran experience and pass protection skills are valued. It may be harder to create a mismatch or draw a double team with Cohen against a nickel package. It's easier to justify leaving a 5-foot-6 running back on the sidelines in those situations. 

But if the Bears need Cohen to be their best playmaker, as offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains said last month, they need to find a way for him to be on the field more than a shade over one in every five plays. As Fox explained it on Friday, though, it’s more about finding the right spots for Cohen, not allowing opposing defenses to dictate when he’s on the field. 

“We have Tarik Cohen out there, we're talking about touches, not play time, we're talking about touches so if they double or triple cover him odds are the ball is not going to him, in fact we'd probably prefer it didn’t,” Fox said. “So what I meant by dictating where the ball goes, that's more related to touches than it is play time. I just want to make sure I clarify that. So it's not so much that they dictate personnel to you. Now if it's in a nickel defense they have a certain package they run that may create a bad matchup for you, that might dictate what personnel group you have out there not just as it relates to Tarik Cohen but to your offense in general. You don't want to create a bad matchup for your own team. I hope that makes sense.”

There’s another wrinkle here, though, that should be addressed: Loggains said this week that defenses rarely stick to the tendencies they show on film when Cohen is on the field. That’s not only a problem for Cohen, but it’s a problem for Mitchell Trubisky, who hasn’t always had success against defensive looks he hasn’t seen on film before. And if the Bears are trying to minimize the curveballs Trubisky sees, not having Cohen on the field for a high volume of plays would be one way to solve that. 

This is also where the Bears’ lack of offensive weapons factors in. Darren Sproles, who Cohen will inexorably be linked to, didn’t play much as a rookie — but that was on a San Diego Chargers team that had LaDanian Tomlinson, Keenan McCardell and Antonio Gates putting up big numbers. There were other options on that team; the Bears have a productive Howard and a possibly-emerging Dontrelle Inman, but not much else. 

So as long as Cohen receives only a handful of snaps on a team with a paucity of playmakers, this will continue to be a topic of discussion. Though if you’re looking more at the future of the franchise instead of the short-term payoffs, that we’re having a discussion about a fourth-round pick not being used enough is a good thing. 

Are Blackhawks starting to find their early season form again?

blackhawks_2.jpg
USA TODAY

Are Blackhawks starting to find their early season form again?

The goals came in bunches for the Blackhawks in their Oct. 5 season opener against the Pittsburgh Penguins. For the Blackhawks, it was a nice memory, albeit one that seems far away given they went from scoring at will through their first two games to not being able to buy a goal for a sizeable stretch.

As for the Penguins, well, you figure their memoires of that game means they’ll be more than a little ticked off when the Blackhawks arrive on Saturday night.

“We’ve been on the wrong side of a few losses like that,” Patrick Sharp said. “You certainly remember them more than other losses.”

This is kind of/sort of about the Penguins, who in the first meeting were clearly tired not only from two Stanley Cup runs but also from their season opener/banner raising the prior night. But it’s more about the Blackhawks who, after a lengthy scoring drought, are starting to get their offense going again (15 goals in their last three games).

And while they’d like to shore up their defense – they blew a 4-1 lead vs. New Jersey and just about did it again vs. the New York Rangers – overall they’re trending in the right direction. And just as they face the team against whom they played their best game of the season.

“I’m sure [the Penguins] will be excited about playing us and making things better. They’re playing well, winning some games. For [us], we’re looking for more consistency in our game with the puck and we’re generating some offense,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “I still think it has some ways to improve. That was one night, whether it was the quality of the plays we made or [what], we seemed like we had the puck a lot and did some good things with it. We haven’t seen much of that lately so I think that maybe we can recapture a little bit of that with the puck as well.”

In the past three games the Blackhawks haven’t just reignited their offense, they’ve regained their confidence. Their lines are finding some chemistry. As frustrating as their scoring drought was, they’re hoping it’s behind them.

“At some point in the season I feel like every team goes through it, either in the beginning, the middle or toward the end. You just don’t want to have it right at the end of the season,” Ryan Hartman said. “You can look at it in in a positive way. Hopefully we got that part over with and now we’re just coming in confident and hopefully we put the puck in the net.”

The Blackhawks got off to a hot goal-scoring start against the Penguins by doing the right things: shooting, pouncing on rebounds, getting traffic in front of the net and capitalizing. As they head into their 20th game of the season, the Blackhawks are finally getting back to what worked so well in Game 1.

“Things dried up for a bit but I think we have a good rotation going here with the lines; the chemistry’s starting to fill in a little bit. Some guys are stepping up. [Artem] Anisimov had a big night and Brinsky’s [Alex DeBrincat] playing great. It’s good to see those guys step up. It makes you want to be that next guy who’s called up to step up in the next game,” Patrick Kane said. “It’s good to see some goals go into the net. More important, it’s good to see some wins. But we’re playing the right way and hopefully this will trend in the right direction for us.”