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A 'bad' offense finds ways to lose

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A 'bad' offense finds ways to lose

The offense started in a huge hole, partly its own making, and finished with perhaps the most meaningless 438 yards in recent memory. The output was the second-highest of the season; the 41 percent third-down conversions was strong; but the 14 points were the ultimate point and the Bears found ways to undo almost every bit of good they did.

It is now officially a bad offense, which is one where players take turns failing to execute. The shuffle on the offensive line may be a problem, for example, but the reason for most of the shuffling is because of poor performance, which is far from restricted to those five positions, either.

QUARTERBACK D

Jay Cutler had devastating accuracy issues that led to lost opportunities and Minnesota points. He finished with 22 of 44 for 260 yards and a touchdown, but in a game that needed the quarterback to make plays, he failed to in too many situations while the Vikings were being credited with just four quarterback hits for the game.

Two interceptions of Cutler were the difference in the game, both contributing to touchdowns for the Vikings. The first, on the Bears first possession, was not all his fault after Alshon Jeffery went down. But his overthrow of Marshall in the third quarter was a turning point when it was intercepted and returned 56 yards for a touchdown by rookie safety Harrison Smith.

Cutler forced too many throws to Marshall in coverage but the other options werent inspiring trust and he occasionally held the football too long, although receivers were at some fault for that. Cutler skipped a ball to a wide-open Devin Hester in the second quarter for a missed big gainer.

Jason Campbell was in at mop-up time after Cutler appeared dazed from a blow to the head and other hits.

RUNNING BACK B

Matt Forte was against a stout front but provided a solid all-around game. He finished with 85 rushing yards on 13 carries, including a run for 36 yards in the third quarter and had a 15-yard run for a second-quarter first down for a contribution on the scoring drive.

Forte also caught six of seven passes thrown to him for an additional 34 yards. Michael Bush and Armando Allen were used on just one carry each, Bush for six yards and Allen for three.

Forte also was active in pass protection, delivering frequent chips on his way out of the backfield and into his routes.

RECEIVERS AF

Brandon Marshall (the "A") was virtually the only offense in the first half when the game was getting away from the Bears. Marshall, who finished with 10 catches, 160 yards and a touchdown, got the Bears out of a huge hole in the second quarter with a 39-yard back-shoulder grab against double coverage.

Marshalls touchdown catch in the waning minutes of the fourth quarter brought the Bears back to near-life with a chance to recover an onsides kick and go for a tie.

After Marshall, however

Alshon Jeffery signaled his return from a second injury stint with a 22-yard TD catch with 1:52 in the first half, which was a major play at the moment.

But his slipping down contributed to a crushing interception on the Bears first series that set up Minnesotas second touchdown. Jeffery had a chance for a third-quarter TD on a broken play but failed to make the catch in the end zone.

Devin Hester dropped a touchdown pass at the Minnesota 13 with under five minutes to play and a chance to pull the Bears to within one score. The Bears still scored but needed several more plays to do that at a time when they didnt have time.

Tight end Kellen Davis was overthrown on several occasions but also failed to make catches in some crucial situations.

OFFENSIVE LINE D

The protection of Jay Cutler was spotty, not all the OLs fault. But the Bears were never able to gain consistent control at the point of attack on the running game. That part of the offense may have averaged 6.6 yards per carry (including quarterback scrambles) but never had any control of the game the way it did in the Vikings game two weeks ago.

The line had penalties assessed on four of the five positions JMarcus Webb cost the Bears with a holding penalty in the second quarter that was a net minus-20 yards by wiping out a big completion to Marshall. Roberto Garza was beaten for a sack on the next play and a promising drive was stopped. Gabe Carimi was flagged for a false start on a first-down play and Brown had a holding penalty of his own.

Left guard Edwin Williams was benched in favor of rookie undrafted free agent James Brown in the first half.

The Vikings swarmed around Cutler at times but the quarterback and receivers were frequently the reason as plays went on too long with the football still in Cutlers hands.

COACHING D-

The run game was marginally effective and coaches managed to use the run enough even with a 14-point deficit through most of the first quarter. But the final tally of 55 passing plays vs. 18 running plays (three by quarterbacks) was a recipe for disaster and with Cutlers accuracy problems, disaster happened.

The lack of discipline on the offensive line (four penalties) was a concern and is inexcusable in the 14th week of a season.

Jake Arrieta full of appreciation in return to Wrigley mound: ‘I’ll never forget this city’

Jake Arrieta full of appreciation in return to Wrigley mound: ‘I’ll never forget this city’

The last time Jake Arrieta pitched at Wrigley Field, his night ended with Cubs fans giving him a rousing standing ovation. The former Cubs right hander tossed 6 2/3 innings of one-run ball, leading the Cubs to victory in Game 4 of the 2017 NLCS—their only win against the Los Angeles Dodgers that series.

Arrieta returned to Wrigley Field as a visitor on Monday night, making his first start against the Cubs since joining the Philadelphia Phillies last season. Ironically, Arrieta’s counterpart for the night was Yu Darvish, who ultimately replaced Arrieta in the Cubs starting rotation.

Despite now donning Phillies red, Cubs fans once again showed their love for Arrieta, giving him a lengthy standing ovation ahead of his first plate appearance. Darvish even stepped off the mound in respect for the moment.

“I loved it, absolutely loved it,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said to reporters postgame. “[I’m] very happy that our fans would acknowledge him like that. Yu stepped away from the mound nicely. Jake deserved it.”

Arrieta tipped his helmet in appreciation for the crowd, taking in the moment for more than 30 seconds before stepping into the batter’s box. After the game, he told reporters that moment brought back memories of his time with the Cubs.

“That was something that really brought back great memories of getting that same sort of ovation pretty much on a nightly basis,” Arrieta said. “[I’m] very appreciative of that. I can’t say thank you enough to the city of Chicago, I really can’t.”

Arrieta took fans back to his Cubs tenure on Monday, throwing six innings of one run ball in the Phillies’ 5-4 10-inning win. Although the 33-year-old didn’t pick up the victory, he matched Darvish—who threw six innings of three-run ball—pitch by-pitch.

Phillies manager Gabe Kapler noted how well Arrieta handled his emotions throughout the night.

“I thought he handled the emotions really well. I thought he was in control of the game even when we were down,” Kapler said to reporters. “He always maintained his poise and he just got stronger as the outing went on and that’s why we were able to have him take down the sixth inning for us.”

It’s well-documented how Arrieta’s career improved for the better after the Cubs acquired him in a trade with the Baltimore Orioles in July 2013. When the Cubs acquired him, Arrieta held a career 5.46 ERA in 69 games (63 starts). He finished his Cubs career with a 2.73 ERA in 128 regular season starts. He also won five postseason games with the Cubs, including Games 2 and 6 of the 2016 World Series.

Despite moving on in free agency, Arrieta spoke highly of his time with the Cubs, their fans and the city of Chicago.

“Cubs fans all across the country, all across the world, they really respect and appreciate what guys are able to do here for them,” he said. “It means a lot, it really does.

"I’ll never forget this city, the fan base, the organization, everything that they did for me. It was 4 1/2 incredible years of my career.”

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Yu Darvish crashed Jake Arrieta's party, but Cubs bullpen falters

Yu Darvish crashed Jake Arrieta's party, but Cubs bullpen falters

Yu Darvish was one pitch away.

Holding onto a 1-0 lead with two outs in the sixth inning, Darvish threw Phillies catcher JT Realmuto a 2-2 cutter. It made sense - Darvish had been spotting that pitch well all night, and the Phillies were averaging a paltry 79.8 mph exit velocity against it.

With one strike standing between Darvish and a 6-inning shutout, Realmuto took Darvish’s cutter and sent it back up the middle for a game-tying RBI single. A 2-RBI triple from César Hernández followed. In the blink of an eye, what was shaping up to be one of Darvish’s finest moments in Chicago was instead reduced to yet another start spent searching for silver linings.

“Really good. He was outstanding tonight,” Joe Maddon said. “He pitched really well.

“He had really good stuff. He had command of his stuff, he had command of himself. I thought he was outstanding - even better than what he looked like in Cincinnati. I thought that was probably his best game for us to date.”

Darvish has continued to lean heavily on his cutter this season, more so than any year prior. After throwing it 13 percent of the time last season, he’s going to that pitch almost 25 percent of the time now. If that holds, it’d beat his previous career-high, set in 2013, by six percentage points.

All things considered, that pitch has actually been good for him this season. It’s his go-to offering when he needs to induce weak contact, and batters are hitting .125 against it so far. He gets batters to chase cutters 29.5 percent of the time, the most of any pitch he throws. While he has admitted in games past that he relies too heavily on his fastball, Maddon sees no issues with the new trend.

“I have no concerns with that whatsoever,” he said. “There’s different ways for pitchers to attack hitters, and if it's successful, I really would not change a whole lot.”

Though the night was dedicated to celebrating one of the franchises most beloved pitchers, it was one of their most maligned that continued to show signs of figuring it out. He’s put together back-to-back starts with three or less walks for the first time this season, and has allowed two or less runs in three of the last five.

The pitcher even stepped off the mound during Arrieta’s first at-bat, in order to let the standing ovation continue on.

“He’s is a legend in Chicago,” Darvish said after the game. “And I pitched against him and pitched pretty good, so it makes me confident.”

The bullpen again struggled on Monday night, as the trio of Mike Montgomery, Brad Brach, and Kyle Ryan allowed two runs on five hits, including the game-winning solo home run from Realmuto in the 10th. For a moment it looked like the Cubs had a win wrapped up when Brach got outfielder Andrew McCutchen to bite on a two-strike slider, but was (probably incorrectly) called a checked swing.  He would eventually draw a walk, leading to Jean Segura’s game-tying single.

“On the field, I thought for sure [that McCutchen swung],” Brach said. “Looking at the first base umpire, I was a little taken aback. That’s why I went off the mound - just to regather myself, because I didn’t want to let the emotion get to me there.

“It’s a 50-50 call, and unfortunately it didn’t go my way.”

 

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