Blackhawks

Bears' grades: Defense and special teams

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Bears' grades: Defense and special teams

When the Bears defense allows just 248 yards, 160 of those after an initial drive, and the Bears lose, the problem was not the defense (again). But a third straight touchdown drive of 80 or more yards (the last two vs. Seattle and Minnesotas first on Sunday) rocked the Bears on both sides of the ball.

In road games coach Lovie Smith typically prefers to have his defense on the field first in order to take home crowds enthusiasm down. He was handed that situation Sunday when the Vikings won the toss and elected to put Adrian Peterson and that offense out to start the game.

The game was dangerously close to be effectively over with less than six minutes played after the defense was trampled by Peterson, who had a franchise-record 104 yards in the first quarter. The unit rallied and did not allow a score over the final 54 minutes of the game but it was not enough with the offense giving Minnesota help in the form of two interceptions that resulted in scores.

The problem with evaluating this side of the ball in this game was that the numbers were generally in the Bears favor but one good Minnesota drive was one too many.

DEFENSIVE LINE B-

Corey Woottons sack of Christian Ponder was a major momentum bump in the first quarter after Minnesota had scored twice. But it was one of the few times the front four got any real pressure on a shake-able quarterback, who took just one official hit in the game.

Julius Peppers played one of his more active games in recent weeks, particularly with little time off. Peppers led all defensive linemen with four tackles, one for loss.

Being without starting nose tackle Stephen Paea hurt the run defense. Shea McClellin missed a TFL of Peterson that allowed a 14-yard gain in the first quarter. McClellin and Henry Melton (for a while) were out with injuries in the first half, forcing the rest of the group to play heavy snaps and Israel Idonije to spend more time inside at tackle.

The lack of work on Ponder was a significant failure.

LINEBACKERS C

The Vikings went right after fill-in Geno Hayes on the first play and were able to gash the front seven and Minnesota schemes got linebackers on wideouts too often in the first half.

Lance Briggs played a superior game, all over the field in coverage and the Vikings backfield. Briggs finished with 11 tackles, one for loss.

Nick Roach had nine tackles two for loss and performed serviceably in the middle in place of Brian Urlacher. Hayes had three solo tackles, one for loss.

But the overall of 154 yards for Peterson, which started with 51 on the first play of the game, was possible because of both sloppy tackling and some late fills into gaps, allowing Peterson to get up speed and pick up additional yardage after first contact.

SECONDARY C

Kelvin Hayden missed a tackle in the hole that allowed Adrian Peterson to break loose for 51 yards on the first play of the game. Hayden was victimized with a second missed tackle in the first quarter for another first down.

Major Wrights interception late in the second quarter ended a threat and gave the Bears an energy boost going in at halftime.

The group was without Tim Jennings (shoulder) and lost safety Craig Steltz in the third quarter. Charles Tillmans unnecessary roughness penalty in the fourth quarter was simply stupid, a late hit into a pile of down players.

COACHING D

The scheme to stop Adrian Peterson was strangely adequate despite the big yardage total. Missed assignments were repeatedly apparent in all areas, not something that falls to the coaches.

However, the Vikings were able to get wide receivers, particularly Jarius Wright, matched up on linebackers in coverage too many times. Christian Ponder was allowed to be an efficient 11 of 17 even for a pedestrian 91 yards and the Bears were not able to harass him even with blitzes.

SPECIAL TEAMS

Losing kicker Robbie Gould during pregame warmups was a setback but did not figure in the outcome. A lack of impact returns did, however. And Bears special teams had three penalties assessed on the unit.

KICKING B-

Robbie Gould appeared to injure his left calf in pregame, forcing Adam Podlesh to handle kickoffs. Podlesh, whose last kickoff came in his first NFL game in 2007, managed to get a touchback on his opening boot. Podlesh averaged 37.5 yards on his six punts, four placed inside the 20 to assist the defense.

COVERAGE A-

The Bears lost a huge opportunity by forcing a fumble on a second-quarter KOR but failing to find the ball in time to make a recovery at what would have been inside the Minnesota 25. Zackary Bowman flipped a ball back out of the end zone to Eric Weems to put the Vikings at the Minnesota 1 late in the third quarter.

The Vikings fair-caught five punts and the sixth was downed. Their only kickoff return was for 20 yards.

RETURNS C-

Eric Weems handled kickoff returns, not well to just the 17- and 11-yard lines. Devin Hester was part of a mixup fielding a 2nd-quarter punt that went out of bounds at the Chicago 3.

Matt Spaeth nullified a long Weems return with a holding penalty in the third quarter.

Hester averaged 11.6 yards on five punt returns but Weems had no kickoff runback longer than 18 yards and averaged 14.8 on his four returns.

COACHING B-

The punt coverage plans were exceptional, with lanes maintained and the Vikings able to do no damage on any returns. The penalties on the unit reflected some lack of discipline but the unit did nothing to hurt the overall for the day.

Blackhawks mailbag: Goaltending situation and how draft could affect free agency

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USA TODAY

Blackhawks mailbag: Goaltending situation and how draft could affect free agency

Every Friday this offseason, Charlie Roumeliotis will look to answer your Blackhawks and hockey-related questions. Be sure to chime in using the hashtag #HawksMailbag on Twitter for a chance to have your question answered in the next edition.  

When are the Blackhawks going to announce their recent signings?

This question came on Wednesday and the Blackhawks officially announced the signing of 26-year-old Swedish forward Anton Wedin on Thursday. Wedin, who's a 5-foot-11, 194-pound winger, had a breakout season in the Swedish Hockey League and is expected to battle for a full-time roster spot for the Blackhawks in 2019-20.

The other one to watch for is Dominik Kubalik. He has reportedly agreed to an entry-level contract with the Blackhawks, but word is it won't be made official until the 2019 IIHF World Championship ends. He's currently representing the Czech Republic, which advanced to the semifinals on Thursday. Kubalik's rights were acquired by the Blackhawks from Los Angeles in January for a 2019 fifth-round pick.

Does Crawford get extended during the summer?

Corey Crawford has one year left on his six-year contract that carries a $6 million cap hit. The expectation is that he will be re-signed — and he should be. When that comes remains to be seen.

Given his health situation, the Blackhawks may prefer to see how the 2019-20 campaign plays out before diving into contract negotiations with their two-time Stanley Cup-winning goalie. Or they could try ironing one out starting on July 1 so that it doesn't hang over his head all season long. 

Crawford will be 35 in December, but that should not be the primary concern. It's whether or not the Blackhawks can count on his availability. When healthy, he's still one of the best in the game and the importance of the goaltending position is at an all-time high. Term will be the thing to watch for when it comes to Crawford's next contract.

Outside of the number 3 pick, what players or positions should the Hawks target in the draft?

The Blackhawks' philosophy is to take the best available player, especially in the first round of the NHL Draft. In 2018, the hope for the organization was that they would come away with a forward and defenseman in Round 1 but instead landed two defensemen (Adam Boqvist at No. 8 and Nicolas Beaudin at No. 27). Same with 2017 when they ended up Henri Jokiharju (No. 29) and Ian Mitchell (second round, No. 57 overall).

The later rounds (4-7) are where that thinking gets trickier because there isn't as much separation between the best available players. At that point — if it's close — positional need might be the deciding factor. 

Given the surplus of high-end defensemen in the pipeline, it's easy to say the Blackhawks should focus more on forward depth and the goaltending position. And that's probably true. But you still want to take the player with the highest ceiling because there's value in developing players the right way and making them attractive trade pieces down the line if there's no room for them on the Blackhawks roster. 

Favorite UFA targets? How do those affect your draft, if at all?

This is an interesting question, and the cliché answer is that it shouldn't impact the draft at all. In fact, the draft may have more impact on what the Blackhawks do in free agency more than vice versa.

The top of the draft is loaded with centers (Dylan Cozens, Kirby Dach, Jack Hughes, Peyton Krebs, Alex Turcotte, Trevor Zegras). The other name generating buzz is Bowen Byram, who's a defenseman. If the Blackhawks pick one of those centers at No. 3 overall, which is very possible, they'll be adding that player — whether he's NHL ready next season or not — to a center group that already includes Artem Anisimov, David Kampf, Jonathan Toews and Dylan Strome. 

Toews is going to retire a Blackhawk. Strome is likely going to earn a long-term contract as well. And Kampf appears to be the perfect fourth-line center. Which leaves one center spot left. 

The odd man out may be Anisimov, but even so, there might be less of an inclination to sign a center to a long-term deal this summer if they draft a center at No. 3 because they will have filled that long-term need through the draft. If it's still an area they'd like to address in the short-term, then that could change the Blackhawks' way of thinking going into July 1.

Is Collin Delia the best option behind Crawford or are there other goalies in the system who are ready?

The Blackhawks are very much invested in Delia as Crawford's backup for the 2019-20 season. GM Stan Bowman said as much during exit interviews.

"I think Delia has taken a nice step as a pro this second year," Bowman said. "He didn't play a lot of NHL games, but certainly early on when he was playing a lot, he was really, really good. The hardest part for someone like Collin is trying to adjust to the NHL to not playing every night. I think when he came up and played in a few consecutive games, he was really good. And once we started rotation a bit, that's an adjustment for a young goalie. He wasn't sharp. But now he goes back to Rockford and I think he's the No. 1 or No. 2 in the American League in all his statistics. So he's doing all he can do to show that he's ready. That's nice knowing we have him signed for a couple of years and his best years are ahead of him." 

Kevin Lankinen is somebody that's quietly emerging as an intriguing prospect for the Blackhawks. He was put in tough spot this past season, starting with the Indy Fuel of the ECHL then rotating in and out with the Rockford IceHogs of the AHL, where he had a 2.50 goals against average and .910 save percentage in 19 appearances. 

At the 2019 IIHF World Championship, he's been a big bright spot for Finland. He has a 1.83 GAA and .916 save percentage in six games. The Blackhawks want to see him handle No. 1 responsibilities in Rockford before putting him into the conversation as a potential NHL backup.

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98 Days to Kickoff: Plainfield South

98 Days to Kickoff: Plainfield South

NBCSportsChicago.com preps reporter "Edgy" Tim O’Halloran spotlights 100 high school football teams in 100 days. The first 75 team profiles will focus on teams making strides across Chicagoland and elsewhere in the state. Starting Aug. 5, we’ll unveil the @NBCSPrepsTop 25 Power Rankings, leading up to kickoff on Friday, Aug. 30.

School: Plainfield South

Head coach: Bill Bicker

Assistant coaches: Adam Chavez (OC), Rob Szudarski (DC), Ben Delange (OL), Corey Carver (DL), Clint Reams (LB)

How they fared in 2018: 7-3 (7-2 Southwest Prairie). Plainfield South made the Class 8A state playoff field and lost to Naperville Central in opening round action. 

2019 Regular Season Schedule:

Aug. 30 @ West Aurora

Sept. 6 vs Minooka

Sept. 13 @ Oswego

Sept. 20 vs Oswego East

Sept. 27 @ Joliet Central

Oct. 4 vs Plainfield Central

Oct. 11 vs Plainfield East

Oct. 18 @ Joliet West

Oct. 25 vs Romeoville

Biggest storyline: Where will the Cougars place in the newly expanded Southwest Prairie Conference?

Names to watch this season: Senior RB Jaylin Eisen, junior QB Niko Schultz, junior OL Deuce Yates

Biggest holes to fill: The Cougars will need to replace eight graduated starters from last season’s defense, a unit that was one of the best in the Southwest Prairie.

EDGY's Early Take: Head coach Bill Bicker was able to put together a punishing ground game and a speedy defense to get into the state playoff field last season. 2019? Look for the Cougars to rely on an experienced offense led by junior QB Niko Schultz. If the defense can reload a bit, expect Plainfield South to challenge for another state playoff spot this fall.