Bears

Bears have their 'backs against the wall'

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Bears have their 'backs against the wall'

Right tackle Jonathan Scott is a relative newcomer but he cut to a painful core reality after Sundays 20-17 overtime loss to the Seattle Seahawks:

Our backs are against the wall, Scott said.

Losing a third out of four games against teams with winning records will put a team, even one that is still 8-4, in that unpleasant spot.

But thats precisely where the Bears realistically are after being in the discussion of NFLs best along with Atlanta and Houston before the Texans and San Francisco 49ers games effectively ended those musings.

Lovie Smith said during his pregame visit with WBBM play-by-play announcer Jeff Joniak that the Bears were already in playoff mode. The problem is that they are now in danger of slipping out of the playoffs, sitting at the No. 5 seed right now.

Green Bay (8-4) is the de factor NFC North leader after putting down the Minnesota Vikings (6-6) on Sunday. Beyond the Packers having beaten the Bears already, which can be addressed by a Bears win in two weeks when Green Bay comes to Soldier Field, the Packers also are 3-0 in division play. The Bears and Packers are the only teams on each others remaining schedule with a record above .500.

So what?

But all that playoff analysis means absolutely nothing if a team that prides itself on defense cannot make one stop with a game on the line. And Lovie Smith knows it.

Once you get a lead, youve got to be able to hold a lead at home with our defense, Smith said. Defensively we didnt get a lot doneJust not the type of football that we play around here.

Smith needs to hope not. His defense allowed drives of 94, 107 (Seattle was penalized 10 yards and made that up a play later) and 85 yards (also with a penalty of their own thrown in and overcome).

The defense wasnt admitting it was tired at the end of the game, but it clearly was, just looking at some of the 1,000-yard stares in the locker room afterwards. The concerning part of that is that it had nothing to do with age, heat or anything else, just bad play.

I dont think we were gassed, said defensive end Shea McClellin. We rotate in and out enough; we shouldnt be gassed. I dont think that was the issue.

It wasnt. You get tired when youre on the field too long, and the issue was not finishing off Seattle on third-and-longs when they presented themselves.

Smith acknowledged that poor tackling was a problem, and we couldnt get off blocks, we didnt take the ball away enough.

Seattle jinx?

The ignominy on Sunday was that it was the third straight loss, at home, to Seattle. And it came just as the 49ers were losing in overtime, which would have put the Bears back in the No. 2 playoff spot had the Bears been able to make any sort of defensive stand. Just one, against rookie quarterback Russell Wilson, whom they couldnt entirely keep up with even with the help of a spy system of assigning speed end Shea McClellin to keep an eye on the guy.

Changes coming?

Coaches have made performance-based position changes this season, at two different spots on the offensive line, at defensive end and at nickel back.

CSNChicago colleague Jim Miller posited on our Bears Postgame Live that after two dismal defensive performances in three weeks, more changes perhaps should be in the offing.

Lovie Smith and Rod Marinelli have rarely suffered perceived under-performance for long. And while virtually everyone is perhaps already on the field, playing time may be apportioned differently based on evaluations over the next few days.

Surprised

Seattle threw some minor surprises at the Bears defense by using some shotgun formations that said Pass but were run plays or options, defensive players said.

The task then was just to stay on keys, which the Bears didnt do, keep Russell Wilson in the pocket, which the Bears also didnt do, and make tackles when they did get to where they needed to be, which they also didnt do too well.

We pride ourselves on playing defense, said safety Major Wright, who missed a chance at an interception in the final minutes that would have ended Seattles go-ahead touchdown drive. Russell Wilson got out of the pocket a couple of times and we had to break down and make tackles.

Which didnt happen soon enough.

NFL betting odds: Bears open as only slight favorites over 49ers in Week 16

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USA TODAY

NFL betting odds: Bears open as only slight favorites over 49ers in Week 16

The Bears are flying high as NFC North champions, riding back-to-back wins over the Los Angeles Rams and Green Bay Packers.

Now, they turn their attention to a potential first-round bye and deep playoff run.

With all of their recent success, it’s surprising that Las Vegas doesn’t see Chicago as a very big favorite over the San Francisco 49ers in Week 16.

As of Tuesday, the betting line stands at Bears by only four, according to Vegas Insiders.

The 49ers are coming off of a big, overtime win over the playoff-bound Seattle Seahawks on Sunday, but they still sit at just 4-10 on the season as they rely on No. 3 quarterback Nick Mullens.

The Bears were favored by more against Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers last week and covered the spread, but oddsmakers evidently like San Francisco’s chances to keep things closer.

In terms of point total, Vegas is expecting one of the weekend’s lower-scoring games with the over/under set at 42.5 at most sportsbooks.

Vic Fangio’s defense has kept Chicago out of shootouts this season, and San Francisco hasn’t exactly lit anyone up in a while.

The Bears could be in for another slug fest on Sunday, at least that’s what Las Vegas seems to be predicting.

 

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State of the Cubs: Second base

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USA TODAY

State of the Cubs: Second base

As the Cubs maneuver through a pivotal offseason, we will break down the current state of the team by sectioning it off into position groups. Here is the fifth installment on the second basemen.

Second base was the only positon group the Cubs had close to starter-level at-bats available this winter, but that is probably no longer the case with Tuesday's signing of Daniel Descalso.

The Cubs entered December with only Ben Zobrist as a true second base option for 2019 with Daniel Murphy a free agent and Javy Baez sliding over to shortstop full time for at least the first month of the season (or longer if Addison Russell is not a part of the team's plans after his suspension).

The Descalso move changes the middle infield equation quite a bit:

Depth chart

1. Ben Zobrist
2. Daniel Descalso
3. David Bote
4. Addison Russell?

First, the Russell/Baez aspect. 

It's still not guaranteed Russell will be back on the active roster when his suspension is up in early May, which would create a larger hole on the middle infield depth chart.

But for right now, Russell is under contract and he may be a part of the active roster in the first week of May, so if he does return, how does that change the shortstop/second base rotation?

Speaking strictly about his on-field production, Russell's offense has left a lot to be desired over the last few years, but his defense has been elite. An active Russell on the roster would mean the Cubs could have arguably the best middle infield defense in the game with him at short and Baez at second. 

The Cubs could start Russell a few times a week at shortstop and play Baez over there the rest of the time. When Russell plays short, Baez can play second or he can go to third and move Kris Bryant to the outfield. On days Baez starts at shortstop, the Cubs can bring Russell off the bench to play shortstop and move Baez to one of the other spots to improve their late-game infield defense.

For the first month of the season, expect to see Descalso and Zobrist man second base a majority of the time. Zobrist will still only play 4-5 times a week as the Cubs look to continue the plan that made the veteran utilty guy one of the top comeback stories in the league in 2018, with a heavy dose of rest and some regular time in the outfield and away from the demanding position of second base.

Descalso's career splits are essentially the same, so even though he's a left-handed hitter, he can still draw starts against southpaws, allowing Zobrist to spell Jason Heyward or Kyle Schwarber in the outfield.

Either way, Ian Happ appears to be out of the second base equation for the Cubs. The young switch-hitter did not draw a start at second in 2018, playing only two games and 3 innings at the position.

What's next?

Probably not much, save for a few non-roster invitees that could surprise in spring training. The Cubs have next to no infield depth in the minor leagues at the moment, but that will change as the winter goes on.

The big-league roster does not have much room, though the big question mark that remains is Russell and where/if he is included from May on.

The Cubs could opt to keep Bote in the minors to start the year and add another veteran on the bench, but as of right now, Bote's league-minimum salary, versatility and stellar glove are awfully enticing.

The bottom line

The Cubs' second basemen are going to have an average age of 35 in 2018 (at least to start) with Zobrist (38) and Descalso (32) manning the position.

State of the Cubs: SP
State of the Cubs: RP
State of the Cubs: C
State of the Cubs: 1B
State of the Cubs: 2B

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