Cubs

Bears offense still wrestling with identity crisis

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Bears offense still wrestling with identity crisis

The 2012 Bears overall is excellent, as good as could be expected: 6-1. But as coordinator Mike Tice said on Wednesday, the performance against the Panthers obviously was not resume material.

It wouldnt be a whole heck of a lot of clinic coming out of that performance in the first half last week, Tice said.

Why that matters is that where some wins or losses provide positives to build on, that game didnt. A team that has stated it wants to build from a base of balance and running the ball did neither very well.

Indeed, the offensive coordinator is likening the Bears' offense to one in another sport that no one really should be aspiring to be like.

Forte analyzed

The questions have focused on whether or not Matt Forte is getting the ball enough of Brandon Marshall is getting it too much, or rather other receivers too little.

Fortes problem is actually simple. The franchise back missed one game, vs. St. Louis. In three of the six games he played, the Bears ran 57, 54 and 53 plays. Not enough enough to go around.

For purposes of loose comparison: Through the first six games last season, Forte handled the ball on 139 of the Bears 354 snaps (38.1 percent). Of those, 99 were runs.

Through the six games hes played this season, the Bears have run 376 snaps. Of those, the ball has gone to Forte on 113 (30 percent).

One difference is that through the first six last season, other backs (Marion Barber, Kalil Bell) had 28 total carries. Michael Bush has 49 carries in the 2012 Forte games, plus 18 vs. St. Louis.

The falloff in receiving for Forte also is no surprise, to him above all.

Im not the only one out there catching balls, Forte told CSNChicago.com. It just so happens we havent had to use me as much in the passing game.

Passing thoughts

The personality of the passing is incomplete. Marshall is in place but the loss of Alshon Jeffery cannot be ignored. The rookie had moved into the starting lineup and was second on the team with 14 catches when he broke his hand three games ago.

He is still No. 2 among wide receivers in catches. Losing speed receiver Johnny Knox, who had 37 catches all last season, was a setback but Jay Cutlers confidence level in Knox was nowhere near what it was becoming with the 6-foot-3 Jeffery.

But while the Bears spoke throughout the offseason, training camp and preseason about the multiple weapons on offense, the deployment of those weapons still has a tilt.

Marshall was acquired to catch a lot of passes. He is on pace to catch 110-112. That would be more than the top three Bears wide receivers combined last season.

Bad model

If that happens, what does that suggest about the effectiveness of those other so-called weapons.

Were like the NBA Minnesota Timberwolves when I was there and Kevin Garnett was playing, Tice said. All their offensive plays went through Kevin Garnett. In our passing game, were going to obviously go through Brandon, so hes going to be the first read or an early read a lot of the times.

Tice may want to find another template to use. In Garnetts years with the Timberwolves (1995-2007), Minnesota finished first in the Midwest Division and reached the Western Conference finals once.

With Garnett they never finished higher than third in the division, and they lost in the first round all six other times they managed to make the playoffs.

Kris Bryant's injury looms large as Cubs finish home stand in underwhelming fashion

Kris Bryant's injury looms large as Cubs finish home stand in underwhelming fashion

There are 162 baseball games in a season and some days, you’re just not going to have it. On Sunday afternoon, in a 10-2 loss to the Reds, the Cubs just didn’t have it. 

“It’s already in the trash can...” Maddon said. “... so let’s flush it out and move on.” 

Things were bleak from the very first at-bat of the game, when Kyle Schwarber took a 3-2 fastball looking for one of his three strikeouts on the day. Anthony Rizzo was the only starter not to strike out at least once, as the Cubs’ finished with 11. Reds starter Tanner Roark was responsible for 9 of them, his season-high. 

Things weren’t much better on the basepaths or in the field. Besides making two errors, Anthony Rizzo was thrown out at the plate in the 2nd inning and David Bote got doubled-up at first after drawing a walk in the 6th. The Cubs were playing playing their 13th game in 13 days, and it showed.

“I feel really good about how we’ve been playing until today,” Maddon said. “This whole month we’ve been in almost every game except for this one, and maybe the [7-0 loss on May 10th] against Milwaukee. There’s not a whole lot to be upset about, and I’m not. I just want to make sure everyone’s well moving forward.” 

There was a scary moment in the 6th inning, as Kris Bryant and Jason Heyward collided in the right field gap while trying to make a play on a fly ball from Eugenio Suarez. Bryant was slow to get up and eventually had to leave the game. He’s still being evaluated for a head/neck injury, and the Cubs don’t yet know if he’ll go into concussion protocol. For what it's worth, Bryant was cleared to fly with the team. 

“He’s doing okay,” he said. “He’s still under evaluation. We don’t know exactly what we’re doing with this whole thing yet, but we’re trying to talk with the doctors and find out exactly where we’re at.”

“We collided, and I called for the ball,” Heyward added. “We were both going hard to make a play and ran into each other.”

The loss dropped starter Jose Quintana to 4-4 on the season. Quintana went 5.1 innings while allowing six runs on 12 hits with one walk and two strikeouts. Despite relatively weak contact, the Reds hit well all weekend. Their 42 hits over three games was the most for them in a three-game series at Wrigley since 1976, and they finished the weekend with a .404 BABIP. 

“Yeah, I just had to keep pitching, you know?” Quintana said. “Keeping my focus. It was really tough - too many base hits. In some contests that happens. I just try to stay close in the game.” 

The Cubs finished their 7-game homestand at 3-4, and now hit the road for a two-city trip. Up first comes the 35-19 Astros, who are 20-7 at home. This season Houston ranks first in on-base percentage, second in slugging percentage, and third in home runs. Their closer, Ryan Pressley, has the lowest ERA of all qualified relievers and is fresh off a streak of 40 straight scoreless appearances.

“I’m excited,” Joe Maddon said before Sunday’s game. “Let’s get by today, but I’m excited for the whole week. Look at our schedule - it’s been pretty firm, and it continues to be pretty firm. And that’s the way it should be. I’m looking forward to it.” 

Kris Bryant leaves Sunday's game after outfield collision with Jason Heyward

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Scott Chagnon/NBC Sports Chicago

Kris Bryant leaves Sunday's game after outfield collision with Jason Heyward

Add injury to insult for the Cubs. 

In the top of the 6th inning, with the Cubs already down 6 runs, right fielder Kris Bryant left the game after colliding with Jason Heyward in the outfield.

You can check out the video right here. 

It's possible that the move was simply precautionary. The Cubs are on their 13th game in 13 days, and being down six runs in the latter half of a getaway game isn't the time to roll the dice. That said, Bryant missing time would be a significant blow, as the Cubs' star is in the midst of a stellar season. Through 49 games, Bryant's slashing .288/.411/.576 with a .987 and a 160 wRC+. As of Sunday afternoon, only Javy Baez has a higher WAR (2.5) than Bryant (2.4). 

There's been no further announcement on the extent of Bryant's injury.