Bears

Bears passing 'O' looking in wrong direction vs. Seattle

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Bears passing 'O' looking in wrong direction vs. Seattle

In the NFL, just like in real life, be careful what you wish for. You may get it.

Brandon Marshall expressed excitement on Wednesday at the prospect of going against one-on-one coverage from the Seattle Seahawks defense, specifically in the form of cornerbacks Richard Stewart and Brandon Browner.

Best guess is that this is some sort of gamesmanship on Marshalls part, professing to hope for single coverage from two of the better cornerbacks in the NFC. Browner was a Pro Bowl selection; Sherman was All-Rookie team in 2011.

Ive been excited about this game for some time just because of that, Marshall said. Whenever you get a chance to play a little one on one, its exciting. Ive been watching film and I saw what they did against Calvin Johnson, Detroit Lions and Larry Fitzgerald, Arizona Cardinals. They threw some Cover 2 in there but for the most part they do what they do. Im excited about that.

Beware the problems

The problem with that, if Marshall really is excited about his matchups with the Seattle secondary, is that Johnson caught exactly three passes for just 46 total yards against the Seahawks. Fitzgerald caught four. Neither receiver scored against Seattle.

The bigger problem with that is that the Bears have lost the only two games in which Marshall caught fewer than five passes (Green Bay, San Francisco, two vs. each). Marshall may be excited at what he has seen the Seahawks do vs. Fitzgerald and Johnson but the message there is that he thinks he can do what neither of those could do.

And the biggest problem of all is that with Marshall as the center of the offense, the Bears have the worst passing offense in the NFL (32nd in yards per game, 30th in yards per pass play). The Bears are 8-3 through little fault of the passing offense.

Still, Cutler is going to keep going to Marshall, period.

Whenever he gets in that zone he was on Sunday 12 catches vs. Minnesota, just feed him the ball, Cutler said. Just find him the ball. Just find a way. If Bs not No. 1 in the progression, go to him anyway. He just makes it happen.

Numbers vs. wins

Marshall and Cutler appear to be overlooking the fairly significant fact that the Lions and Cardinals, two 4-7 teams, both beat the Seahawks.

A major reason: While the Seahawks were dealing with Johnson, Titus Young was catching nine passes (for 100 yards, two TDs), Brandon Pettigrew snagged seven and Tony Scheffler four. The Seahawks took care of Fitzgerald but neglected Andre Roberts, who caught five passes, one for a touchdown.

Arizona and Detroit both stopped feeding their elite receivers and went elsewhere. And won.

Roberts has 50 catches this season. After Marshall (81) the Bears have no receiver with more than Matt Fortes 27 and hes a running back. Only twice this season has a Bear caught more than four passes (Forte five vs. Carolina, Alshon Jeffery five vs. St. Louis).

If not Marshall, who?

To his credit, Marshall does see the problem in the offense even as he likes seeing the ball come his way as much as it has.

Its impressive that were moving the ball, but there is a sense of urgency to get other guys the ball, Marshall said, without specifying where the extra footballs will come from. I was really excited about Jay spreading it around last week. Probably got seven or eight different guys involved, just getting a touch.

It doesnt matter if its one or two catches, as long as other guys are involved, it makes it easier for our whole team. Were going to lean on Earl a lot this week. Were going to lean on some of the other guys that are stepping up and playing this week to make some plays. Im excited.

The Bears are getting a different type of nickel cornerback in Buster Skrine

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USA Today

The Bears are getting a different type of nickel cornerback in Buster Skrine

When the Bears’ defense takes the field against Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers on Opening Night, they’ll be returning 9 of the 11 starters that were part of a 2018 squad that was one of the best in Bears’ history. 

One of the few new faces that figure to be among the starting 11 is cornerback Buster Skrine. Gone is Bryce Callahan, who left for Vic Fangio’s Denver team after spending the first four years of his career in Chicago. Though Bears’ scouts have had their eye on Skrine for a few seasons now, it was his more palatable three-year, $16.5 million contract -- compared to Callahan’s three-year, $21 million contract -- that finally got him in house. 

“Me and Buster came out the exact same year, and I’ve watched him,” Prince Amukamara said after OTAs on Wednesday afternoon. “He actually played with my best friend and he would always talk about how fast Buster is -- especially when Buster played gunner. 

“I’ve always watched him, and I feel like he’s very similar to Bryce [Callahan] by being quick and being active. I’m definitely happy with the pick up.” 

Once considered a spot to place the third-best, less-athletic cornerback, no position has seen it's value increase so dramatically over the last decade. Offenses are changing dramatically; no team saw more three receiver sets in 2018 than the Bears’ defense. Per Sharp Stats, opposing offenses lined up in 11 personnel against Chicago 78% of the time. The next closest was the Chiefs at 71%, and the NFL average is 65%. 

“I think nickel is a different ball game,” Amukamara added. “I would say it can be one of the hardest positions on the field, just because you’re on an island, but the receiver has so much room to work with. Plus, it’s a lot of mental gymnastics, so you’ve got to know when you’re blitzing, know when you’re running, and so we put a lot on our nickel.” 

Despite not being considered part of a what teams have traditionally considered base defense, the pass-happy nature of this era in the NFL has all but mandated that nickel corners are on the field for most of the defensive snaps. It’s no coincidence that before breaking his foot against the Rams in Week 12, Callahan was on pace to set a career-high in snap percentage. 

“Nowadays, you see a lot more sub packages,” Bears defensive backs coach Deshea Townsend said. “You’re probably playing 70% in sub during a game now… Otherwise, it hasn’t really changed - he just plays more. That’s the thing - he is technically a starter. He’s probably going to run on the field first in a lot of games, and by rule that’s a starter.

“One thing about the nickel position is that you’ve got to do a little bit of both. You can’t just go out on 3rd down and cover and run the option routes. Now they’re going to hand off the ball and find out where you’re at and you’re going to have to make a tackle. That’s the difference in the position now - it’s a first and second down type of guy that has to be able to do it all.”

While Skrine isn’t considered as good a cover corner as Callahan, Skrine’s pass rush and run defense looks pretty similar. Per Pro Football Focus, Skrine’s run defense graded out significantly higher (80.7) than Callahan’s (57.8). 

“With Buster, it’s about his playing experience,” Townsend added. “He’s a guy who will mix it up in the run. He can blitz, and he’s reliable. He’s tough.”

Cubs taking care to make sure Pedro Strop's hamstring issues are behind him

Cubs taking care to make sure Pedro Strop's hamstring issues are behind him

Pedro Strop said he feels "ready" in his return from a hamstring injury, but he and the Cubs aren't going to rush it.

The veteran reliever has missed most of May with the injury, but threw 25-pitch bullpens on both Monday and Wednesday and has reported zero issues. He said it's been more than a week since he last felt pain in the area.

But considering this is Strop's third hamstring injury in the last eight months, the Cubs want to be extra cautious to make sure this will not happen again.

Plus, there's no point in rushing him back right now, even with the bullpen struggling. The Cubs would certainly welcome Strop back to the active roster immediately, but he's going to be a huge key for them down the stretch and they need to ensure he's healthy for that.

"I think we're just being overly cautious because we don't want this to happen again," Joe Maddon said. 

But how can Cubs avoid another hamstring injury with the soon-to-be-34-year-old? 

"We're building strength, we're working hard to make it stronger instead of just, 'Oh, it's OK and pain-free, let's go out there and have the same thing happen again,'" Strop said. "We're just taking care."

He missed the final two weeks of the regular season last year and pitched through "severe pain" in the National League wild-card game after first hurting his hamstring in Washington D.C. He then missed time in spring training with an issue in the other leg.

The injuries are not all directly related, but hamstrings are tricky by nature.

"That's a hammy, man. When you mess up with those things, they keep reminding you that they're there," Maddon said. "He has to continue to be proactive with the work in between and our guys in the back there do a wonderful job rehabbing and strengthening. 

"I think some guys are just predetermined to do those kinds of things and it really stinks. But it happens. So our next best thing is to create that program that hopefully prevents it from happening again. 

"In the meantime, just really monitoring him and not pushing him too hard, etc. But hamstrings are hamstrings, man. They're just no fun. Once you pull them once, there's a chance to do it again."

Strop said he will throw another bullpen Saturday and doesn't believe he needs a rehab stint. Because this was a leg injury, he's been able to continue throwing throughout the recovery process and keep his arm strength up.

If Strop continues to report well and doesn't go on a rehab assignment, we could possibly see him back in the Cubs bullpen early next week, which would be a welcome sign for a unit that has suddenly run into some tough sledding of late.

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