Cubs

Bears-Titans preview: Titans ball

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Bears-Titans preview: Titans ball

Titans O has the Wright stuff
As the first round of the 2012 draft played out, the Bears turn on the clock arrived. They had made wide receiver a priority even after trading for Brandon Marshall in March and speed receiver Kendall Wright was still available after Jacksonville had taken Justin Blackmon sixth-overall and Arizona chose Michael Floyd 13th.
Wright, the Baylor partner of quarterback Robert Griffin III, was the next-highest rated receiver, according to Pro Football Weeklys Nolan Nawrocki.
But the Bears had Boise States Shea McClellin and South Carolinas Alshon Jeffery rated ahead of Wright. They selected McClellin at No. 19, passed on Wright whom the Tennessee Titans immediately grabbed at No. 20, and came back for Jeffery in the second round.
Wright now stands as the top rookie wide receiver with 40 catches, tied for fifth in the AFC, if for a surprisingly pedestrian 8.8 yards per catch. But his three touchdown receptions are tied for the team lead, which has not surprised the Bears at all.
We thought he was a heckuva football player, said coach Lovie Smith. Hes back from my home area in Texas. I knew quite a bit about him. Hes played well in the league, too. Same things we saw in his college video, hes doing that in the league. Good quickness. Has that great vertical. So he can catch the football. Well have to deal with him.
Titans turnaround?
He is not all the Bears defense will have to deal with.
Including running back Chris Johnson and tight end Jared Cook, the Titans have six players with at least 19 receptions. The Bears have one (Marshall).
The easy focal point of the Tennessee offense is Johnson. He has rushed for 1,000 yards in four straight seasons and last year ranked second on the team with 57 catches. His 19 this season are more than any Bear other than Marshall (Jeffery had 14 before missing the last two games).
If theres a hole there, hes going to find it and hit it fast, said linebacker Brian Urlacher. We just have get in our gaps. Thats our game plan every week: get in our gaps, run through our gaps and try to get into the backfield and make him change directions so we can get more guys to the football."
The Bears have done well getting into backfields against runners, ranking No. 1 against the run allowing 77.9 yards per game and eighth in average yards per carry (3.8). Johnson averages 4.5 this season.
Hasselbeck hassle
But Johnson has never faced the Bears. Quarterback Matt Hasselbeck has and he beats them.
Hasselbeck signed with Tennessee in 2011 as a free agent and passed for 3,571 yards, fourth-highest in franchise history. He was supposed to turn the offense this year to Jake Locker, the 10th-overall pick of last years draft.
But Locker has been out the last four games with a shoulder injury and the Seahawks have won two of the last three behind Hasselbeck, who has never lost to the Bears outside of Soldier Field either with Green Bay or Seattle.
The problem for the Bears is that he is a classic West Coast quarterback, patient and inclined to use every piece of his offense. Against the Bears is 3-3 for his career, has an 81.4 passer rating, throwing zero interceptions in his last three games vs. the Bears.
You have to be extremely disciplined and know that hes going to utilize everybody on that field at any time, said linebacker Lance Briggs.

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Jon Lester struggles against the division-rival Cardinals

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USA TODAY

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Jon Lester struggles against the division-rival Cardinals

It was a tough day for the North Siders.

The Cubs got obliterated by the Cardinals as Matt Carpenter had a three-homer, two-double day. Ben Finfer, Seth Gruen and Maggie Hendricks join David Kaplan on the latest SportsTalk Live Podcast to talk about the blowout.

Was Jon Lester due for this kind of terrible outing? And do the Cubs have enough to swing a big trade before the deadline?

Plus, the panel discusses Matt Nagy’s first training camp practice in the rain and Roquan Smith’s absence in Bourbonnais.

You can listen to the full podcast here or via the embedded player below:

Could Bears improve and still lose ground? The MMQB's Albert Breer weighs in on tough NFC North

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USA TODAY

Could Bears improve and still lose ground? The MMQB's Albert Breer weighs in on tough NFC North

NBC Sports Chicago’s John "Moon" Mullin talked with The MMQB's Albert Breer, who shared his thoughts on where the Bears stand — and if they’ll be able to compete — in a highly competitive NFC North.

Moon: The Bears have made upgrades, but they’re in the NFC North and not many divisions are tougher, given the strength at quarterbacks.

Breer: Yes. You look at the other three teams, and they all very much believe they’re in a window for winning a championship. The Packers are going through some changes, but they’ve gotten Mike Pettine in there as defensive coordinator and a new general manager who was aggressive on draft day. I know that internally they feel that’s going to give them a boost, and bringing Aaron Rodgers back obviously is the biggest thing of all.

Minnesota, all the things they did this offseason, signing (quarterback) Kirk Cousins, (defensive lineman) Sheldon Richardson, and they were knocking on the door last year.

The Lions have been building for two years under (general manager) Bob Quinn and (new coach) Matt Patricia, who lines right up with the general manager — the two of them worked together in New England. They really believe that Matthew Stafford is ready to take the sort of jump that Matt Ryan made in Atlanta a few years ago, where you see that mid-career breakthrough from a quarterback that we see sometimes now.

It’s one of the toughest divisions in football, and every team in the division believes that it’s in the position to contend right now.

Moon: We didn’t see a lot of Mitch Trubisky — 12 games — so it sounds possible that the Bears could improve and still lose ground.

Breer: The Lions were pretty good last year. The Vikings were in the NFC Championship game. And who knows where the Packers would’ve been if Rodgers hadn’t broken his collarbone. The biggest change is that Aaron Rodgers will be back, and that’s the best player in the league. It was a really good division last year, and you’re adding back in a Hall of Fame quarterback.

As far as the Bears, there’s going to be questions where the organization is going. It’s been seven years since they were in the playoffs. I think they certainly got the coach hire right. This is a guy who I know other organizations liked quite a bit and was going to be a head coach sooner or later.

And I think he matches up well with Mitch. I think the Bears are in a good spot, but as you said, they’re competing in a difficult environment, so it may not show up in their record.

Moon: A lot of love for the Vikings after they get to the NFC Championship and then add Kirk Cousins.

Breer: A lot of people look at Minnesota and think Kirk Cousins’ll be a huge improvement. And maybe he will be. I think he’s a very good quarterback, top dozen in the league. But Case Keenum played really, really well last year, so it wasn’t like they weren’t getting anything out of that position last year.

The NFC right now is clearly the strength of the league. If you picked the top 10 teams in the league, you could make a case that seven or eight of them are in the NFC. I think there will be NFC teams that miss the playoffs who could be in the Super Bowl coming out of the AFC. There’s a little bit of an imbalance there.

Moon: Trubisky projects as part of a wave of new quarterbacks league-wide, a sea change in the NFL.

Breer: The interesting thing is that this is probably as stable as the league has been at quarterback in a long time. There’ve been questions where the next great quarterbacks will come from, but I don’t know that there’s a team right now in the NFL like you looked at the Jets or Browns last year, where you say that team is definitely drafting a quarterback in 2019.

Everyone either has a big-money veteran or former first-round pick on their roster. One team that doesn’t is the Cowboys, but they’ve got Dak Prescott who’s played really well. Every team in the league has some stability at the position. I think the position is as healthy as it’s been in a long time, and you’ve got a lot of good young prospects.