Bears

Bears can take object lessons from AFC, NFC championship games

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Bears can take object lessons from AFC, NFC championship games

Repeating an important rule: The NFL may sometimes be ridiculed as a copycat league but the reality is that if you don’t learn from the successes of others, you need to take your ego temperature because you’re probably overly enamored of your way as the only way.

And there are notable elements in the Denver and Carolina wins that have some relevance to directions the Bears follow this offseason, some already in process. And those extend beyond just the fact that John Fox coached both teams to Super Bowls in his previous two gigs.

“Rule of Three” revised

Richard Dent’s “Rule of Three” still holds true. The Colonel once explained to me that for a defense to be truly great, it needs three legitimate pass-rush threats (as in Dent-Hampton-McMichael, for starters). The defense of the Denver Broncos was in line with Dent’s notion.

The Broncos ultimately stuffed the New England Patriots because of disruptions caused by edge rushers Von Miller (2.5 sacks) and Demarcus Ware (.5 sack plus six other QB hits), plus interior rush from 5-technique Derek Wolfe (one sack, three QB hits). Miller, Ware and Wolfe combined for 15 hits on Tom Brady on a total of 56 pass attempts. The Broncos totaled 20 QB hits, with 5-technique Malik Jackson getting three hits on Brady from side opposite Wolfe’s.

But the "Rule of Three" is not the full Denver story.

Longtime 4-3 guy John Fox became a convert to 3-4’ness because of the inherent disguise it accords pass rushers simply because of alignments. Case in point: Miller not only annihilated Brady’s protection, but also surprised Brady with a drop into coverage on tight end Rob Gronkowski, resulting in an interception.

The Bears had Lamarr Houston, Pernell McPhee and Willie Young accounted for 20.5 of the Bears’ 35 sacks (59 percent) for 2015. Miller, Wolfe and Ware accounted for 24 of Denver’s 52 sacks (46 percent). The Broncos had three other players with 4 or more sacks, meaning Denver was capable of swarming Brady from myriad directions, which it did.

Broncos other than Rule-of-Three guys (Miller-Ware-Wolfe) accounted for 28 sacks, more than the Big Three. Bears other than Houston-McPhee-Young accounted for just 14.5 total sacks. For great pass rushing, it takes a stampede.

[MORE: Bears front office has these offseason dates circled on calendar

The QB Listener

Interesting in one pregame show to hear Mike Ditka cite “coaching” as the top reason for Cam Newton’s emergence as a true top NFL quarterback. If Ditka wanted to give Ron Rivera, one of Ditka’s former players, a stroke, fine. But seriously...C’mon, man.

Mike Shula (Bears tight ends coach from 1993-95) was Newton’s position coach from the time Newton entered the league. He was Carolina’s offensive coordinator the past three seasons. Sorry, Coach. Newton’s coaching has been a constant; the young man finally matured into a listener on top of his prodigious talent, kind of like someone in Chicago.

Newton dramatically reduced his interception rate as the No. 1 step taken this season. That’s QB mindset, not coaching. Rivera himself said that Newton is seeing things (like defensive backs) that the quarterback hadn’t been seeing in his first four seasons.

The reason Jay Cutler took a giant step up this past season was a credit to Adam Gase (and Dowell Loggains). But the top reason for Cutler’s improvement was less the coaching than the quarterback’s willingness to take coaching. Same thing in Carolina.

[SHOP: Gear up Bears fans!

Size does matter but it’s speed that sacks

The Broncos have gone fully to a 3-4 under coordinator Wade Phillips. But only one of the of the three down-linemen (nose tackle Sylvester Williams, 313) tops 293 pounds (Jackson). Wolfe plays at 285, which is about what Bears end Jarvis Jenkins was playing at by season’s end.

It’s at linebacker, though, that the formula becomes truly interesting. None of Miller, Ware, Brandon Marshall and Danny Trevathan are bigger than Ware’s 258 pounds.

Bears rush linchpin Pernell McPhee is expected to play at least 10-15 pounds lighter in 2016, down from his norm of 280. His balky knees will obviously benefit, but so will his pass rush without sacrificing any of his well-developed ability to hold the point against the run.

Lamarr Houston was playing in the range of 270 pounds and still led the Bears with 8 sacks despite spending so much of the season as a part-time player coming back from a torn ACL suffered in 2014. The Bears have a tough decision to make on Houston because of his salary but Houston at 255 becomes a very intriguing pass-rush threat.

And 255 is about Willie Young’s max, and whether he calls himself an end or linebacker, 6.5 sacks in a part-time season puts him loosely in the mold of Miller (11 sacks) and Ware (7.5).

Recalling moments in Tom Brady history ahead of his likely last meeting with Bears

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Recalling moments in Tom Brady history ahead of his likely last meeting with Bears

As Tom Brady approaches what in all reasonable likelihood will be his last game against the Bears and in Soldier Field, the first time this reporter saw Tom Brady comes very much to mind. Actually the first times, plural. Because they were indeed memorable, for different reasons.

That was back in 2001, when Brady should have started replacing Wally Pipp as the poster athlete for what can happen when a player has to sit out and his replacement never gives the job back. Drew Bledsoe, who’d gotten the New England Patriots to a Super Bowl, had gotten injured week two of that season. Brady, who’d thrown exactly one pass as a rookie the year before, stepped in and never came out, playing the Patriots into the AFC playoffs the same year the Bears were reaching and exiting the NFC playoffs when Philadelphia’s Hugh Douglas body-slammed QB Jim Miller on his shoulder.

After that the playoff assignments were elsewhere, including the Patriots-Steelers meeting in Pittsburgh for the AFC Championship. Brady started that game but left with an ankle injury and Bledsoe came off the bench to get the Patriots into Super Bowl.

Then came one of those rare moments when you are witnessing history but have the misfortune of not knowing it at the time.

The question of Super Bowl week was whether Bill Belichick would stay with Bledsoe’s winning hand or go back to Brady. Belichick of course waited deep into Super Bowl week before announcing his decision at 8 p.m. on a Thursday night, the second time that season Belichick had opted to stay with Brady over a healthy Bledsoe. And of course Belichick didn’t announce the decision himself (surprise); he had it put out by the team’s media relations director.

You did have to respect Belichick, though, going into his first Super Bowl as a head coach with a sixth-round draft choice at quarterback and leaving a former (1992) No. 1-overall pick with a $100-million contract on the bench. The Patriots upset The Greatest Show on Turf Rams in that Super Bowl, Brady was MVP, and Bledsoe was traded to Buffalo that offseason.

History.

That Super Bowl also included one of those performance snapshots the Bears envision for Mitch Trubisky but missed a chance to let him attempt last Sunday at Miami in his 17th NFL start. Brady took the Patriots on a drive starting at their own 17 with 1:30 to play and no timeouts, ending with an Adam Vinatieri field-goal winner.

If Belichick was all right letting his second-year quarterback in just his 17th start throw eight straight passes starting from inside his own red zone, the next time Matt Nagy gets the football at his own 20 with timeouts and time in hand, best guess is that the decision will be to see if his quarterback lead a game-winning drive with his arm instead of handing off.

It may not happen this Sunday. Brady is a career 4-0 vs. Bears, and if there is one constant it is that his opposite numbers play really bad football against him, or rather his coach’s defense. Bears quarterback passer ratings opposite Brady, even in years when the Bears were good: Jim Miller 51.2 in 2002, Rex Grossman 23.7 in 2006; Jay Cutler 32.9 and Cutler again in the 51-23 blowout in Foxboro. Cutler finished that game with a meaningless 108.6 rating, meaningless because Cutler put up big numbers beginning when his team was down 38-7 after he’d mucked about with a 61.7 rating, plus having a fumble returned for a TD, while the Bears were being humiliated.

A surprise would be if Trubisky bumbles around like his predecessors (New England allows an average opponent passer rating of 91.6), but whether he can produce a third straight 120-plus rating…. Then again, Pat Mahomes put a 110.0 on the Patriots last Sunday night, but Deshaun Watson managed only a 62.9 against New England in game one.

Trubisky will make the third of the three 2017 first-round QB’s to face the Patriots. The first two lost.

Brian Baldinger: 'I'm not so sure anybody could've seen the jump that Mitch Trubisky is making right now'

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Brian Baldinger: 'I'm not so sure anybody could've seen the jump that Mitch Trubisky is making right now'

On Thursday, Brian Baldinger released another video clip on Twitter for his #BaldysBreakdowns series, this one praising the recent play from Bears QB Mitch Trubisky.

Baldinger states that Trubisky is "making some kind of jump", referring to how impressed he was with Trubisky's play when compared to his rookie season. 

In the video Baldinger explains in the video how you expect franchise QBs to make a big leap from year one to year two, and a big part of that leap for Trubisky is being unafraid to make aggressive throws downfield.

Baldinger highlighted a play where Trubisky hit Taylor Gabriel 47-yards down the field, choosing to trust his wideout after he hit him with perfect ball placement despite tight coverage. He continued this theme later on in the video, showing Trubisky's TD strike to Allen Robinson, which was whipped right past a Dolphins defender. 

But Baldinger's video wasn't exclusively compliments for Trubisky. He discussed Tarik Cohen's effectiveness as a pass-catcher, saying that you "can't cover him" and comparing him to a Ferrari with his ability to go from first to fifth gear "about as fast as anybody."

He ended his video by showing Trubisky punishing the Dolphins for a blown coverage, hitting rookie Anthony Miller in stride for a 29-yard TD. Baldinger's point in including this clip was to show Trubisky's improved recognition, as he may not have spotted the blown coverage last year. Noticing when and how to take advantage of defensive sloppiness is one of the many things that seperate a "franchise QB" from a stopgap, and Trubisky is trending in the right direction. 

If Baldinger's breakdown is any indication, we should expect Trubisky to keep his incredible momentum rolling when the Bears take on the New England Patriots on Sunday. New England is 3rd worst in the league in passing TDs allowed, giving up 15 scores through the air in six games.