Bears

Bears-Eagles: Three keys for victory

324807.jpg

Bears-Eagles: Three keys for victory

Friday, Nov. 26, 2010
10:50 AM

By John Mullin
CSNChicago.com

Three Keys for Bears

NFL games typically turn on a small number of key individuals, developments or other factors. The Bears' best chances for moving to 8-3 and gaining a valuable edge in NFC playoff tiebreakers lie in three areas:

1. Bears DE Julius Peppers vs. Eagles LT Jason Peters.

This is precisely the kind of significant situation that the Bears had in mind when they invested 91 million in Peppers, who has been to five Pro Bowls. And this is the reason the Eagles acquired Peters, who has been selected for three. Peppers ability to force Michael Vick to unload the ball sooner than planned as well as drive him to his right, not his preferred side for throwing on the move, is critical.

Likewise, the Eagles are counting on Peters to man up on Peppers without constant help from a back, tight end or left guard Todd Herremans. Peppers is coming off a three-sack game against Miami and an injured Jake Long, good enough for the honor of NFC defensive player of the week. The Eagles cannot afford to see Peppers become a repeat winner of the award.

The domino effect here is Peppers driving Vick toward Israel Idonije on the defensive left side. Idonije is having a career year (6 sacks) but is a veteran against the run from his days at tackle. If Idonije can set an edge to his side and deliver some complementary pressure against RT Winston Justice, the Bears can leave Vick to their front four, the preferred approach in their Cover-2.

2. Mike Martzs resolve.

The Bears offensive coordinator has operated with game plans that have produced three straight wins due in no small measure to running the ball 30-plus times in each. Nowhere in Martzs recent past with four different teams has this occurred and the Bears are 5-0 this season when theyve rushed 30 or more times in a game, including Jay Cutler scrambles.

Notable in those five run-balanced victories: In four of the five the Bears averaged 3.4 or less per carry, meaning that Martz has been willing to stay with some semblance of a run game even when it wasnt producing chunks of yardage. Perhaps not coincidentally, those four games, even with the pedestrian per-carry average, the Bears had their four best third-down-conversion rates of the season.

Martz is not afflicted with limitless patience, however. His legacy is founded on big plays and he has a big arm in Cutler and deep speed in Devin Hester and Johnny Knox. The Eagles have averaged allowing 74 rushing yards in their last six games; in the five games of 30-plus carries the Bears have topped 100. The willingness of Martz and offensive line coach Mike Tice to stay with the run when Philadelphia presumably throttles it is a test the Bears need very much to pass.

3. When the pressure comes.

Philadelphia defensive coordinator Sean McDermott is the schematic descendant of the late Jim Johnson. Only two teams (Minnesota, Pittsburgh) had more sacks than the Eagles last season and this year they have pressured opponents into throwing 19 interceptions, most in the NFL. The result is the No. 1 turnover ratio at plus-15 (the Bears are plus-3).

The Bears are 35-7 under Lovie Smith when they have a positive turnover ratio but 10-25 when theyve lost the ball more times than theyve taken it away. Jay Cutler has taken 33 sacks and thrown 10 interceptions, with the effects of pressure readily apparent in his decision-making. That part of his game has gotten better, the line has progressively improved at adjusting to pressures and blitzes, but few teams attack more often and from more directions than the Eagles 10 different players have at least one sack.

Trent Cole has 7 sacks and 26 hurries from his right defensive end position. Frank Omiyale has been arguably the Bears offensive MVP with his play settling the left tackle spot and Omiyale needs to keep Cole from adding to that hurries total.

John "Moon" Mullin is CSNChicago.com's Bears Insider, and appears regularly on Bears Postgame Live and Chicago Tribune Live. Follow Moon on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Bears information.

Three Keys for Eagles

By Ray Didinger
CSNPhilly.com

Three keys for the Eagles in Sundays game against the Chicago Bears.

1. Win the Turnover Battle

These are two defenses that thrive on takeaways. The Eagles lead the league with 26, Chicago is next with 25. The Eagles are No. 1 in turnover ratio at plus 13. Chicago is plus 3. It stands to reason the team that finishes ahead in this area on Sunday will most likely win the game.

Michael Vick has been very good at protecting the football. He has attempted 191 passes without throwing an interception and he lost his first fumble of the season last Sunday. The Eagles are 68-17 under Andy Reid when they win the turnover battle.

2. Contain Devin Hester

The Eagles kick coverage has improved in recent weeks after being really poor early in the season. They had their best game last Sunday, limiting the Giants to 5.3 yards on punt returns and 15.3 yards on kickoff returns. But Will Blackmon, the Giants return man, is no Devin Hester.

Hester is the most explosive kick returner in the game and he is handing punts and kickoffs again after relinquishing some of those duties last season. He proved he has not lost a thing when in Week 10 against Minnesota he returned a kickoff for 68 yards and a punt for 42. He is second in the league in punt returns with a 15.0 yard average and two touchdowns.

3. Avoid a Letdown

It may sound strange to talk about a letdown in a game between two 7-3 teams, but emotionally this is a tough spot for the Eagles. They are coming off three big games in a row Indianapolis, Washington and the Giants and now they are going on the road to play the Bears with another game (Houston) scheduled for Thursday.

It is a lot to ask of the players to get up for all those games, especially when the last game against the Giants was as physical and draining as it was. Meanwhile, the Bears have had a nice 10-day rest since defeating Miami 16-0 on Thursday, Nov. 18.

Bears coaching upheavals portend inevitable stumbles

Bears coaching upheavals portend inevitable stumbles

Call it a small Bears reality check, if not a full wake-up call, then at least a nudge in the night. And this sort of thing should be expected, not just in OTAs, not just in training camp or preseason, but when it all counts.

And it should serve as a lesson of sorts. Because some of the underlying reasons are worth a little highlighting and patient understanding around a team that has spent its offseason and millions of dollars refashioning an offense, beginning with coach Matt Nagy and coordinator Mark Helfrich, and that offense wasn’t particularly good on Wednesday.

In a sport where the operative cliché is “just get better each and every day,” the Bears didn’t, but as far as their coach is concerned, “there’s two ways to look at it,” Nagy said. “Whether you say on our side, on offense, trying to see a bunch of different looks a defense can give you, is it too much or not? It’s good for us. It’ll help us out in the long run. It’s good for our players and they’ve handled it well. There’s going to be mistakes but they have it on tape to be able to look at. “

This is about more than just a few bad reps or missed assignments. It’s part of the good-news-bad-news reality that a sea change brings to a team.

The good news is that the Bears have a new coaching staff on offense.

The bad news is that the Bears have a new coaching staff on offense.

The Bears defense is predictably ahead of the offense, hardly a surprise, given that most of the core of the top-10 unit has remained in place. That said, you do have to like the attitude of the barely-above-rookie No. 1 quarterback challenging that assessment Wednesday, with a “Who says that?”

This while the offense has myriad moving and new parts, and interceptions, blown plays and such were occurring for an offense that, like Halas Hall, is a massive building work in progress.

“Well, today was a bad ‘build,’ but that’s to be expected,” Helfrich acknowledged. “We’re adding a chunk each day, I thought today was the first day where we had somebody do something that just like, ‘wait, OK’ – a few positions here and there, a few new guys, obviously a few veterans here and there that it’s all new to, hit the wall.”

It’s a “wall” that arguably is inevitable with a coaching change.

Not to make excuses, but….

For a sense of perspective, scroll back to Jay Cutler, who went through offensive coordinators perhaps faster than he went through socks: a year with Ron Turner, two with Mike Martz, one with Mike Tice, two with Aaron Kromer, one with Adam Gase, one with Dowell Loggains, who at least was a holdover from the Gase year. (Whether Cutler’s failure to match potential with production was the cause of or because of that turnover, this humble and faithful narrator leaves to you, the reader).

More than a few current Bears can only dream of that kind of “stability.” And because of that, the 2018 pre- and regular seasons may be bumpier than the optimism surrounding the Nagy hire was anticipating.

Guard Kyle Long, still not practicing full-go while he rehabs from surgeries, is on his fifth offensive-line coach in six NFL seasons. Center Cody Whitehair, who has started every game since the Bears drafted him in the 2016 second round, has had three different line coaches in as many seasons: Dave Magazu for 2016, Jeremiah Washburn for 2017 and now Harry Hiestand. Left tackle Charles Leno was drafted in 2014, making Hiestand Leno’s fourth O-line coach.

And this is the offensive line, the unit that most engenders use of the term “continuity.”

“Each coach brings in a little bit, different techniques,” Whitehair said. “There’s a lot of time for us to hone in and get to know what he’s trying to teach us. But in the end it’s still football.”

Kevin White is entering his fourth NFL season. He is on his fourth receivers coach (Mike Groh, Curtis Johnson, Zach Azzanni, Mike Furrey) and third different season-starting quarterback (Jay Cutler, Mike Glennon, Mitch Trubisky), not including offseason battery mates ranging from Jimmy Clausen, Brian Hoyer, David Fales and Connor Shaw, depending on how much rep time he spent with which unit at various times during his training camps.

“It doesn’t matter,” White said. “Roll with the punches, come here and do my job every day.”

Regardless of how many bosses you’ve reported to.

Kevin White, Bears focusing on the present and not his unlucky past or uncertain future

5-23kevinwhite.jpg
USA Today Sports Images

Kevin White, Bears focusing on the present and not his unlucky past or uncertain future

Kevin White had little interest in engaging with reporters on Wednesday, the first time he was made available to the media since suffering a season-ending broken scapula in Week 1 of the 2017 season. His answers weren’t combative, but they were short and terse. 

Then again, how was he supposed to handle yet another round of questions — none of which were unfair — about his star-crossed past or his uncertain future? He did offer up this quote-worthy line when asked what he’s learned about himself after all the adversity he’s faced since being drafted with the seventh overall pick in the 2015 Draft:

“Built Ford Tough.”

If White would rather live in the present than in the past or future, that’s fine. It’s actually ideal if the Bears want to get something out of him in the final year of his rookie contract. And it’s also the mindset preached to him by wide receivers coach Mike Furrey, his fourth position coach in four years in the NFL. 

“We sat down from Day 1 and I said listen, I don’t know anything about your past, I don’t want to know anything about your past,” Furrey said. “From here on out it’s just going forward and just doing everything that we can control day in and day out and that’s it. I won’t talk to you anything about tomorrow, I’ll only talk to you about what we’re doing today and how we’re building today.”

If the Bears hope to get anything out of White in 2018 — and if White hopes to revive his career without job security beyond this season — that narrow mindset is a good starting point. It’s even more important during OTAs here in late May, with there still being about two months until the Bears’ first padded practice and two and a half months before preseason play begins. 

The Bears insulated themselves from needing White to produce this year by adding targets for Mitch Trubisky in Allen Robinson, Taylor Gabriel, Trey Burton and Anthony Miller over the last two months. The spotlight is off White, in a sense, and he’s okay with that — “I don’t need attention,” White said, “I just come here and do my job.”

But in another sense, there’s an immense amount of pressure on White to prove himself worthy of a roster spot not in 2018, but in 2019. Not many receivers with White’s numbers — 21 catches on 40 targets, 193 yards, no touchdowns in five games — are able to hang around the league for long without being a special teams ace (like Josh Bellamy, for instance). Neither the past nor future for White is particularly rosy. 

So that’s why White said he doesn’t have any specific goals for the season: “Doesn’t matter,” he said, “As long as I’m out here.” 

All White can do is show up to Halas Hall and, eventually, Olivet Nazarene University ready to practice with a narrow mindset on that day, and that day only. If he sticks with that approach — and doesn’t suffer another horribly-unlucky injury — eventually, he’ll arrive at Lambeau Field in September for the season opener, finally given the opportunity to prove himself. 

But that’s a long ways away. For now, White’s well within his rights to not want to entertain any thoughts about what happened in the last three years or what lies ahead. 

“I don’t know the past and I don’t want to know the past,” Furrey said. “Everything from here on out is going to be everything in the future. We’ve kind of established that and that kind of allows him to relax a little bit and not be judged and to have all these things said about him — because I don’t know. I don’t want to read it, I don’t want to hear about it, I don’t even want to know. 

“All I want (is for) him to be comfortable and be able to learn a new system and be able to learn it as fast as he can so he can go out there — and everybody sees it, he’s very gifted. He’s very powerful, lower body powerful. He can run, he’s got a great catch radius. He has all those intangibles and that’s exciting, but it’s really what you do with those every day. So we’ll just continue to have the daily routine and hopefully get better every day and then be able to put it together when we gotta go.”