Bears

Bears In-Foe: Bad Pack reacts

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Bears In-Foe: Bad Pack reacts

Simply put, since both the Vikings and Bears recently faced the Packers, things have not gone well for either team since.

The Bears have acted like the Thanksgiving win at Lambeau was their Super Bowl, following it with two flat home performances against San Francisco and Washington squads that both rode into Soldier Field with 0-5 road records this season. The week before, Minnesota seemingly had Green Bay right where it wanted them, as the visitors limped into the Twin Cities reeling after three straight losses. But the hosts' opportunity to grab control of the NFC North disappeared in a 30-13 loss. After rebounding the following week against quickly-fading Atlanta, the Vikings returned home and got thrashed by Seattle, then lost last Thursday in a tight, tough loss at Arizona.

The Vikes will have 10 days of rest for the Bears (just as Tampa Bay will a week from Sunday). And even though the Packers own a one-game lead and a tie-breaker, this is by no means a lost cause for Mike Zimmer's club. Green Bay now travels to Oakland and Arizona before hosting the rematch in the season finale. Even if the Pack wins those two tough road games, Minnesota would still hold the tie-breaker (by division record) with a win at Lambeau, provided they take care of business at TCF Bank Stadium against the Bears and Giants.

[MORE: Bears place Antrel Rolle on injured reserve]

Offense

Norv Turner's attempt to speed up Teddy Bridgewater's production has yet to happen, despite the sophomore quarterback's career-high 335 yards passing versus an impressive Cardinals secondary Thursday night. The return of Adrian Peterson was supposed to make him better. The presence of a downfield threat in Mike Wallace was supposed to make Bridgewater better. And while some of the intangibles may be improved, the numbers haven't. His 13 games this season matches his number of starts as a rookie. Check it out:

  Comp. Att. Yds. Comp. % TD/INT Rating
2014 259 402 2,919 64.4 14/12 85.2
2015 250 383 2,733 65.3 9/8 85.3

Wallace has just 33 receptions through 13 games, and only seven (113 yards) in the last seven games, including Thursday night's three catches for 42 yards and a touchdown. As for Peterson after his year "off," he leads the NFL in rushes (268), yards (1,251), yards per game (96.2) and ... fumbles (6). In the face of adversity after the embarrassment at home by Seattle (when he carried just eight times for 18 yards), he made a point to say the Vikings were "outcoached" as well as outplayed. Odd, since, if memory serves correct, Zimmer was one of the few non-players in the organization who publicly had his back while serving his suspension a year ago (while A.P. pushed for a trade behind the scenes). Excluding 10 points in the final two minutes of the second quarter in Denver, the Vikings have trailed at halftime by a combined 67-13 in their five defeats. And Turner probably naturally reacts with having to go the air, despite the track records of Peterson and Bridgewater. Here's Peterson's production by wins and losses this season:

  Rushes Yds. Avg./Rush Avg./Game
8 wins 198 1,005 5.1 125.6
5 losses 70 314 4.5 62.8

Bridgewater's numbers were helped Thursday by checking down while being blitzed 65 percent of the time, finding 11 different receivers. It's helped that tight end Kyle Rudolph's remained healthy after missing 15 games the last two years. His 45-421 catches/receiving yards numbers has almost matched the career-best of 53-493 when he last played a full season in 2012. The Bears learned the hard way about rookie Stefon Diggs' speed (44-638, two TD's) on the late tying score Nov. 1 at Soldier Field. They were also victimized by Charles Johnson's sixth catch of the year on the missed pick opportunity by Antrel Rolle that set up Blair Walsh's winning field goal. He has just three catches since, after seemingly having a bright future with a strong finish to 2014 (31-475).

The offensive line that allowed 51 sacks a year ago is already up to 38, and left tackle Matt Kalil still hasn't turned things around since being a Pro Bowler as a rookie (fourth overall pick) in 2012. With the Vikings looking to get a little closer for a Walsh game-tying field goal at the Cards' 30 with 13 seconds left and no timeouts, Dwight Freeney beat Kalil to force a game-ending fumble, the third the Vikings lost that night.

[RELATED: Bears fail 'test of character' in loss to Redskins]

Defense

It was an impressive effort against Carson Palmer and company in the desert considering the key parts Zimmer's defense was missing. We'll know more when the Vikings return to practice Wednesday about the possibility of starting safeties Harrison Smith (knee & hamstring) and Andrew Sendejo (knee), run-stuffer Linval Joseph (foot), and rising linebacker Anthony Barr (groin & hand) being available Sunday. All but Joseph were injured in the Seahawks' blowout, when fellow safeties Antone Exum was lost for the season and Robert Blanton also got banged-up. That forced Zimmer to play 37-year-old Terence Newman (team-high three interceptions) at safety and give first-round pick Trae Waynes his first significant playing time, though it was a shaky one at cornerback. 

Rookie linebacker Eric Kendricks leads the team with 70 tackles (nine ahead of former UCLA teammate/roommate Barr), while adding four sacks. That's second on the unit to the 8.5 belonging to Eversen Griffen, who was held to one quarterback hit by Charles Leno, Jr. in the first meeting. On the left side, though, 32-year-old Brian Robison has gone from a combined 25.5 sacks his first three years as a starter to 4.5 a year ago, to only three so far this season. Tackle Sharrif Floyd missed the first matchup.

Alshon Jeffery had a monster 10-catch, 116-yard game with a TD in the first game, primarily matched up against talented 6-foot-2 corner Xavier Rhodes.

[SHOP: Gear up Bears fans!]

Special Teams

A bit of solace for Robbie Gould: Walsh has been a younger, just-as-accurate kicker as Gould to begin his career, but the move outdoors at home has made him a little more "human," too, the last couple of years. Walsh is 26-for-31 this season. Gould is 26-for-32, but his recent misses have been more dramatic. 

The most recent of the three touchdowns Bears Teams have allowed came on Marcus Sherels' 65-yard punt return on the lakefront. He's ninth in the NFL with a 9.6-yard average, but the bigger concern should still be Cordarrelle Patterson's league-leading 31.1-yard kickoff return average, which includes a pair of returns to the house.

Sports Talk Live Podcast: Should Roquan Smith make his debut against the Broncos?

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USA TODAY

Sports Talk Live Podcast: Should Roquan Smith make his debut against the Broncos?

Seth Gruen, Chris Emma and Matt Zahn join Kap on the panel. Jon Lester pitches like Jon Lester again and the offense does just enough to win in Pittsburgh. Jim Deshaies joins the guys to talk about the Cubs.

 

Should Roquan Smith make his preseason debut in Denver? Plus the Ohio State controversy takes a salacious turn. Will Urban Meyer keep his job when the investigation wraps up Sunday?

 

Listen to the full podcast here or via the embedded player below:

Five things to watch for the Bears in Saturday's preseason meeting with the Broncos

Five things to watch for the Bears in Saturday's preseason meeting with the Broncos

DENVER — Expect the Bears’ starters to play deeper into the first half on Saturday in Denver than they did last week in Cincinnati, but their time on the field will still be relatively brief. The real dress rehearsal for the Bears will be next weekend, when they gameplan for and host the Kansas City Chiefs on Aug. 25. 

But Saturday’s game against the Denver Broncos at Mile High Stadium still represents sort of a checkpoint in the buildup to Sept. 9’s season-opening tilt with the Green Bay Packers. It’ll be the last game of the installation phase of the offseason, with coaches turning their focus to gameplanning for the Chiefs next week and then the Packers afterwards. 

There’s still plenty to be learned on Saturday, though. A few things to watch:

1. Will the first-team offense actually produce?

Mitch Trubisky this week bristled at the notion preseason games didn’t matter — “They don’t matter?” he said. “Then why do you guys talk about them so much?” — which fits with the attitude of a guy who was fairly frustrated with his and his teammates’ performance against the Cincinnati Bengals last week. Trubisky wasn’t happy with offense’s sloppy and ineffective play during the two drives he quarterbacked, and wasn’t willing to write it off as “just” a preseason game. 

“No matter what it is, if it’s on the practice field, if I’m in the backyard by myself, if it’s a preseason game, we’re trying to get better and we’re trying to move the football,” Trubisky said. “That’s what great players do. That’s what great teams do. We’re trying to get some momentum and everybody do our job and execute the offense.”

Still, because the Bears aren’t doing much in the way of gameplanning for the Broncos, any production or lack thereof won’t tell us much about the direction in which this offense is headed. More important will be how successful this group is next week against the Chiefs. 

But Trubisky’s competitiveness means he’s not going to let a poor performance slide, even if it’s only for a few series in a game that doesn’t count. He and the Bears hope that translates into some first downs and points on Saturday. 

2. Some notable debuts

Helping Trubisky’s cause will be the 2018 preseason debuts of running back Jordan Howard and wide receiver Allen Robinson, as well as running back Tarik Cohen — who only played one snap against Cincinnati — perhaps being used more. 

The Bears’ offense will not be at full strength, with wide receiver Taylor Gabriel (foot) and tight end Dion Sims (concussion) still out. But for Trubisky, it’ll be a good opportunity for him to see how all the work he and Robinson put in to develop a chemistry in the last few weeks translates to the field.

“We continue to create that chemistry in practice and my job is just to get the ball to the playmakers,” Trubisky said. “The more playmakers we have on the field, just continue to get them the ball and let them do what they do and we just need to roll as an offense, be on the same page, everyone continue to do their job, lock in and go out there and have fun an execute. It’ll be nice to see those guys with the ball in their hands this weekend.”

3. What about Roquan?

It wouldn’t be surprising to see Smith in full uniform going through pregame warmups, but it would qualify as a minor surprise if he actually played on Saturday. 

The benefit to Smith playing would be working to accelerate his development with an eye on Week 1, even if it’s only for a few snaps. But does the risk of him getting injured outweigh whatever benefit playing him would provide?

It’s a question the Bears surely are debating. But coaches and trainers made sure to not push Smith too hard in this week’s joint practices against the Broncos, and it would be risky to put him in Saturday but tell him to not play at full speed. 

It’s not out of the realm of possibility for Smith to play on Saturday, but more likely would be No. 58 making his preseason debut against the Chiefs with another week of practice under his belt. 

4. Snap decisions

James Daniels felt like he was a little sloppy last week against the Bengals, specifically with his hand placement but more broadly because the intensity of things was increased. 

“I think that’s when my technique gets sloppy is when you’re out there and playing against somebody else, you’re really playing,” Daniels said. 

This week’s joint practices, then, were beneficial for Daniels to focus on keeping his technique sound in a more intense setting. And he had the opportunity to do that all while still playing center, not left guard, where he had been working up until last week. How Bears coaches evaluate Daniels' week of practice — which certainly wasn't perfect — will be important, especially in the context of...

... Cody Whitehair going through a snapping “slump” over the last week or so, starting with that preseason game in Cincinnati. If those low/high snaps crop up again Saturday, and Daniels is able to put in a solid day of work with the second-team offensive line, it may nudge the Bears toward moving Whitehair to guard and inserting the second-round Iowa product into the starting lineup. 

The Bears haven’t considered that move yet, though, and the plan all along has been to keep Whitehair at center. A lot has to happen for that plan to change: If Whitehair can’t consistently get snaps to Trubisky, if Daniels proves he’s one of the team’s best five offensive linemen, and then if Daniels proves he’s a better option at center than Whitehair. So far, the Bears haven’t arrived at any of those conclusions, but Saturday’s game could have a significant impact on what those conclusions wind up being. 

5. Down-the-depth-chart position battles

Plenty of players fighting for a spot on the Week 1 53-man roster will get an extended opportunity to put more good — or bad — things on film on Saturday. 

Near the top of the depth chart, Adam Shaheen will have another opportunity to keep his arrow pointing up at the “Y” tight end spot with Sims still out. Jonathan Bullard and Roy Robertson-Harris will continue their competition for the final starting spot on the defensive line, with Bullard still likely the slight favorite. Nick Kwiatkoski can help his case to hold off Smith with another solid showing in what’s been a solid preseason. 

An all-hands-on-deck competition to be the Bears’ reserve outside corner is developing, and with Prince Amukamara (groin) not practicing this week, everyone from that group will get a chance to help their case of making the Week 1 roster. Marcus Cooper needs to have a better game than he did against Cincinnati, while 2017 practice squad’er Doran Grant should get plenty of opportunities, too. For undrafted rookies Kevin Toliver, Michael Joseph and John Franklin III, it’s a big opportunity, too, to turn a longshot bid for a roster spot into something more realistic.