Bears

Bears Grades: Bears not ready to play at Lions' level

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Bears Grades: Bears not ready to play at Lions' level

A number of positives from the past two weeks went the other direction, with the Bears taking the Detroit Lions to overtime but making myriad mistakes that seemed out of phase with the recent past.

For one thing, the Bears appeared to shrink in overtime with two three-and-out possessions that each began with a Matt Forte run when the Lions had limited Forte to 3.1 yards per carry through the four regular periods. The Bears in fact were three-and-done in three of their last four possessions, the exception being the four-play drive for the game-tying field goal when the offense pushed the ball downfield.

“(Running the football in that late-game situation) is pretty standard,” quarterback Jay Cutler said. “You want to get them to burn all their timeouts. We felt good about the runs.”

The reality is that the Bears did score 34 points despite just three touchdowns in eight red-zone trips and several short fields with which to work after takeaways by the defense and special teams.

“We scored 34 points,” said coach John Fox. “In this league, that’s usually enough. Today it wasn’t.”

[MORE BEARS: Bears Grades: Cutler leads another comeback, even in loss]

The reason was on defense. Forget the carnage wrought by Calvin Johnson and Matthew Stafford and Detroit’s passing offense of 405 yards. More alarming was the NFL’s worst rushing offense (49 yards per game) trampling the Bears for 155 ground yards (4.8 per carry). The Bears were repeatedly out of alignments and assignments, missed tackles, left areas of the field open and generally were not entirely ready to play at the level of the Lions.

Players are professionals and responsible for their own preparations, but the Bears admitted to not being properly prepared with intensity. “The defense has got to pick it up and match their intensity,” defensive lineman Jarvis Jenkins said.

Coordinator Vic Fangio’s schemes are consistently solid and players’ execution was ultimately at issue vs. the Lions. But coaches assume accountability for the overall, and the Bears being thrashed in so many areas falls on the top as well as the players.

The offense did net season-highs of 444 total yards and 34 points. But the offense stagnated inside the Detroit 20 and also failed to attack the Lions late.

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Adam Gase schemed to put early pressure on a depleted Detroit front seven, going with no-huddle on of the Bears’ first seven plays. He also unveiled a goal-line play using defensive tackle Mitch Unrein as a lead blocker for Jeremy Langford in a formation somewhere between a wishbone and offset-I, getting Langford in for a second-quarter touchdown.

Special teams coverage was generally excellent and in position to capitalize on two mishandled punts.

Moon's Grade: C

NFL and NFLPA reportedly making progress towards new labor agreement

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USA Today

NFL and NFLPA reportedly making progress towards new labor agreement

According to a report by Mark Maske of The Washington Post, the NFL and NFLPA “have made meaningful progress towards a new labor agreement.” 

There is plenty to unpack as negotiations progress, but the most significant tidbit from this news is that there is reportedly a real possibility the eventual agreement will expand the NFL’s regular season schedule to 17 games (while eliminating games from the preseason).

Such an agreement would represent a compromise between the league and the NFLPA. According to Maske, owners had been pushing for an 18-game regular season, but the players union has remained reluctant to budge off the current 16-game schedule. Maske flagged the league’s rookie compensation scale and current marijuana policy as areas in which the owners could give ground in order to persuade the players to agree to an expanded schedule.

The report also lists a 14-team playoff field as a potential inclusion in the agreement.

The current NFL CBA — which was agreed to in 2011 — is valid through the end of the 2020 season, but Maske reports that there is “optimism” a new agreement might be reached by the end of the 2019-20 postseason.

There’s something special going on at the University of Illinois — take it from those who know head football coach Lovie Smith best

There’s something special going on at the University of Illinois — take it from those who know head football coach Lovie Smith best

For the first time in the Lovie Smith era, Illinois is bowl-eligible. 

It’s been a long, strange trip here for Lovie and the Illini. In his first three years at the helm of the program, the team failed to top four wins in a single season, amassing a combined record of 9-27 (4-23 B1G). But something about this 2019 group, which currently sits at 6-4 (4-3 B1G), feels different.

Take it from those who know Lovie best.

“They’ve bought in,” Alex Brown, who played under Smith for six years with the Bears, recently said. “Lovie is changing the culture down there, and he’s getting everybody to believe.”

That belief was on full display in the Illini’s matchup with Michigan State in East Lansing last Saturday — a comeback victory of historic proportions that clinched the program a bowl berth for the first time since 2014. At one point trailing 28-3, the visitors rode a number of big plays, turnovers and big-play turnovers to storm back and snap a 37-34 victory from the jaws of certain defeat.

“When you play for Lovie, everybody is motivated… You’re never out of [a] game,” Matt Forte, five years a student of Smith in Chicago, said. “You can be down, and he knows that one play by anybody can start the turn of events.”

Olin Kreutz was with the Bears for seven of Smith's nine years coaching the team. “It was awesome to see Coach Smith get that win, because you know how hard he works at it,” he said. “And for his team to do it in a way that’s kind of ‘Lovie Ball’... It’s just what you expect from Coach Smith because that’s what he preaches.”

Illinois turned Michigan State over four times on Saturday, including a fourth quarter pick-six that cut the Spartans’ lead to just one point with 4:53 to play. On the season, the Illini lead the FBS in total turnovers (26), defensive touchdowns (6) and are second in turnover margin (1.4). Add those gaudy figures (and a bowl appearance) to a campaign already highlighted by a last-second victory over then-No. 6 Wisconsin, and suddenly, it might be time to start thinking about a full-blown resurgence in Urbana-Champaign.

“The most dangerous thing for that whole conference is a team that has bought into the Lovie system,” Lance Briggs, who spent eight years as a linebacker under Smith in Chicago, said. “The players that are going to come and play at the University of Illinois know now that they’re walking into a team that believes in what they’re doing, and when they believe in what they’re doing, great things are going to continue to happen.”

Smith has certainly proven in the past — and to the people of Chicago, no less — that he’s capable of executing this type of turnaround.

“I’m sure you guys have heard this story about our '05 team and how we started out 1-3, and then all of a sudden. Boom. It just happened,” Brown said. “That is exactly what I see happening with U of I right now.”

All the program has accomplished in 2019 is a great step, but the hope is that even greater things are on the horizon.

“You wait ’til next year. They are going to compete, and they’re gonna beat — I’m calling that right now — they’re gonna beat either Michigan or Ohio State next year,” Brown continued. “They have the people there. More importantly, they have the belief that they can beat ’em.”

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