Bears

Bears-Lions: And the winner is...

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Bears-Lions: And the winner is...

The 2013-14 Bears lost four straight games to the Detroit Lions, the first time that level of futility has occurred since the woeful times of the late ‘60s-early ‘70s. The Lions obliterated the Denver Broncos 45-10 in John Fox’s first year as Broncos head coach.

None of that particularly matters approaching Sunday when the Bears go to Ford Field to face the Lions.

“We don’t spend a lot of time looking in the rear-view mirror,” Fox said. “We’re looking out the windshield. That’ll determine what we do Sunday.”

Other things will indeed determine outcomes.

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Winning two straight games restored some balance to a Bears team that had lost its two previous games by 25 (Arizona) and 26 (Seattle) points. The fact that the wins involved fourth-quarter surges against teams that are a combined 3-7 really isn’t relevant; only winning matters and the Bears, despite injury levels approaching epic levels, managed to do that.

If there is any concern it lies in the fact that the Bears have scored no more than 23 points in any of their five games this year. That cannot continue if the Bears are entertaining thoughts of stacking more wins.

The Bears went through a stretch like that last season and were 2-3 then, too. They went six games of no more than 23 points in 2011 (the six after the Jay Cutler injury) and went 1-5 then; they were 3-3 over six 23-or-less games in 2010 before righting themselves for the run to the NFC Championship game. A seven-game 23-or-less stretch in 2009 ended 1-6.

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Not that 23 is any sort of points tipping point, like 17 is for points allowed; over the last 10 years the Bears are 39-12 when holding an opponent to 17 or fewer points.

All of which cascades into Bears-Lions.

Detroit has failed to score more than 17 points in any of its last four games, all since blowing a 21-10 halftime lead at San Diego in Week 1. The Bears’ defense has allowed just four touchdowns over the past three games (none rushing), and Detroit has scored more than two offensive touchdowns just once this year.

More to the overall were the indications of quitting last Sunday against Arizona, and that was at home. Coach Jim Caldwell began benching players, including quarterback Matthew Stafford after a third interception.

The variable this Sunday is how the Lions respond to both the adversity of losing and also the Caldwell message that no one is immune to benching. The Lions may come out with extreme fire, which then involves the Bears weathering an early attempt to blow them out, and matching that can be an early decision point.

[NBC SHOP: Gear up, Bears fans]

But the guess here is that it will be the Bears coming out with smash-mouth intentions and also the ability to carry that through, both on offense and defense. The Lions are 32nd in the league rushing, both in yardage and per-attempt.

The Bears, however, are understandably wary of wounded Lions.

“I still see all the talent and the explosiveness that they've had the past few years,” said Bears defensive coordinator Vic Fangio. “Ever since [Stafford] has been there, particularly with that receiving group that he's got in [Calvin] Johnson and [Golden] Tate.

“They just have struggled a little bit, they've played some really good defenses and it just hasn't worked out for them. But they're still very capable of winning a lot of games during the season.”

Just not this one. “View from the Moon” predicted the Bears to be 2-3 after five games this season and that they would lose at Detroit. Not now.

Prediction: Bears 20, Lions 16

Bears reportedly expect Akiem Hicks to come off injured reserve in eight weeks

Bears reportedly expect Akiem Hicks to come off injured reserve in eight weeks

The Bears expect to activate Akiem Hicks off injured reserve as soon as they can — which would be for their Week 15 game against the Green Bay Packers — according to a report from ESPN’s Adam Schefter:

The NFL requires players placed on injured reserve to spend eight weeks on it before they can be activated. While losing Hicks for half the season certainly presents a significant challenge to the Bears’ defense, that he does not need surgery and is expected to return in 2019 is at least a silver lining. 

The Bears officially placed Hicks on injured reserve Tuesday and promoted offensive lineman Alex Bars from their practice squad. 

While Hicks won’t be on the field for a while, he will be present around Halas Hall and Soldier Field as the Bears, defensive line coach Jay Rodgers said. 

“He’s going to be with us throughout the gameplanning, he’s going to be with us on game day, he’s going to be on the sidelines, all those kinds of things,” Rodgers said. “You’re going to feel the presence of him on the sideline and everything we do from here to whenever that is.”

Bears can feel Trey Flowers' pain with NFL's over-emphasis on hands to the face penalties

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USA Today

Bears can feel Trey Flowers' pain with NFL's over-emphasis on hands to the face penalties

The Detroit Lions felt victimized by two brutal hands to the face penalties assessed to defensive end Trey Flowers on Monday night, flags which significantly contributed to the Green Bay Packers kicking a game-winning field goal as time expired. Those two penalties sparked yet another officiating firestorm for the NFL to put out. 

But while those two fouls came in high-leverage, fourth quarter situations — and helped the Packers score 10 points on their way to a division-best 5-1 record — they were just two fouls. The Bears have been flagged for illegal use of hands/hands to the face a mind-numbing eight times in 2019, easily the highest total in the league. 
No other team has been flagged more than four times for it. 

The Bears, collectively, were flagged twice for illegal use of hands in 2018 (defensive linemen Jonathan Bullard and Akiem Hicks were the offenders). 2019’s breakdown encompasses three units and quite a bit of frustration: Cornerback Prince Amukamara (3), left tackle Charles Leno Jr. (2), and right guard Kyle Long, outside linebacker Khalil Mack and outside linebacker Isaiah Irving (1). 

So on Tuesday, we asked around the Bears’ position coaches to get their take on why all these hands to the face penalties are occurring in Chicago, and also their thoughts on the high-profile mistakes made by Clete Blakeman’s officiating crew in Green Bay on Monday. 

“You just gotta avoid it,” defensive line coach Jay Rodgers said. “There’s times where it happens, times where it doesn’t happen, especially when you get your hands on sweaty, slippery guys in the fourth quarter, it’s going to happen.”

Long, prior to his season-ending injury, said officiating crews previously would mete out warnings of sorts for hands to the face. Perhaps baked into those were an understanding of what Rodgers said — sometimes, these things just happen unintentionally in such a physical, fast-moving sport. 

Now? Seemingly any contact with a player’s face — facemask or helmet — is whistled. 

“Those guys don't seem to get it as far as people's heads are moving all the time,” offensive line coach Harry Hiestand said. “What I read this morning, one of the things that was important about it is that (a player’s hand) stays there and that it's kind of an act of getting an edge by doing it. You just want to prevent that.”

Still, even while some of these hands to the face fouls aren’t preventable or are just straight up blown calls, there are coaching points for these players on both sides of the ball. 

“You just gotta watch the release of that receiver, keep (your) eyes down,” cornerbacks coach Deshea Townsend said. “Sometimes it’s incidental when a guy ducks his head, but you gotta focus on putting your eyes where they should be and that’ll force him to keep his hands down.”

So that’s the coaching point for Amukamara, at least. For Rodgers’ defensive linemen and Ted Monachino’s outside linebackers, it’s similarly all about hand placement. 

Rodgers said a lot of the rushes he teaches his players involve hand strikes near an offensive lineman’s armpit, which if executed correctly won’t allow for the possibility of a hands to the face penalty. And for guys like Mack, Monachino said they need to be aware of keeping their hands more toward the middle of a lineman’s numbers and not anywhere higher near the collar or facemask. 

Because while the second of the hands to the face penalties called on Flowers was admitted as a blown call by NFL VP of operations Troy Vincent, his hand was close enough to left tackle David Bakhtiari’s face that a blown call became a possibility based on what he’s coached to do. 

“As a protector, they’re taught to keep their face out,” Monachino explained. “So as he’s getting driven back, he’s got his head back so he can do that. From the side, that doesn’t look very good, right? But that pass rusher, Flowers, he wasn’t the reason that his head was back. It was because David Bakhtiari is a good player. He wants to get his face out of there so he can have a chance to recover.”

So it wasn’t like Bakhtiari flopped or sold the penalty like he was suited up for Manchester United and not the Green Bay Packers. But with the NFL making hands to the face a point of emphasis in 2019, anything that looks remotely like it is liable to be called. 

Monachino said he’ll use those two calls against Flowers as coaching points this week, not to remind them of how sub-optimal the league’s officiating has come across this year, but to remind his players of where their hands need to be to make sure officiating mistakes don’t happen, let alone reasonably-called penalties. 

And at some point, the Bears’ string of hands to the face penalties aren’t just on the officiating crews calling their games or random bad luck. They’re on the coaches and players for not getting the league’s message that anything contact close to an opponent’s face isn’t acceptable. 

“Those are judgements now,” Hiestand said. “Their eyes are on that a little bit, so we've got to do a better job.”

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