Bears

Bears Notebook: Tillman up to challenge

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Bears Notebook: Tillman up to challenge

Sunday, Jan. 16, 2011
Posted: 7:00 p.m.
By John Mullin
CSNChicago.com

Forgive Jay Cutler if he might have been thinking somebody was playing games with his helmet headset and pretending to be calling in plays from coordinator Mike Martz.

He had never scored more than 2 rushing touchdowns in an entire season. Yet there he was, first-ever playoff game, and Cutler is doing an impromptu Michael Vick schtick, scoring on a pair of running plays, one of them a called quarterback draw by his boss.

That turned into a 6-yard touchdown run around his left end in the second quarter. Yeah, it was called, said Cutler, who improvd a second rushing TD after Martz called a shovel pass that the Seahawks thwarted. The second one was a shovel pass and the defensive guy collapsed, so I had to go.

You know, when its there, you take it. Im not afraid to do that.

Cutler, who finished with a career-high 43 rushing yards, threw touchdown passes to tight ends Greg Olsen and Kellen Davis, making him just the second player in NFL history to have 2 passing and 2 rushing touchdowns in a postseason game. Hall of Famer Otto Graham accomplished the feat twice for the Cleveland Browns, in the 1954 and 1955 NFL Championship games.

His play Sunday put him a game away from an NFL championship game in his second Bears season.

After last year and the disappointment and the struggle we had offensively, and kind of rebuilding and getting Mike Martz in here, it has been fun, Cutler said. Its been a fun ride. Its not over yet. We still have some business to take care of.

Duly noted

Bears coaches did bring some notable changes in for the Seahawks. After the Bears were embarrassed by Mike Williams career-best 10 catches in the October meeting, in which Bears cornerbacks simply stayed on their sides, Charles Tillman was matched up on the 6-foot-5 Williams. Tillman at 6-foot-1 was a better size fit against Williams than 5-foot-9 left cornerback Tim Jennings.

Mike Williams is not a guy whos going to run by you, but hell be aggressive. Charles is very good at that so it was a good decision to match us up and let Charles play to his strength, Jennings said. Tillman broke up a third-quarter pass to Williams with such an effective break that he got two hands on the deflection. That counts as a drop among the DBs and Tillman immediately dropped and did his requisite pushups penance. ...

Wide receiver Earl Bennett was a surprise tailback in a Wildcat package in the first quarter. Bennetts third carry of the 2010 season picked up 9 yards. Bennett fared a little better than Matt Forte, whose wildcat chance ended in an interception. ...

Matt Hasselbecks TD pass to Mike Williams in the fourth quarter gave him at least one touchdown throw in 10 straight playoff games.

The weekly top of the condition of Soldier Field was a non-issue (sort of) as far as linebacker Brian Urlacher was concerned. It stinks for both teams, Urlacher said.

Sick bay

The Seahawks suffered two scary losses that few would doubt did something to the spirits of the visitors. Tight end John Carlson landed badly on a sideline pass early in the first quarter and after a long time on the ground with medical staff, was carted from the field with a head injury and did not return. ... Cornerback Marcus Trufant suffered a head injury after his head struck the knee of tight end Kellen Davis while making a tackle. Trufant also required on-field medical assistance and the cart to take him to the locker room. ...

The Bears lost free safety Chris Harris to a hip injury midway through the first half. Rookie Major Wright filled in and provided a pass deflection and 2 tackles. Expect Harris back for the NFC Championship.

Theyd have to cut my ankle -- no, my leg -- off to keep me from playing in that game, Harris said. ...

Matt Hasselbeck had his hip and thigh drained of fluid Saturday night, ESPNs Rachel Nichols reported. Interestingly, Hasselbeck was not on the Seahawks injury report, which had only Lofa Tatupu because of his recent concussion.

Boogie down

Anthony Adams led the Bears in pregame. Not warmups, dancing. The nimble nose tackle jumped in the middle of a big ring formed by the players, sprinted a hand-slapping lap and launched into a spirited dance that clearly generated a whole lot more pre-game buzz for the Bears than a collective Go team.

I call that The Fat Mans Rumble, said Adams.

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.

With youth, pedigree and good fortune, Bears OL has rare opportunity to reach rare heights

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USA TODAY

With youth, pedigree and good fortune, Bears OL has rare opportunity to reach rare heights

As the Bears leave Denver and prepare for Kansas City, sorting through a couple of conundrums on the interior of their offensive line—James Daniels or Cody Whitehair at center? Best five?—a budding conclusion is this:
 
Mixed preseason numbers notwithstanding, the Bears stand on the brink of a potentially elite offensive line, in the hands of one of the most highly regarded coaches in the game.
 
It has not performed to “elite” yet, although not with traces of upside. A hyper-conservative run game that averaged 4.2 yards per carry in 2017, with defenses facing neither a pass offense nor subterfuge, is plodding to 3.8 ypc through three preseason games.
 
Mitch Trubisky was sacked once every 11.6 pass plays as a rookie; this preseason, he and Chase Daniel have fared a bit better, sacked once every 15.8 pass plays (No. 2 Daniel is included because his protection includes offensive linemen factoring into current deliberations). Against the Denver Broncos, albeit without rush leaders Bradley Chubb and Von Miller playing the entire game, Bears quarterbacks were sacked just twice in 44 pass plays, with a total of five hits. 
 
But consider a bigger picture, beyond one game or even one season:
 
Right guard Kyle Long turns 30 in December and the roster has zero offensive linemen currently older than 29 years of age. While the spotlight was on adding weapons around quarterback Mitch Trubisky, GM Ryan Pace was also continuing a methodology that included making sure the ONLY weapons around Trubisky are ones wearing the same uniform.
 
“It’s up to us to find the guys who want to work hard and have the right attitude about getting better,” said offensive line coach Harry Hiestand. “If you have that, we’ll overcome things like never being in a [three-point] stance or how to get leverage in the running game. We have guys who are tough enough to do it.”
 
And ones who will be around for awhile.
 
Four of the projected starting five are under some significant degree of contract control: Daniels, Long and left tackle Charles Leno are signed through 2021, Whitehair through 2019. Right tackle Bobby Massie becomes a free agent after this season but Rashaad Coward, a promising prospect at either guard or tackle after converting from defense this spring, does not hit unrestricted free agency until 2021, with the Bears holding future tender-offer options on the 23-year-old former nose tackle.
 
“[Defensive coordinator] Vic Fangio pointed out when I first got here that we’ve got a young guy [Coward] who really has some good traits about him as a football player,” Hiestand said. “He’s tough. He works his tail off. He’s learning on the job really well right now. Very positive growth.”
 
The overall situation is the result of some organizational commitment – if Daniels starts and Whitehair moves to center, the Bears will have a No. 1 (Long) and two No. 2’s as the three individuals closer to the football than anyone not named Trubisky.
 
And the result of luck – Leno was the 246th player taken in the 2014 draft, meaning that GM Phil Emery phoned in picks of Ego Ferguson, Will Sutton, Ka’Deem Carey and David Fales, plus a punter (Pat O’Donnell) before opting for Leno in the seventh round.
 
Maintaining perspective
 

A titanic offensive line is no solution by itself (besides the obvious fact that things dubbed as “titanic” can, you know, sink).
 
The Dallas Cowboys fielded an offensive line in 2015 that included No. 1’s Travis Frederick, Zack Martin and Tyron Smith, plus rookie La’El Collins, with a top-10 grade but undrafted over character concerns. That Cowboys team went 4-12.
 
With Frederick, Martin and Smith still in place (Collins was injured), the 2016 Cowboys 180’ed to 13-3 after they got the quarterback (Dak Prescott) and running back (Ezekiel Elliott) things addressed. In 2017, the line even added another No. 1 pick (Jonathan Cooper) but the Cowboys dipped to 9-7 after Elliott was suspended for six games and averaged a full yard per carry less than the year before, and Prescott more than tripled his interceptions (to 13 from 4).
 
Even elite protectors have their limits if the protectees don’t do enough with the protection.
 
Health is a critical, annual issue, but where injuries have thrown several recent offensive lines into chaos. The Bears started four different right guards in 2017; Whitehair started at a different spot each of the final three games.
 
“I think our biggest thing,” said Whitehair, “is playing together under one set of eyes, seeing the field together and playing together.”

Bears offense opens up in 24-23 comeback win over Denver Broncos

Bears offense opens up in 24-23 comeback win over Denver Broncos

Preseason games are about isolated goods and bads, snapshots really, rather than sweeping overalls. All in the eye of the beholder. And for the Bears, after losses to Baltimore and Cincinnati in Matt Nagy’s first efforts as a head coach, getting out of Denver with a 24-23 win over the Broncos looked pretty good in the eyes of any Bears beholder.

Saturday’s preseason game three was a collection of snapshots for the Bears, playing their third “practice” game, but the first with enough of the starters on offense and defense to matter, or at least as much as these can matter.

The Bears achieved their first win under Nagy on the right arm of No. 2 quarterback Chase Daniel, pressed into extra duty when Tyler Bray was hurt in the third quarter, and who completed 19 of 28 passes for 189 yards and 2 touchdowns, including the game-winner just inside the two-minute warning on a 12-yard throw to tight end Ben Braunecker. The win was preserved when cornerback Cre’Von LeBlanc punched the ball out of the hands of Denver receiver Isaiah McKenzie and linebacker Isaiah Irving gathered in the loose football to end a potential Denver comeback drive at the Chicago 38.

Before all of that, in his longest appearance of the presesason, quarterback Mitch Trubisky started and directed a pair of sustained drives, the first covering 51 yards to a missed field-goal attempt, and a second going 75 yards and culminating in a touchdown. Combined with the work by Daniel, the Bears put up five drives 50 yards or longer. Trubisky completed 9 of 14 passes for 90 yards, a touchdown and an interception, and the No. 1 offense produced 10 first downs.

Notably perhaps, the Trubisky score came in a fashion that was previewed more than a few times throughout camp, and that projects as a template for a staple in the offense under Nagy:

A high-percentage flip going to tight end Trey Burton cutting across the field and going seven yards for Trubisky’s first TD pass of the preseason. The design of the play forced the Denver secondary to drop in coverage of Bears wide receivers and left rush linebacker Von Miller needing to choose between dropping into a short zone or going after Trubisky. Miller did the latter and Burton, who caught 4 of 5 passes directed to him for 45 yards, was alone in the underneath zone.

“I’m just trying to be who I am, do what the coaches ask me to do and go wherever that leads,” Burton told the FOX 32 broadcast. “Obviously, every week and every game is different so whatever my role is, I’m down for it.”

Trubisky did suffer his first interception over the span of two preseasons and 71 pass attempts, but appeared to be victimized when running back Tarik Cohen broke off the route on a short in-cut and failed to break back toward Trubisky. The throw was to where Cohen was supposed to be but was instead an easy pick for Denver safety Justin Simmons.

“I think [Cohen] learned he can’t do that,” Nagy said.

But the passing offense overall was functional under Trubisky, not insignificant in the context of the quarterback in a new offense with a complement of receivers largely unfamiliar with him. And some who hadn’t graced stat sheets to date.

Kevin White came up with his first two catches of the preseason and followed each with some nifty running after the catches. White also drew a 37-yard pass interference penalty that accounted for about half the yardage on the Trubisky touchdown drive.

Rookie Anthony Miller caught 3 passes for 33 yards, with a long of 19 yards. Allen Robinson started but played sparingly in the first half in the first test of his surgically repaired left ACL and was not targeted. Taylor Gabriel, with a foot injury, did not play for the third straight game.