Bears

Bears stave off Newton, Panthers

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Bears stave off Newton, Panthers

Sunday, Oct. 2, 2011Posted: 3:15 p.m. Updated: 9:15 p.m.

By John Mullin
CSNChicago.com Bears Insider Follow @CSNMoonMullin
Box score Photo gallery
15 on 6: Run game provides great victory
READ: Hester, Forte receive highest mark
Gameday Blog: 'Devin Hester, you're ridiculous!'
Cutler: Still trying to find out identity
Lovie: Teams may stop kicking to Hester
Moon: On the Bears victory over Carolina
Miller: Shows his praise for Newton

So much for Ron Riveras storybook return to Soldier Field.

Pounding on the ground as they havent done all season, the Bears (2-2) withstood another outstanding show by rookie quarterback Cam Newton to put down the Carolina Panthers 34-29 for as close to a must-win as any fourth game of a Bears season can be.

We wanted to be 4-0, said quarterback Jay Cutler, who had one of the lightest passing workloads of his career with 17 passing attempts. We feel like we gave our two Ls away but were happy where were at. Theres a lot of football left to play.

The win halted a two-game slide that suddenly placed the Bears season in some peril, given a road game against the surging Detroit Lions (4-0) next Monday night. The Lions won in Dallas with a comeback against the over-hyped Cowboys and Tony Romo Sunday and the Bears could not afford to fall any further behind the Lions and Green Bay Packers at the end of the first quarter of the 2011 season.

A defeat would have put the Bears in serious jeopardy with the season just one-fourth over. They lost four games all last season in the NFC; a defeat vs. Carolina would have been the third this season and created potential problems with wild-card scenarios unless the Bears managed a reversal, which Sundays win may have been.

The Bears went to the ground early and for most of the game, including 13 of their first 14 plays. Behind an offensive line forced to shuffle personnel, the Bears sprung tailback Matt Forte for repeated big gains and punched in from the 3-yard line with less than two minutes remaining on a Marion Barber burst over left guard. The resulting 34-23 advantage and security they have not felt since the opening week of the season.

The defense provided points with a 20-yard return of an interception by nickel back D.J. Moore. That was supplemented by Devin Hesters history making punt return in the second quarter.

A key to the rushing effectiveness Sunday Forte finished with 205 rushing yards on 25 carries, making him just the third back in franchise history to run for 200 yards in a game was adjustments made virtually every series to answer scheming done by the Carolina front seven.

Coach Mike Tice and coach Mike Martz came up with a great run plan, said guard Chris Williams. They knew what they wanted to do coming in. Every time they countered us, we came right back with something.

Difference-making

It was not a dominating win in all areas, although each of the Bears three phases scored at least once. The Panthers and Newton blew through the Bears for 438 yards in three quarters and trailed just 24-23.

Carolina added a field goal in the fourth quarter and a late touchdown on a pass from Newton to former Bear Greg Olsen with four seconds remaining. The Bears overcame that with the Barber touchdown run with 1:23 remaining after Robbie Gould converted from 24 yards.

Carolina finished with 543 total yards to the Bears 317.

I dont really care because we won, said linebacker Brian Urlacher. Ill be pissed off when we watch the film but right now, we won, so its not a big deal to me.
Early explosions
With scores from all three phases, the Bears got out to a 24-10 lead in the second quarter. Forte scored on a 17-yard run. Moore went 20-yards to score after intercepting a deflected Newton pass. Hester made NFL history with his 69-yard return of a second-quarter punt for a touchdown, the 11th of his career and most by any player in league annals.

The Forte touchdown was also the first Bears rushing TD of this season.

You get lucky if you can win with two phases, or one phase, said coach Lovie Smith. The best way to almost guarantee a win is if all three phases are working. For us, looking at our history, thats normally been the case, especially when we have at least two.

Newton kept the Panthers at least in the discussion with a pair of short touchdown carries in the first half, the second a 2-yard carry that was followed by an Olindo Mare field goal to bring Carolina back to 24-20 at halftime.

But the Bears were not stopping the Carolina offense, which was trampling the Bears defense. The Panthers totaled 299 yards in just the first half; worse, it came on 100 rushing yards and 199 on Newton passing, meaning the Bears were not stopping much of anything.

The Panthers scored on four of six first-half possessions, one ending in an interception and only one in a punt.
Pound it early

As they had not done in any game this season, the Bears brought the hammer. Every play in the opening drive, for a field goal, was a running play, including a highlight trip around the right side by Forte for 45 yards. Barber marked his first appearance as a Bear by giving Forte the next two downs to rest and picking up 12 yards on the two carries.

Cutler even got into the spirit of things with a third-down carry from an empty backfield. He didnt score but the pattern was being established.

We knew as an offense that we can run the ball, Forte said. We just had to establish that first and continue to do that throughout the game.

Moore continued his mastery of the deflected pass, picking off a ball intended for wideout Legedu Naanee but tipped by linebacker Lance Briggs. Moore reacted out of his zone coverage on the short left to gather in the ball and pick his way through Panthers for a 20-yard touchdown, the second by the defense in four games after Urlachers TD return of a fumble in week one.

The Panthers immediately took advantage of a blown coverage by free safety Brandon Meriweather, who failed to provide deep support behind Tim Jennings after Jennings handed off Steve Smith on a deep route. The 53-yard completion was turned into a touchdown when Newton bootlegged around the right side to score from two yards out.

The Bears opened their game with eight consecutive runs, the last a quarterback draw by Cutler from an empty backfield, to go from their 20 to the Carolina 3, from where Gould converted his seventh straight field goal of the year, from 20 yards for a 3-3 mark midway through the first quarter.

Bad D start

For the second week in a row, the initial problem for the Bears was not their offense, but their defense. The Green Bay Packers started their win over the Bears with an 80-yard touchdown drive after the opening kickoff; the Panthers went 65 yards in 10 plays to set up a 29-yard field goal from Mare.

The drive might have netted a touchdown but for two penalties on former Bear Olsen, who started the Panthers possession with a false start and then was flagged for holding inside the Chicago 10 to push Carolina back out of TD range.

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.

Why Mitch Trubisky's biggest weakness won't preclude him from success in 2018

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USA Today Sports Images

Why Mitch Trubisky's biggest weakness won't preclude him from success in 2018

As the Bears set their foundation for training camp during OTAs this month, one part of that is beginning to identify each player’s strengths and weaknesses on which to build in Bourbonnais. 

Designing an offense to Mitch Trubisky’s strengths was one of the reasons why Ryan Pace hired Matt Nagy, who then hired Mark Helfrich to be his offensive coordinator. Easy is the wrong word — but it wouldn’t have made sense for the Bears to not build an offense around their second-picked quarterback. 

But as Nagy and Helfrich are installing that offense during OTAs and, next month, veteran minicamp, they’re also learning what Trubisky’s weaknesses are. And the one Helfrich pointed to, in a way, is a positive. 

“Experience,” Helfrich said. “I think it’s 100 percent experience and just reps, and that’s kind of what I was talking about was knowing why something happened. As a quarterback, he might take the perfect drop and be looking at the right guy in your progression, and that guy runs the wrong route or the left guard busts or something. The defense does something different or wrong, even. And trusting that is just a matter of putting rep on top of rep on top of rep and being confident.”

It'd be a concern if the Bears thought Trubisky lacked the necessary talent to be great, or had a lacking work ethic or bad attitude. Experience isn't something he can control, in a way. 

This isn’t anything new for Trubisky. His lack of experience at North Carolina — he only started 13 games there — was the biggest ding to his draft stock a year ago; while he started a dozen games for the Bears in 2017, the offense was simple and conservative, designed to minimize risk for Trubisky (and, to be fair, a sub-optimal group of weapons around him). 

But even if Trubisky started all 16 games in an innovative, aggressive offense last year, he’d still be experiencing plenty of things for the first time. Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger made this point back in September that still resonates now with regard to Trubisky:

“I think it takes a few years until you can really get that title of understanding being great or even good, because you see so many looks,” Roethlisberger said. “In Year 2 and 3, you’re still seeing looks and can act like a rookie.”

So the challenge for Nagy and Helfrich is to build an offense that accentuates Trubisky’s strengths while managing his lack of experience. For what it’s worth, the Los Angeles Rams and Philadelphia Eagles succeeded in those efforts last year with Jared Goff and Carson Wentz, respectively. 

For Helfrich, though, one of Trubisky’s strengths — his leadership qualities — are already helping mitigate his need for more experience. 

“He’s still in the mode of learning and doing things out here,” Helfrich said. “We might have run one play 10 times against 10 different defenses, you know? And so his response to every one of those 10 things is brand new. And so, you see his reaction to some of those is good. Some of those things you want to improve upon and then keep your chest up and lead because we need that.”
 

Why coming to the Bears was the right opportunity for Harry Hiestand to leave Notre Dame

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AP

Why coming to the Bears was the right opportunity for Harry Hiestand to leave Notre Dame

There wasn’t a single game Harry Hiestand coached while at Notre Dame — 77 in total — in which he didn’t have a future top-20 pick starting at left tackle. 

Zack Martin (16th overall, 2014) was followed by Ronnie Stanley (6th overall, 2016), who gave way to Mike McGlinchey (9th overall, 2018). Hiestand also developed Quenton Nelson, who went on to be the highest interior offensive lineman drafted (6th overall, 2018) since 1986. Nelson and McGlinchey became the first pair of college offensive line teammates to be drafted in the first 10 picks since 1991, when Tennessee had tackles Charles McRae and Antone Davis go seventh and eighth. 

“It wasn’t surprising because the kind of guys they are, they absolutely did everything the right way, the way they took care of themselves, the way they trained, the teammates that they are and were,” Hiestand said. “They just did it all the way you wanted them to do it. So it was. It was a good moment.”

Hiestand said he had a sense of pride after seeing his two former players be drafted so high, even if he wasn't able to re-unite with either of them. The Bears, of course, didn’t have a chance to draft Nelson, and had conviction on using the eighth overall pick on linebacker Roquan Smith (as well as having tackles Charles Leno and Bobby Massie in place for the 2018 season). 

Anecdotally, one former Notre Dame player said (maybe half-jokingly) that Nelson and McGlinchey were fighting each other to see who could get drafted by the Bears to play with Hiestand again.

“There’s nobody that I’ve been around in this game that’s more passionate about what he does,” McGlinchey, now with the San Francisco 49ers, said of Hiestand at Notre Dame’s pro day in March. “There’s really only two things that are important to him, and that’s his family and then his offensive linemen. There’s a lot to be said for that. 

“In this game, everybody’s always trying to work an angle to up their own career — he doesn’t want to do anything but coach O-line, and that’s what really sticks out to us as players. He cares for us like we’re his own. Obviously he coaches extremely hard and is very demanding of his players, which I loved — he pushed me to be the player that I am.

“I’m standing in front of all you guys because of Harry Hiestand. But the amount of passion and care that he has not only for his job but his teaching abilities and his players is what sets him apart.”

Hiestand could’ve stayed as long as he wanted at Notre Dame, presumably, given how much success he had recruiting and developing players there. But six years at one spot is a long time for a position coach, especially at the college level, where the grind of recruiting is so vital to the success of a program. It’s also not like every one of the blue-chip prospects Hiestand recruited to South Bend panned out, either. 

So Hiestand knew he wanted to get back to the NFL after coaching with the Bears under Lovie Smith from 2005-2009. It’s a new challenge for him now, not only to develop second-round pick James Daniels but to continue the growth of Cody Whitehair and Leno while getting the most out of Kyle Long, Massie and the rest of the group (back during his first stint with the Bears, Hiestand had the luxury of coaching experienced, more ready-made offensive lines). 

As one of the more highly-regarded offensive line coaches in the country, though, Hiestand could’ve jumped back into the NFL whenever, and nearly wherever, he wanted. And for him, coming back to the Bears was the perfect fit. 

“That’s an awesome, awesome place, a great franchise,” Hiestand said. “It was something, I always wanted to go back, I didn’t know where I would get the opportunity. So I’m just very fortunate it just happened to be back at the same place that I was before. There are a lot of things that are different but there’s also a lot that’s the same. 

“But it’s one of the — it is the greatest organization. Historically, this is where it all began, and being part of it — and the other thing, and I told those guys when I got here, when we get it done here, you guys are going to see this city like you’ve never seen it. And I remember that. That’s what we’re after.”