Bears

Bears thinking Super Bowl, but worried about Lions

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Bears thinking Super Bowl, but worried about Lions

Sunday, Dec. 5, 2010
Posted: 10:40 a.m.

By John Mullin
CSNChicago.com

This time a year ago, the Bears were standing at 4-7 after a humiliation at the hands of Brett Favre and the Minnesota Vikings, the fourth in a string of losses that buried their season. The talk at that time was about playing for pride, because there wasn't much else to play for at that point.

Now they stand 8-3 after the fourth in a string of wins and, even if they don't want to utter the words, they are playing for a Super Bowl.

And they have been truly playing for one a lot longer than most outsiders were aware. Now they are being asked about games with Roman numerals and no one is laughing when they answer honestly.

"We've bottled up a lot of our emotions for a long time, and some of us get real excited -- we're 8-3 right now -- when people ask us questions about how we feel about ourselves," said linebacker Lance Briggs. "We want to jump out and tell you how we feel.

"But at the same time, you want to stay humble and you want to stay the course because we could get into the playoffs and have home-field advantage all the way through and lose the championship and never make it to the Super Bowl, you know. Then, to me, all would be lost."

What should concern the Bears

If the Bears are going to "lose" their 2010 Super Bowl, losing to the Detroit Lions would be a precipitous first step. And they know it.

"We've got to get past the Lions first and I think everyone in the locker room understands that," said quarterback Jay Cutler, going through one of the best stretches of his career.

While critics have continued to point to the first Detroit game as one the Bears were handed via a dubious call by an official, the Bears see a game that they dominated and could done so even more thoroughly.

"You look at the film and we left a lot of stuff out there," Cutler said. "We left a lot of points on the board, missed some big opportunities. We did really good things, did third downs well, red zone, limited the turnovers. If we do those things and keep improving on the little things, we're going to be in good shape."

The requisite cliche for division-rival games is that you can throw out the records. In this case, however, you might be better served to just push them a little off to the side and not entirely ignore them.

The win-loss record is one thing. Bears 8-3, Lions 2-9 and losers of 18 straight division games. The last time they won an NFC North game was in Chicago in 2007.

But while the Bears' offense has begun to look both competent and cohesive over the past four weeks, the Detroit one has been suspiciously more productive over this season as a whole than the Bears'.

The Lions have more substantially more passing first downs than the Bears (142-115); they complete a higher percentage of their passes (60.3-59.8); their quarterbacks have been sacked less than half as many times (20) as the Bears' (41).

Quarterback issues

Those numbers have not been put up for the most part by franchise quarterback Matthew Stafford but by backup Shaun Hill. Now both are injured and Drew Stanton will start, and Bears defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli saw things in Stanton while Marinelli was Lions head coach that he would prefer not to see this Sunday.

"I know him," Marinelli said. "He's highly competitive. He's a great competitor. You treat him a little bit like No. 7 Michael Vick in Philly, in terms of, he can run. Once he gets out of the pocket, his accuracy goes up. Very impressed, because he's really developing as a pocket passer.

"You watch the New York Giant game, in the second half. He did a really nice job. And we know what he can do with his legs. He can extend plays."

The Lions return kickoffs on average (27.5 yards) farther than the Bears (26.5) and have a KOR TD, which the Bears do not. They have a rookie defensive tackle (Ndamukong Suh) with more sacks (eight) than any Bears defensive lineman.

No team scores touchdowns on a higher percentage (71) of their red-zone possessions than the Lions, who have come away with points on 87.4 of their red-zone opportunities.

The Bears have had four more red-zone possessions (35-31) than the Lions but score touchdowns only 45.7 percent of the time (24th). Simply put, if the Lions get close, they can be expected to draw blood.
Lions tamed
What the Lions do not do, however, is stop many people and they have, in fact, allowed more than 100 more points (282) than the Bears (172). They also allow 4.6 yards per rush vs. the Bears' 3.6.

Detroit allows an average of 128.6 rushing yards per game (26th) and the Bears have righted their season by rushing for more than 100 yards in each of the last four games, all wins, and averaged 34 carries and 125 yards per game.

The Lions' difficulties on defense are mildly surprising because of the upgrades Detroit made in an aggressive offseason of rebuilding the defensive line in particular: trading for tackle Cory Redding, signing free agent end Kyle Vanden Bosch and drafted Ndamukong Suh, a leading candidate for defensive rookie of the year with 8 sacks already, including one of Cutler in the opener.

"The thing that's impressive about these guys is they're relentless," said offensive coordinator Mike Martz. "The front is very impressive. The interior two guys are playing better than they have all year. They just get better. It's an impressive group to watch. It really is. They're better now obviously than what we played in the opener."

And one more thing ...

This is the NFL where "any given Sunday" lives. If the Cleveland Browns can ambush and annihilate the New England Patriots; if the Cincinnati Bengals can beat the Baltimore Ravens; then the Detroit Lions can ruin a Sunday afternoon for the Bears.

But not this one.

If the Lions are allowed to stay in this game into halftime and begin to believe they can win, the danger quotient for the Bears increases exponentially. But the Bears of the last four games have played with a purpose on offense behind a viable running game that has built confidence in their offensive line and quarterback.

A fifth straight game for Mike Martz calling more than 25 running plays will be a fifth straight Bears win.

Bears 30, Lions 10

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.

Under Center Podcast: Is Matt Nagy right to rest his starters in preseason games?

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USA Today

Under Center Podcast: Is Matt Nagy right to rest his starters in preseason games?

J.J. Stankevitz is joined by John "Moon" Mullin and Cam Ellis to debate whether or not Mitchell Trubisky, and the rest of the Bears starters, need preseason reps to fully prepare for Week 1. Plus, the guys share their latest thoughts on Eddy Pineiro and the kicking situation.

00:40 - Moon doesn't think everything adds up with Matt Nagy holding Trubisky out of preseason games

03:20 - Highlights from Matt Nagy's Wednesday press conference on the growing trend of coaches sitting starters in the preseason

05:45 - Cam understands why coaches don't want to risk injury in the preseason, but also thinks something else may be afoot with Nagy sitting Trubisky

08:10 - Is joint practice the future of preseason football?

14:00 - Can teams really get the same quality of work done in practice as they can in a preseason game?

19:50 - Talking about Kalyn Kahler's Sports Illustrated article that gave an inside look to the Bears' kicking competition from rookie minicamp

21:20 - Moon says that the Bears are actually in a worse position now, than they were last year with Cody Parkey

23:15 - Did the Bears do future kickers a disservice by fixating on 43-yard kicks?

24:50 - All the guys are excited for Olin Kreutz to join Football Aftershow this season

Listen here on in the embedded player below. 

Under Center Podcast

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Bears sitting QB Mitch Trubisky through preseason doesn’t make complete sense. At all.

Bears sitting QB Mitch Trubisky through preseason doesn’t make complete sense. At all.

Something jus don’ feel right about this Bears not playing Mitchell Trubisky in preseason… . Jus’ don’ feel right.

 

It’s not so much the starters; coaches Matt Nagy and Frank Reich texted this week and agreed that they weren’t playing their starters, although it was apparently more a case of Reich following Nagy’s no-starters lead. Whatever.

 

No, it’s about Trubisky. Because so much of the 2019 Bears and beyond is absolutely still about Trubisky, for whom his coach has been a public cheerleader but who said before training camp that the focus was on ball security, then has had practices speckled with anything but. Whether Nagy is in fact entirely pleased with his young quarterback is between them – not every tick of information says that Nagy is – and the coach is protecting his quarterback at least verbally, again, that’s between them. But it’s preseason and practice, so leave it at that for the time being.

 

But the situation is difficult to understand, for more than a few reasons.

 

Nagy’s NFL roots are of the Andy Reid tree. While Nagy was a member of Reid’s staff in Philadelphia, the Eagles in third preseason games started Donovan McNabb, Kevin Kolb and Michael Vick – all on their ways to starting game one’s. In his five years with Kansas City, Nagy was part of the Reid offensive staff that started Alex Smith in every game three, on through 2017 when Smith played 44 (63 percent) of the Chiefs’ 68 snaps in a game three vs. Minnesota.

 

Nagy isn’t Reid and he doesn’t do or remotely need to do everything Reid did/does, including playing starters, particularly his quarterback, “just because that’s where our team’s at,” Nagy said after the New York Giants game. “Coach [Reid] has his way and I think coach Reid would be the first to tell you that if I’m not being me and if I’m not trying to do what I think is right for our team, then I’m not coach Reid. I’ve learned from him and I’ve learned so much from him, but for our team and our situation, I need to do what’s best for us and just feel like that’s where it’s at. September 5th is an important day for us.”

 

Ok. Seems to make sense philosophically. Seems to… .

 

But NFL MVP Patrick Mahomes needs to play (game three last preseason, game two already this year), mentored by Reid, and Trubisky doesn’t? Houston’s Deshaun Watson needed to play the ’18 game three/’19 game two combo, and Trubisky doesn’t? Six-time Pro Bowl’er Russell Wilson and his Seattle Super Bowl ring needed to, but Trubisky didn’t?

 

Preseason as it is currently constituted needs to go away and probably will at some point. Joint practices are exponentially more preferred both for quality of work starters-vs.-starters and managing player utilization. But right now, preseason is the hand the NFL has dealt its players and coaches.

 

One vein of thinking is that teams that don’t expend starters in preseason leave more in their tanks at year end, and there may be something to that. Not much, however: Nagy holding his 1’s out virtually of the 2018 preseason doesn’t support that argument.

 

The Bears finished anything but strong last season. The two playoff teams that the Bears faced over their final 11 games held the Nagy offense to 15 points, including the Eagles and close coaching friend Doug Pederson. It doesn’t necessarily foreshadow or suggest that good teams were beginning to figure Nagy and Trubisky out as the season wound down, but it’s been hinted at in this space previously. In any case, the Bears weren’t in demonstrably, meaningfully better shape down the stretch.

 

The health thing is a very valid concern; it is with every player, starter or No. 90. Linebacker Leonard Floyd played a chunk of ’18 in a hand cast and then a brace because of a preseason injury, and tight end Adam Shaheen went on IR for much of the year with a lower-leg injury in preseason game two (although Shaheen ended his rookie/2017 season on IR with a chest injury, too).

 

But tracing the Bears’ exceptional collective good health of 2018 to keeping most of the starters out of preseason will take more than one season to trust as cause-effect.

 

The fact is that the Bears lost three of their first six games, only two of which (Seattle, New England) were against teams that eventually reached the postseason. The Los Angeles Rams, whose coach Sean McVay held quarterback Jason Goff out of preseason altogether, were the only other playoff team the Bears faced in Nagy’s first season as a head coach, before meeting Philadelphia in those playoffs.

 

Nagy may indeed be pleased with Trubisky’s practice work and progress. I don’t believe that. I believe there is a lot of coach-speak in play. I also don’t believe that Nagy is going no-starters to match any “trend” that McVay and some younger coaches represent; Nagy isn’t smarter than Reid, Bill Belichick, Pete Carroll and others, but he also is not a follower.

 

But something about sitting a still-forming Trubisky, who needs to prove to his coach and more that he can in fact throw into tight places without interceptions in an actual game setting, for example, even a “practice” game…that just doesn’t make complete sense.

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