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.

How the Bears' offseason plan will be defined by NFL's CBA negotiations

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USA Today

How the Bears' offseason plan will be defined by NFL's CBA negotiations

The Bears’ offseason will be defined by what happens in the next few days with — and sorry if this seems boring — labor negotiations. Trust us, though: It’s anything but boring. 

You’ve probably seen some of the items included in the collective bargaining agreement the league’s 32 owners ratified this week: Expanded playoffs, a 17th game, no franchise/transition tag, a new structure for fifth-year options, and — most importantly — more money for everyone (even if the owners, who do not play football nor suffer the aftereffects of playing football, have no interest in a 50/50 split of league revenue). 

But here’s where the intrigue lies: The owners want the NFLPA to either ratify or reject their current proposal by “next week,” a vague term clearly referencing the NFL combine. While the 2020 league year does not begin until March 18, the combine is where groundwork gets laid for deals and trades with agents, coaches and front office types all mingling for a few days in downtown Indianapolis (which, by the way, is a lot nicer a place than you may think!). 

And without a clear direction — either moving forward with a new CBA or continuing with the old agreement for one more year — how are football bigwigs supposed to spill secrets when the shrimp cocktails at St. Elmos are traded for real cocktails and then Bud Lights…and more Bud Lights?

(Also, Jerry Jones probably wants to know if he can or cannot use both the franchise and transition tags on Dak Prescott and Amari Cooper.)

If the NFLPA ratifies the owners’ proposal, the Bears could get an immediate injection of cap space — the Athletic estimated an extra $5 million — that’d be a significant aid to Ryan Pace’s offseason strategy. 

It’d be interesting to know if the new CBA would affect Mitch Trubisky’s fifth-year option, which right now needs to be picked up or declined by May 2 and is guaranteed for injury only. If the new CBA were applied to Trubisky’s fifth-year option, it would be fully guaranteed, meaning the Bears would be on the hook to pay Trubisky no matter what in 2021 if they were to pick it up. But: the amount they’d pay him would certainly be less than the $24 million-ish he’d be due in the old agreement, because it’d be based on performance and, well, you know. 

But the real chaos — and downside for the Bears — could hit if the NFLPA does not ratify the owners’ proposal. Mike Florio at PFT ran down the impact of this, even if there seems to be a growing perception among some of the league's biggest voices that it's an awful deal for players. 

But playing out one more year under the current CBA, with no guarantee of labor peace and a 17th game, could mean free agents (or those due for extensions, like Allen Robinson) may not be interested in longer-term contracts given the uncertainty of A) the money available to players in the future and B) the 17th game, and what that means for the next round of TV contracts with ludicrous payouts. 

So no new CBA could mean more short-term deals with a high average annual value — the kind of thing a team with about $14 million in cap space can’t afford. The Bears’ best bet in free agency is to backloading three/four/five-year contracts for top players, allowing them to add talent while staying under the cap in 2020. 

To put it less abstractly: What if the Bears trade for Derek Carr (the Instagram post meant something!) but can't sign him to the extension they want, getting his $21.5 million cap hit down in 2020 while locking him up for a few more years after? It'd mean they'd probably have to cut a player or two they were hoping to keep

The coming hours and days are going to be massive in figuring out what direction the Bears can take this offseason. It may not be as interesting as TOM BRADY’S TOUR STOPS AT HALAS HALL but these negotiations will have a profound impact on what sort of roster the Bears field when the 2020 season begins in September. 

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NFL free agency: Making sense of Derek Carr's Instagram of Khalil Mack

NFL free agency: Making sense of Derek Carr's Instagram of Khalil Mack

There's smoke here, and Derek Carr is coming to the Bears, right?

You might want to believe that if you, the Bears fan who’s given up on Mitch Trubisky, reads into Carr's caption-free Thursday Instagram post. The photo was of Carr, who’s still employed by the Raiders, with his good friend Khalil Mack. 

Couple Carr’s confusingly-similar-named brother, David, posting a hashtag (#megaPowers) on it, and the inference is crystal-clear, right? This can only mean one thing: Carr will quarterback the Bears in 2020.

That’s the good stuff. 

Welcome to the silliness of NFL free agency, where Stefon Diggs deleting photos of him in a Minnesota Vikings uniform means the moody receiver definitely wants to be traded (that happened with Jordan Howard two years ago and…Howard was not traded in 2018’s offseason).

Know how to interpret a single emoji in a tweet from an impending free agent or disgruntled star? Congrats! You're qualified to be an NFL insider.

Now: Carr posting a photo with one of his closest buddies means he very well could want a reunion with Mack in Chicago. 

Nevermind the minor details of Carr 1) Still being on a Raiders team that doesn’t currently have his replacement on the roster, and won’t until mid-March at the earliest, 2) carrying a $21.5 million cap hit in 2020, about $7 million more than the Bears’ available salary cap and 3) not having any control over where he’d go if the Raiders were to trade him.

Maybe Carr found a picture of him and his best friend and posted it for no other reason than it was a good photo, as those of us on Instagram often do. 

More important: The Bears look unlikely to make a splash move at quarterback if you follow the money. Carr is too expensive to trade for while also successfully filling red-line needs at tight end, right guard, inside linebacker and safety. 

Or maybe there is smoke here, and the Raiders have made it clear to Carr they’re going to explore the quarterback market — maybe with Cam Newton, maybe with Tom Brady — and he’s starting to agitate for a trade to Chicago. Maybe the Bears are back-channeling some discussions to make sure they’re at the front of Mike Mayock’s mind when he tries to find a landing spot for Carr in the event he and Jon Gruden lure Brady to Las Vegas. The Bears, theoretically, could trade for Carr and sign him to an extension that makes his 2020 cap hit more palatable. 

You can see why the Bears might want Carr, who's had success in the past, is cheap relative to other starting quarterbacks and could be viewed as this franchise's version of Alex Smith. But that’s a long way off.  

And it’s not unprecedented for a vague Instagram post to portend the future. Remember when Allen Robinson posted a photo of him in a Cubs jersey a month before signing in Chicago?

Or, another possibility, and this tracks the most: Maybe Carr is just messing with everyone, knowing his name has been mentioned by the media as a potential trade target. 

As Instagram user angel.et.03 so elegantly put it in a comment on the post: “Carr just f***ing with us at this point.”

Good on Carr if he is, since he certainly succeeded.

Then again: Of the 70,000+ likes the photo has, one of them is from the user “fiftydeuce,” — Mack himself.

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of the Bears.