Bears

Bears try to clinch NFC North title outdoors in Minny

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Bears try to clinch NFC North title outdoors in Minny

Monday, Dec. 20, 2010
9:35 AM

By John Mullin
CSNChicago.com

The 2010 season has continued to play out as Lovie Smith envisioned it (or as much as it can with three losses in seven home games.) The Bears played their way into a reasonable (4-3) if not commanding position through October, then ran off a 4-0 November that carried over one week into December.

The New England game rocked them backwards but the Bears are now in a new position that has been missing in two of the last three seasons and was blown in 2008 when they had a playoff berth in front of them before a final-game loss to the Houston Texans.

Its nice to have games that mean something in December, said linebacker Brian Urlacher. We havent had that in a while. Two years after the Super Bowl, we had a chance to go to the playoffs, and we lost that game at Houston.

But to have a few games here at the end of the season that actually mean something, its fun. Youre practicing for a reason, for a purpose. Its easy to come to work when you know you have a goal in mind to get to, and its still attainable.

It clinching the NFC North division title for the first time since 2006 -- is indeed attainable after the Green Bay Packers teetered to the brink of playoff elimination with their loss to the Patriots. The Bears can accomplish that with a win over Minnesota.

But it is far from a given.

The 2008 missed opportunity should still be seared into their minds, losing on the road to a team that had nothing particular to play for beyond an 8-8 record, not unlike the 2010 Minnesota Vikings. It helped place Smiths job in jeopardy.

Be careful with teams like that. They got one mission and thats to start knocking off playoff teams and guys still in it will make a run for it. So weve got to take them seriously, a tough team. We played well against them the first time. Still doing a lot of similar stuff offensively and defensively.

The 1993 Dave Wannstedt Bears stood 7-5 and proceeded to lose their final four games, failing to score more than 14 points in any of them.

The 7 points scored against New England last Sunday should be an anomaly for an offense that has averaged just under 20 per game. But the home team has won 15 of the last 17 games between Minnesota and Chicago and last year it was the Bears who upset the playoff-bound Vikings, at home.

And Minnesota is the only NFC North opponent against which Smith does not own a winning record.

Playoffs is one thing that youre playing for, but theres a lot more than that, especially when youre playing a division opponent, Smith said. Well get their best effort. I dont have any doubt on that.

Whats missing? The football

The running of Adrian Peterson, the play of a rookie Minnesota quarterback (Joe Webb), the ability of the Bears offensive line to control the line of scrimmage against a stout defensive front all are points of analysis. Same with Bears LT Frank Omiyale vs. Vikings DE Jared Allen; footwear and field conditions; or Jay Cutler playing at night, which he doesnt do very well.

But Bears defensive players and coaches are of one mind on the one true key to this game and most:

Take what the offense gives you, beginning with the football.

During the Smith era the Bears are 36-7 when they have a more takeaways in a game than giveaways. They are 5-0 this season with a plus-turnover ratio.

They are also 3-2 with a negative turnover margin, a tribute to their defense delivering stops after giveaways. But they are 1-2 when the defense produces zero takeaways, which was the case against New England and Detroit the past two weeks. They were also takeaway-less in the loss to Seattle.

And that has killed not only some chances for wins. It also sapped out some of the swagger that had come to characterize the defense through the Bears winning streak.

Weve got to get takeaways, Urlacher declared. We havent gotten a takeaway in two weeks. So we need to get takeaways again, start getting to the quarterback, and just start having fun again. Were a fun group when were playing well. So weve got to start doing that again.

Peterson once could be counted on to turn the ball loose. He has not done it once yet this season.

Obviously hes very conscious of it, said defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli. You can tell. Its not been popped out yet so its credit to him. Hes cleaned that up but part of our deal is weve got to go take it away.

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 Leonard Floyd is the key to the Bears' defensive success

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USA Today Sports Images

Why Leonard Floyd is the key to the Bears' defensive success

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — For all the attention heaped on Roquan Smith in the last 48 hours, he’s not the most important player to determining the success of the Bears’ defense in 2018. 

Rightly, the Bears feel good about their depth at inside linebacker, especially now that the No. 8 overall pick is in the mix. Smith, Danny Trevathan and Nick Kwiatkoski being at the top of the depth chart is solid at worst; John Timu is entering fourth year in Vic Fangio’s defense, and rookie Joel Iyiegbuniwe has some promise. 

This isn’t to diminish the importance of Smith, who represents the biggest (and, arguably, only major) addition to the Bears’ defense made in the 2018 offseason. But if you’re looking for the guy whose performance will be the most critical to the success of this defense, look toward the last Georgia product the Bears took with a top-10 pick. 

Given the upside of Leonard Floyd and where the Bears stand at outside linebacker three and a half weeks before the start of the regular season, that’s your guy. And over the last few weeks, Floyd has practiced and played better and better, providing an encouraging sign for a guy the Bears are betting big on this year. 

“He’s feeling more comfortable,” Trevathan said. “So I’m just happy with the direction he’s heading. It’s just going to make our defense better with Flo flying around.”

The Bears have seen flashes from Floyd in the past, but he’s yet to put together much in the way of consistency when it comes to affecting the quarterback. His 11 1/2 sacks in 1,118 career snaps come out to an average of one sack every, roughly, 102 snaps in 22 career games. For a guy that’s averaged 51 snaps per game his first two years in the league, that averages out to about one sack every two games. 

If you factor in quarterback hurries, of which he has 21 in two years, Floyd is affecting the quarterback once every 34 snaps. Pernell McPhee, who the Bears released earlier this year, averaged a sack or a hurry once every 24 snaps, abeit in a small sample size. Von Miller, who Floyd is sharing practice fields with this week, averaged a hurry or sack once every 26 snaps in the last two years over 1,828 snaps. 

These numbers don’t factor in a lot of things, like coverage assignments or flat-out statistical misses of hurries (for instance, Floyd wasn’t credited with a hurry in last week’s preseason game against the Cincinnati Bengals, despite his pressure on quarterback Andy Dalton forcing a throw Kyle Fuller picked off and ran back for a touchdown). But the overall point is this: The Bears need Floyd to put more pressure on opposing quarterbacks and be that double-digit-sack guy they envisioned when drafting him two years ago. 

Floyd isn’t putting that pressure on himself, though, and stuck to the usual one-day-at-a-time answer when asked how he achieves better consistency and what his goals are for the season. 

“Going out and practicing and just going as hard as you can, fixing your corrections and just continuing to be better every day,” Floyd said. 

If Floyd was a little reserved about his own expectations for the season, his teammates are more than willing to do the talking for him. 

“Even if he’s not flashy in the way you would want to see your outside linebacker flashing, he’s scaring offenses, you know what I’m saying?” defensive end Akiem Hicks, who tabbed Floyd as a Pro Bowl favorite as early as April, said. “So he already put that intimidation factor in there, and then to come up with the plays on top of that, the sky’s the limit for that guy. You just look at the body of work that he’s had as far as putting it in the past couple years, you’re waiting for that moment where he just takes over the league, and I think it’s this year.”

“He’s more disruptive,” Trevathan said. “I see a sense of him trying to create more big plays. Instead of just a sack, more to it. Sack/caused fumble. Getting the quarterback’s (vision). He’s guarding, dropping back. He’s doing everything that Flo is supposed to do even better now.”

Another positive point in Floyd’s favor is outside linebackers coach Brandon Staley seeing him talking more in meetings and growing more comfortable with his role and position on this defense. While Floyd isn’t going to be a vocal leader in that room — that role is ably filled by Sam Acho — his teammates are starting to notice his performances in practice. 

“I think our guys know that Leonard can do so many things for us,” Staley said. “They lean on him by his example — how he is in the practice field, how he is in the meetings. He's been doing a good job.”

But the most important point on Floyd may be this: The Bears bet big on him, and are betting big on him, based on how they addressed outside linebacker in the offseason. Aaron Lynch was brought in on a one-year, prove-it deal, but the injury issues that dogged him in San Francisco have returned during training camp (he’s only participated in one practice due to a hamstring injury). Acho was re-signed to a two-year deal, rewarding him for the stable play he’s provided over the last few years, but he’s only recorded four sacks in 47 games with the Bears. Ryan Pace waited until the sixth round before drafting an edge rusher, giving a flier to Kylie Fitts. Isaiah Irving, an undrafted rookie from a year ago, has flashed in a few preseason games dating back to last year but didn't record a sack in his 41 snaps on defense in 2017. 

Those moves screamed one thing: The Bears believe in Floyd, and believe if he has the kind of season they think he can have, they didn’t need a massive addition to their group of edge rushers. That doesn’t mean Pace won’t make a move for an edge rusher before or after cut-down day in September, but unless he were to pay an exorbitant price to trade for Khalil Mack, whoever is brought it won’t be viewed as the team’s No. 1 edge rushing option. 

That would be Floyd, who’s shown in the last few weeks that he’s past his season-ending knee injury from 2017. It’s now on the third-year player to make that leap in production and play a major role in the success of a Bears’ defense that, other than Smith, largely stood pat this spring. 

Under Center Podcast: Takeaways from the Bears’ joint practice in Denver

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AP

Under Center Podcast: Takeaways from the Bears’ joint practice in Denver

JJ Stankevitz and The Athletic’s Kevin Fishbain break down the Bears’ joint practice with the Denver Broncos on Wednesday, including how Roquan Smith looked, some encouraging signs for the offense and an enjoyable sequence of pass-rushing drills involving Von Miller.

Listen to the full Under Center Podcast right here: