Bears

Miller: Bears should beware Rivera, Panthers

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Miller: Bears should beware Rivera, Panthers

Saturday, Oct. 1, 2011Posted: 11:15 a.m.

By Jim Miller
CSNChicago.com

Im nervous for the Bears against the Panthers. Sure, everyone wants to point to first year head coach Ron Rivera, a rookie QB, blah, blah, blah, but here are the facts:

Ron Rivera knows the Bears! He specifically knows the Bears defense and how to attack it. If you think for a minute he was wasting his time in Carolinas defensive meetings all week, you are sorely mistaken. It is not the Bears offense that can hurt the Carolina Panthers chances at Soldier field; it is the defense that could turn the tides on Lake Michigan.

Offensively

The Bears have proven through three games they cannot make adjustments at the line of scrimmage as per Jay Cutlers testimony to the media last week. Thus, its all on the Bears' play caller, Mike Martz.

The Bears will see atypical hybrid 3-4 fronts and blitzes (like Cats = corner blitz) you dont normally see. Rivera does it by necessity to compete.

Chico, in his first year as head coach, does not have the personnel defensively to do what he envisions so hes flexible to the talent inherited. Furthermore, the Panthers are weak in their front seven defensively. Carolina has young defensive tackles and a linebacking core decimated by injuries.

In order to make up for the lack of pass rush, Ron sends an extra defender versus run and pass. The Bears struggled again last week vs. press coverage. It disrupts timing in the passing game by not allowing receivers off the line of scrimmage. They will continue to see it until they beat it. It was why Jay was waiting at the top of his drop to throw the ball. Remember when the greatest show on turf lost to New England in the Super Bowl? Belichick used press coverage.

When Rivera sends an extra defender, Martz will not know when or who it will be, so this should be an interesting game to see if Martz again can predict fronts and coverages through his play calling.

Nobody has blown Carolina out this year so far. Opponents like Arizona are challenged and so is Jacksonville -- whom Carolina beat for their first win -- but even the World Champion Green Bay Packers had to come from behind to win.

Those three teams have experienced coaches and schemes in place at their respective organizations. How is Carolina hanging with them with a new offense and defense installed in a lockout season? The answer is coaching.

Run the Ball!

The Panthers are a far cry from what they once were up front defensively. They have young, inexperienced players who are gap sound no matter if it is 3-4 or 4-3 front. The Bears have to wear them out running the football.

The problem is, which blocking rules are the Bears going to use? 3-4 rules or 4-3 rules? Again, it comes down to Martz predicting the front and if Martz can call the perfect play to take advantage.

There are a plethora of Go Plays he can call for all fronts, but the Bears running game has been stuck in the mud assignment-wise vs. any front. Physically, the Bears were overmatched to run the ball against Green Bays 3-4 defensive front. Now, the question is will they be overmatched with Carolina's jack-of-all-trades scheme?
Defense

The Bears locker room is prideful and they are facing a rookie QB in Cam Newton. The Bears defense even confused Aaron Rodgers a week ago into a Brian Urlacher interception. It looked open, and then it was not.

Therefore, the Panthers are going to press the issue running the football. They have a nice offensive line and quality running backs. Ron knows how to beat a Tampa 2 defense. It is by getting physical for four quarters to wear down a speedy undersized defense.

The Bears are always good at stripping the football, which Ron has addressed all week in practice for RBs DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart to beware. The gameplan is on them, not Cam!

I am nervous for the Bears. Last year, the offensive football displayed got worse before it finally got better after a bye week. The same issues exist in now Year Two of Martzs system. This game against Carolina, like the offense, will be a struggle.

Jim Miller, an 11-year former NFL quarterback, is a Comcast SportsNet Bears analyst who can be seen each week on U.S. Cellular Bears Postgame Live. Miller, who spent five seasons with the Bears, analyzes current Chicago QB Jay Cutler in his "15 on 6" blog on CSNChicago.com and can be followed on Twitter @15miller.

Three questions for Bears D-line: Does Akiem Hicks have another gear?

Three questions for Bears D-line: Does Akiem Hicks have another gear?

Pre-camp depth chart

DE
1. Akiem Hicks
2. Bilal Nichols
3. Bunmi Rotimi

1. Jonathan Bullard
2. Roy Robertson-Harris
3. Cavon Walker

NT
1. Eddie Goldman
2. John Jenkins
3. Nick Williams

1. Does Akiem Hicks have another gear?

Hicks led the Bears with 8 1/2 sacks last year, and combined with his excellent work against the run probably should’ve been enough to get him to the Pro Bowl (it wasn’t). Still, 2017 was a feel-good year for Hicks, who signed a four-year contract extension a day before the season started and then turned in career-best production.

With the Bears’ pass rush having the most questions of any segment of this team coming into training camp, Vic Fangio will have to hope Hicks not only doesn’t take a step back in 2018, but improves off what he did a year ago. 

Defensive line coach Jay Rodgers said he wants to see Hicks play with greater consistency in 2018 — and if he does that, it would allow him to find that extra gear in his play. 

“Consistency with technique, consistency with production,” Rodgers said. “More opportunities to get in on tackles. I think his solo tackles were really high as compared to previous years, I’d like to see his assists go up, which means that he’s finding ways to get to the ball even faster. All those things you take into consideration when you’re evaluating a guy and seeing a guy if he gets better from Year 1 to Year 2 to Year 3.” 

2. When will Eddie Goldman get his second contract?

Goldman’s place in the Bears’ defensive line isn’t in question, even if his surface-level numbers (27 tackles, 1 1/2 sacks) aren’t exactly eye-popping. What Goldman primarily succeeds at — pushing back two interior offensive linemen weighing about 600 pounds — doesn’t show up in a box score, but it certainly doesn’t go unnoticed by his coaches and teammates. 

“He’s a beast, man,” linebacker Danny Trevathan said. “I’m glad to have him in front of me. He’s not a guy who’s rah-rah, but when he’s out there, he’s out there making plays. It doesn’t show up on film but he’s the key, he’s a vital part of this defense. He’s wrecking stuff in there. As a linebacker, that’s my best friend. 

“The more he can wreck, the more I can make plays and we all can make plays. It shows to us, and probably not to the public as much, but to us we know what his game is and we know what he brings to this defense. He’s definitely making us better.”

Goldman and Hicks played off each other well last year, and with Hicks (and Fangio) sticking around for a while, it would only make sense for Goldman — who’s entering the final year of his rookie contract — to be Ryan Pace’s top priority to sign to an extension during training camp. It seems like a matter of when, not if, that deal will be reached. 

“I don’t know about you all, but I don’t put any of the highlight reels on (that are on) national television,” Rodgers said. “I have a highlight reel in my room. And if I see him knock people back and make a play, or knock another guy back on his way to the quarterback that affects the pocket, that’s a highlight in my mind.”

3. Who emerges opposite Hicks as the starting DE?

While the consistency achieved across Fangio’s defense has been a point of praise for the Bears, at least inside Halas Hall, the impact of the departure of defensive end Mitch Unrein may have flown under the radar. Coaches and teammates praised how well Unrein fit a role on the Bears’ defensive front last year, with his consistency and knowledge allowing Hicks and Goldman to play faster. Consider what Rodgers said about Unrein last fall:

“Mitch is the glue that kind of holds it all together,” Rodgers said. “…When he’s out there on the field with those guys, he allows those guys to play fast. And if they know what’s coming their way, then they can play even faster.”

Unrein signed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in March, and the Bears didn’t make a move to replace him in free agency. So that means there will be a relatively open competition for the third starting spot on the defensive line come training camp between, primarily, Jonathan Bullard, Roy Robertson-Harris and Bilal Nichols. 

Each player has his own strengths and weaknesses. Bullard, a 2016 third-round pick, showed flashes at times last year but only has two sacks and 33 tackles in 30 career games. The Bears believe Robertson-Harris is an ascending player with pass rushing potential, but he’s only entering his second year playing 3-4 defensive end and would need to make significant strides in training camp. Nichols is a fifth-round pick who the Bears see as having some pass-rushing potential, too, but expecting a guy who played defensive tackle at Delaware to step into a primary role on an NFL defensive line is a little lofty.

One other note here, though: Even if the Bears have a true “starter,” expect there to be plenty of rotating with the spot(s) opposite Hicks and Goldman. For all the praise Unrein received last year, he didn’t even play half of the Bears’ defensive snaps, so having at least two other defensive linemen emerge as viable options would be beneficial for this group. 

Is Jordan Howard underrated in fantasy football?

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USA Today

Is Jordan Howard underrated in fantasy football?

Jordan Howard has accomplished some pretty amazing things to start his career. Most notably, he's the only running back in Chicago Bears franchise history to finish his first two seasons with more than 1,000 rushing yards, including 1,313 yards as a rookie, good for a team rookie record.

Still, Howard has been the target of criticism this offseason because of his questionable set of hands. He was plagued by a case of the drops last season and he's been labeled as a guy who can't catch the ball heading into 2018. Combine that with the player nipping at his heels -- Tarik Cohen -- and the overwhelming theory advanced by analysts is that he'll give way to Cohen on passing downs.

This presumption has made its way into the world of fantasy football, too. Howard is rarely if ever mentioned as one of the first running backs that should be drafted this summer and in a recent player vs. player showdown on Pro Football Focus, 49ers starter Jerick McKinnon was selected as a more appealing fantasy starter in 2018.

It’s close, but I give the nod to Jerick McKinnon. Howard’s troubles in the passing game are very real and it’s clear the Bears want to focus on that more this year. Meanwhile, McKinnon was handed a fat contract and has little competition when it comes to carries.

McKinnon, a career backup, was signed by San Franciso to be Kyle Shanahan's feature running back. He has a real chance to be a stud in fantasy circles, but should he be valued over a guy like Howard who's proven to be a contender for the NFL's rushing crown?

All of this offseason chatter will serve as great motivation for Howard who has to prove, first and foremost, that he can be a three-down back for coach Matt Nagy in the Bears' new offense. If he has a consistent training camp as a receiver and carries that momentum into the preseason and regular season, those fantasy players who draft McKinnon or another less-proven player over Howard will long for a redo.