Bears

Moon: Bears have gone from hunter to hunted

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Moon: Bears have gone from hunter to hunted

Saturday, Oct. 1, 2011
Posted: 6:56 p.m.

By JohnMullin
CSNChicago.com BearsInsider Follow@CSNMoonMullin
The NFL is about pressure. Pressure to win. Pressure on quarterbacks. Pressure on defenses.

Coming off an 11-5 season and reaching the NFC Championship game, and then throttling the Atlanta Falcons, the Bears were administering the pressure.

Now, after two straight losses with less than 300 total yards of offense, a total of three touchdowns in those two games and quarterback Jay Cutler completing passes at a sub-50-percent rate, and a defense allowing third-down conversions at a 40-percent rate, the Bears have gone from hunter to hunted.

The 2005 team recovered from a 1-3 start to reach the playoffs but that was the only team in franchise history to start 1-3 and reach the postseason. Even the 1965 Bears, with Dick Butkus and Gale Sayers, could finish no better than third place after stumbling that badly early.

If the 2011 Bears cannot get by the Carolina Panthers (1-2), at home, they will find themselves in exactly that canyon. The NFC North will be all be beyond reach if either or both the Green Bay Packers and Detroit Lions push their records to 4-0, and the climb into a wild-card spot will be almost as steep.

We realize where the others are, but really cant do a lot about them right now, said coach Lovie Smith. But for us, is there urgency? Is this a big game for us? Yes.

We want to finish this first quarter of the season at 2-2. NFC, home game. There are a lot of reasons. But you can start with us needing a win. We havent played well the last couple of weeks, as capable as were playing. Yes, we need to get a win.

As far as the ever-clichd must win, I dont think we need to go that far, Cutler said. We want to win them all. This is an important game for us. Were going to go out there. Were going to do everything possible to win. Theres a lot of football left. Theres a lot of things that can happen. I dont think we need to start panicking quite yet.

Yet could be just 60 minutes away on Sunday.

Pressure mounting?

The question will shift increasingly from a player here or a unit there, and on to offensive coordinator Mike Martz. Simply, if the need is for massive change, its not possible to fire all the players.

Given that the organization invested in a quarterback, No. 2 tailbacks (Chester Taylor, Marion Barber), lead receivers (Roy Williams), tight ends (Brandon Manumaleuna, Matt Spaeth) and offensive linemen (Chris Spencer, Gabe Carimi), expectations exist. Whether or not the particular acquisitions were the best will not be the point, particularly with Martz having had input in decisions.

The natural and inevitable fraying has started in small ways, which is just what happens when teams that know they are good enough to win, dont.

Anytime, I think its across the NFL, whenever youre losing games, theres a little bit of a sense of panic and a sense of doom, Cutler said. Weve just got to get over that.

Matching up

The Panthers have played nothing like the team that bumbled to a 2-14 record in 2010. The reason is simple and obvious: Cam Newton.

The rookie quarterback passed for more than 400 yards in his first two NFL games, losing by seven points to both Arizona and Green Bay. Then he managed a rain-swamped situation for a win over Jacksonville last Sunday.

Cutler is perhaps a little envious, having been sacked 14 times this season and seeing that Newton has gone down just eight times, right about the NFL average of 7.2. And Cutler figures Newton hasnt seen anyone quite like Julius Peppers, either.

Newtons production is pretty impressive, Cutler said. Theyve done a good job protecting him, and hes got some playmakers on the outside. Well see how he does against our guys.

Our guys will have more than just Newton to worry about. When he was a Bear, Greg Olsen was perceived as a coverage matchup problem; too big for safeties, too fast for linebackers. Now he is in Carolina in an offense that also has Jeremy Shockey, making two matchup concerns for a defense that has had three different starting safety tandems in three games.

Rookie safety Chris Conte may be a assigned an expanded role against Olsen-Shockey packages. Conte is a former cornerback who has worked in training camp and beyond in coverage drills with the corners and has brings size (6-2) to the secondary and more speed than strong-side linebacker Nick Roach.

Do not look for the Panthers to follow the approaches of Matt Ryan, Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers, however. All three Bears opponents have rushed for more than 100 yards and the Bears are allowing 4.6 yards per rushing attempt.

Some history

The Panthers have lost nine straight road games but Carolina has never been a good playmate for the Bears, particularly in Chicago. The Panthers set a record for wins by an expansion team (7) in 1995 and gave the Bears a 31-27 scare in Soldier Field.
Steve Smith piled up 218 receiving yards in the 2005 divisional round playoff game in Soldier Field. Smith is older and a little slower but still a bad memory for a number of Bears.

When Smith gets the ball, he's kind of like a running back, said linebacker Lance Briggs. He's not an easy guy to bring down. The lesson learned is just don't take any of these games for granted.

We need this game."

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.

Raiders prepping to set the market for Tom Brady in free agency

Raiders prepping to set the market for Tom Brady in free agency

If the Bears have any interest in signing soon-to-be free-agent quarterback Tom Brady this offseason, they may have to be willing to commit beyond just the 2020 season for him.

According to longtime NFL writer Larry Fitzgerald, Sr., the Las Vegas Raiders are prepping to offer Brady a two-year, $60 million deal.

It's a steep price to pay regardless of Brady's resume largely because of his age; he'll be 43 at the start of next season. It's highly unlikely Ryan Pace would be interested in a multi-year deal for a player as close to the end as Brady, but the market will ultimately dictate what needs to be offered by teams who are serious about acquiring TB12.

If Brady wants to play beyond 2020 and is looking for a commitment from a team that extends into at least the 2021 season, his list of potential suitors is likely to shrink. But all it takes is one club willing to meet his asking price, and with Raiders coach Jon Gruden's affinity for established veteran quarterbacks, it seems like a logical match for both sides.

The Bears are expected to be aggressive in the quarterback market this offseason, whether it's via trade for someone like Bengals veteran Andy Dalton or in free agency with players like Marcus Mariota (Titans) and Teddy Bridgewater (Saints) presenting as attractive options.

Former second overall pick Mitch Trubisky has largely been a disappointment over his first three years in Chicago and is facing a make-or-break season in 2020. There's a chance he won't even begin training camp as the starter, depending on who the Bears court in free agency and the promises they make in order to sign him.

NFL free agency could be ‘potential chaos’ for available quarterbacks

NFL free agency could be ‘potential chaos’ for available quarterbacks

A plethora of NFL quarterbacks are set to hit the open market in the next few weeks in Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Dak Prescott, Philip Rivers, Teddy Bridgewater, Jameis Winston, Ryan Tannehill, Marcus Mariota and Case Keenum.

With at least nine in-demand signal-callers, the NFL could see a quarterback shakeup unparalleled in recent NFL history. According to NBC Sports’ Mike Florio, there may be “more butts than seats.”

“In this looming game of quarterback musical chairs, I still don’t think we know whether when the music stops, there’s gonna be more butts than seats, or more seats than butts,” Florio said on NBC Sports’ PFT Live. “And there’s a chance that there’s gonna be a team that is left — because they wanted too long to have something lined up — they’re gonna be left looking around saying ‘Who the hell’s our quarterback for 2020?’”

Based on that list of quarterbacks, teams that could have a QB vacancy to fill this winter include the Patriots, Cowboys, Saints, Buccaneers, Chargers and Titans. There are nine quarterbacks on that list, though Mariota and Keenum may be viewed more as backups by prospective suitors. Therefore, you could have six teams in need of a quarterback and seven on the open market.

The former figure could increase if teams like the Bears or Raiders look to upgrade the quarterback position in free agency. In that case, perhaps there are more “chairs” than “butts” this offseason, meaning some teams may find themselves without a starting quarterback entering the NFL draft.

In that scenario, a team may be inclined to trade for a QB, such as Bengals’ Andy Dalton. How this chaotic situation plays out will determined in the coming weeks, but what’s already certain is this offseason’s free agency could be a frenzy.

“We’ve never had anything even close to this, by way of potential chaos for quarterbacks in free agency and really through the draft,” Florio said. “Who knows how it’s all gonna play out? There’s gonna be a major, major shakeup, potentially. It’s gonna be somewhere between nothing changes and complete and total chaos, but I think it’s gonna be closer to complete and total chaos.”