Bears

Moon: Bears must avoid temptation against Packers

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Moon: Bears must avoid temptation against Packers

Sunday, Sept. 25, 2011
Posted: 1:00 a.m.

By John Mullin
CSNChicago.com Bears Insider Follow @CSNMoonMullin
As the Bears began game-planning for the Green Bay Packers, sorting through their own misfortunes in New Orleans and assessing the Green Bay games against the Saints and Carolina Panthers, the first task may have been to avoid temptation.

The Saints and Panthers threw for a combined 851 yards in their games against the Green Bay defense. That is the sort of thing a Mike Martz or any offensive coordinator cannot help but notice.

The idea, however, is expected to be avoiding exactly the kind of game plan that New Orleans and Carolina used.

Because both of them lost their games and the Bears lost their game to New Orleans. Drew Brees threw 49 passes in his defeat, Cam Newton 46 in his and Jay Cutler 45 (not including the six sacks and one scramble). That should have established what hasnt worked against the Packers or for the Bears.

Ironically, however, this may be the week in which Mike Martz can justify turning his quarterback into a launch platform. The Packers have not defended the pass but Martz forfeited some of his influence with the misguided performance in New Orleans.

Much of the early week was spent clarifying, from Lovie Smith on down, that the offense needs to establish, if not that it can run, but that it at least thinks about it. Balance, balance, balance.... And giving the offense the ball in position to do some damage.

Everybody knows what it takes for us to win, said coach Lovie Smith. Defensively we have to take the ball away. When you have two teams like this, a lot of times it comes down to that.

And one other thing, the Bears believe.

In search of returns

For all of the various angles of analysis on dealing with the Packers, the one that has consistently been an indicator of outcome has been the Bears return game. When the Bears make something happen on a kickoff or punt return, they typically win.

In the win last year over the Packers, Devin Hester returned a punt 62 yards for a touchdown. Hester had a 28-yard punt return to set up the offenses one TD. Danieal Manning brought a kickoff back 44 yards for field position if not points.

Contrast that with the 15.5 yards Manning averaged in the 10-3 season-ending loss. Hesters long return was 19 yards. Matters declined in the NFC Championship game, with Manning's average a paltry 15.8 yards on four kickoff returns, none longer than 24 yards. Hesters return efforts shrank again, to 5.3 yards per on his three punt returns.

Through two games this year, the return game has produced virtually nothing.

Johnny Knox has a 30-yard kickoff return but Hester has averaged only 20 yards on five kickoff returns. Hester had one punt return against Atlanta for 14 yards but one for minus-4 yards in New Orleans and had to fair-catch three punts.

We are definitely close, but whats close and whats far? coach Lovie Smith reflected. Return game-wise, we have to get it going. We havent gotten any production from our punt return, kickoff return. But with Devin Hester, the greatest returner of all time, its just a matter of time. Hopefully itll be this week.
Running concerns

Both the Atlanta Falcons (110) and New Orleans Saints (118) rushed for more than 100 yards and averaged a combined 5.3 yards per carry against a defense that allowed just 3.7 per rush last season and was No. 2 in the NFL in fewest rushing yards allowed per game. Neither team ran the ball into the end zone but the trend, if it is that, is alarming. The Saints were 28th in the NFL in rushing yards and Atlanta was 26th in rushing average.

Overshadowed by the Cutler injury firestorm in the wake of the NFC Championship was the fact that Green Bay ran for 120 yards on the Bears and registered their two offensive touchdowns on running plays.

The problem of planning for the Packers is compounded, however, by the simple fact that they are expected to look to pound the Bears on the ground on a day likely to feature rain, and they have Aaron Rodgers regardless of the weather.

We know we have our hands full, said defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli. No doubt about it. But weve just got to tend to our business.

On the receiving end

The true problem with defending the Green Bay passing offense is not that it has a true elite receiver in Greg Jennings, but that it has so many good ones. The Bears had five players catch at least 40 passes but two of them (Matt Forte, Greg Olsen) were not wide receivers. The Packers top four receivers were wideouts Jennings, Donald Driver, James Jones, Jordy Nelson each caught 45 or more, plus the 43 that went to running back Brandon Jackson.

Theyre the best well face all year, cornerback Charles Tillman said flatly. Theres so many of them, individually their effort, their ability to get yards after the catch.

Theyre in a league of their own.

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.

No extra ’19 draft pressure on Bears GM Ryan Pace? Don’t believe it.

No extra ’19 draft pressure on Bears GM Ryan Pace? Don’t believe it.

There is never – well, pretty much never – a time without at least some modicum of personal pressure in the NFL, whether it’s to win, develop, save money, whatever.

But some times are more pressurized than others or involve different pressures. So it is for Bears GM Ryan Pace.

Because one of the realities of sport, or lots of other endeavors for that matter, is that it is so often more difficult to stay at the top than to reach it a first time. Complacency can set in after success; opponents and other forces can chip away at what worked on the way up. Worst (or best) of all, expectations rise.

It is arguably much easier to go from three wins to six than to go from, say, 12 to 13.

When Pace was hired to replace Phil Emery, there were the obvious pressures: first-time GM, need to overhaul turn around a roster and culture, all that stuff. But expectations weren’t outlandish; short of abject collapse or some aberrant new level of dysfunction, the true expectations were not to reach the playoffs in 2015, for instance.

And every indication was that Pace was going to get a second coaching hire anyway if bridge-hire John Fox didn’t work out. Pace got an extension with the same win-loss record that got Fox fired.

The pressure then ratcheted up several notches with Pace investing the draft capital he did in Mitchell Trubisky, then hiring his own head coach in Matt Nagy. A consultant and senior management weren’t directing things in either of those cases. Those are on him.

So then Pace’s coach and quarterback went and won 12 games and were within a kicking malfunction of winning a playoff game. Accordingly, with all that, they sent the franchise into a draft (Pace’s first) without top-10 picks in early draft rounds. Pace has not gone into a draft holding fewer than two selections in the top 45 (2017).

This year, with the added expectations from a 12-4 season, Pace starts with none in the first 86.

Pace said this week that the pressure feels the same to him, and it probably does; no one puts more pressure on Pace than he does on himself.

But the expectations are there, or more accurately, the overall need is there, definitely there. After the better part of a decade without any, the Bears have some organizational momentum now and losing that invites dark thoughts.

“I feel like I feel like with fewer picks and with later picks, the onus is on us as scouts to hit on these picks, and to keep this momentum that we’ve got,” Pace said. “I feel like we have this momentum. To keep this momentum going…we need to nail this draft.”

But what if they don’t?

There are no unimportant drafts, or seasons, for that matter. But in the what-have-you-done-for-me-lately world that is the NFL, getting it right does matter. A lot.

The Oakland Raiders went 12-4 in 2016 largely on the fruits of GM Reggie McKenzie draftees Derek Carr, Amari Cooper and Khalil Mack. McKenzie was Pro Football Writers of America’s NFL executive of the year and had a contract extension. (Pace received both of those in a 14-month span.)

The Raiders fell off to 6-10 in 2017, fired coach Jack Del Rio and hired Jon Gruden, who traded away Cooper and Mack, and had McKenzie fired a week after the Raiders were the first AFC team mathematically eliminated from the 2018 playoffs.

Much closer to home, the Bears went to the NFC Championship game in 2010 with a team built by then-GM Jerry Angelo. They again stood atop the NFC North at 7-3 in 2011, at which point Jay Cutler broke his thumb and the Bears lost five of their final six.
Angelo was fired two days after the final ’11 game – a win at Minnesota, the last one of those before finishing 2018 with a victory up there.

Emery was fired after three seasons of decline from 10 to 8 to 5 wins from 2012-14.

Pace is in less than zero danger. Indeed, if the Fox hiring process vs. that of Nagy’s taught Bears management anything, it would start with the presumption that, left to his own devices, Pace is better at picking head coaches than a lot of other people around Halas Hall.

And the fact that 10 of the 12 Bears Pro Bowl’ers or alternates were Pace draft picks or trade/free agent acquisitions suggests that he has improved exponentially from first-draft selections of Kevin White and Hroniss Grasu.

Now all he has to do is do it again. And then again. And then….

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A Bears-centric draft guide to every running back in this year's NFL Draft

A Bears-centric draft guide to every running back in this year's NFL Draft

No position carries more interest and importance than running back as the Bears head into the 2019 NFL Draft, which begins Thursday in Nashville but won’t get underway at Halas Hall until Friday. While general manager Ryan Pace said the Bears don’t need to draft a running back, given all the scouting the Bears have done on players at that position, it feels like a foregone conclusion that they will take one sometime before the end of Saturday. 

So with all the focus on this one position, NBC Sports Chicago compiled the big boards of eight major draft gurus/websites to put a wisdom-of-the-crowd spin on a running back ranking system. Sources used for these rankings: Josh Norris’ top 200, Pro Football Focus’ top 250, Dane Brugler’s top 100, Daniel Jeremiah’s top 50, Gil Brandt’s top 150 and Danny Kelly’s top 100, as well as complete big boards by ESPN and CBS. 

The results divide this class of running backs into a number of tiers based on where the Bears pick, which right now is Nos. 87, 126, 162, 222 and 238. Here’s what we came up with:

Tier 1: No chance

Member: Josh Jacobs, Alabama

Average rank: 28.1
Highest: 8 (Daniel Jeremiah, NFL.com)
Lowest: 60 (Pro Football Focus)
Not ranked: 0

Every one of these eight rankings had Jacobs as its highest-rated running back. There’s a chance the Oakland Raiders use the 24th pick — which the Bears sent to them in the Khalil Mack trade — on Jacobs Thursday night. 

Tier 2: Dream scenarios with No. 87

Members: David Montgomery, Iowa State; Miles Sanders, Penn State

Montgomery average rank: 59.5
Highest: 43 (Daniel Jeremiah, NFL.com)
Lowest: 79 (Pro Football Focus)
Not ranked: 0

 

Sanders average rank: 64.0
Highest: 45 (Gil Brandt, NFL.com)
Lowest: 86 (CBS)
Not ranked: 0

The dream scenario for the Bears would be having one of these guys be available when they go on the clock with the 87th pick Friday night. These two guys are comfortably the second- and third-best running backs in this year’s class when compiling all these rankings, and there’s a good chance a few teams ahead of the Bears will want a running back before that 87th selection. 

Tier 3: Realistic at No. 87

Members: Damien Harris, Alabama; Darrell Henderson, Memphis; Devin Singletary, Florida Atlantic

Harris average rank: 86.0
Highest: 55 (Dane Brugler, The Athletic)
Lowest: 135 (Pro Football Focus)
Not ranked: 1 (Jeremiah)

Henderson average rank: 87.0
Highest: 69 (Danny Kelly, The Ringer)
Lowest: 119 (Pro Football Focus)
Not ranked: 1 (Jeremiah)

 

Singletary average rank: 91.7
Highest: 55 (Josh Norris, Rotoworld)
Lowest: 139 (ESPN)
Not ranked: 1 (Jeremiah)

 

We start to see some variance with these three running backs. Norris has Singletary (55) and Henderson (74) ranked ahead of Sanders (75), with Harris (103) lagging behind; Brandt has Harris (88) and Henderson (95) in his top 100, with Singletary (112) out of it. 

As with anyone in the draft, it only takes one team to like you, and while it’d be a shock if any of these three players jumped Jacobs, one could be drafted ahead of Montgomery or Sanders on Friday night (there’s been some buzz about Henderson climbing up draft boards lately, for what it’s worth). Still, if the Bears are targeting a running back with their third-round pick, some or all of these guys could very well be in Pace’s cloud. 

Tier 4: Options at No. 126 or No. 162

Members: Trayveon Williams, Texas A&M; Justice Hill, Oklahoma State; Bryce Love, Stanford; Rodney Anderson, Oklahoma; Tony Pollard, Memphis; Elijah Holyfield, Georgia; Dexter Williams, Notre Dame; Karan Higdon, Michigan; Ryquell Armstead, Temple; Devine Ozigbo, Nebraska

T. Williams average rank: 110.5
Highest: 76 (ESPN)
Lowest: 238 (Pro Football Focus)
Not ranked: 3 (Brugler, Jeremiah, Kelly)

 

Hill average rank: 120.0
Highest: 72 (ESPN)
Lowest: 190 (Pro Football Focus)
Not ranked: 2 (Jeremiah, Kelly)

Love average rank: 120.4
Highest: 113 (Pro Football Focus)
Lowest: 140 (CBS)
Not ranked: 4 (Brugler, Jeremiah, Brandt, Kelly)

Anderson average rank: 125.3
Highest: 112 (CBS)
Lowest: 138 (Pro Football Focus)
Not ranked: 5 (Norris, Brugler, Jeremiah, Brandt, Kelly)

 

Holyfield average rank: 130.7
Highest: 99 (CBS)
Lowest: 157 (Norris)
Not ranked: 5 (Pro Football Focus, Brugler, Jeremiah, Brandt, Kelly)

Pollard average rank: 140.3
Highest: 132 (Brandt)
Lowest: 244 (Pro Football Focus)
Not ranked: 4 (Norris, Brugler, Jeremiah, Kelly)

D. Williams average rank: 148.0
Highest: 116 (Brandt)
Lowest: 177 (Pro Football Focus)
Not ranked: 4 (Norris, Brugler, Jeremiah, Kelly)

Higdon average rank: 160.3
Highest: 149 (Pro Football Focus)
Lowest: 182 (ESPN)
Not ranked: 5 (Norris, Brugler, Jeremiah, Brandt, Kelly)

Armstead average rank: 166.5
Highest: 147 (Brandt)
Lowest: 181 (CBS)
Not ranked: 3 (Brugler, Jeremiah, Kelly)

 

Ozigbo average rank: 169.5
Highest: 73 (Norris)
Lowest: 305 (ESPN)
Not ranked: 4 (Brugler, Jeremiah, Brandt, Kelly)

Now we’re really all over the board, which is how a glance at eight NFL draft boards would look like. Some may not include Ozigbo — who wasn’t invited to the Combine — while another team could have a third-round grade on him. Trayveon Williams could be a third-rounder on one team’s board and a seventh-rounder on another’s. With all these guys, it depends on how they’d fit what Pace and Matt Nagy believe would fit the Bears best. 

A few quick thought here: Love seems unlikely given his medical re-check revealed some lingering concerns about his surgically-repaired knee. The previously-injured running back the Bears would seem more likely to take out of this group would be Anderson. 

Tier 5: Seventh-round fliers

Members: Benny Snell Jr., Kentucky; Mike Weber, Ohio State; Miles Gaskin, Washington; Jalin Moore, Appalachian State; Jordan Scarlett, Florida; Travis Homer, Miami (Fla.); Alexander Mattison, Boise State; James Williams, Washington State; Darwin Thompson, Utah State; Alex Barnes, Kansas State

Snell Jr. average rank: 164.0
Highest: 116 (CBS)
Lowest: 212 (ESPN)
Not ranked: 6 (Norris, Pro Football Focus, Brugler, Jeremiah, Brandt, Kelly)

Weber average rank: 185.0
Highest: 139 (CBS)
Lowest: 219 (Pro Football Focus)
Not ranked: 5 (Norris, Brugler, Jeremiah, Brandt, Kelly)

 

Gaskin average rank: 198.3
Highest: 147 (CBS)
Lowest: 243 (Pro Football Focus)
Not ranked: 5 (Norris, Brugler, Jeremiah, Brandt, Kelly)

Moore average rank: 200
Highest: 191 (ESPN)
Lowest: 209 (CBS)
Not ranked: 6 (Norris, Pro Football Focus) Brugler, Jeremiah, Brandt, Kelly)

Scarlett average rank: 204.0
Highest: 148 (Pro Football Focus)
Lowest: 266 (ESPN)
Not ranked: 5 (Norris, Brugler, Jeremiah, Brandt, Kelly)

Homer average rank: 208.8
Highest: 185 (Pro Football Focus)
Lowest: 240 (ESPN)
Not ranked: 5 (Norris, Brugler, Jeremiah, Brandt, Kelly)

Mattison average rank: 209.6
Highest: 150 (Norris)
Lowest: 295 (CBS)
Not ranked: 4 (Brugler, Jeremiah, Brandt, Kelly)

 

Williams average rank: 222.8
Highest: 127 (Norris)
Lowest: 281 (ESPN)
Not ranked: 4 (Brugler, Jeremiah, Brandt, Kelly)

Thompson average rank: 247.0
Highest: 170 (Pro Football Focus)
Lowest: 294 (ESPN)
Not ranked: 5 (Norris, Brugler, Jeremiah, Brandt, Kelly)

Barnes average rank: 264.3
Highest: 191 (Pro Football Focus)
Lowest: 327 (CBS)
Not ranked: 5 (Norris, Brugler, Jeremiah, Brandt, Kelly)

It’s hardly unprecedented for a running back drafted in the sixth or seventh round to make an impact — Chris Carson did for the Seattle Seahawks last year, for instance — but if the Bears draft one of these guys, expectations should be set accordingly. As in: It’d be a sign the Bears believe Mike Davis can take on a larger load, and that this player they drafted can fill a smaller role than, say, a running back drafted in the third round. 

Of note here: There rest of the players listed in Tier 6 are all ranked by only two services (ESPN and CBS). Exceptions were made here for Moore and Snell given their high rankings, and that Brugler has a fourth-round grade on Moore and a fifth/sixth-round grade on Snell, though neither were in his top 100. 

Tier 6: Priority free agents

Members: Qadree Ollison, Pittsburgh; LJ Scott, Michigan State; Kerrith Whyte Jr., Florida Atlantic; Ty Johnson, Maryland; Wes Hills, Slippery Rock; Bruce Anderson, North Dakota State; Darrin Hall, Pittsburgh; Matt Colburn II, Wake Forest; Taiwan Deal, Wisconsin; Marquis Young, Massachusetts; Jaques Patrick, Florida State; Nick Brossette, LSU; Damarea Crockett, Missouri; Xavier Turner, Tarleton State; Joe Connor, Concordia (Mich.); Aeris Williams, Mississippi State; Khari Blasingame, Vanderbilt; Lexington Thomas, UNLV; Alec Ingold, Wisconsin; Craig Reynolds, Kutztown; Dominick Bragalone, Lehigh; A.J. Oullette, Ohio; Cullen Gillaspia, Texas A&M; Jordan Ellis, Virginia

 

That’s a lot of names! Perhaps the Bears could unearth a Phillip Lindsay-level undrafted free agent out of this group (want a name? Bruce Anderson). More likely, they won’t. But expect the Bears to sign at least one of the names from this group, or if someone from Tier 5 isn’t drafted (which is likely), as a free agent in the feeding frenzy that happens after Mr. Irrelevant is selected on Saturday.