Bears

Moon: How much has changed, really?

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Moon: How much has changed, really?

Wednesday, March 23, 2011
Posted: 11:50 p.m.
By John Mullin
CSNChicago.com

The kickoff rules changes will have implications beyond just the kickers and returners. Matt Bowen gives some interesting perspectives on how these will affect coverage units and players like Brendan Ayanbadejo or Corey Graham or Tim Shaw, all Bears coverage standouts and all who consistently delivered high-impact plays on Bears special teams.

But a veteran special teamer I chatted with Wednesday isnt so sure that anything really has been altered.

The biggest reason for his thinking is that the touchbacks still will be brought out only to the 20 rather than the proposed 25. So unless kickers are unequivocally able to pound kickoffs beyond the end line, the reality is that Josh Cribbs, Devin Hester, Danieal Manning, Leon Washington and others among the returner elite will be bringing balls out of end zones.

Why? Because it will be worth the gamble. If the ball were coming out automatically to the 25, thats a better return than most in the NFL average. But to the 20? Might as well take a chance, and Hester, Manning and others will.

And because coverage units are being restricted to a five-yard running start to getting downfield; they may be five yards closer when the ball is kicked but they will not have control over whether someone is bringing it out.

But watch where balls are being kicked by the better marksmen. With good conditions, a kicker will be operating five yards closer to the opposing end zone, and a special-teams expert said that will make it easier to target balls that force a HesterManning to go 10 yards laterally before they make a catch and can start upfield.

All of which points to the rules changes result in something far less than an elimination of the return.

Caming

Interesting observation from NFL Network draft guru Mike Mayock regarding Cam Newton. Mayock guestd with Mike Florio on Pro Football Talk Live and said he expects the Auburn quarterback to go to a team picking in the top 10.

Meanwhile, Todd McShay with ESPN Scouts Inc. envisioned a scenario where the Bears wind up with a very, very good defensive lineman at a position they regard as a need area.

With Tommie Harris gone after several seasons of diminishing returns anyway, the answer may well lie in the person of an upsized Henry Melton, as noted here previously. That would be a good thing for the Bears, because the three-technique, the defensive tackle the Bears depend on for pass-rush pressure out of the middle, is not easy to find in the draft, and certainly not at No. 29 where the Bears are drafting.

Theres not many perfect fits for that three-technique for Chicago, McShay said, but you could see maybe a Corey Liuget out of Illinois. Ive got him going 14th to the Rams but after the Rams, theres not many teams looking for a true defensive tackle. I personally think hed be a better fit as a nose tackle in a 4-3but if hes there at 29 youd have to think long and hard about passing on a guy like Liuget.

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.

Three keys and prediction: Bears vs. Patriots

Three keys and prediction: Bears vs. Patriots

1. Good games from Roquan Smith and Danny Trevathan. Here’s a sampling of Pro Football Focus grades for primary middle/inside/will linebackers against New England this year: 

Reggie Ragland (KC): 60.1
Anthony Hitchens (KC): 30.2
Zaire Franklin (IND): 48.6
Najee Goode (IND): 47.1
Kiko Alonso (MIA): 63.9
Raekwon McMillan (MIA): 62.5
Christian Jones (DET): 59.7
Jarrad Davis (DET): 29.8
Telvin Smith Sr. (JAX): 64.1
Myles Jack (JAX): 61.0
Bernardrick McKinney (HOU): 68.7
Zach Cunningham (HOU): 43.2

Think what you will of Pro Football Focus’ grades, but the average here is 53.2. Interestingly, though, the average grade for these 12 players over the course of the 2018 season is 51.5. So maybe the issue is the Patriots have faced a bunch of mediocre-to-bad linebackers, allowing them to take advantage of those soft spots with Sony Michel running the ball and James White catching it. Smith’s PFF grade is 62.3; Trevathan’s is 64.3, so by this measure, they’re better than any of the interior linebackers the Patriots have faced but still are the weak spot in the Bears’ defense (only Jonathan Bullard has a lower PFF grade among players with 100 or more snaps). 

How Smith and Trevathan play will be key in determining how quickly Brady is able to get the ball out (with passes to White), and how many times they get into third-and-less-than-five situations (with Michel running it). Both those factors will be critical for the Bears’ pass rush, which brings us to our next point.

2. Pressure Tom Brady without blitzing. Brady is a master of beating blitzes, completing 23 of 21 passes for 314 yards with three touchdowns, no interceptions and only one sack when blitzed, per PFF (that’s good for a 138.4 passer rating). When he’s under pressure, though, he has his lowest passer rating — which is still 87.2 — but the point here is that the Bears can’t afford to have to send blitzes to try to get pressure on Brady. The Bears were one of the best teams in the league at pressuring opposing quarterbacks without blitzing before the trip to Miami, and how healthy Khalil Mack really is will be a critical determining factor in those efforts. But when the Bears do earn their pass-rushing opportunities, as Akiem Hicks put it, they need to at least affect Brady and not let him comfortably sit back to pick apart their defense. 

3. Convert red zone opportunities into touchdowns. This was a point Taylor Gabriel made this week about the state of the NFL in 2018: You can no longer afford to settle for three points or, worse, come away from a red zone possession with no points. Scoring is up league-wide, and the Patriots have scored 38, 38 and 43 points in their last three games. One of the biggest reasons the Bears lost that shootout in Miami was two turnovers from inside the five-yard line (Jordan Howard’s fumble, Mitch Trubisky’s interception). Stopping New England’s offense will be difficult, and the expectation should be for Sunday to be a high-scoring afternoon. If that’s the case, the Bears will have to get in the end zone every opportunity they get. The good news: New England’s defense is allowing a touchdown on 68 percent of their opponents’ possessions inside the red zone. 

Prediction: Patriots 31, Bears 27. The Bears’ defense sounded properly motivated after getting gouged by Brock Osweiler in Miami last weekend, but that only goes so far when one of the best quarterbacks of all time rolls into town. This winds up being a back-and-forth affair, but the guy with 54 game-winning drives in his regular season and playoff career makes it 55 late in the fourth quarter at Soldier Field. A close loss to the Patriots wouldn’t dampen the positive vibes around the Bears, so long as they respond with wins against the New York Jets and Buffalo Bills in the next two weeks.

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Can the Bears pull off an upset at home against Tom Brady and the Patriots?

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USA TODAY

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Can the Bears pull off an upset at home against Tom Brady and the Patriots?

Chris Emma, Matt Zahn and Gabe Ramirez join David Kaplan on the panel.

0:00- NBC Sports National NBA Insider Tom Haberstroh joins the panel to discuss the Bulls’ terrible defensive performance as well as Zach LaVine’s impressive season debut.

11:35- Khalil Mack is listed as questionable for Sunday’s game against the Patriots. Can the Bears pull off the upset against Tom Brady?

23:50- NBC Sports Boston Patriots insider Tom E. Curran joins Kap to talk about how New England views the Bears and discuss how Matt Nagy’s team can exploit the Patriots’ weaknesses.

Listen to the full episode at this link or in the embedded player below.

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