Bears

Moon Musings from a Sunday of NFL football

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Moon Musings from a Sunday of NFL football

Sunday, Dec. 19, 2010
10:45 PM

By John Mullin
CSNChicago.com

The play of Matt Flynn for the Green Bay Packers should serve to quiet some of the snickering about the Bears facing backup quarterbacks (which has happened a lot this season).

Flynn started in place of concussed Aaron Rodgers and had the New England Patriots reeling right up to the final, game-ending sack. Rodgers doesnt make some of the new-guy mistakes but Flynn played better against the Patriots that Jay Cutler, Mark Sanchez and a lot of other quarterbacks this season.

A fluke? Well, Drew Stanton, that third-stringer who started against the Bears, guided the Detroit Lions to a road win over playoff-hopeful Tampa Bay earlier in the day and beat the Packers with Rodgers a week earlier.

Look, no one is saying that backups are the players that starters usually are. But would the Bears have lost to the Miami if the Dolphins had Chad Henne or Pennington starting instead of Tyler Thigpen? Or to Detroit if Matthew Stafford is in rather than Stanton? Lovie Smth has virtually owned (8-3) Brett Favre, and Tarvaris Jackson iswell, Tarvaris Jackson. Can Joe Webb really do all that much worse?

Remember those guys?

Not that the Bears or anyone else is looking that far back and it doesnt mean anything now, but what the Philadelphia Eagles did with their comeback against the New York Giants puts a subtle exclamation point to the Bears win over Philly a few weeks back. It also did the Bears a little favor that could turn out to be very big.

If the Bears and Eagles tie as division winners (assuming the Bears get their business done in short order), the Bears have the head-to-head edge over Philadelphia and that could get them a bye past the wild-card round. The division winners with the two best records get that first week off; one of those two will be the Atlanta Falcons and the other could ultimately be determined by those 28 points in the final 7:28 by the Eagles in the Meadowlands.

Jet takeoff?

A less helpful (for the Bears) turn of events was taking place in Pittsburgh where the recently inept New York Jets were taking the measure of the Steelers. The Jets had a total of three field goals in the combined previous two games and the Bears would like very much to have been playing a collapsing team on a three-game losing streak.

What raises an eyebrow is the fact that the Jets did it on the road, against the fourth-ranked yardage defense. The Jets also are now 6-1 on the road as they get ready for Soldier Field.

Detroit doins

The Detroit Lions are starting to play the way I thought they would all season after all the upgrading they did in the offseason. Its just a little late.

They put a significant scare into the Bears with that 17-14 halftime lead two weeks ago. Then, off a losing streak at five games, they rocked the Green Bay Packers and didnt allow at TD. Now they average 6.5 yards per carry and run for 181 yards against what appeared to be a playoff team at Tampa Bay. Operative phrase: at Tampa Bay.

This was the first road win since they beat the Bears in 2007.

So the Lions have defeated two teams with winning records in the last two weeks and threatened a third (Chicago). Early prediction: The Lions will not finish fourth in the NFC North next year.

Nice call

Compliments to Jeff Fisher for his presenting offensive coordinator Mike Heimerdinger a game ball after the Tennessee Titans defeated the Houston Texans. Heimerdinger is battling cancer and Fishers gesture was one of those moments that helps you remember that there are battles in life far greater and with more at stake than a football game. Nice going, Guppy, and good luck, Mike.

Sound of silence
With the Bears playing on Monday night, we wont have our regular Monday night chat on CSNChicago.com from 7-8 p.m. Those are always a good time and right now well figure on hooking up Tuesday night instead of Monday.

Same on checking in with the guys at WFMB-AM SportsRadio 1450 in Springfield. We usually visit in drive time at 4:40 p.m. but well gab Tuesday instead. Other get-togethers right now will stay the same this week.

And one more thing

Ive had the Bears at 10-6 or better for this season and this will be No. 10. I had thought the upset of the New England Patriots would be that onenever mind.

But this time for sure.

The Vikings lost the Leslie Frazier buzz last week in that showing against the New York Giants in Detroit. Theyre honoring their 50 greatest players and coaches this weekend but since Chuck Foreman, Alan Page and Fran Tarkenton are in their primes or suiting up, thats just good for a brief emotional tick. Hey, the Bears retired the uniform numbers of none other than Dick Butkus and Gale Sayers in 1994 and lost by 27, at home.

Minnesota is starting a rookie quarterback against a defense that has been roughed up the past two weeks. Joe Webb will give the Bears more problems than they would like, and the Bears could be in serious trouble if they prepared sloppily the way the Patriots did for Matt Flynn when the Packers came to Foxboro on Sunday night.

But while conditions should affect the dome-based Vikings more than the Bears, the biggest issue I see for the Bears to overcome is Jay Cutler. The quarterback simply does not characteristically play well in the dark, as the Giants, Dolphins and Patriots game confirmed. Even his play in the win over Green Bay produced a lower passer rating than his season average.

Turnovers will decide the game and if Cutler can avoid them, the Bears should post win No. 10 and pick up their third NFC North title in Lovie Smiths seven Chicago seasons.

Bears 13 Vikings 10

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.

How can the Bears make Khalil Mack even better in 2019?

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USA Today

How can the Bears make Khalil Mack even better in 2019?

In the midst of Khalil Mack’s All-Pro debut season with the Bears, then-outside linebackers coach Brandon Staley offered a thought of how his star pupil could be even better in 2019. With the benefit of a full offseason of OTAs and training camp, the Bears would be able to move Mack around more within their defense, which would present tougher challenges for opposing coaching staffs trying to gameplan for him. 

Staley left for the Denver Broncos along with Vic Fangio back in January. But a new coaching staff has the same thought: There’s more to what Mack can do than we saw in 2018. And 2018 was pretty impressive. 

“There will be opportunities for him to do a variety of things from a variety of different alignments,” senior defensive assistant/outside linebackers coach Ted Monachino said. “Freedom, he has a little bit. But variety he has plenty. There’s plenty of things that we’re going to try to use him for and to do with him that allow him to showcase the things he does well.”

The No. 1 thing Mack does well, to boil it down, is wreck a game. Every head coach and offensive coordinator around the league has to develop a plan for limiting those game-wrecking abilities. It meant quick throws, the kind that leave the quarterback’s hand before Mack can even set up a pass-rushing move, for some teams. For others, it meant offering extra pass protection support through committing a tight end, running back or both to slowing him down. Mack still found a way to total 12 1/2 sacks and 73 total pressures, all while an ankle injury effectively wiped out four games in the middle of the season. 

“You’ve got a phenomenal, phenomenal athlete, all that stuff” defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano said. “He’s a great football player, but he’s a better teammate. And he’s a better person. He doesn’t say much, but actions speak louder than words. Again, he’s a great worker. He’s a smart guy. He picks things up. Not gonna say much, but out here on the football field he’s going to lead by example.” 

As the 2018 season progressed, the Bears felt more comfortable with having Mack play on the left and right during games, not one spot exclusively (in the season’s first four weeks, 166 of Mack’s snaps came on the left and 25 came on the right, per Pro Football Focus). By the playoffs, the Bears were able to strategically use Mack on either side of their defense to try to counter-act the scheming done by Eagles coach Doug Pederson (Mack played 26 snaps on the left and 26 on the right in that game, per Pro Football Focus). 

But both the previous and current coaching staffs envision Mack being able to do more than just line up on either side of the formation. And Monachino has experience in figuring out the best way to create that variety he talked about, too: He was Terrell Suggs’ position coach in 2011 when the Baltimore Ravens edge rusher won defensive player of the year honors (also: That was the lone year in which Pagano was the Ravens’ defensive coordinator). 

Suggs primarily rushed from various defensive line positions (end/outside linebacker, as designated by Pro Football Focus), but lined up off the ball on a little under 20 percent of his snaps in 2011. An NFL.com article described him as playing a “hybrid-linebacker” position, which sounds about right. 

Suggs finished 2011 with 14 sacks, seven forced fumbles and two interceptions. 

It’s only May, which means it’s far too early to predict how the Bears will use Mack. Coaches don’t even know the specifics yet. But it’s fair to expect a few different wrinkles for how Mack’s game-wrecking ability is deployed in the Bears’ defense with a full complement of offseason practices — and, too, the coaching minds of Monachino and Pagano. 

“With a player like this, you don’t even have to sit in the offense’s meeting rooms on the other side to know that they have to tend to him on every snap,” Monachino said, referencing Suggs. “They have to know where (former Pittsburgh Steelers safety) Troy Polamalu is on every snap. You gotta know where (Houston Texans edge rusher) JJ Watt is on every snap. This is a guy that you have to do that with. So with Khalil, being able to predict that they’re going to talk about, how do we tend to Khalil Mack on every snap, and then being able to move him into different spots and then to show him in different ways and to do different things with him, it’s going to be really valuable for the defense.”

The Bears are getting a different type of nickel cornerback in Buster Skrine

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USA Today

The Bears are getting a different type of nickel cornerback in Buster Skrine

When the Bears’ defense takes the field against Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers on Opening Night, they’ll be returning 9 of the 11 starters that were part of a 2018 squad that was one of the best in Bears’ history. 

One of the few new faces that figure to be among the starting 11 is cornerback Buster Skrine. Gone is Bryce Callahan, who left for Vic Fangio’s Denver team after spending the first four years of his career in Chicago. Though Bears’ scouts have had their eye on Skrine for a few seasons now, it was his more palatable three-year, $16.5 million contract -- compared to Callahan’s three-year, $21 million contract -- that finally got him in house. 

“Me and Buster came out the exact same year, and I’ve watched him,” Prince Amukamara said after OTAs on Wednesday afternoon. “He actually played with my best friend and he would always talk about how fast Buster is -- especially when Buster played gunner. 

“I’ve always watched him, and I feel like he’s very similar to Bryce [Callahan] by being quick and being active. I’m definitely happy with the pick up.” 

Once considered a spot to place the third-best, less-athletic cornerback, no position has seen it's value increase so dramatically over the last decade. Offenses are changing dramatically; no team saw more three receiver sets in 2018 than the Bears’ defense. Per Sharp Stats, opposing offenses lined up in 11 personnel against Chicago 78% of the time. The next closest was the Chiefs at 71%, and the NFL average is 65%. 

“I think nickel is a different ball game,” Amukamara added. “I would say it can be one of the hardest positions on the field, just because you’re on an island, but the receiver has so much room to work with. Plus, it’s a lot of mental gymnastics, so you’ve got to know when you’re blitzing, know when you’re running, and so we put a lot on our nickel.” 

Despite not being considered part of a what teams have traditionally considered base defense, the pass-happy nature of this era in the NFL has all but mandated that nickel corners are on the field for most of the defensive snaps. It’s no coincidence that before breaking his foot against the Rams in Week 12, Callahan was on pace to set a career-high in snap percentage. 

“Nowadays, you see a lot more sub packages,” Bears defensive backs coach Deshea Townsend said. “You’re probably playing 70% in sub during a game now… Otherwise, it hasn’t really changed - he just plays more. That’s the thing - he is technically a starter. He’s probably going to run on the field first in a lot of games, and by rule that’s a starter.

“One thing about the nickel position is that you’ve got to do a little bit of both. You can’t just go out on 3rd down and cover and run the option routes. Now they’re going to hand off the ball and find out where you’re at and you’re going to have to make a tackle. That’s the difference in the position now - it’s a first and second down type of guy that has to be able to do it all.”

While Skrine isn’t considered as good a cover corner as Callahan, Skrine’s pass rush and run defense looks pretty similar. Per Pro Football Focus, Skrine’s run defense graded out significantly higher (80.7) than Callahan’s (57.8). 

“With Buster, it’s about his playing experience,” Townsend added. “He’s a guy who will mix it up in the run. He can blitz, and he’s reliable. He’s tough.”