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Mullin: Where will Bears-Vikings play next week?

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Mullin: Where will Bears-Vikings play next week?

Monday, Dec. 13, 2010
9:12 AM

By John Mullin
CSNChicago.com

Morning after cleaning out the notebook...

Or in this case, flushing it out...

Adecision on locale for the Bears-Vikings game next Monday night will becoming in the next couple of days as they sort through a handful ofsituations and considerations. Metrodome officials believe thecollapsed dome can be fixed in time for the game, but whether the NFLor anyone else wants to commit to that course and put 60,000 peopleunder it next Monday.... Would you?

And if the course is indeedset for the dome, what if then another snow load, even modest, isdumped on it between decision time and game time? Changing directionagain late in the week is something not ideal for anyone involved.

TheUniversity of Minnesota's TCF Bank Stadium is available but does nothave near the capacity of the Metrodome, meaning some ticket issues forthe Vikings, already dealing with a few. NFL officials also toldCSNChicago.com that it is far from a simple deal to set up a stadiumfor an NFL game. Things like the replay system alone are majoroutfittings.

Indianapolis and the Lucas Oil Dome is closer thanDetroit and obviously is NFL ready. But that tilts the situation evenfurther in the Bears' favor as far as fan presence.

For thatmatter, however, Detroit will be a Bears home game, based on more noisecoming from Bears fans than Lions fans in recent Ford Field encounters,and that's with the Lions fans having a horse in the race.

Stay tuned....

Optimism for Bears fans?

If you are a Bears fan looking for some cause for optimism, it might be that the New England Patriots have twice been involved in losses by a team in a regular season that subsequently went on to defeat that other team in a Super Bowl, which is where the Bears see themselves. (No, really, they do.)

One was the 2001 team that fell to 5-5 after a loss to Mike Martzs St. Louis Rams and then won the rematch in the Super Bowl. And the 2007 Patriots, who set the NFL record for single-season scoring (589 points), got past the New York Giants in the final game of their 16-0 regular season, then lost to the Giants five weeks later.

But if your uncertainty about the 2010 Bears simply received a massive booster shot with Sundays 36-7 humiliation, you probably know that the Patriots and Giants both at least showed glimpses of some positives in their regular-season losses. The Bears showed absolutely none yesterday.

And not to add to the darkness, but no Lovie Smith team has lost three home games in a season and still made the playoffs. No Jay Cutler team has ever had a winning record in December, either.

Weather or not mostly not

The silly notion of Bear weather can hopefully be forever banished from anything. Given the numbers of players from Florida, Texas, Alabama, California, New Mexico, Arizona and any number of warm places (including a coach from Texas), my sense of true Bear weather was always 95 degrees-95 humidity anyway. Frankly, training camp was more Bear weather than anything on the lakefront in December or January.

Bear weather for most fans traces to Wilbur Marshall (a Floridian) picking up a Rams fumble in the swirling snow in an NFC Championship game and gliding down the field for a touchdown. If youre as far superior to others as that team was, and the Patriots currently are, any weather is your weather.

(Very) bad matchups

No surprise then that the Bears as they are currently constituted on defense, a one-gap, speed-based group built more for fast tracks, struggled against a team like New England whereas the widebodies in New Englands 3-4 wasnt going to be moved.

I feel like if youre a fast defense, you play better on turf or a fast surface, said Texan Tommie Harris. With their defense is a 3-4 where guys stand up, stand around, so really traction coming off the ball is not a problem if you stand there.

To his credit at least, Harris added, But thats no excuse.

No, it is definitely not. And it inadvertently points fingers at the Bears offense, which allowed one of those supposed big fat guys to sack Cutler and force a fumble inside the Chicago 10.

Harris also was in effect pointing fingers at his secondary, as if it wasnt embarrassed enough already, and possibly at the coaching staff for not using more man-to-man coverage on a day when reacting to the ball was exponentially more difficult than on a dry surface. The Bears do not usually play their Cover-2 scheme more than about a third of the time, but it does have them in zone coverage, and against the New England offense, anything that gave Tom Brady and his bunch a window to throw through was potentially lethal.

And then the secondary and linebackers couldnt tackle the receivers once they did have the ball.

The craziest thing about their system is that most teams and quarterbacks do check-downs to secondary receivers and you usually can tackle them right there, said Harris, back in the starting lineup for the first time since Week Two. But Wes Welker and (Danny) Woodhead, those are YAC guys. They catch that ball and they go bananas with it.

Sometimes youve just got to admit when someone outplays you and they outplayed us.

And a couple more things...

He wasnt particularly interested in talking about stats (he never is) but Julius Peppers ran his sack total to 8 with a late takedown of Tom Brady, who was then pulled by Patriots coaches. Peppers has had sacks in four straight games...

Lost in the carnage wrought by Brady and the New England passing offense were the 124 rushing yards by a unit that has more than one running back that is arguably better than anything the Bears have.

While Matt Forte and Chester Taylor were foundering (Taylors one net yard in three carries was his TD run), BenJarvus Green-Ellis was averaging 4.1 yards on his 21 carries. Ultra-smurf Danny Woodhead averaged 3 yards and scored a TD, and old Fred Taylor, the guy the Jacksonville Jaguars settled for back in 1998 instead of Curtis Enis when the Bears wouldnt deal on draft day, calmly added 16 yards to a career rushing total 16th in NFL history...

Rodgers concussed

The fate of Aaron Rodgers and his concussion will be topics of interest to Bears fans this week. Best guess is that Rodgers will not be allowed to play after this, his second concussion of the season, suffered in the 7-3 loss to Detroit Sunday.

A class guy and a total team guy. Here's hoping that he's also a total smart guy.

Nothing to say?

It likely wont be fun to noodle over this one but well have our regular Monday chat tonight from 7-8 on CSNChicago.com. And Ill hop on with the guys at WFMB-AM 1450 SportsRadio in Springfield at 4:40 this afternoon.

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.

Why what 'Run DMC' does catching passes in training camp will be a big clue for how good the Bears' offense will be

Why what 'Run DMC' does catching passes in training camp will be a big clue for how good the Bears' offense will be


How much better Mitch Trubisky will be is the defining question for the 2019 Bears. But we won’t begin to know the answer to that question until September — it’s not something that’ll be easily discernible during training camp practices in Bourbonnais or a handful of snaps in preseason games. Those can sometimes produce false positives and false negatives.

The Bears believe in Trubiskiy, of course, and you’ll likely hear Matt Nagy and players laud their quarterback’s growth over the coming weeks. But belief is one thing; tangible production is another. And we won’t truly get to see that growth until the night of Sept. 5 at Soldier Field. 

But there are a few things to look for in Bourbonnais that could clue us in that a big-time leap is coming for No. 10. We’ll begin this mini-series leading up to the start of training camp next week with this: Better success from running backs catching passes on first down. 

It’s a narrowly specific angle, but one that carries plenty of weight. Consider this excerpt from Warren Sharp’s 2019 Football Preview:

“First down has long been perceived as a running down. In 2017, the league-wide average run-pass split on first down was 47-53. It was 50-50 last season, but that was still well below the 59-41 league-wide split on all downs. Yet passing to running backs on first down is significantly more effective.

“In 2018, there were 6,248 running back rushing attempts on first down. They averaged 4.5 yards per carry, minus-0.01 Expected Points Added per attempt, and a positive play rate of 41.3%. When teams threw to running backs on first down, they averaged 6.02 yards per target, 7.8 yards per receptions. 0.08 EPA per attempt — slightly more efficient than the average of all passes regardless of down at 0.05 EPA — and a positive play rate of 52.3%.”

The larger point here (especially if your eyes glazed over some of those numbers — which, we promise, make sense) is this: Scheming more throws to running backs on first down is an area in which almost every team in the NFL can improve. It's worth noting the Kansas City Chiefs' most effective play on first-and-long in 2018, per Sharp, was a pass to Kareem Hunt. 

And the good news is the Bears re-worked their running back room in a way that could optimize their success throwing the ball to David Montgomery, Mike Davis and Tarik Cohen on first down. 

The 2018 Bears simply didn’t have the personnel to do that regularly or successfully.

Jordan Howard was only targeted nine times on first-and-10, catching five passes for 42 yards. All nine of those targets were short throws, either to the left (two), middle (one) or right (six), and Trubisky had a passer rating of 83 on those attempts. Meanwhile, Howard carried the ball 128 times on first-and-10, averaging 3.7 yards per carry and only generating nine first downs (the NFL average for rushing attempts on first-and-10 in 2018 was 4.7 yards per carry). 

Cohen was, roughly, the inverse of Howard’s numbers: He caught 30 of 37 targets for 241 yards (6.5 yards per target) and generated seven first downs through the air, but averaged just 3.2 yards on his 46 rushing attempts with four first downs. Neither player was particularly balanced in these scenarios: Howard was mildly ineffective running the ball and not a threat catching it; Cohen was largely ineffective running the ball but was a threat catching it. 

And for the crowd who still believes Nagy wasn’t willing to establish the run: The combined rushing attempts on first-and-10 of Howard, Cohen, Benny Cunningham and Taquan Mizzell totaled 182; the combined pass attempts by Trubisky and Chase Daniel in that down-and-distance was 176, per Pro Football Reference’s play index. 

The Bears, in 2018, averaged 5.5 yards per play on first-and-10, tied for 24th in the NFL. Yet only three teams — the New England Patriots, New Orleans Saints and Indianapolis Colts — averaged fewer yards-to-go on third down than the Bears’ mark of 6.9. That’s a sign of Nagy’s playcalling prowess and the talent on this offense, and it’s not a stretch to argue an improvement of first-and-10 success will have a significant impact on the overall success of the Bears’ offense. 

So back to the initial point about passes to running backs in these situations: The Bears believe both Montgomery and Davis have some untapped potential as pass-catching running backs. Montgomery caught 71 passes in college at Iowa State, while Davis was targeted the most by the Seattle Seahawks in 2018 on first down (17 of 42 targets). Cohen, of course, is already an accomplished pass-catcher. 

The “Run DMC” backfield needs to have more success carrying the ball on first-and-10 than last year’s group did, of course. But if you’re in Bourbonnais or watching a preseason game, keep an eye out for how effective the Bears are at passing to their running backs — especially if those passes travel beyond the line of scrimmage (another inefficiency noted by Warren Sharp's 2019 Football Preview). 

If you start seeing Montgomery making defenders miss after catching a pass, or Davis looking fluid with the ball in his hands, or Cohen breaking off some explosive gains — those will be significant reasons to believe in Trubisky and the Bears' offense in 2019. 

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Under Center Podcast: State of the Bears: Defense

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USA TODAY

Under Center Podcast: State of the Bears: Defense

JJ Stankevitz, Cam Ellis and Paul Aspan are back with their training camp preview of the Bears' defense, looking at if it's fair to expect this group to take a step back without Vic Fangio (2:00) or if it's possible to repeat as the league's No. 1 defense (10:00). Plus, the guys look at which players the Bears need to improve to remain one of the NFL's best defenses (15:15), debate if Leonard Floyd can be better (20:00) and look at the future of the defense as a salary cap crunch looms after 2019 (25:00). 

Listen to the full podcast here or via the embedded player below: