Bears

Rams battling 'dirty' image that may have roots in Jeff Fisher's past

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Rams battling 'dirty' image that may have roots in Jeff Fisher's past

Jeff Fisher has a perception problem. Whether it carries over into Sunday’s game against the Bears, his old team and where some of this may have started.

The St. Louis Rams coach played under Buddy Ryan with the Bears (under the cuddly moniker of “Guppy”) and coached with him in Chicago (the ’85 Super Bowl year) and Phladelphia. Ryan’s reputation included targeting opposing players for hits of debatable intent.

When Fisher coached the Tennessee Titans, his cornerback Cortland Finnegan proudly wore the label as one of the league’s dirtiest, to the point of stating that he was “aspiring” to be the No.1-ranked NFL’s dirtiest in 2010 after he finished a disappointing (for him) sixth in the dirty player rankings.

When Fisher took over coaching the Rams in 2012, he brought Finnegan with him under a $50-million contract. Fisher also hired Gregg Williams as defensive coordinator, then waited for Williams to serve his one-year banishment in connection with the bounty scandal from his time as New Orleans Saints defensive coordinator.

Former Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma told Sports Illustrated’s on Wednesday that Williams “deserves” the reputation as dirty.

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Then along came last Sunday’s Rams-Minnesota Vikings game, in which Rams defensive back Lamarcus Joyner hit Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater in the head as the latter was going into his give-up slide. Bridgewater suffered a concussion.

In the aftermath, fury was directed at Joyner, but even more at Williams, and ultimately at Fisher by former NFL safety Rodney Harrison. Fisher retorted by citing Harrison’s long history of incidents, but the cloud still hangs over Fisher because of his history.

“I think things got blown out of proportion so I responded,” Fisher said. “And then to go on the record, why I commented about Rodney, I didn't think that was appropriate. His assertion for what he implied and what he stated was absolutely incorrect.

“I'm not defending our players; I'm defending the organization. Our defense is going to play hard and fast and we're, like any other defense, we're gonna tackle, play hard, that's part of the game. By no means do we have any intent of injuring the quarterback and immediately after the game I was hoping Teddy was gong to OK and I'm happy he is.”

A fellow head coach from the defense’s side of the football has some understanding of such things.

“It’s definitely a fine line,” Bears head coach John Fox said. “You want guys playing to the whistle. Sometimes there’s mishaps. That’s part of hustle. That’s part of how you win games, too, is finishing plays, whether it’s offense, defense or special teams. You just have to coach it the best you can, and sometimes emotions become part of the game.”

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Sometimes perception can become reality. Former NFL offensive lineman Conrad Dobler, who made the cover of Sports Illustrated under the title “Pro Football’s Dirtiest Player,” once remarked that he liked the honor because it meant opponents were thinking about that instead of more important things.

“Some people get vasectomies,” Dobler once said. “I used to give ‘em.”

Being on an opponent’s mind for reasons of foul play can backfire, however.

“I don’t know if it’s an advantage because it might make the opposing team play that much harder,” Bears linebacker Sam Acho said. “I don’t think St. Louis is a dirty team; I’ve played against them for years and they play hard.”

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Against the Vikings, seven different Rams defensive players were hit with penalties, nine total on the St. Louis defense, with the Rams having 12 total penalties walked off against them.

"We're just an aggressive team,” said Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald, last year’s NFC Defensive Rookie of the Year. “We've got to fix the little mistakes, sometimes try to cool it down a little bit. We fixed it and it won't happen again. That's something to learn from and that's what we did and we're going to move on.

"Everybody's always got their own opinion. The game of football is a physical game; we're a physical team, play fast, but our mindset is never go out there and injury nobody. We're just doing our job of playing fast. Like I said, everybody's got their own opinion. Can't focus on what other people think and just play your game."

Under Center Podcast: What will we learn about the Bears against the Patriots?

Under Center Podcast: What will we learn about the Bears against the Patriots?

On this week's Under Center podcast, JJ Stankevitz and John “Moon” Mullin look at how Bill Belichick and New England will attack Matt Nagy and the Bears on Sunday, and if Mitch Trubisky can get to the point where he can reliably lead a late-game scoring drive like Tom Brady is so good at doing.

You can listen to the whole thing here, or in the embedded player below: 

 

Mitch Musings: Trubisky progressing as he preps to face the gold standard of QBs

Mitch Musings: Trubisky progressing as he preps to face the gold standard of QBs

 Tom Brady has been credited with 54 game-winning drives in his Hall of Fame career, five of which have come in Super Bowls — all five Super Bowls he and Bill Belichick have won. 
 
To put it another way: Brady has engineered a game-winning drive in 18 percent of his regular season and playoff starts, while he’s only lost 22 percent of his career starts. 
 
“He just has this mentality that at the end of the game, they’re going to win because of him,” coach Matt Nagy said. “He’s going to make a special throw.”
 
The expectation for Brady is that he’s going to put together a fourth quarter comeback or a game-winning drive if given the chance. It’s not like he’s a markedly better quarterback in those close-and-late situations — in fact, his lowest passer rating by quarter comes in the fourth. But that rating is 94.2; his career rating is 97.4. Effectively, he’s the same quarterback. 
 
That baseline level of success is, undoubtedly, something for which Mitch Trubisky is striving. But the Bears’ rookie isn’t there yet, as evidenced by his career splits:
 
Fourth quarter: 86/151 (57 percent), 6 TDs, 6 INTs, 71.2 passer rating, 6.0 yards/attempt
Overall: 309/491 (63 percent), 18 TDs, 11 INTs, 86.7 passer rating, 7.0 yards/attempt
 
That factors in 2017, of course, and Trubisky’s numbers from that season aren’t as relevant as the overall experience he gained. There’s a much smaller sample size in 2018, but the fourth quarter downturn is still present:
 
2018 fourth quarter: 22/34 (65 percent), 2 TD, 1 INT, 94.1 passer rating, 7.4 yards/attempt
2018 overall: 113/161 (70 percent), 11 TDs, 4 INTs, 105.6 passer rating, 8.1 yards/attempt
 
The good news, perhaps, is that the gap is closing. That’s an area of progress the Bears needed, and still need, to see in 2018. Trubisky completed eight of 11 passes for 141 yards with a touchdown — and an interception in the end zone — on Sunday in Miami, and very well could’ve been credited with a game-winning drive had Tarik Cohen not fumbled near midfield with under three minutes remaining.
 
But the touchdown he threw to Anthony Miller, too, could’ve been a game-winner had the Bears’ defense not immediately given up a 75-yard touchdown on Miami’s ensuing drive.
 
“We’re continuing to grow and that’s one of those clutch plays that you have to make as an offense to help out the defense and put the team in a good position to win games and it was a big moment and I think a big area of growth for our offense and myself as a quarterback,” Trubisky said. “We’re just gonna have to continue to grow and make those types of plays to be able to give ourselves a chance to win every week.” 
 
Reid It and Weep?
 
The last three times Andy Reid, or an Andy Reid disciple, has faced the Patriots, their team has scored 40 or more points. Reid and Nagy teamed up to drop 42 on New England in 2017’s season opener, and Doug Pederson — Reid’s offensive coordinator prior to Nagy — put up 41 to win Super Bowl LII. On Sunday, Reid’s Chiefs scored 40 in a three-point loss in Foxboro. 
 
Maybe that matters on Sunday at Soldier Field, maybe it doesn’t. But for Trubisky, that Nagy had that success a year ago against New England “for sure” gives him a confidence boost. 
 
“I think coach Nagy knows this opponent very well,” Trubisky said. “I mean, he studies as much tape as anyone throughout the week and he’s had success against this team, so that definitely gives me confidence, and it’s just me and him continuing to communicate and being on the same page. He’s given me a lot of confidence that we’ll be able to move the ball and put up points against these guys this weekend. 
 
“So we just got to continue to take care of the football, be smart, while staying aggressive, but it definitely gives confidence knowing that coach Nags, that he knows these guys pretty well and has had success in the past, but we still got to go out there and do our jobs because the past success doesn’t determine future success. You still got to go out there and execute on the field and we know that.”
 
Belichick is a master of taking away what an opponent does best. But a common thread between those Chiefs and Eagles teams is having multiple weapons, to the point where taking the best one away isn’t a deterrent to scoring. The Bears may not have the same pick-your-poison roster as the Chiefs, who still put up 40 points despite New England muting Travis Kelce’s production on Sunday. 
 
But Trubisky and this offense might be trending that way, if Sunday’s 28-point second half against a good Miami defense is any indication. 
 
One Last Time To Not Count Out Touchdown Tom
 
Back to Brady for one final thought here: Trubisky was seven years old when Brady won his first Super Bowl back in 2002. The Bears’ quarterback probably doesn’t have much memory of an NFL in which Brady hasn’t been regarded as the most successful quarterback in the league.
 
Sunday will mark Brady’s final trip to Chicago in his career, unless he winds up quarterbacking another team (highly unlikely) or playing until he’s 49 (extremely unlikely). While he and Drew Brees and Philip Rivers and Ben Roethlisberger still may have a few good years left in them, and Aaron Rodgers certainly has more than a few good years left, it feels like the quarterbacking torch is finally being passed from those veterans to a young, exciting group of passers like Carson Wentz, Jared Goff and Patrick Mahomes. Trubisky could be part of that not-quite-established-but-close group, too, if what he’s done in the last two games turns out to be sustainable. 
 
So for Trubisky, getting to compete against Brady on Sunday comes as a special opportunity. 
 
“I admire his competitiveness and just following his journey and what he’s had to overcome to be able to get where he’s at,” Trubisky said. “It’s very admirable and doing it this long, this well over a long period of time is pretty incredible. So you always look at that. And what they’ve been able to do. As a quarterback you’re judged by how many games you win and he’s been successful at that as well, so obviously he’s one of the best to do it. And it’s cool to watch his film as well as many other guys over the years, pick up anything you possibly can. Yeah, he’s had a lot of success so you definitely look at what kind of traits he has to be able to lead his teams to that many wins over a long period of time. 
 
“Is it cool? Yeah, for sure. But I think it’s just a testament to him of how he’s been able to do it for this long and still be that successful. And he’s just really been able to push the limits at what can be accomplished at this position and how everybody looks at it. He’s really taken this thing to new levels and it’ll be cool to compete against him on Sunday.”