Bears

Take it from the Bears D: Balance works

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Take it from the Bears D: Balance works

Thursday, Sept. 22, 2011
Posted: 10:40 a.m. Updated: 6:44 p.m.

By John Mullin
CSNChicago.com Bears Insider Follow @CSNMoonMullin
Just in case Mike Martz needs any more convincing to get some semblance of balance in the offense, his counterpart on the Bears defense unintentionally (presumably) lent his voice to declarations made by coach Lovie Smith and others.

Smith said earlier this week that the skewed playcalling of the New Orleans game, with 52 pass plays and 11 run calls, would be cleaned up.

On Thursday, defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli, who had Martz as his offensive coordinator in Detroit and saw quarterback Jon Kitna sacked 114 times in two seasons, was describing the myriad attributes of Aaron Rodgers has that makes him such a massive challenge.

But Marinelli tellingly added that Rodgers has an advantage of a scheme, something that Jay Cutler has not had in games tilted crazily toward passing.

And you know the other thing that helps Rodgers, I think, is the run attempts, Marinelli said. They go out and they run, and you have to prepare in every personnel group to stop the run. They do a very good job in it, and the O-line is very physical, so I think the balance really helps them.

Fort Knox?

The offense got a little help Thursday in the form of wideout Roy Williams returning to full practice participation after being limited last week and Wednesday because of a groin injury suffered in the Atlanta game.

Williams is not back as the starter yet and Johnny Knox leads all receivers right now with five catches for 105 yards, behind Matt Fortes team-high 15.

Knoxs average of 21 yards per catch is particularly notable not only because of its size (ninth overall in the NFL after two weeks) but also because it has been accomplished with not simply one huge gain, but with catches of 15, 25 and 30 yards.

With Earl Bennett down for an undetermined time because of a chest injury suffered in the New Orleans game, Williams return becomes even more critical.

Big receiver, good blocker, good football player, and we need all of them this week against a great Packers team coming in here, said coach Lovie Smith. It seems like hes ready to go.

Williams has 27 career catches in nine games against the Packers, three for touchdowns.

Running back Marion Barber remains on the limited list with a calf injury that occurred nearly a month ago, in the Tennessee preseason game. On the plus side, it is the first time since the injury that Barber practiced at all on consecutive days.

Guard Lance Louis also was limited from the ankle sprain he suffered in the Atlanta game.

Bennett, tackle Gabe Carimi (knee) and safety Major Wright (head) all were held out of practice and are not expected to play vs. Green Bay. Thats a little more painful for Carimi, who played at Wisconsin and was a Packer fan.

I was pretty excited to play the Packers this week, just because, growing up in Wisconsin, and being a Wisconsin guy, Carimi said. Looks like I dont get a shot at them this week. But we get to play them again, so Im looking forward to that.

Vintage guys

So how exactly would this work?

Coordinator Rod Marinelli is ordering the wine for his defensive table. He walks into the beverage emporium and says, I know theyre really hard to find but Id like something in a 54 Chateau Brian, maybe a 55 Haut Briggs and, if you have one, why not? Ill take a 90 Julius.

Aaah, I see, the sommelier says, rubbing his hands together. You want vintage guys.

If youre stocking your defensive cellar, you want some young wines. And you definitely want the vintage stuff. Like a Brian. Urlacher. Like a Briggs. Lance. Like a Julius. Peppers. Because the better wines, and NFL players, do indeed get better with age.

Urlacher is like a vintage. Briggs said with a laugh Thursday. Vintage, you want that old, when you go in and you say, Its a special day or some kind of special conference meeting, give me your vintage, give me your best wine.

You dont want a 2010 or a 2011. You want something that goes way back. You know? (laughs). Because it gets better with age.

There are some vintage guys. There are definitely some vintage guys. And most of the vintage guys, you know, like a Charles Woodson. Like Brian Urlacher. Like a Ray Lewis. These are vintage guys. Like a Julius Peppers.

Urlacher is probably more used to stomping quarterbacks than grapes but theres a reason why he, Briggs, Lewis, Peppers, Woodson and such have gotten better with age or simply not fallen off.

I dont know, I think Ive gotten smarter, Urlacher said. The longer Ive played, the more knowledge I have for the game. Theres some things athletically I cant do anymore that I could do when I was younger.

I dont know if Charles is the same way, if its the same for a DB as it is for a linebacker. I feel like my mental makes up for what Ive lost athletically, if Ive lost anything at all. Definitely not as fast as I used to be.

Dunned

Antonio Garay as a Bears defensive tackle in 2006-2007 didnt make a huge impression. Hes made one now, as a member of the San Diego Chargers.

According to ESPNs Adam Shefter, Garay has been tagged with a 15,000 fine for hitting New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady below the left knee, an infraction highlighted three years ago when Bradys season was ended by a low hit. That gave rise to the so-called Tom Brady Rule about hitting QBs low.

Angelo revisited

Credit Zach Zaidman, Bears maven for WSCR-AM and WBBM-AM and FM, with a fun nugget, which also sparked some other observations.

Zach tweeted on @zachzaidman that Rex Grossman passed for 551 yards in the first two games of the 2006 season. Hes tossed for 596 in his first two starts of 2011 for the Washington Redskins.

Which brings up the funnier point Zach made: The Bears have anguished over the quarterback position for so long but GM Jerry Angelo has stabilized that elusive position in not one, not two, but three cities now: Chicago (Jay Cutler), Washington (Grossman) and Denver (Kyle Orton). Well, maybe not stabilized in Denver but you get the point.

Angelo draws a fair amount of fire for talent issues because of draft choices. But think about it: He stabilized right tackle, tight end and running back with No. 1 picks; they just happened to be the right tackle for the Dallas Cowboys (Marc Colombo, now Miami), tight end for the Carolina Panthers (Greg Olsen) and the tailback for the Cincinnati Bengals (Cedric Benson).

Two starting quarterbacks (Grossman, Orton, No. 1s traded for Cutler), a couple of starting tackles (Colombo, Carimi), tight end (Olsen), a guard (Chris Williams).

Im not sure what all this means, but it was fun to look at.

Mac and Spiegsing

The weekly check-in with WSCR-AM 670s The McNeil and Spiegel Show on Thursday started right where youd expect it to: Mike Martz.

I posited that the biggest question on offense coming into this season wasnt the wide receivers or the offensive line or Greg Olsen or Matt Fortes contract. It was whether the Bears offensive coordinator would ultimately un-learn the lessons of a 7-1 stretch last season and return to his base course of passing until there is a problem and then passing some more.

One shortcoming often pointed out in military leaders is that they are always preparing to fight the last war. I will never use war references to describe football, but the parallel here is that too often the discussion of an upcoming game focuses almost entirely on the game just played, not the one due in a few days.

But clues to the future do often lie in the past, and that proved to apply to Mike Martz, who reverted to the extreme version of his preference for the pass almost to the exclusion of the run. Martz admitted to going to his two-minute offense too soon, which casts a bit of a cloud over his judgment under pressure.

Mac and Spiegs agreed, with some talking about what options, if any, the Bears really have at this point for help on the line and at wide receiver. One possibility is moving Levi Horn up from the practice squad, and that could happen, although I didnt get that impression Wednesday talking to Horn.

The other is for the swing tackle to effectively be left guard Chris Williams, who has played both tackle spots and could fill in for Frank Omiyale at right or JMarcus Webb at left, for at game at least. Then Edwin Williams moves in at guard and the Bears hope they dont lose any more blockers.

The depth chart is getting thin at the top at wide receiver and the guys threw out a couple of names (GM Jerry Angelo did ask for solutions after all). I voted no on Randy Moss and thought that what you gain from a newcomer dropping into the Martz offense was a bad idea vs. relying on more from Sam Hurd and Dane Sanzenbacher. Plus, for the Bears not to make a move hints that Roy Williams is not going to be gone for much longer, even if Earl Bennett is because of his chest injury.

On to the Packers

But all of that fades in significance to the bigger problem, which is Green Bay.

Danny has nightmares of Clay Matthews draped all over Jay Cutler, and I agree: If that happens, and the game plan does not call for Omiyale and Webb to pound a Matthews with their 60-pound weight advantage, this will be another ugly game.

New OrleansDrew Brees and CarolinaCam Newton passed all over the Packers. Both lost.

And theres really the issue of Aaron Rodgers hanging over it all.

The Bears have played Rodgers arguably as well as any team in the NFL. At least they have generally kept games close and low-scoring against someone who can force a scorekeeper to turn to an abacus.

The trouble with the Bears and Rodgers is that he wins. And right now, against the Cover-2 scheme of Lovie Smith and Rod Marinelli, Rodgers is a better quarterback than Brett Favre, The Later Years.

Rodgers is patient, where Favre was not in his closing Green Bay seasons. Against a defense that delights when quarterbacks become impatient, Favre was 2-6 as a Packer, and one of those was a throwaway to the Packers at the end of the 2006 season; Rodgers is 5-2, one of the losses was the penalty-fest in game one last season, and he wins games that matter.

Ill likely still go with a Bears win for the weekend (the Packers arent going to go 16-0). But as was the case in New Orleans, if this gets into a situation where the Bears are in a shootout...

So, how bout this Carolina game...

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.

Could Bears improve and still lose ground? The MMQB's Albert Breer weighs in on tough NFC North

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USA TODAY

Could Bears improve and still lose ground? The MMQB's Albert Breer weighs in on tough NFC North

NBC Sports Chicago’s John "Moon" Mullin talked with The MMQB's Albert Breer, who shared his thoughts on where the Bears stand — and if they’ll be able to compete — in a highly competitive NFC North.

Moon: The Bears have made upgrades, but they’re in the NFC North and not many divisions are tougher, given the strength at quarterbacks.

Breer: Yes. You look at the other three teams, and they all very much believe they’re in a window for winning a championship. The Packers are going through some changes, but they’ve gotten Mike Pettine in there as defensive coordinator and a new general manager who was aggressive on draft day. I know that internally they feel that’s going to give them a boost, and bringing Aaron Rodgers back obviously is the biggest thing of all.

Minnesota, all the things they did this offseason, signing (quarterback) Kirk Cousins, (defensive lineman) Sheldon Richardson, and they were knocking on the door last year.

The Lions have been building for two years under (general manager) Bob Quinn and (new coach) Matt Patricia, who lines right up with the general manager — the two of them worked together in New England. They really believe that Matthew Stafford is ready to take the sort of jump that Matt Ryan made in Atlanta a few years ago, where you see that mid-career breakthrough from a quarterback that we see sometimes now.

It’s one of the toughest divisions in football, and every team in the division believes that it’s in the position to contend right now.

Moon: We didn’t see a lot of Mitch Trubisky — 12 games — so it sounds possible that the Bears could improve and still lose ground.

Breer: The Lions were pretty good last year. The Vikings were in the NFC Championship game. And who knows where the Packers would’ve been if Rodgers hadn’t broken his collarbone. The biggest change is that Aaron Rodgers will be back, and that’s the best player in the league. It was a really good division last year, and you’re adding back in a Hall of Fame quarterback.

As far as the Bears, there’s going to be questions where the organization is going. It’s been seven years since they were in the playoffs. I think they certainly got the coach hire right. This is a guy who I know other organizations liked quite a bit and was going to be a head coach sooner or later.

And I think he matches up well with Mitch. I think the Bears are in a good spot, but as you said, they’re competing in a difficult environment, so it may not show up in their record.

Moon: A lot of love for the Vikings after they get to the NFC Championship and then add Kirk Cousins.

Breer: A lot of people look at Minnesota and think Kirk Cousins’ll be a huge improvement. And maybe he will be. I think he’s a very good quarterback, top dozen in the league. But Case Keenum played really, really well last year, so it wasn’t like they weren’t getting anything out of that position last year.

The NFC right now is clearly the strength of the league. If you picked the top 10 teams in the league, you could make a case that seven or eight of them are in the NFC. I think there will be NFC teams that miss the playoffs who could be in the Super Bowl coming out of the AFC. There’s a little bit of an imbalance there.

Moon: Trubisky projects as part of a wave of new quarterbacks league-wide, a sea change in the NFL.

Breer: The interesting thing is that this is probably as stable as the league has been at quarterback in a long time. There’ve been questions where the next great quarterbacks will come from, but I don’t know that there’s a team right now in the NFL like you looked at the Jets or Browns last year, where you say that team is definitely drafting a quarterback in 2019.

Everyone either has a big-money veteran or former first-round pick on their roster. One team that doesn’t is the Cowboys, but they’ve got Dak Prescott who’s played really well. Every team in the league has some stability at the position. I think the position is as healthy as it’s been in a long time, and you’ve got a lot of good young prospects.

A significant first practice goes well for three Bears critical to 2018 success

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USA TODAY

A significant first practice goes well for three Bears critical to 2018 success

BOURBONNAIS, Ill. — It’s a major Bears story until it isn’t, and in Friday's first practice of training camp ’18, the story was that Leonard Floyd, Kyle Long and Allen Robinson weren’t the story. 

Not even the weather was a story, as coach Matt Nagy continued the two-hour practice without interruption despite repeated torrential downpours. Whether this represented a soggy, wet chapter of Nagy’s campaign of physical practices and getting his team “calloused” is a question, but “It's just a part of what we wanted to do,” Nagy said, with a bit of a smile. “We weren't going inside. We were coming outside unless that (lightning/tornado) horn went off. So it was a good day. The guys fought through it.”

Getting through it was of franchise-grade import for three linchpins coming off significant injuries that cost them all or part of their 2017 seasons. All had been largely held out of minicamps and training camps, making Friday a de facto shakedown cruise for three players the Bears need at the elite levels projected for them.

Floyd practiced without the large brace he’d worn during minicamp work and which he admitted was an impediment to performance. Bears medical and training staff and Floyd have been pointing to this moment as the first step toward full health for the regular season.

“I basically, this whole offseason, I've been working on getting my leg right,” Floyd said on Friday. “I’m not really looking into who's playing where. I've been looking to get back healthy. ... Yeah, I'm able to go full force.”

Floyd’s pursuit speed was noteworthy as he ran down several offensive players with the football.

Players were not in pads, but Robinson similarly flashed, at one point making a difficult catch of a ball slightly behind him as he was tumbling to the ground. If he was holding anything back, it was not apparent in his cuts, routes and runs after catches.

“I feel great,” Robinson said. “It's been a process that we've taken a little bit slower, but I think that was for the best. It just was all about getting me ready for this time right here, so I feel great. I feel 100 percent.”

Long has been buffeted by injuries requiring surgeries over the past two years. The setbacks have taken him down from the Pro Bowl level at which he played his first three seasons.

But he turns 30 in December and is entering his sixth NFL season having missed 14 games the past two years after just one the first three.

“I’m feeling great,” Long said. “It’s really a lot of fun to get out here with my teammates and start camp without any limitations and be able to contribute from Day 1. It feels good. I spent a lot of time with our training staff. I got to know Andre Tucker really well, our new head trainer. He has done a tremendous job.

“You know, it’s Day 1 and I was out there at practice, and I got to hit other guys, and that was fun. I don’t look much into psychological hurdles. But a physical hurdle? Yes, it was. I had a lot going on this offseason. I’m just really happy to be out here.”

All was not good news physically for the Bears as inside linebacker Danny Trevathan and cornerback/special teamer Sherrick McManis were held out of practice after hamstring issues surfaced in their pre-camp physicals. Nagy said neither was considered serious but gave no timetable for their returns.