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.

The Bears are embracing an underdog mentality as playoff push continues

The Bears are embracing an underdog mentality as playoff push continues

After the final horn sounded on the Bears' signature win of the season so far — a 31-24 trouncing of the Cowboys that wasn't as close as the final score — and all the patented 'Club Dub' celebrations had concluded, a subdued, resolute and focused locker room remained.

These aren't the 2018 Bears — no matter how decisive and dynamic Mitch Trubisky was tonight; no matter the fits the team's depleted front seven gave one of the most talented offensive lines in the league; no matter the balanced plan of attack deployed by Matt Nagy, or that they're now one game closer to an improbable run to the playoffs.

Three weeks ago, this team had been all but dismissed by the greater Chicago faithful. And perhaps that was fair. In year two of the Nagy-Trubisky coach-quarterback pairing, the team was on pace to regress in just about every category you could conjure — most importantly wins. Now, they're 7-6, above .500, and only 1.5 games behind the Vikings for the No. 6 seed in the NFC (with a matchup against them looming in Week 17). 

Tonight, the process may have been even more encouraging than the result, especially looking forward to a challenging three-game close to the season.

"When you win, your confidence goes up. Players, they play different in regard to when you're winning," Matt Nagy said postgame. "You play looser. You don't press as much. I think right now the identity between the defense, the offense, it doesn't feel like one of those deals where if we don't hold them to under 14 points, we don't have a chance to win."

Trubisky was as sharp as he's ever been in one of the bigger games of his career, tossing for 244 yards and amassing four total touchdowns — three through the air, one on the ground. And talk about loose: He also put together his most impressive rushing performance in over a calendar year, breaking out for 63 yards on 10 attempts, including a late-game 23-yard touchdown (to put the Bears ahead 31-14) that ignited Soldier Field around him.

His resurgence has come in lockstep with the Bears' season turning. Perhaps that's no coincidence.

"I think it says we're resilient, stick together, believe in each other even when nobody else believes in us," Trubisky said. "That's a special group in that locker room. We want to keep this feeling going, focusing on the little things, focusing hard, sticking together, doing our jobs."

Allen Robinson said that the team's confidence has "never wavered." Charles Leno said the offense is firing on all cylinders. The defense, missing four starters, didn't miss a beat until the Cowboys tacked on some garbage-time fluff late in the game.

A crucial, yet challenging, stretch looms. First, the Bears travel to Lambeau Field to face the Packers for the second time this season. Then, back home for Kansas City — though mortal, still one of the more potent offensive attacks in football. And finally, to Minnesota for a potential postseason play-in game. The Bears probably need all three of those games to be wins, save for late-season collapses from the Rams and Vikings (not impossible), to pull off a playoff berth. As it stands currently, they project as underdogs in both those road contests, and possibly even against the Chiefs (though a win in Green Bay would go a long way, there). 

As far as Nagy is concerned... Good. 

"I'm okay with that. For our guys, it's different," Nagy said of assuming the underdog role for the stretch run. "Last year, there was a different type of mentality because we didn't know, there were no expectations. This year, a lot of expectations. So now here we are at 7-6. Who knows really what we're going to be at. We know we have some really good teams coming up. Our guys, as you can see, they're just focused on winning each week. That's what they're doing."

Under Center Podcast: Trubisky shines in big win over Cowboys

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USA TODAY

Under Center Podcast: Trubisky shines in big win over Cowboys

Laurence Holmes is joined by the Football Aftershow crew of Lance Briggs, Matt Forte, Alex Brown, and Olin Kreutz to break down the Bears' huge win over the Cowboys. The guys give their initial thoughts on the victory (1:05) before discussing what impressed them most about Mitch Trubisky's performance (5:00), what the possible return of Akiem Hicks and his leadership could mean (15:30), and how the team stays focused heading into Green Bay for Week 15 and beyond (25:00).

 

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

Under Center Podcast

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