Bears

Urgency at defensive tackle? Not so fast

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Urgency at defensive tackle? Not so fast

Monday, March 21, 2011
Posted: 9:49 a.m.

By John Mullin
CSNChicago.com

The debate started when the Bears parted company with Tommie Harris: that the need for a dominant defensive tackle was officially acute and well could supersede the quest for help on the offensive line, whether in free agency or the draft.

A dominant player right there, especially for our defense, it makes our defense tick, coach Lovie Smith says. It's the reason why we paid our defensive tackle more money than we have any other players on our team. So it's very important to have a disruptive guy there that can cause havoc that will make teams double team him and things like that.

Right now there is no free agency, although there will be at some point. But the urgency at defensive tackle, Im not so sure, for a couple of related reasons.

One is history. The shock of the Alex Brown release last offseason was exorcised for good when Israel Idonije seized the moment and a starting job at defensive end on the way to eight sacks, one more than Brown posted in his best season (2006).

The second is Henry Melton. The coaching staff was right about Idonije last year (maybe not so right about Mark Anderson, but ok) and there is a growing internal buzz building around Melton.

Without the benefit of a formal Bears offseason strength and conditioning program, Melton has quietly built himself up to a ripped 294 pounds and is still the athlete who runs a 4.6 40, was fast enough to be on special teams last season, and was a running back through his freshman year at Texas.

Melton was slotted in the end rotation last year and had 2.5 sacks in spot duty, but the added muscle is the best indication of where he and the Bears see his future.

Considering that only Julius Peppers (23) had more QB pressures last season than Meltons nine, if coaches see Melton as the 2011 version of Idonije, you can understand the thinking.

The Bears have selected at least one defensive lineman within the first four rounds in eight of the nine drafts directed by Jerry Angelo. They took two in 2009 (Melton and Jarron Gilbert) and two in 2004 (Harris and Tank Johnson). So not addressing the position group somewhere in the first four rounds at least once would be the only real surprise.

But unlike safety last year and tackle in 2008 (Chris Williams), and given that there will be free agents like Cullen Jenkins and Brandon Mebane available at some point for the defensive line, the absolute must-pick isnt necessarily for the next Tommie Harris.

That hurts

Not sure how your brackets played out but I got three of four through into the third round in three of the four regionals. The only one that Im mad about missing on is Butler, because I am a huge Bulldogs believer after covering them and the Horizon League for a few years and know what Matt Howard can do. Now Pitt does too.

But the Southwest bracket is officially dead to me. Purdue was going to the Final Four after getting past Vanderbilt. Oooops. Ohio State will take UNC and then Duke to get past BYU for the National Championship; thats my story and Im stickin to it.

But that Southwest mess? Dont ask.

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.

Final thoughts: Looking at the Bears’ defense in the context of Monday’s Rams-Chiefs thriller

Final thoughts: Looking at the Bears’ defense in the context of Monday’s Rams-Chiefs thriller

A day after the first game in NFL history in which both teams scored 50 or more points, Bears defensive coordinator Vic Fangio was asked if he thought Monday night’s Los Angeles Rams-Kansas City Chiefs thriller was a watershed moment for the league.  

“I thought 1958 Giants and Colts was the big game,” Fangio said. “I don’t know. I think it’s just we live in such a one-week news cycle in the NFL. Let’s see what happens next week.”

Fangio’s quip was a fantastic response — that 1958 Giants-Colts NFL Championship game is regarded as “The Greatest Game Ever Played,” and is credited with the sport’s massive popularity growth. Sixty years later, a wildly entertaining 54-51 game in front of a primetime national audience may not have been a watershed for the NFL — but it certainly was indicative of the passing-crazed direction in which the sport is going. 

“The score isn’t what I’d like to see as a connoisseur,” Fangio said. 

While the Rams and Chiefs combined for 105 points and 1,001 yards, the outcome of the game was still significantly influenced by defense. Rams defensive end Samson Ebukam had two touchdowns, and Aaron Donald — Khalil Mack’s biggest competition for defensive player of the year honors — still managed to wreck portions of the game. The Rams intercepted Patrick Mahomes three times, including twice on the final two possessions to clinch their three-point win. 

The point here is this: It’s not necessarily that either team played “bad” defense. It’s that, to be successful as a defense against one of the NFL’s best offenses, you have to generate turnovers, because even the most middling offenses can generate yards and points. The Rams won largely because they generated five turnovers while the Chiefs only had two. 

We don’t know what the Bears’ defense would do if given the chance to play either of these teams, though we’ll find out in Week 14 when Los Angeles comes to Soldier Field for a Sunday Night Football date. That’ll be a fascinating test for where the NFL stands in 2018: What can the league’s best defense in the Bears do against one of its three best offenses in the Rams? 

What should give the Bears some optimism is their penchant for creating turnovers — Fangio’s group leads the NFL with 27 takeaways, two more than the Cleveland Browns and seven more than the Rams, who rank fourth. No team in the NFL is better at both keeping opponents out of the end zone and creating those critical turnovers. 

And how that plays out in a few weeks might actually be more of a watershed game for the NFL than the one we saw Monday night. 

Point taken

Matt Nagy, to say the least, enjoyed Monday night’s game a little more than his defensive coordinator did. 

“This could be a time where people look back,” Nagy said. “… Now, people were excited. When you get teams in the NFL that both have records as good as they are – 9-1 going against each other. One’s NFC, one’s AFC. It’s always going to be a big lead-up. And then you have an unbelievable coach with tons of experience versus an unbelievable coach with not a lot of experience — that’s what people like. 

“It was great, in my opinion, great for the league. There were still a lot of great defensive plays in there. It’s just, shoot, to see those defensive touchdowns, the interceptions, there were fireworks. And I think that’s what people like.”

Illegal and dirty, or just illegal?

The Bears certainly weren’t happy with Minnesota Vikings safety Harrison Smith for delivering an illegal hit on Mitch Trubisky on the play on which he injured his shoulder, but there weren’t any public cries of him being a dirty player coming from Halas Hall this week.

“It wasn’t intentional,” Nagy said. “Again, it is football. It is an illegal hit. You always want to look at things from both sides and you hope it’s not malicious. But when it’s a late hit, then it can be challenging for you. But it’s, again, there are just so many variables that go into it. Mitch is a tough kid. So we’ll just see what happens.”

Chase Daniel — who is all but assured to start Thursday against the Detroit Lions — sounded a little more perturbed when asked about the hit. 

“I knew it was a very late hit, something that I don’t think should’ve happened,” Daniel said. “It’s sort of crazy how it happened — it shouldn’t have happened like that.”

Still, as former quarterback Donovan McNabb pointed out on “SportsTalk Live” Tuesday, the way Trubisky slid — headfirst, not feet first — opened him up to be hit the way he was by Smith.  And safety Eddie Jackson, who didn’t take a second look at the hit, said it’s difficult for defenders to try to determine a quarterback’s intent when he has the ball in his hands. 

“It’s tough as a defender trying to come in because you’re not really knowing if a guy is gonna slide or stand up,” Jackson said. “Especially with Mitch, he can get you, now. But that’s our quarterback. We always want to take up and try to play clean. But it’s tough in split (second) decision-making. 

“But Mitch is our guy, man. He’s going to bounce back for sure.”

Bears officially bring aboard Bray

The Bears announced Wednesday afternoon, as expected, they signed quarterback Tyler Bray from their practice squad to the 53-man roster. Bray will back up Daniel, who’s expected to start, against the Lions on Thanksgiving. Trubisky did travel with the Bears to Detroit but is listed as doubtful, and the move to sign Bray makes it even more unlikely Trubisky plays Thursday. 

To make room for Bray on the 53-man roster, the Bears released cornerback Marcus Cooper. 

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(Too) Bold Predictions: Bears will be OK with Daniel at the helm

(Too) Bold Predictions: Bears will be OK with Daniel at the helm

You've stumbled into (Too) Bold Predictions, a weekly column that is exactly what it sounds like! Here, we'll take nuanced, well-researched information and use it to make wildly improbable predictions. Analysis! 

 

J.J. Stankevitz 

1. Chase Daniel has a passer rating of 100 or higher.
Yes, Daniel has only thrown 78 passes in his NFL career and last started a game in 2014. But consider this: Nine of the 10 quarterbacks to play against the Detroit Lions’ defense this year have had a passer rating of 93.9 or higher (the only one who didn’t, because sports make sense: Tom Brady). That group of nine quarterbacks includes the likes of Sam Darnold (116.8) and Brock Osweiler (114.9). The Lions having cornerback Darius Slay available – he didn’t play in Week 10 – will be important, but don’t discount Daniel’s ability to operate Matt Nagy’s offense, and operate it well against a generally-bad defense. 

2. Tarik Cohen rips off a run of 50 or more yards.
The Lions’ run defense excels at limiting opposing running backs to one or two yards per carry…until someone breaks off an explosive run. The Bears weren’t able to do that in Week 10, but the week before, Dalvin Cook gained 70 of his 89 yards against the Lions on one run. Jordan Howard’s strength isn’t explosive runs, but Cohen has that ability, and will have an opportunity to hit home on one Thursday.   

Cam Ellis
1. Khalil Mack has a pick-6, courtesy of Akiem Hicks. 
The thought process goes like this: Khalil Mack shows up for nationally-televised games. Incidentally, Khalil Mack also shows up for regionally-televised games, but you know, whatever. The Bears love them some defensive touchdowns, and lead the NFL with 18 interceptions. Sometime in the 1st half, Akiem Hicks is going to get pressure on Matt Stafford and knock a pass right into the hands of Mack, who'll walk into the endzone for his first pick-six since Week 1. 

2. The Bears screen pass the Lions into oblivion. 
You surely have heard all the nonsense about Trubisky and screen passes, and while I don't personally put all that much stock into the argument, the Bears do call a lot of screen/bubble passes. From all accounts it seems like the offense is going to be too watered down with Chase Daniel at the helm, but I bet you see a slightly more conservative gameplan from Nagy tomorrow. Some Anthony Miller here, a lot of Taylor Gabriel there, etc. The Bears (and the rest of the NFL, for that matter) loves that trendy Trips formation, which gets used a lot in the short passing game. The Bears will want to get Daniel comfortable and in a zone early, and what better way to do that than a bunch of high-percentage plays? 

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