Bears

Urlacher: Cam won't run over me like Culpepper

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Urlacher: Cam won't run over me like Culpepper

Thursday, Sept. 29, 2011
Posted: 8:54 a.m. Updated: 10:56 a.m.

By John Mullin
CSNChicago.com Bears Insider Follow @CSNMoonMullin
Cam Newton looks pretty good but as far as Brian Urlacher is concerned, hes no Daunte Culpepper. At least Urlacher hopes hes not.

Urlacher, talking with Dan Patrick Thursday morning on The Dan Patrick Show on Comcast SportsNet, hasnt met the Carolina Panthers rookie, so he wasnt sure how big the new kid really is. Patrick surprised him with information that Newton was in the physical class of Urlacher at 260 pounds and likened him to former Minnesota quarterback Culpepper, a monster, in Urlachers opinion.

No disrespect to Cam but I dont think hes going to run me over like Daunte would, Urlacher said. Newton was last years Heisman Trophy winner and Urlacher joked that hed like a chance for a little fun with Newton.

I hope I get a chance to run with the football, Urlacher said, laughing, so I can give him the Heisman pose.

Urlacher did not agree that tackling is a lost art in the NFL, although didnt dispute that players had blow-up tackles and hits on their minds because it was a chance to be on highlight shows.

But rules changes have set up penalty and fine guidelines for an increasing number of actions, and Urlacher voiced irritation that the NFL seems preoccupied with defenseless offensive players but not with defenseless defensive players.

As far as how he tackles at this point in his career, I dont think about it at all, Urlacher said, adding, There was a time when a receiver leaned into me, head-butted me but he went backwards and I got fined.

I think proper tackling has to come back now because of how the rules are now... But the running backs and receivers are so good now, I just want to get them on the ground.

Urlacher played the Sunday after the death of his mother and said that, I think football was good for me, including being with teammates, who are among his most supportive friends. He didnt play any differently than he always has, just like shes watching me. Just go out there and make her proud.

The Bears are 1-2 and beginning to be left out of playoff talk. They shouldnt be, Urlacher is convinced.

Look at the first three teams we played, Urlacher said, referring to Atlanta, New Orleans and Green Bay, all three in the 2010 playoffs. I think we can get in there, Urlacher said.

Martz talk

On for the weekly visit with The McNeil and Spiegel Show, albeit without Spiegs whos off for the Jewish holiday, so Jay Zawaski and Ben Finfer were alongside Danny Mac for the day...

The focus is still seriously on Mike Martz and what exactly is going on after two games (New Orleans, Green Bay) that featured dismal performances from top to bottom, from game plan to execution. The question is, after replaying some of Martzs comments from Wednesday, what is the offensive coordinator looking at when he talks in positive terms about his offense, with the line playing well, the receivers playing faster and better, and so on.

No clear answers here. The line gave up zero sacks in the first half of the Saints game and zero in the first half of the Packers game, so the line is clearly doing some things pretty well, particularly with starters on the right side missing.

The only conclusions you come up with is that Martz is traditionally very supportive of his players, certainly in public, so the positive spin shouldnt be a complete surprise. And you get that Martz believes, perhaps to a fault, in his scheme and philosophy and is going to play it his way.

He and Jay Cutler were surprisingly defensive about scaling anything back, even though that appeared to work in 2010 when the Bears turned their season around. Maybe thats again a case of saying one thing publicly to send a message and then doing another when it matters. Thats to be seen.

Mac and the guys raised the issue of some fans hoping for a freefall situation unfolding so that at least GM Jerry Angelo gets fired. Personally, I dont get that, for lots of reasons. Someone hoping their team is abysmal is beyond me in the first place, and second, a bad season is no assurance that anything happens to Angelo anyway. Remember, the McCaskeys are not meddling owners and this is not a dire situation like the late 1990s when something had to be done with Dave Wannstedt.

The Walter Payton book had to come up, and Mac wondered how I felt about it or if I would want to write a book of that type. The second part is easy; not interested. Ive done four books, am working on another, and bringing someone down frankly seems like something that would get me down as well. I dont have any issue whatsoever with Jeff Pearlman writing the book, and Ill be reading it because its part of the job to check out things Bears. This is no commentary on Jeff, just my thoughts about me.

On another level, I dont really like rolling out all of the Walter stuff 12 years after his death. This isnt a protect-Walter thing at all; indeed, as I mentioned to the guys, a colleague once said that we in the media shouldnt write about the wife unless we were going to write about the girlfriend. Meaning: Dont chronicle a glowing picture unless you also were going to depict the other side, if there was one.

Walters status in Chicago and beyond has bordered on sports deification, so maybe this is some sort of cosmic balancing. Not for me to say. My assumption is that Jeff has done a very solid reporting job (I know the people he talked to and he was thorough), but its just not a story Im personally eager to dive into.

Will visit again with the guys next Thursday at 10 a.m.

Tarnished image

The Bears organization did not wait long to respond to stories in a new book by Jeff Pearlman that paints a troubled and troubling picture of franchise legend Walter Payton, including drug use and a deteriorating situation in his personal life:

The Chicago Bears had the unique honor and privilege of having Walter Payton as a part of our organization for over two decades as both a player and board member, the teams statement said. We believe his competitive spirit lives with us today. When we take the field each Sunday, we represent the great players like Walter who helped build the rich tradition of our organization. Nothing will change our feelings for a man we have the deepest respect for and miss having around Halas Hall to this day.

The NFLs Man of the Year award was renamed in Paytons honor after his death in 1999.

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: