Bears

View from the Moon: History in Bears' favor

359858.jpg

View from the Moon: History in Bears' favor

Wednesday, Jan. 12, 2011
9:34 PM

By John Mullin
CSNChicago.com

Sundays divisional playoff will be the second meeting of the Bears and Seattle Seahawks in the span of about three months. While it may be convenient to say that rematches benefit both teams from the standpoint of knowing each other, that is not likely to be the case.

And that has potentially ominous implications for the Bears.

Playoff rematches, typically have a couple of patterns:

1.) Unless the winner of the first encounter borders on legendary stature, rematches favor the lesser of the two teams;

2.) They tend to reduce the point differential between the two;

3.) There is frequently a very wide point swing from first game to second.

What the Seahawks did to the Saints last weekend fit the pattern; the lesser team closing the gap and surpassing a decent but hardly superior team. (The Packers defeating the Eagles did not, but an Aaron Rodgers team with a Dom Capers defense is capable of breaking more than a few rules.)

These unofficial rematch rules have usually worked to the detriment of the Bears, in both of their playoff appearances under Lovie Smith and in previous trips regardless of head coach.

The Bears arent expecting to obliterate the 8-9 Seahawks despite the double-digit point spread that has stretched out in front of them like a trap. Nor are they expecting to embarrass themselves again with a home loss giving up 6 sacks and 353 yards to an offense that averaged less than 300.

Every team grows and gets better as the year goes on, said receiver Devin Hester. Teams are not up to their A-game the first couple weeks of the season. I can honestly say we werent up to our A-game.

We gradually got better and weve still got growing to go. We have been feeling a lot more confident than we had, which is really helping us out a lot.

That confidence also could be dangerous, however, whatever its source. The Bears have Seattles 23-20 win to remember in addition to the Seahawks handling of the New Orleans Saints last weekend, if overconfidence starts to set in because of the Seahawks record.

Roots of the problem

Second-meeting woes involving the Bears, although not always at their expense, go as far back as the birth of the Monsters of the Midway in 1940. The Bears, with a roster sprinkled with Hall of Famers, muddled to a 7-3 loss to the Washington Redskins in the regular season, then laced the Redskins 73-0 in the championship game.

Closer to modern times, the 12-4 Bears of 1988 got by the San Francisco 49ers 10-9 in a Monday Night Football regular-season game. That 49ers team, in the midst of its decade of dominance, destroyed the Bears 28-3 in the NFC Championship game.

Point swing: 26 points. The Bears were very good; the 49ers were legendary good.

The Bears were on the better end of the rematch pattern in 1994 when they lost by 28 in their first meeting with the Minnesota Vikings, by 6 in overtime the second, and then won by 17 in a playoff road upset.

Point swing, all games: 45. The lesser team learned a little bit each time.

Lovie Smiths 2005 team was good enough at 11-5 to drop the Carolina Panthers 13-3 during the regular season. In the divisional round, after their bye week, the Bears were embarrassed 29-21 at home.

Point swing: 18. The lesser team learned the Bears couldnt cover Steve Smith.

The Super Bowl team of 2006 crushed Seattle 37-6 in the regular season and went on to another first-round bye in the playoffs. When the Seahawsks came to Soldier Field in the divisional round, the Bears needed OT to escape with a 27-24 win.

Point swing: 28. Whether the Bears took the Seahawks seriously enough, only they know for sure.

The first thing Lovie Smith did this week was to show the players film of the Seattle win in October. It was a good message to send: Remember what they did to you.

Hopefully, well play better this time, Smith said. They played well, to beat a good New Orleans team this past week. But all of the teams are good this time of the year.

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.

Postcard from Camp: Adam Shaheen's ankle injury puts a halt on the solid growth he's made this preseason

camp_postcard.jpg
.

Postcard from Camp: Adam Shaheen's ankle injury puts a halt on the solid growth he's made this preseason

Bears coach Matt Nagy wasn’t sure on Monday if Adam Shaheen’s right ankle sprain would keep him from playing Week 1 in Green Bay. If it does, though, it would represent the fourth consecutive regular season game the second-year tight end would miss dating back to last year. 

In a coincidental connection, too, it would mark the second straight year Shaheen wouldn’t be able to immediately build off a strong showing against the Cincinnati Bengals. Last December, Shaheen caught four of five targets for 44 yards with a touchdown in the Bears’ 33-7 win in Cincinnati; he caught all three of his targets for 53 yards against the Bengals in Aug. 9’s preseason game. 

Shaheen suffered a chest injury during that Bengals game last December and was inactive for the Bears’ final three games of the season. Coincidences aside, Shaheen’s ankle injury represents another speed bump in his developmental path, depending on the severity of it. 

But the good news, perhaps, is that Shaheen has made strides this training camp and preseason. We’ll look at one specific play against the Bengals that stands out below. 

To set it up: Earlier this month, Shaheen talked about how he’s improved at reading coverages and how that’s helped him improve as a route runner. That’s something that has come with experience as he enters Year 2 in the NFL. 

“It’s a big part of this offense as a receiver, recognize the coverage and where you need to be,” Shaheen said. “How you get there is everything.

“… There’s a little more not-so-much focus on, like, a perfect square cut. It’s more, like I said earlier, against this coverage you need to be in that hole at the right time. You might just be in that hole just pulling a defender another way to open up your teammate. That’s a big part.”

That growing savviness was on display in Cincinnati on Aug. 9. Specifically, this play:

Shaheen runs a drag over the middle on third-and-four but encounters linebacker Hardy Nickerson (red circle) standing in his way.

Instead of keeping strictly to the route and trying to run through or beneath Nickerson (yellow arrow), Shaheen faced up to the Bengals’ linebacker, did an inside-out juke move and goes to Nickerson's outside shoulder (blue arrow).

Shaheen is then able to use his strength and athleticism to gain leverage on Nickerson and work his way into the open field. 

The whole play took all of two seconds to develop, and by the time Chase Daniel releases the ball, Shaheen has a step on Nickerson. The result is not just a first down, but a 29-yard completion. 

“Some routes are locked in, and other ones we’ve got a little wiggle room to work,” Shaheen said. “Those ones are obviously very good to see a linebacker over there because you know you can really have an opportunity to get the ball and work him.”

Those little things will continue to grow Shaheen’s game with more experience. The potential is there for Shaheen to play a significant role in the Bears’ offense in 2018 — provided he’s healthy for the start of it. 

Construction and nature of Bears pass rush adds to potential impact of Leonard Floyd hand injury

Construction and nature of Bears pass rush adds to potential impact of Leonard Floyd hand injury

Measuring the impact and domino effect of Leonard Floyd’s fractured right hand suffered in the weekend win over the Denver Broncos is next to impossible at this juncture simply because what Floyd’s effectiveness will be in a cast isn’t remotely clear. Coach Matt Nagy noted Monday that players have functioned with a “club” for a hand but the Bears need more than Floyd just playing.

The injury, which required surgery, affects Floyd’s fingers, and irrespective of the specific injury, those requiring casting and club-like encasement have dramatically affected effectiveness in even the game’s top pass rushers: Clay Matthews in Green Bay (2013); Jason Pierre-Paul with the Giants (2015); J.J. Watt in Houston (2016).

Nagy used the word “relief” in talking about Floyd’s situation; good word choice. Because the Bears have lost elite linebackers to season-ending thumb or wrist injuries (Bryan Cox, 1996; Brian Urlacher 2009).

But any diminishing of Floyd’s effectiveness projects to a potential catastrophe for a Bears defense wanting to start fast and help an offense that will be learning to stand fully upright through its first season under Nagy. Pass rushers, particularly speed rushers, need their hands. And fingers.

The reason is more than simply Floyd. It’s the construction of the Bears defense and its rush options. Because in the Bears’ case, numbers can obscure the true nature – and degree of vulnerability – of the Bears’ pass rush.

The defense posted 42 sacks in 2017, ranking an eminently respectable tied for seventh despite being without a single defender with more than Akiem Hicks’ 8-1/2, and better than Arizona (17th) with Chandler Jones (17 sacks), for example.

That is both good news and bad news.

The good news is that a top-10 defense was not based on one individual rush terror – a Matthews, Watt, Von Miller. Consider it a rush-by-committee, with Floyd, Hicks, Sam Acho, Pernell McPhee, Willie Young or any of more than a half-dozen threats capable of delivering one of the single most devastating defensive plays other than a takeaway.

But that is also the bad news. Because the Bears lost McPhee, Young, Lamarr Houston and the players who produced more than one-third (14-1/2) of the 42 sacks.

This is more than a simple headcount issue; it’s an integrated-whole problem. The Bears had so many potential impact rushers, their scheme was able to bring pressure from different places and players. The rush may not have had one elite pocket disruptor, but it did have quantity to the point where double-teaming any one created opportunities that non-elite rushers exploited.

Acho benefitted from Young benefitted from McPhee benefitted from Hicks benefitted from Floyd benefitted from... You get the idea.

The point is that no Bears rusher was, or now, is, capable of exerting consistent dominance by himself, as great pass rushers do. Dan Hampton benefitted from Richard Dent, but Hampton was a Pro Bowl rush threat before Dent arrived. Watt had 20 1/2 sacks in 2012, before the Texans drafted Jadeveon Clowney, and 20 1/2 in 2014 when Clowney only played four games.

The Bears situation is not necessarily a crisis; the whole being greater than the sum of the parts is by definition the antithesis of crisis. But the Bears lost a significant number of those parts. Liken it to the Bears having a great offensive line and losing a couple of starters: The remaining starters could the better members of the “great” group, but unless the lost players are replaced with talent equal to or greater than the losses, the chances of the group achieving anywhere near what it was when it had all its components are slim.

Hicks is coming off a career year. But the Bears did little to replace Houston, McPhee and Young, who contributed both to Floyd’s development and his production. Now the pass rusher drafted to be a linchpin of the Bears defense has a significant impairment.

So does the entire defense.