Bears

View from the Moon: Rematch of the century awaits

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View from the Moon: Rematch of the century awaits

Saturday, Jan. 15, 2011
Posted: 10:33 p.m.

By John Mullin
CSNChicago.com

First, to make this very simple: The winner of the Bears-Seattle Seahawks game at noon Sunday hosts the NFC Championship game. Sixth-seeded Green Bay, my preseason pick to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl, played out a jaw-dropper over the Atlanta Falcons, far beyond the expectations even of those who thought theyd dispatch the Falcons.

The speed-based Bears didnt especially want to go to Atlantas Georgia Dome. But they cannot be looking very forward to Aaron Rodgers and Friends coming in next weekend either.

In any case, Saturday was not a good day for defensive coordinators.

My picks of Pittsburgh over Baltimore and Green Bay over Atlanta were OK, -- the Steelers covered and the Packers won outright -- but the point production was staggering. The Steelers were No. 1 in scoring defense and gave up 24 to the Ravens, who ranked No. 3 and allowed the Steelers 31. The Falcons were No. 5 and gave up 28 points to the Packers in just the first half alone.

No. 2 Green Bay was the only one of the defenses on the field in the divisional playoff round that played to its defensive seed. And thats what waits for the Bears if they get past the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday afternoon.

The unaccounted-for No. 4 scoring defense? That would be the Bears. Very unlikely that they suffer the same kind of points hemorrhaging as the other elite defenses, but on any given Sunday. ...

What happens Sunday?

My thought is that New England will ease past the New York Jets 30-20, a points differential reflected in the differential between Tom Brady and Mark Sanchez.

The Bears-Seahawks will play out just about the same way, although not based on the quarterbacks. The Seahawks simply have no significant area of real excellence, and the playoffs are about high-impact playmakers. Even Arizona had Kurt Warner, Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin when they eked into their recent Super Bowl.

The Bears do. They have a defense that should be awake now, after seeing what the Seahawks did to Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints and recalling what Matt Hasselbeck did to them back in October.

If Jay Cutler and Mike Martz can internalize the lessons of the first eight games since the off week and not regress to the kind of performance they gave at Green Bay, the Bears will slowly pull away in the second half. Cutler will throw for three touchdowns and the Bears will be one game from their second Super Bowl appearance under coach Lovie Smith.
Bears 31, Seahawks 14You wanted who?

The Bears, stuck with nobodies like Earl Bennett, Devin Hester and Johnny Knox, could certainly use a true No. 1 wide receiver, couldnt they? Like the ones that other teams went after, like Tennessee and Randy Moss, like everybody and Terrell Owens?

Like the Baltimore Ravens and Boldin oh, wait, he just dropped a TD pass in the one-touchdown, divisional-round loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers. ...

Like the Seattle Seahawks and T.J. Houshmandzadeh and his 40-million deal ... oh, wait, the Seahawks let him go and Baltimore picked him up. So then, like the Baltimore Ravens and Houshmandzadeh ... oh, wait, he just dropped a fourth-down pass, the final play for the Ravens in that loss to Pittsburgh.

Of the top 35 wide receivers in the NFL for 2010 in number if receptions, only Roddy White in Atlanta, Wes Welker in New England and Greg Jennings for Green Bay were still playing this weekend. So, please, enough about how the Bears absolutely have to get themselves a No. 1 receiver.
Final pre-playoff Lovie contract thoughts

The outcome of the divisional-round game will factor into organizational thoughts on adding a year, two or more to the contract of Lovie Smith, which expires after 2011. The market has tightened and Smiths price is unlikely to tick dramatically upward from its 5.5 million given the widespread belt-tightening going on throughout the league.

If the Bears fall to the Seahawks, so too could the urge to keep Smith from entering his contract year. If the Bears progress to the NFC Championship game, however, the surprise will be if he and the organization do not extend their association.

Negotiations rarely are public with Smith, agent Frank Bauer and the Bears. And Smith, like Dick Jauron before him, keeps his innermost thoughts just that: innermost.

However, Smith is confident in his abilities, with cause. He reached a Super Bowl in his third year, one sooner than Mike Ditka, and went to the playoffs in his second year, one less than Mike Ditka, and reached a Super Bowl in his third, also one year faster than Ditka.

Since taking over a team with Chad Hutchinson, Craig Krenzel and Jonathan Quinn for quarterbacks, an offensive line with Qasim Mitchell at left tackle and Steve Edwards at right guard, and David Terrell as the lead receiver, Smith has had no season with a winning percentage below .438 (two at 7-9) in his last six. Ditka had two of below that in his final four years.

What that means is that while considerable leverage rests with the Bears (Smith is under contract and the league is going cheap with multiple first-time head coaches), Smiths temperament is such that as far as agreeing to anything, he will likely be willing to let this season finish out first, if even then.

Hell gamble on himself.

Angel Gabriel

Former Bears college scouting director Greg Gabriel used his billet of writing for National Football Post this week to do some self-serving puffy-chesting about how he was all over running back James Starks on draft day 2010. Gabriel had the kid on the phone but GM Jerry Angelo decided at the last minute to go for a quarterback, Western Michigans Dan LeFevour, in the sixth round.

Interesting timing by Gabriel, trumpeting his find (and taking a shot at Angelo, who let Gabriel go last offseason) after Starks bagged 123 yards in the Packers wild-card win at Philadelphia.

Thats great, especially by a sixth-round pick, although Starks had 47 yards through three quarters against Atlanta; couldnt find another Gabriel item on the guy. And I kept going over and over Gabriels original NFP Starks post and couldnt find his mentioning the picks of Dan Bazuin, Juaquin Iglesias, Mark Bradley, Roe Williams, Jarron Gilbert, Michael Okwo, Michael Haynes. Maybe those were all Angelos, too.

Oh, never mind ...

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

Bears offense opens up in 24-23 comeback win over Denver Broncos

Bears offense opens up in 24-23 comeback win over Denver Broncos

Preseason games are about isolated goods and bads, snapshots really, rather than sweeping overalls. All in the eye of the beholder. And for the Bears, after losses to Baltimore and Cincinnati in Matt Nagy’s first efforts as a head coach, getting out of Denver with a 24-23 win over the Broncos looked pretty good in the eyes of any Bears beholder.

Saturday’s preseason game three was a collection of snapshots for the Bears, playing their third “practice” game but the first with enough of the starters on offense and defense to matter, or at least as much as these can matter.

The Bears achieved their first win under Nagy on the right arm of No. 2 quarterback Chase Daniel, pressed into extra duty when Tyler Bray was hurt in the third quarter, and who completed 19 of 28 passes for 189 yards and 2 touchdowns, including the game-winner just inside the 2-minute warning on a 12-yard throw to tight end Ben Braunecker. The win was preserved when cornerback Cre’Von LeBlanc punched the ball out of the hands of Denver receiver Isaiah McKenzie and linebacker Isaiah Irving gathered in the loose football to end a potential Denver comeback drive at the Chicago 38.

Before all of that, in his longest appearance of the presesason, quarterback Mitch Trubisky started and directed a pair of sustained drives, the first covering 51 yards to a missed field-goal attempt, and a second going 75 yards and culminating in a touchdown. Combined with the work by Daniel, the Bears put up five drives 50 yards or longer. Trubisky completed 9 of 14 passes for 90 yards, a touchdown and an interception, and the No. 1 offense produced 10 first downs.

Notably perhaps, the Trubisky score came in a fashion that was previewed more than a few times throughout camp, and that projects as a template for a staple in the offense under Nagy:

A high-percentage flip going to tight end Trey Burton cutting across the field and going seven yards for Trubisky’s first TD pass of the preseason. The design of the play forced the Denver secondary to drop in coverage of Bears wide receivers and left rush linebacker Von Miller needing to choose between dropping into a short zone or going after Trubisky. Miller did the latter and Burton, who caught 4 of 5 passes directed to him for 45 yards, was alone in the underneath zone.

“I’m just trying to be who I am, do what the coaches ask me to do and go wherever that leads,” Burton told the FOX 32 broadcast. “Obviously, every week and every game is different so whatever my role is, I’m down for it.”

Trubisky did suffer his first interception over the span of two preseasons and 71 pass attempts, but appeared to be victimized when running back Tarik Cohen broke off the route on a short in-cut and failed to break back toward Trubisky. The throw was to where Cohen was supposed to be but was instead an easy pick for Denver safety Justin Simmons.

“I think [Cohen] learned he can’t do that,” Nagy said.

But the passing offense overall was functional under Trubisky, not insignificant in the context of the quarterback in a new offense with a complement of receivers largely unfamiliar with him. And some who hadn’t graced stat sheets to date.

Kevin White came up with his first two catches of the preseason and followed each with some nifty running after the catches. White also drew a 37-yard pass interference penalty that accounted for about half the yardage on the Trubisky touchdown drive.

Rookie Anthony Miller caught 3 passes for 33 yards, with a long of 19 yards. Allen Robinson started by played sparingly in the first half in the first test of his surgically repaired left ACL and was not targeted. Taylor Gabriel, with a foot injury, did not play for the third straight game.

Thoughts from Bears-Broncos: Injury absences, special teams woes and a world of confusion over new helmet rule

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USA TODAY

Thoughts from Bears-Broncos: Injury absences, special teams woes and a world of confusion over new helmet rule

No Roquan Smith but Bears injury absences vs. Broncos far more troubling
 
No real surprise that coaches decided to hold linebacker Roquan Smith out, given that the rookie had exactly one practice in pad and two without pads last week after signing his contract on Monday. But it was not Smith’s absence that was concerning coming out of the Bears ____ loss to the Denver Broncos.
 
Linebacker Leonard Floyd, who has been hampered by injuries in each of this first two Bears seasons, went out midway through the first half with an unspecified hand injury and did not return. Tight end Adam Shaheen, starting his second straight game after three catches for 53 yards at Cincinnati, caught a first-quarter pass from Mitchell Trubisky but left the field on a cart after injuring his ankle during the ensuing tackle.
 
Along with Floyd’s absence, the pass rush was again without outside linebacker Aaron Lynch, who hasn’t been on the field since the first practice of training camp, that after missing play time with ankle twisted in the first April minicamp practice and with a hamstring strain in a June minicamp practice.
 
The Bears did get a sack from Roy Robertson-Harris, his third in as many games and likely establishing him as the starting defensive end opposite Akiem Hick in the Bears’ base 3-4.
 
First quarter not-so-special teams
 
Repeating a pattern from some years past, Bears kick returns did the offense no favors early, with multiple mistakes in first quarter alone:
 
Recently signed running back Knile Davis took the opening kickoff six yards deep in the end zone and got it only to the Chicago 15;
 
After the first Denver three-and-out, Cre’Von LeBlanc fair-caught a punt at the Chicago 5 instead of gambling on a touchback. Three plays later Mitch Trubisky mishandled a high snap and was sacked in the end zone for a safety.
 
On the free kick, reserve tight end Ben Braunecker lost contain and contributed to a 17-yard return by Isaiah McKenzie, setting the Broncos up at their 40, from where they moved for a first-quarter field goal. After that field goal, Davis returned the Denver kickoff 43 yards but the runback was nullified by a holding penalty.
 
Throw in Cody Parkey’s missed field goal from 52 yards and Bears special teams combined for one of the poorer possible quarters short of allowing a touchdown return.
 
 
Helmet hi-jinks
 
And the league thought it had problems with the catch rule?
 
The NFL’s leading-with-the-helmet prohibition and its enforcement bordering on the bizarre reared its ugly head early  flag on Denver cornerback Isaac Yiadom for his tackle of Bears tight end Adam Shaheen defies explanation. Yiadom got his head in front of Shaheen’s quads in a textbook go-low tackle with minimal risk to either player but was hit with a 15-yard penalty. Not sure what Yiadom was supposed to lead with? His feet?
 
Then Bears cornerback Kyle Fuller drew a leading-with-the-helmet when he went shoulder-first into tight end Andy Janovich, while Denver left tackle Garrett Bolles went helmet-first into a basic cut block on linebacker Leonard Floyd and drew no flag.
 
 
Duly noted
 
Quirky rules and their enforcement don’t account for a worrisome spate of penalties (eight through three quarters) that cost the Bears more than 100 yards. 
 
In the first half alone, besides the Fuller flag, tackles Charles Leno and Bobby Massie drew holding penalties, and a holding penalty on the kickoff-return team negated a 43-yard return by Knile Davis. Tight end Ben Braunecker was tagged for pass interference.