Bears

Who is on hot seat if Bears' struggles continue?

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Who is on hot seat if Bears' struggles continue?

Wednesday, Sept. 28, 2011
Posted: 10:26 a.m. Updated: 5:48 p.m.

By John Mullin
CSNChicago.com Bears Insider Follow @CSNMoonMullin
Sick bay

Marion Barbers eagerly awaited Bears debut may be at hand. The physical No. 2 tailback was able to practice in full Wednesday, the first time for that since he injured a calf muscle in the Tennessee Titans preseason game that has idled him on game days ever since.

The secondary also received a huge boost with the return to full participation of safeties Chris Harris (hamstring) and Major Wright (head), potentially giving the Bears their full complement of safeties in time for a Carolina offense in which two of the top three receivers (not including running back Jonathan Stewart) are tight ends Greg Olsen, Jeremy Shockey.

We have to play better at safety, its kind of as simple as that, coach Lovie Smith said. Youre always anxious to get your starters back out there. And for us, Chris Harris gives us an awful lot, another worldly veteran back there. Big hitter that can make plays. And of course getting Major back. Those guys did a good job. Brandon especially is making progress. But we want to have the entire group on hand this week.

The offensive line has been without two starters since the end of the first half in the New Orleans game. Thats when right tackle Gabe Carimi went down with a knee injury and joined right guard Lance Louis (ankle injury vs. Atlanta) on the sidelines.

Louis was active for the Green Bay game but only for emergency purposes. Chris Spencer started and played the entire game. This week Louis is a better bet to return as his ankle improves.

Lance Louis had a good day, coach Mike Tice said Wednesday. He was working hard and well keep getting him in there and see how hes doing and build the confidence up in his leg. Hopefully as the week progresses hell be more crisp and sharp and continue to get better. Coach Smith will make a decision on which direction were going to go.

It wasnt personal....

In the first game of last preseason, with the Bears adjusting to a new coordinator (Mike Martz) and his offense, they went into San Diego to open the preseason against the Chargers. Eight plays into the game, under a hail of blitzing from the Chargers, coaches pulled quarterback Jay Cutler.

The San Diego defensive coordinator: Ron Rivera, now head coach of the Carolina Panthers, whom the Bear host next Sunday. One belief at the time was that Rivera was intent on embarrassing the team that had let him go as defensive coordinator after the 2006 Super Bowl season.

Not so, says the architect of that evening of preseason mayhem.

One of the things we were doing, and if you watch all of last years preseason when I was in San Diego, we blitzed every game because we wanted to be a blitzing defense, Rivera said. We wanted to be aggressive. We wanted to attack people and it paid off.

It did indeed. The Chargers finished No. 1 in total yardage defense. They were No. 2 in sacks per pass play. They had 47 sacks, compared to the NFL average of 35.

From the day we came into mini-camp in the 010 season, we came in blitzing, Rivera said. Its what coach Turner wanted me to do. It was the mentality we wanted to develop. It just so happened we played the Bears in week one. The following week we played Dallas and did the same thing against New Orleans. That was just really what we wanted to do.
Who's on the hot seat?

ProFootballTalk.com is a must-read (usually quite a few times a day) for whos who doing whats what around the NFL, and Mike Florios hit on The McNeil and Spiegel Show at 10 a.m. on WSCR-AM 670 is always worth the time. Mike obviously tracks more than just the Bears, which means he puts the local gridders into an NFL perspective.

Mike posed the question of who will be on a hot seat Jerry Angelo or Lovie Smith if things continue to sour. If they struggle or lose to Carolina, theres going to be real trouble for Lovie Smith or Jerry Angelo, Mike suggested.

Not sure how true that will be internally, since the Bears have had four winning seasons in the past six. But Halas Hall likely will become an increasingly grumpy place to be.

Mike also pointed a questioning finger at O.C. Mike Martz, who is not turning the offense in any substantively positive direction. The reason: He wants to dictate to the defense without the horses to dictate, Mike said. That stubbornness has to go away.

Sundays Carolina game is a matchup between two 1-2 teams, but one with questions-in-waiting (Bears) and the other with a variety of axes to grind (Ron Rivera, Greg Olsen). Panthers-Bears is going to have some subplots that make this a compelling story nationally, Mike said.

The Detroit Lions are starting to make Bears fans more and more nervous but that could escalate exponentially after Sunday. The Lions travel to Dallas, and Mike noted that the defining eye-popper for the 85 Bears was the 44-0 annihilation in Dallas of the Cowboys. So as far as the Lions, you go into Dallas and come out with that pelt on the wall, you will definitely have everyones undivided attention.

Ill check in with Mac and Spiegs at our regular Thursday 10 a.m. spot. By then well have heard from Martz, Rivera, Cutler, Cam Newton and Mike Tice. Shouldnt be too hard finding a few things to noodle on.

Crammin Cam

Newton has spent time privately talking with Tom Brady about the craft of quarterback. He enlisted Warren Moon as an advisor even before the draft. For all of his athleticism, he has quietly studied the game and the people who play it right. The results, for a rookie quarterback, have been jaw-dropping.

The one who is perhaps least surprised is Newton. He was listening and it shows.

I admire the guys like Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, who is a professional at what they do, Newton said. No offense to those guys, but they might not run the fastest 40, they may not jump the highestthey might not jump the farthest in the broad jump, but I guarantee you from what I've heard from their teams, you're not going to outwork them.

They're in the film study or they're watching film before the offensive coordinator is watching film. So I respect somebody that treats their job they way they go about handling it each and every day."
Yeah, but is he allowed to audible?

Not Carolina quarterback Newton. Tight end Greg Olsen.

Carolina coach Ron Rivera remarked recently that the former Bears tight end is a particularly cerebral player. His quarterback isnt quite so sure about that.

Uhhmm, Newton began, well, knowing Greg, he probably thinks that he is. And he makes every situation bigger than it really is. Numerous times, in each game, Greg's moment has been something that everybody laughs at.

Greg just thinks he's the guy that changes plays, and he over-thinks it while we're in a timeout. Just talking, you know: What's the play? Well, you know Cam, if they give us this...

Newton gently has to remind his guy, Greg, I've been practicing all week, too, I know this thing. He thinks he's the coach off the field, which is a good thing. You need guys like that, and that just shows you his professionalism for the game.

Olsen was traded last offseason to the Panthers despite catching 54 passes in 2008, second to Matt Forte, and 60 in 2009, leading the team, under then-coordinator Ron Turner. He was deemed a bad fit for the Mike Martz offense, the Bears declined his request for a contract extension and he was dealt.

Through three games Olsen has caught 12 passes, projecting out to a 64-catch season.
Not quite Ditka-Ryan II

This wont quite be Mike Ditka vs. Buddy Ryan but Lovie Smith vs. Ron Rivera does have some flavor beyond the normal coaching matchup. Ryan left by choice (he was never tired of reminding Ditka that hed been hired by George Halas, not Ditka), where Rivera simply was dis-invited to remain as Bears defensive coordinator after an assortment of differences with Smith.

But dont look for acrimony. The game obviously is of epic significance to Rivera, who was drafted by the Bears in 1984, played for them until the arrival of Dave Wannstedt, worked as an unpaid quality control assistant just to stay around the organization and get some experience with coaching, and came back as defensive coordinator under Smith. You never completely forget who gave you a major career break, which Smith did.

Rivera expressly said that this was not a normal game for him, which is understandable both from the standpoint of his Bears connections and also because he is exactly three games into his first job as head coach.

Smith has been at this a while and its been five years since he and Rivera split up. So Smith isnt looking at this as Lovie vs. Chico.

I dont think Ron is going to be out there but his football team is doing a heck of a job, Smith said. They lost a couple of tough games before this one Sunday. They found a way to win. Their record is the same as ours right now. Its a football game we both need to win.
Remember him?

If Matt Forte is wondering whether his offense went off and left him (right when he was hoping for a contract extension), how must DeAngelo Williams feel? Prior to the season the Carolina tailback signed a five-year, 43 million extension with 21 million guaranteed. Now Williams has all of 61 rushing yards on 27 carries and hes third on the Panthers in rushing behind Newton and Stewart.

The Panther have been led in rushing by each one for a game, none for much. Williams led in the week-one-loss to Arizona with 30 yards. Newton ran a team-high 53 yards in the loss to Green Bay. Stewarts 59 led in the win over Jacksonville.

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.

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Can the Bears pull off an upset at home against Tom Brady and the Patriots?

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SportsTalk Live Podcast: Can the Bears pull off an upset at home against Tom Brady and the Patriots?

Chris Emma, Matt Zahn and Gabe Ramirez join David Kaplan on the panel.

0:00- NBC Sports National NBA Insider Tom Haberstroh joins the panel to discuss the Bulls’ terrible defensive performance as well as Zach LaVine’s impressive season debut.

11:35- Khalil Mack is listed as questionable for Sunday’s game against the Patriots. Can the Bears pull off the upset against Tom Brady?

23:50- NBC Sports Boston Patriots insider Tom E. Curran joins Kap to talk about how New England views the Bears and discuss how Matt Nagy’s team can exploit the Patriots’ weaknesses.

Listen to the full episode at this link or in the embedded player below.

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Khalil Mack appears set to play Sunday with Tom Brady, Patriots looming

Khalil Mack appears set to play Sunday with Tom Brady, Patriots looming

Khalil Mack appears in line to play Sunday with Tom Brady, Patriots looming

Khalil Mack participated in the Bears’ final practice of the week on Friday, clearing the way for the edge rusher to play Sunday against the New England Patriots. 

ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported earlier Friday that the Bears expected Mack, who hasn’t missed a game in his career, to play after suffering an ankle injury early in Week 6’s 31-28 loss to the Miami Dolphins. Mack is officially questionable for Sunday’s game at Soldier Field. 

Mack had little interest in discussing his ankle with the media on Friday, passing on answering questions about his readiness for New England. Coach Matt Nagy, though, said he thought Mack “looked pretty good” during practice on Friday. 

Mack didn’t record a sack against Miami and was held to just one pressure, per Pro Football Focus. The Dolphins’ gameplan was to commit plenty of resources to stopping Mack, but he wasn’t effective even when he had one-on-one pass rushing opportunities as the game went on. 

“He was (affected),” defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said. “I can't put a percentage on it, but he definitely was.”

Having Mack available — even if he’s not full strength — will be critical for the Bears’ defense to have a chance at keeping Tom Brady from lighting up the scoreboard. The key for the Bears will be to generate pressure on the 41-year-old quarterback without blitzing, which is something Fangio’s defense was successful at prior to Sunday’s wacky loss to the Dolphins. 

Brady’s passer rating is 138.4 when he’s blitzed, per Pro Football Focus, while when under pressure his rating is 87.2. That’s still pretty good, but it’s worth noting that all of the six interceptions he’s thrown this year have come when he hasn’t been blitzed. And only one of the eight sacks he’s taken has come when he’s been blitzed. 

The point being: If the Bears feel like they have to start blitzing to generate pressure, they can expect Brady to pick them apart.  

“You could say all of that but ultimately (Brady’s) a gamer,” Mack said. “He’s going to take those hits, and you gotta be able to deliver them but also have coverage over the top. It’s going to be real important for us.” 

The good news for the Bears, perhaps, is that New England’s tackles have struggled at times this year. Left tackle Trent Brown has allowed 17 pressures in 234 pass blocking snaps, per Pro Football Focus (about one in every 14 snaps). And starting right tackle Marcus Cannon is out with a concussion, giving way for backup La’Adrian Waddle, who’s allowed eight pressures in 78 pass blocking snaps (about one in every 10). 

So the opportunities will be there for Mack, Leonard Floyd, Akiem Hicks and the Bears’ pass rush to affect Brady on Sunday.

A bigger injury concern?

While cornerback Prince Amukamara (hamstring) was a full participant in Friday’s practice and will play Sunday, slot corner Bryce Callahan suffered an ankle injury during Thursday’s practice and did not participate Friday. He’s officially questionable for Sunday. 

Callahan “did his ankle,” Nagy said, toward the end of Thursday’s practice, and he felt worse as the day went on. Nagy characterized Callahan’s absence from Friday’s practice as “precautionary.”

Callahan’s availability may be more of a pressing concern than Mack’s, given how well the Patriots’ offense has played since slot receiver Julian Edelman returned from a four-game suspension to begin the season. While his numbers aren’t eye-popping (11 catches on 16 targets, 111 yards, 1 TD), New England’s offense has scored 38 and 43 points in his two games back. 

“Brady has always had a guy in the slot that he’s comfortable with; whether it be (Wes) Welker, (Danny) Amendola or Edelman,” Fangio said. “It’s a big part of their offense. They haven’t missed a beat, but I really think it’s helped their offense and played a big part in them basically averaging 40 points in the last three weeks. I really appreciate and respect how good of a player he is and has been.”

If Callahan isn’t available, Sherrick McManis could be the next man up at slot corner.