Bears

Frankie O: Hocus Pocus!

Frankie O: Hocus Pocus!

By Frankie O
CSNChicago.comTheres always the struggle in life, at least from my perspective, for some to understand what they have and what they see. Thankfully, many who suffer from this affliction often frequent my workplaces and this leads to many interesting discussions. Giving an illusion often helps in misperceptions. Say youre an old, weight challenged bartender, (Im just saying!), if you wear all black and turn the lights down as far as possible when starting your shift, you all of the sudden look much thinner, younger and hipper! Of course, we all know that is NOT the reality. Its an illusion!For Chicago sports fans I could take this analogy in many different directions, but for now well focus on the Bears. The Bears are one of the premier franchises of the NFL. Their place in NFL history is as real as it gets. They are part of the fabric of Chicago. This is true of a lot of pro football teams, but even more so here.It is because of this that the populace longs for a team that attains its rightful glory. But for as long as Ive lived here, 1995, that glory has been elusive. The Bears have reached the playoffs in only 4 of those 17 seasons. I know for a fact that has driven the masses crazy. Each of those appearances ultimately led to an untimely demise. Or was it? Upon my arrival, and some would say not so coincidentally, the Bears went 35-61 in the nextsix seasons. This led to the arrival of GM Jerry Angelo prior to the 2001 season. From his history in Tampa Bay as a talent evaluator, we were led to believe he would build the foundation from which the Bears would succeed for years to come. The 13-3 regular season record in his first season only raised the expectations. But, in a sign of things to come, that team was smoked, at home, in the playoffs by the Philadelphia Eagles 33-19. I was among the naysayers that said while that season was fun, it wasnt real. That team was as lucky as any I had ever seen, and as happens often in sports, was found out when it mattered most. That team went 16-32 over the nextthree seasons so as to cement the point. The 2003 season also allowed Angelo to un-arrange his forced marriage to head coach Dick Jauron, which was unfortunately lengthened due to the 2001 fluke season and subsequent mandatory contract extension, and bring in his guy, Lovie Smith. (Quick aside: I had the pleasure, during a slow evening at the bar, to be invited to sit and chat at a table with Jauron and a childhood friend of his who was in to visit. He was as polite, nice and articulate as anyone I have ever met. Maybe a bit too nice to be an NFL coach, but he has held a position on a staff or as the head man for 27 straight years so maybe there is a place for nice guys. I always thought he got a bad rap here, but I guess thats personal. Ultimately, head coaches should be judged on results. Nothing else. Nothing personal.) This concluded a ten year stretch with a record of 64-96 and 1 meager short-lived playoff appearance. Monsters? No! Scary? Yes!Then in the first glory years since the 1985 team that we REPEATEDLY hear about, the Bears went 24-8 over the 05 and 06 seasons, winningtwo division titles and reaching the Super Bowl following the 06 season. These teams were largely built through the drafting of Angelo and some accentuation through free-agency. But twothings here: No. 1- They did not win the Super Bowl. Excuse make all you want, but that is, and always will be, the only thing that matters.No.2 - For all the talent on the defensive side, those teams were never taken seriously due to the quarterback, just YouTube Dennis Green to get that point. A matchup of Rex Grossman vs. Peyton Manning would be asking a lot of the great Ravens or Steeler defenses of the past, let alone the Bears, and proved their undoing. Good Rex- Bad Rex. The fall-off to mediocrity was not a huge surprise, but angered the faithful to no end. Their appetite had been whetted and they wanted more. At this point, Angelo made his boldest move, the trade for Jay Cutler. As I wrote at the time I saw the two sides of this move. Angelos understanding that he needed a franchise quarterback and to buy time and job security for himself. If you persuade ownership to pay a kings ransom to acquire a difference maker, they need to keep you around, at least for a while, to see it through, dont they? Smart move on both counts. I have supported the Cutler move here from the beginning. My contention is that he has NEVER been afforded any, or proper, support. The offensive talent around him, minus Matt Forte, is suspect at best. More importantly, the offensive system employed by Mike Martz never played to Cutler strengths. I would think this to be a fatal flaw and it was, for Angelo and Martz. The additional time afforded Angelo, and to Smith, turned into the ill-fated joy ride of 2010. Whereas I thought 2001 was a fluke, it had nothing on 2010. Playing 4 back-up QBs can go a long way to making your record look better than it should be. Having the rest of a mediocre NFC fall apart affording you a week off and a chance to play one of the worst playoff teams ever for a spot in the NFC championship game was a string of luck for the ages. The thing is, you have to take advantage of your luck as it occurs, not think of it as a harbinger for the future. The Caleb Hanie mirage in the title game turned out to be another nail in the Angelo coffin. Not that I, or almost anyone else that I have talked to or listened to, understood this at the time. But the point is, we were told that this was a team that could compete with any in the NFL. Really? An NFL season offers us many things to see if we want to watch. What has become apparent in this NFL, is that you need the ability to score from anywhere on the field at any time. Create fear in your opponent. Its Al Daviss dream run amok. But the only time the Bears strike this fear is when Devin Hester is lining up to receive a kick.As far as offensive weapons go, this team brings a knife to a gun fight almost every week. Every rule change made in this league over the last twenty years has favored the offense and offensive football. I like dominant defensive play as much as the next guy, but is that type of team going to exist again within these rules?Even Sandra Bullock knows you need a left tackle, so much so that she made a movie about it. But the one constant since Cutler got here, if not before, is the offensive line or lack of.
Angelos final foray into free agency brought the three Cowboys. Marion Barber: Played well then got hurt, big surprise. But not before mistakes that costtwo ballgames. Roy Williams: The big wideout to go with their smurfs. Has anyone else had a career where he had one good year, then did nothing since, for years, and still acts like hes all-pro? Awful! Sam Hurd: I dont blame Angelo completely for hiring a would-be drug kingpin, but didnt their security team know anything about this guy?The lack of offensive talent on this team, especially when compared to the rest of the division, is startling. Are we really to believe that bringing in Roy Williams would take the receiver talent on this team to the level of the Packers? The Lions? The Vikings?!! So that brings us to the events of this Tuesday. The reactions Ive heard at the bar or in the media, is the surprise at the fact that the move was actually made and the fact that Lovie survived. Im stunned that the move to fire Angelo was made with two years left on his current contract. But Im in total agreement that this team is regressing in the division, talent wise, under his watch.Lovie can only play the guys he has. As Ive also stated here recently, Lovie is starting to grow on me. (Stop that!) His demeanor is who he is. I like the even keel nature he displays, although, I wonder if his tight-to- the- vest manner would allow him to command an aggressive offense. This fallacy that you need to get off the bus running is not going to win this division, or a title. You eventually need to have the ability to throw. (Green Bay and New England arent exactly warm-weather cities and they both threw for well over 5000 yards. Why cant the Bears?) This means more talent on the offensive side of the ball. A large price was paid to bring in a quarterback of championship caliber. But it doesnt stop there. Angelo was right that he needed someone of Cutlers ability, but he didnt see it through and build the offense around him to let him flourish. Ultimately, that was his undoing. Its not like he couldnt have considering how far the team is under the salary cap. It didnt seem like there was a sense of urgency in the front office to provide the necessary talent to close the gap, on Green Bay especially.And lets not forget that the vaunted defense gave up 350 yards and over 21 points a game. That is not dominant.I applaud the ownership, now led by Chairman George McCaskey, at least publically, to make such a bold move. That most of the media is nit-picking is missing the point. This is a first act. It says that failure is not an option. I havent heard that out of the McCaskeys since Ive lived here, have you? A new path has been chosen. Of course this type of bold action being taken, being so foreign, may take some time to be completely done right. So be it. While Lovie may have gained power here as some suggest, I think he acquired a target squarely affixed to himself. Put up or shut up. The parameter put on a new GM was to keep Lovie for next year, not thetwo years left on his contract. The onus is on him to FINALLY accept responsibility for what happens on the offensive side of the ball, talent-wise and scheme-wise. He too needs to accept that the offense needs to be tailored to his franchise QB, not the other way around. The illusion for many was that this Bears team was the one that was 7-3 coming off of a NFC championship game defeat. The reality is that this team, even if Cutler and Forte stayed healthy, was not in the upper echelon of the NFL. All you need to do is watch the playoffs this year to realize that. What happened here is something larger. The easy thing to do would have been to let everyone come back and blame injuries for this seasons failure. That was not the case. Perhaps spurred on by the bold moves that accompanied Rocky Wirtz taking over the Blackhawks and the Ricketts familys ownership and change of status quo with the Cubs (even if it took a little longer than hoped), the McCaskey family had to give its blessing for the bloodletting that occurred this week. Lets hope they fully understand that they need to follow through. Not long after he became Chairman, I heard a lot of discussion on the radio about the time that George McCaskey spent working in the Bears ticket office, that the experience allowed him to connect with the fans that funded the team with their support. You hear this speculation and wonder if it would really make a difference. Well in the first time many of us saw or heard him talk about his vision for his team, his actions spoke louder than any of us could have imagined. Lets hope he has the will to go the distance. Lets hope we can believe what we are seeing.

After loss to Patriots, Bears' defense searching for answers — but not confidence

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USA Today

After loss to Patriots, Bears' defense searching for answers — but not confidence

A year ago, had the Bears come within one yard of tying the New England Patriots in a game in which they allowed two special teams touchdowns, the vibe in the Solider Field locker room might’ve been different. Sort of like, hey, that was pretty good that we were able to hang with one of the league's best teams and nearly tie and/or beat them despite our own mistakes. 

The operative term, then, after Sunday’s 38-31 loss to the Patriots may be confident frustration. The Bears know they’re a good team, better than they’ve had in recent memory. And that makes losing a game this team felt it was close to winning that much more frustrating. 

“We still had confidence last year that we could go in and win games (last year), but I would say this year we know what type of team we have,” defensive lineman Akiem Hicks said. “We know we got a quarterback that’s developing and throwing the ball down the field really well. We know we have a great wide receiver corps. We know we have rushers that can get to the quarterback. We have a really good team and we’re going to have to figure out how to capitalize on that big play momentum and finish games out.”

Perhaps this is a picture of a talented team still trying to figure out how to win. The Bears’ defense entered Sunday allowing an average of 8.8 yards per play in the fourth quarter and allowed 6.5 yards per play in the final 15 minutes Sunday, including a critical 96-yard touchdown drive. 

And while Mitch Trubisky’s Hail Mary to Kevin White came up one yard short, that the Bears were even in that situation to begin with was the problem. New England was able to chew up 3:49 off the clock before punting the ball back to the Bears' offense with 24 seconds remaining. Get a stop earlier and the Bears might not have to rely on a nearly-converted heave with time expiring to tie the game. 

“In games like this, your room for error is slim in all phases,” cornerback Kyle Fuller said. “No matter what we did (well), there are still a couple things that we have to clean up against a team like that."

The Bears’ defense is remaining confident despite scant pressure on Brady — he was sacked once (by Roquan Smith) and hit only three times (by Smith, Bilal Nichols and Roy Robertson-Harris). Khalil Mack barely showed up on the stat sheet, registering only one tackle while being dropped into coverage far more frequently than he made an impact as a pass rusher. How much he was affected by his injured ankle, or how much defensive coordinator Vic Fangio felt he had to gameplan around it, is unclear (Mack did not speak to the media following the game). 

Leonard Floyd, too, was picked on by Brady, who frequently got the ball out quick in a successful effort to mitigate a pass rush that’s struggled to make an impact after recording 18 sacks in four games to begin the year. But the confidence is still there, despite seemingly few reasons for optimism since the second half in Miami kicked off last weekend. 

“We definitely don’t feel like (we’ve hit a wall),” safety Eddie Jackson said. “That’s probably the greatest quarterback in the NFL right now. We just gotta come in, we left some things on the field, we left some plays on the field. Like I said, it’s tough trying to put this one behind you but, you know, it’s a long season. We’re not getting down on ourselves, we’re still going to play with confidence. That confidence is still there.” 

Games against two of the league’s worst offenses in the New York Jets and Buffalo Bills, then, should help the Bears’ defensive production match its confidence, if that line of thinking is to be believed. But as the first four games of the season get farther and farther in the rearview mirror, this is a defense that has to prove itself again in the coming weeks. 

“(The Patriots) came to play all together, and not saying we didn’t but we didn’t make the plays when we needed to make the plays,” outside linebacker Aaron Lynch said. “It’s on us. Defense, we got it though. We’re not worried about it. It’s another game we lost. We got how many other games, we got 10 games left? Yeah. I’m not worried about it. I don’t think anybody is.”

New-look Mavs looking to make big jump this season

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USA TODAY

New-look Mavs looking to make big jump this season

Outspoken Dallas Mavericks’ owner Mark Cuban conceded his team was playing for draft lottery position last season, but insisted it would be a one year only strategy.

Dallas finished tied for the league’s third worst record, but fell to fifth after the lottery.

So, Cuban and the Mavs’ front office decided to make a bold move on draft night, trading their 2019 first round pick to Atlanta to move up two spots for a chance to select international sensation Luka Doncic.

Early in the season, Doncic has more than lived up to the hype, showing the creativity and flair that made him such a fan favorite on the European professional circuit. Through the Mavs’ first two games, Doncic is averaging 18 points, 7 rebounds and 3.5 assists while giving Rick Carlisle’s team a much-needed boost in transition.

Doncic and second-year guard Dennis Smith Jr. will give opposing teams nightmares in the open court all season long. They led the offensive onslaught in the Mavs’ 140-136 win over Dallas Saturday night, combining for 45 points. Doncic finished with 26 points, while Smith scored 10 of his 19 in the 4th quarter, including a tie-breaking three-point play with six seconds left.

Veteran swing-man Wesley Matthews added 19 against the Timberwolves, and his 3 point shooting helps the Mavs maintain floor balance in half-court sets.

The Mavs also strengthened their front court in the off-season, signing veteran center DeAndre Jordan in free agency. Dallas was overmatched in the middle last season, with future Hall of Famer Dirk Nowitzki and Dwight Powell giving up size in the post, but Jordan will provide rim protection and an alley-oop threat when Doncic, Smith Jr. or veteran point guard J.J. Barea drive to the basket. Jordan had a big game in the home opening win over Minnesota, scoring 22 points, pulling down 10 rebounds and blocking 5 shots.

Nowitzki, starting small forward Harrison Barnes and backup guard Devin Harris all missed Saturday’s game because of injuries, but Barnes and Harris are considered game-time decisions against the Bulls.

Here’s what the Bulls will need to do to get their first victory of the season Monday night.

1. GET BACK ON DEFENSE! Doncic and Smith Jr. are deadly in the open court, capable of making spectacular plays to bring the home crowd to life. The Bulls’ players have to sprint back on defense after missed shots to cut off transition opportunities, or it’s going to be a long night. The Mavs are averaging 128 points through the first two games.

2. CLOSE OUT ON 3-POINT SHOOTERS This will be a familiar theme in my keys until the Bulls start doing a better job of matching up in transition and closing out on three point threats. Detroit’s win at the United Center on Saturday came down to the Pistons’ 18-40 shooting from three-point range, and Dallas has even more players capable of doing damage from beyond the arc.

3. LET DUNN DO IT Getting Kris Dunn back from paternity leave should make a big difference on both ends of the court. Dunn has the athleticism and physicality to match up with either Doncic or Smith Jr., and his defensive skills will be critical in keeping the Mavs from turning this game into a track meet.

On the offensive end, Dunn need to be patient and get the ball into the hands of the Bulls’ top scorers, Zach LaVine and Bobby Portis. Even though Fred Hoiberg wants his team to play at a fast pace, they’ll need to pick their spots on when to run against the explosive Mavs.

As always, turn to NBC Sports Chicago for the very best pre and post-game coverage. Kendall Gill and Will Perdue join me for Bulls Pregame Live at 7 p.m/, and we’ll have expanded post-game analysis when the action goes final in Dallas. You can also stream the shows live on the brand new My Teams by NBC Sports app.