Cubs

Fuming French accuse England of dirty tricks

840315.jpg

Fuming French accuse England of dirty tricks

From Comcast SportsNet
LONDON (AP) -- It's a feud that's been simmering for seven years -- or, if you leaf through the history books, since at least the Middle Ages. From the moment in 2005 that London trumped Paris by four votes in the contest to host the 2012 Olympics, France has seethed -- furious that their neighbors and historical adversaries had scored a victory every bit as painful as Napoleon's humbling at the fabled Battle of Waterloo. Now, French anger has burst out into the open. In newspapers, on television debate shows and in scores of posts to social networks, Britain is accused of cheating its way to gold medals in the cycling velodrome and of stretching rules on the rowing course. British crowds have been blasted for failing to show enough support to rival nations' competitors, while organizers have faced scorn for failing to rein in judges deemed too harsh on French athletes. British Prime Minister David Cameron has even defended his country's track cyclists -- who won a formidable haul of 14 medals -- from insinuations that their success must be the result of drugs or illegally modified bicycles. "Of course there is no cheating," an indignant Cameron told France 2 television in an interview Wednesday. "There are the most strict anti-doping tests in these Olympics that there have ever been. There are very strict rules about equipment." French cycling fans were already digesting the shock of Bradley Wiggins becoming the first British rider ever to win the prestigious Tour de France last month. To crown that feat, Wiggins and his teammates then won seven of 10 events in the Olympic velodrome -- once a French stronghold. "It's driving the French mad," Cameron teased Thursday, speaking to BBC radio. "I think they found the Union Jacks on the Champs-Elysees a bit hard to take." First Isabelle Gautheron, director of the French Olympic cycling team, stirred old animosities by suggesting Britain's gold streak may have been aided by subterfuge, hinting at the U.K. team's "magic wheels" and its little discussed work with the McLaren Formula One team on cutting edge technology to produce the quickest bike. "They hide their wheels a lot. The ones for the bikes they race on are put in wheel covers at the finish," Gautheron was quoted as telling the French sports newspaper L'Equipe. Then France's world champion cyclist Gregory Bauge -- beaten to gold in the individual sprint category by Britain's Jason Kenny -- hijacked a post-race news conference, demanding that his rival divulge the U.K.'s secrets. Tempers reached boiling point when Britain's Philip Hindes suggested he had crashed his bike deliberately after a lackluster opening during a team sprint -- causing the race to be restarted. Hindes went unpunished; Britain later took gold. Animosity hasn't been confined only to those on two wheels. French rowing coaches complained bitterly after Zac Purchase and Mark Hunter of Britain were allowed a restart in the lightweight double sculls final. A seat in their boat had snapped off, but the French insisted the incident had happened after 100 meters of the race had passed -- meaning there should have been no leniency. Guy Drut, who claimed the 110-meter hurdles gold in 1976 and serves on an International Olympic Committee commission, has complained that British crowds have cheered loudly only for their home athletes -- refusing to acknowledge the efforts of other nations. A controversial decision that cost French boxer Alexis Vastine a win in his bout with welterweight Taras Shelestyuk of Ukraine also brought a furious online reaction from French fans, who castigated officials and organizers. Complaints about favoritism for British athletes aren't all coming from the French. After his team was beaten in a quarterfinal by Britain, Spain field hockey coach Dani Martin complained that some "countries are being favored" by referees. "This is (like) a district tournament," Indian welterweight boxer Manoj Kumar said, speaking through a translator, after he was defeated in a close contest by Britain's Tom Stalker. "It's not an Olympic tournament. Cheating, cheating, cheating."

What should Brandon Morrow's role be in Cubs 2019 bullpen?

What should Brandon Morrow's role be in Cubs 2019 bullpen?

Since the Cubs' early exit from the postseason, many have turned their attention to the 2019 roster and wonder if Brandon Morrow will be the team's closer next year.

However, the question isn't WILL Morrow be the closer, but rather — SHOULD he be counted on as the main ninth-inning option?

Morrow didn't throw a single pitch for the Cubs after the All-Star Game, nursing a bone bruise in his forearm that did not heal in time to allow him to make a return down the stretch.

Of course, an injury isn't surprising given Morrow's lengthy history of arm issues. 

Consider: Even with a half-season spent on the DL, Morrow's 35 appearances in 2018 was his second-highest total since 2008 (though he also spent a ton of time as a starting pitcher from 2009-15).

Morrow is 34 now and has managed to throw just 211 innings in 126 games since the start of the 2013 season. 

Because of that, Theo Epstein isn't ready to anoint Morrow the Cubs' 2019 closer despite success in the role in his first year in Chicago (22-for-24 in save chances).

"[We're] very comfortable with Morrow as part of a deep and talented 'pen," Epstein said. "We have to recommit to him in a very structured role and stick with it to do our best to keep him healthy. Set some rules and adhere to them and build a 'pen around that. I'm comfortable."

Epstein is referencing the overuse the Cubs have pointed to for the origin of Morrow's bone bruise when he worked three straight games from May 31-June 2 during a stretch of four appearances in five days.

Joe Maddon and the Cubs were very cautious with Morrow early in the year, unleashing him for only three outings — and 2 innings — in the first two-plus weeks of the season, rarely using him even on back-to-back days.

During that late-May/early-June stretch, Morrow also three just 2 pitches in one outing (May 31) and was only called upon for the 14th inning June 2 when Maddon had already emptied the rest of the Cubs bullpen in a 7-1 extra-inning victory in New York.

The blame or origin of Morrow's bone bruise hardly matters now. All the Cubs can do at this moment is try to learn from it and carry those lessons into 2019. It sounds like they have, heading into Year 2 of a two-year, $21 million deal that also includes a team option for 2020.

"It's the type of injury you can fully recover from with rest," Epstein said. "that said, he has an injury history and we knew that going in. That was part of the calculation when we signed him and that's why it was the length it was and the amount of money it was, given his talent and everything else.

"We were riding pretty high with him for a few months and then we didn't have him for the second half of the season. And again, that's on me. We took an educated gamble on him there and on the 'pen overall, thinking that even if he did get hurt, we had enough talent to cover for it. And look, it was a really good year in the 'pen and he contributed to that greatly in the first half.

"They key is to keep him healthy as much as possible and especially target it for down the stretch and into what we hope will be a full month of October next year."

It's clear the Cubs will be even more cautious with Morrow in 2019, though he also should head into the new campaign with significantly more rest than he received last fall when he appeared in all seven games of the World Series out of the Dodgers bullpen.

Morrow has more than proven his value in this Cubs bullpen as a low-maintenance option when he's on the field who goes right after hitters and permits very few walks or home runs. 

But if the Cubs are going to keep him healthy for the most important time of the season in September and October, they'll need to once again pack the bullpen with at least 7 other arms besides Morrow, affording Maddon plenty of options.

When he is healthy, Morrow will probably get a ton of the closing opportunities, but the world has also seen what Pedro Strop can do in that role and the Cubs will likely add another arm or two this winter for high-leverage situations.

Bears grades: Defense falls flat, and a longer look at Matt Nagy’s decision-making

10-16mattnagy.jpg
USA Today Sports Images

Bears grades: Defense falls flat, and a longer look at Matt Nagy’s decision-making

QUARTERBACKS: B

There’s a lot to unpack here. Mitch Trubisky’s first half was bad, with him completing nine of 14 passes for only 89 yards (6.4 yards/attempt), and while he wasn’t picked off he was sacked twice. His decision-making wasn’t good beyond checking into a quarterback sneak on third down here and there, and he missed a wide open Anthony Miller on the Bears’ first offensive possession of the game. 

But the second half was completely different — Trubisky threw for two touchdowns in the third quarter and made an outstanding throw to Taylor Gabriel for a 54-yard gain that set up Tarik Cohen’s rushing score. Really, everything Trubisky did in the second half was excellent…except for the interception he threw in the end zone. Trubisky has to take care of the ball in that instance, with the Bears leading by eight and in position to at least go up by a two-score advantage with a field goal. Instead, Trubisky thought he had looked off safety T.J. McDonald, who easily picked off a pass intended for an already well-covered Ben Braunecker. 

Trubisky’s final line of 22 completions on 31 attempts for 316 yards with three touchdowns, one interception and a rating of 122.5 looks like he followed up his magnificent Week 4 with a strong performance. And while his resiliency should be praised for how he operated the offense in the second half, that one interception was a critical turning point in a three-point overtime loss. 

RUNNING BACKS: C+

Talk about a game of high and lows for this unit. Cohen had a 21-yard touchdown and caught seven of nine targets for 90 yards, including an outstanding route, catch and run on a 50-yard reception. Jordan Howard carried 14 times for 69 yards, and he gained 34 yards on back-to-back runs in overtime that set up Cody Parkey’s game-winning attempt (which he missed).

But both running backs lost fumbles in critical spots. Howard coughed up the ball on the Dolphins’ one-yard line in the first half, making sure the Bears didn’t score in the first 30 minutes. And Cohen lost a fumble on the Bears’ 45-yard line with the score tied late in the fourth quarter — while Miami didn’t turn that into points, the way the Bears’ offense was going, had Cohen not fumbled they probably would’ve at least got into range for Parkey to attempt a go-ahead field goal without much time left on the clock in regulation. 

WIDE RECEIVERS: A-

Gabriel made a phenomenal catch on a 47-yard gain and caught a 54-yarder to pace his five-catch, 110-yard day, while Allen Robinson caught five of six targets for 64 yards with his second touchdown of the year. Miller only caught one of four targets, though that was for a 29-yard touchdown and he should’ve had a big-chunk gain on the Bears’ first drive when Trubisky overthrew him. The talent in this group has been apparent for a while, and was again on Sunday. 

TIGHT ENDS: B-

Trey Burton did some good things in the run game — he landed a perfect block to set up Cohen’s touchdown run — and caught a shovel pass for a touchdown as one of his four receptions for 23 yards. Nagy felt like Burton couldn't have -- and shouldn't have -- done anything differently on his rub route that was flagged for pass interference. Also, if you’re wondering who Burton raced over to give the ball to on his touchdown, it was his brother. 

OFFENSIVE LINE: C+

Bobby Massie and Kyle Long were credited with sacks allowed, per Pro Football Focus, and the Bears’ offensive line wasn’t consistent enough blocking for Howard and Cohen. This wasn’t an issue of defenses stacking the box, either — only 7.7 percent of Howard’s 14 runs came with eight or more defenders in the box, according to NFL Next Gen Stats. The James Daniels-Eric Kush rotation, though, wasn’t an issue, and Charles Leno Jr. did play well, especially in the second half. 

DEFENSIVE LINE: C-

For whatever reason, this group didn’t get a consistent push on a Miami offensive line missing its starting left guard and center — and even with those guys, this wasn’t a particularly impressive group. Frank Gore (15 carries, 101 yards) and Kenyan Drake (13 carries, 57 yards) were given plenty of opportunities to get to the second level, and Brock Osweiler was rarely pressured, too. This group is better than what they showed on Sunday. Akiem Hicks does get a mention here, though, for forcing a miraculous fumble on the one-yard line in overtime that gave the Bears a chance to win the game on Parkey’s field goal attempt. Roy Robertson-Harris did make a nice play to break up a pass in the first half, while Goldman crucially recovered Hicks’ forced fumble. 

OUTSIDE LINEBACKERS: F

Khalil Mack suffered an ankle injury during the first half and was the recipient of plenty of extra attention from Miami. (“I don’t know,” Miami coach Adam Gase said when asked how his team was able to stop Mack. “We had about four guys blocking him.”) Mack recorded one pressure, per Pro Football Focus, as did Leonard Floyd. Floyd was flagged twice — his suplex of Danny Amendola earned a 15-yard flag (“I just keep trying to play football. I feel like he was trying to gain more yards. I had to stop him,” he said) as did a bizarre roughing the passer call when it appeared he grazed Osweiler after the Dolphins quarterback threw the ball (“Now that I don’t know how that was called. I don’t even think I touched the quarterback,” Floyd said). Either way, there wasn’t close to enough pressure on Osweiler from this group. 

INSIDE LINEBACKERS: D+

Roquan Smith racked up 13 tackles and made a few good stops, but he took a bad angle on a late overtime pass to Drake, winding up chasing the Dolphins running back on a play that set up Miami’s game-winning field goal. Danny Trevathan and Nick Kwiatkoski combined for half of the Bears’ four quarterback hurries, which speaks to how non-existent the pass rush was for most of the game. 

DEFENSIVE BACKS: D+

While Kyle Fuller had two interceptions, those were about the only big-time positive plays from this group. Safeties Adrian Amos and Eddie Jackson had rough games, missing far too many tackles and not containing Albert Wilson on both of his big catch-and-run touchdowns in the fourth quarter. Prince Amukamara left with a hamstring injury and Kevin Toliver II was beat on an extended play by Kenny Stills for a game-tying two-point conversion. The big-chunk plays allowed by the Bears were especially concerning for this unit, given that’s been a common thread between the Week 1 loss to Green Bay and Sunday’s loss in Miami. 

SPECIAL TEAMS: F

Parkey missing the game-winning 53-yard field goal earns this unit a failing grade. No matter how difficult the kick was — and 53 yards is hardly easy — the Bears guaranteed Parkey $9 million in march to hit kicks like that. There wasn’t much else on which to evaluate this group — that was Parkey’s only field goal attempt, and while he had touchbacks on all six of his kicks, if he makes that 53-yarder the Bears win. 

COACHING: C-

There’s a lot to evaluate here. Some broad points: The Bears’ offense was flat in the first half, with an over-reliance on using speed to get to the edge against an athletic Dolphins defense. But the second-half surge was a major positive for Nagy, who was able to scheme up plenty of throws Trubisky was able to make, leading to touchdowns on three consecutive possessions. Maybe Burton could’ve been coached up better on his rub route that was whistled for pass interference, but Trubisky’s end zone interception wasn’t Nagy’s fault. 

Continued: Why did Nagy wait about 20 seconds before calling timeout prior to Miami punting with under a minute left in the fourth quarter? Nagy’s explanation was that he didn’t know what Miami would do, and if he calls timeout quickly and the Dolphins go for it, they have more time to drive into field goal range. That’s fair. 

And, most notably — the decision to run Howard on third-and-four with a 50-plus-yard field goal looming deserves added scrutiny. Nagy said he had “ultimate trust” in Parkey’s ability to hit a 53-yard field goal — and, it’s worth noting, Parkey had hit seven of eight kicks from 50 or more yards in his career before Sunday, including a 54-yard game-winner for the Dolphins last year. 

But from a larger picture, placekickers have hit 57 percent of attempts from 53 or more yards since 2008, while the Bears were eight of 12 (67 percent) on third down on Sunday. Nagy brought up a concern of getting sacked on third down and taking the Bears out of field goal range, but if that were to happen, the Bears would’ve punted and probably wound up with a tie, not a loss. 

The over-arching point here, though, is that the Bears came out flat and got conservative in a spot that brought about plenty of second-guessing outside the walls of Halas Hall. Nagy likely will learn from this one, just as he did following Week 1’s loss to the Packers.