Cubs

Green Bay offense showing more than Rodgers passing

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Green Bay offense showing more than Rodgers passing

As if the Bears didnt already have enough to worry about with just Aaron Rodgers

Turning an opponent one-dimensional is the stated goal of the Bears defense no matter who that opponent is, including Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers. That target appears to have just become exponentially harder at just the wrong time.

Because something happened last Sunday night in Green Bay as the Packers were spotting the Detroit a 14-0 lead and then methodically taking the Lions apart.

It should concern the Bears very much. The Bears havent been able to beat the Packers much since Rodgers succeeded Brett Favre and that was when Rodgers didnt have a solid run game alongside.

But now

The Packers scored both of their offensive touchdowns rushing. One was a 27-yard scramble by Rodgers; not a true rushing touchdown and they all count.

But the other was a 59-yard domination that consisted of seven straight running plays. Three different running backs ripped of runs of 10 yards or longer and it was the first time since 2002 that the Packers had scored on a drive of seven or more plays where every play was a run.

Quantity and quality

Even with one the NFLs truly elite passers and trailing, the Packers basically rammed the football down the throats of Ndamukong Suh and the Lions.

Not with huge numbers. The Packers had the ball less than 23 minutes in the game and ran just 52 plays. But they rushed for 140 yards, averaged 5.6 yards per carry and made it 100 or more yards in four of their last five games.

The Aaron Rodgers Packers are averaging 139 rushing yards per game over the last five. Since week nine they are averaging 31 rushes per game and have won four of their last five. (The Bears have lost four of their last five averaging 28 runs and 113 yards per.)

Theyve made more of a commitment to the run over the last couple of games and theyve found some success, said linebacker Lance Briggs. But its been beneficial to them, for one, not as many defensive linemen are getting up to Aaron Rodgers if theyre running the ball more.

Interestingly, Rodgers has a 104 passer rating for the season but in only one of those last five games did he reach a passer rating about 98.

What that says is the Packers are becoming good enough to win even when Rodgers is not a far-and-away dominating passer.

The running backs are the proverbial Who are those guys? (For the record, they are Alex Green, James Starks and DuJuan Harris. Only Harris averages more than 3.6 yards per carry.)

And theyre running behind an offensive line with as many health issues as the Bears.

The Sack Struggle

It has been seven games since the Bears have had more than two sacks in a game after posting three or more in five of their first six games.

Rodgers is one of the most sacked quarterbacks in the NFL over recent seasons and it does not automatically follow that sacking Rodgers is beating the Packers.

But the more of the field that Rodgers has available to him, the more lethal he becomes. The Bears were undone against the Seattle Seahawks in part by the read-option scheme but ultimately by failing to contain rookie quarterback Russell Wilson.

The Bears rank 11th in sacks per pass play but may be without defensive tackle Henry Melton after his chest injury at Minnesota. Melton has six sacks and the key to inside pressure. If the pivotal three-technique player in the Bears scheme is down, the Bears would be without core inside players at tackle and linebacker (Brian Urlacher).

That increases the burden on multiple players, including fill-in linebackers Nick Roach in the middle and Geno Hayes outside.

Both those guys are real good in space, good, athletic guys, said defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli. So were very confident in our people and what theyre doing. Were excited about the challenge.

Jake Arrieta full of appreciation in return to Wrigley mound: ‘I’ll never forget this city’

Jake Arrieta full of appreciation in return to Wrigley mound: ‘I’ll never forget this city’

The last time Jake Arrieta pitched at Wrigley Field, his night ended with Cubs fans giving him a rousing standing ovation. The former Cubs right hander tossed 6 2/3 innings of one-run ball, leading the Cubs to victory in Game 4 of the 2017 NLCS—their only win against the Los Angeles Dodgers that series.

Arrieta returned to Wrigley Field as a visitor on Monday night, making his first start against the Cubs since joining the Philadelphia Phillies last season. Ironically, Arrieta’s counterpart for the night was Yu Darvish, who ultimately replaced Arrieta in the Cubs starting rotation.

Despite now donning Phillies red, Cubs fans once again showed their love for Arrieta, giving him a lengthy standing ovation ahead of his first plate appearance. Darvish even stepped off the mound in respect for the moment.

“I loved it, absolutely loved it,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said to reporters postgame. “[I’m] very happy that our fans would acknowledge him like that. Yu stepped away from the mound nicely. Jake deserved it.”

Arrieta tipped his helmet in appreciation for the crowd, taking in the moment for more than 30 seconds before stepping into the batter’s box. After the game, he told reporters that moment brought back memories of his time with the Cubs.

“That was something that really brought back great memories of getting that same sort of ovation pretty much on a nightly basis,” Arrieta said. “[I’m] very appreciative of that. I can’t say thank you enough to the city of Chicago, I really can’t.”

Arrieta took fans back to his Cubs tenure on Monday, throwing six innings of one run ball in the Phillies’ 5-4 10-inning win. Although the 33-year-old didn’t pick up the victory, he matched Darvish—who threw six innings of three-run ball—pitch by-pitch.

Phillies manager Gabe Kapler noted how well Arrieta handled his emotions throughout the night.

“I thought he handled the emotions really well. I thought he was in control of the game even when we were down,” Kapler said to reporters. “He always maintained his poise and he just got stronger as the outing went on and that’s why we were able to have him take down the sixth inning for us.”

It’s well-documented how Arrieta’s career improved for the better after the Cubs acquired him in a trade with the Baltimore Orioles in July 2013. When the Cubs acquired him, Arrieta held a career 5.46 ERA in 69 games (63 starts). He finished his Cubs career with a 2.73 ERA in 128 regular season starts. He also won five postseason games with the Cubs, including Games 2 and 6 of the 2016 World Series.

Despite moving on in free agency, Arrieta spoke highly of his time with the Cubs, their fans and the city of Chicago.

“Cubs fans all across the country, all across the world, they really respect and appreciate what guys are able to do here for them,” he said. “It means a lot, it really does.

"I’ll never forget this city, the fan base, the organization, everything that they did for me. It was 4 1/2 incredible years of my career.”

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Yu Darvish crashed Jake Arrieta's party, but Cubs bullpen falters

Yu Darvish crashed Jake Arrieta's party, but Cubs bullpen falters

Yu Darvish was one pitch away.

Holding onto a 1-0 lead with two outs in the sixth inning, Darvish threw Phillies catcher JT Realmuto a 2-2 cutter. It made sense - Darvish had been spotting that pitch well all night, and the Phillies were averaging a paltry 79.8 mph exit velocity against it.

With one strike standing between Darvish and a 6-inning shutout, Realmuto took Darvish’s cutter and sent it back up the middle for a game-tying RBI single. A 2-RBI triple from César Hernández followed. In the blink of an eye, what was shaping up to be one of Darvish’s finest moments in Chicago was instead reduced to yet another start spent searching for silver linings.

“Really good. He was outstanding tonight,” Joe Maddon said. “He pitched really well.

“He had really good stuff. He had command of his stuff, he had command of himself. I thought he was outstanding - even better than what he looked like in Cincinnati. I thought that was probably his best game for us to date.”

Darvish has continued to lean heavily on his cutter this season, more so than any year prior. After throwing it 13 percent of the time last season, he’s going to that pitch almost 25 percent of the time now. If that holds, it’d beat his previous career-high, set in 2013, by six percentage points.

All things considered, that pitch has actually been good for him this season. It’s his go-to offering when he needs to induce weak contact, and batters are hitting .125 against it so far. He gets batters to chase cutters 29.5 percent of the time, the most of any pitch he throws. While he has admitted in games past that he relies too heavily on his fastball, Maddon sees no issues with the new trend.

“I have no concerns with that whatsoever,” he said. “There’s different ways for pitchers to attack hitters, and if it's successful, I really would not change a whole lot.”

Though the night was dedicated to celebrating one of the franchises most beloved pitchers, it was one of their most maligned that continued to show signs of figuring it out. He’s put together back-to-back starts with three or less walks for the first time this season, and has allowed two or less runs in three of the last five.

The pitcher even stepped off the mound during Arrieta’s first at-bat, in order to let the standing ovation continue on.

“He’s is a legend in Chicago,” Darvish said after the game. “And I pitched against him and pitched pretty good, so it makes me confident.”

The bullpen again struggled on Monday night, as the trio of Mike Montgomery, Brad Brach, and Kyle Ryan allowed two runs on five hits, including the game-winning solo home run from Realmuto in the 10th. For a moment it looked like the Cubs had a win wrapped up when Brach got outfielder Andrew McCutchen to bite on a two-strike slider, but was (probably incorrectly) called a checked swing.  He would eventually draw a walk, leading to Jean Segura’s game-tying single.

“On the field, I thought for sure [that McCutchen swung],” Brach said. “Looking at the first base umpire, I was a little taken aback. That’s why I went off the mound - just to regather myself, because I didn’t want to let the emotion get to me there.

“It’s a 50-50 call, and unfortunately it didn’t go my way.”

 

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