Bears

NFL Power Rankings - Week 13: Broncos rising

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NFL Power Rankings - Week 13: Broncos rising

Each week throughout the regular season, we'll be rankingall 32 NFL teams.

Take a look and offer up your thoughts inthe comment box below or to us on Twitter @BearsTalkCSN.

Previousrankings: Week1 Week2 Week3 Week4 Week5 Week6 Week7 Week8 Week9 Week10 Week11 Week12

SKJF Comments 1 SK: The Texans could clinch the AFCSouth this weekend.
JF: Had some luck on Turkey Day to get past Lions. 2 SK:Another win, but still waiting to see them do it in a more convincingmanner.
JF: Not playing their best, but continue to win. 10-1 stands for something.
3 SK: Was Harbaugh really consideringgoing back to Alex Smith this weekend?
JF: Went to New Orleans and took care of business. QB controversy in full effect.
4 SK:Denver may not lose another game in the regular season.
JF: Slid by Chargers to hold onto top spot in AFC.
5 SK:Averaging 43.8 points in their last five games...IMPRESSIVE.
JF: Two dominating performances in a row has their arrow pointing up.
6 SK: Still not convinced Ray Ricepicked up the first down on that 4th-and-29 play.
JF: Apparently the Giants are better than the Packers.
7 SK:Sunday just shows how valuable Jay Cutler really is to the Bears.
JF: Unimpressive win over Chiefs, but running away division title.
8 SK:Thoroughly manhandled the Pack, but which Giants team will show upeach week?
JF: Clearly I rated the Packers too high last week. They fell hard against the Giants.
9 SK: Will not go far in the postseasonwithout a running game and a brutal defense.
JF: Bears shouldn't drop a spot after a win, but the Giants' sudden rise is cruel.
10 SK: The Colts magical season continuedwith an impressive win over the Bills.
JF: Just barely missed a chance at knocking off the Falcons and making a statement.
11 SK:Don't sleep on the Law Firm. Cincy is right back in the thick ofthings.
JF: The Bengals may just be peaking at the right time of the year.
12 SK:Their run defense has collapsed as oflate.
JF: 'ChuckStrong' is more than a saying for the Colts...it's a lifestyle in Indy.
13 SK:Tough stretch coming up for a young Buccaneers team with playoffaspirations.
JF: Continue to struggle on the road. Trend may continue this weekend in Chicago.
14 SK:Tough home loss to San Francisco, but still in the playoff hunt.
JF: Looked very mediocre in blowout loss to the Bears.
15 SK:Vikings really need Percy Harvin back if they want to sniff theplayoffs.
JF: Made Cowboys look silly on Thanksgiving. Probably too little, too late though.
16 SK:A loss to the Browns? Still think they'll get it together when BigBen returns.
JF: Just didn't have it vs. 49ers. Looked over matched throughout the game.
17 SK:A win on Monday would have the Redskins one game behind the Giants inthe NFC East.
JF: Worst loss of the year...besides when they lost their QB a few weeks ago.
18 SK:Face a "Must-win" game against the Eagles this weekend.
JF: Played well enough to beat Houston, but as usual the Lions came up short.
19 SK: Ryan Tannehill has already brokenDan Marino's record for yards thrown as a rookie.
JF: Ended a rough patch on the schedule with a win. Looking to make a late run.
20 SK:Too many head-cases on the Lions, including the man in charge.
JF: Just crushed the Cardinals. Rookie CB Jenkins is double the pleasure, double the fun.
21 SK:Norv Turner will make a good OC somewhere in 2013.
JF: Have the talent to be a playoff team, but once again that won't happen this year.
22 SK: I think CJ2K may be back inTennessee.
JF: Browns handled themselves against a battered Steelers squad.
23 SK:BOLD PREDICTION: Browns will be in the wild-card hunt next season.
JF: This team seems like it has an inability to be consistent.
24 SK:Could see a major shakeup in Buffalo this offseason.
JF: Finally getting it together in Carolina.
25 SK:Don't look now, but Cam Newton has really turned it around as oflate.
JF: After a 4-0 start, the Cardinals have lost seven in a row. OUCH!
26 SK:Janoris Jenkins is a stud. Should be in the running for DefensiveRookie of the Year.
JF: Hung tough with the Ravens for four quarters.
27 SK:Matt Barkley? Aaron Murray? Landry Jones? Kurt Warner? Anybody?
JF: What good can you say following a crushing defeat to Patriots?
28
SK:Chad Henne's resurgence may cost Blaine Gabbert his job inJacksonville.
JF: The Jags are a different team under Chad Henne...they may win FOUR games!
29 SK:You know the Jets are bad when even Fireman Ed has quit on the team.
JF: Could have had their fifth win against Jacksonville, but instead fall further down.
30 SK:The Phillies have won more recently than the Eagles.
JF: Oh, how the mighty have fallen. Wait, don't you have to be good before you can fall?
31 SK:On the bright side it looks like Oakland will be getting Run DMC backthis weekend.
JF: Oakland can't win on the road (1-5) and can't really win at home either (2-3).
32 SK:At least they have one win this season...
JF:Three more field foals to add to the season point total

The Bears are getting a different type of nickel cornerback in Buster Skrine

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USA Today

The Bears are getting a different type of nickel cornerback in Buster Skrine

When the Bears’ defense takes the field against Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers on Opening Night, they’ll be returning 9 of the 11 starters that were part of a 2018 squad that was one of the best in Bears’ history. 

One of the few new faces that figure to be among the starting 11 is cornerback Buster Skrine. Gone is Bryce Callahan, who left for Vic Fangio’s Denver team after spending the first four years of his career in Chicago. Though Bears’ scouts have had their eye on Skrine for a few seasons now, it was his more palatable three-year, $16.5 million contract -- compared to Callahan’s three-year, $21 million contract -- that finally got him in house. 

“Me and Buster came out the exact same year, and I’ve watched him,” Prince Amukamara said after OTAs on Wednesday afternoon. “He actually played with my best friend and he would always talk about how fast Buster is -- especially when Buster played gunner. 

“I’ve always watched him, and I feel like he’s very similar to Bryce [Callahan] by being quick and being active. I’m definitely happy with the pick up.” 

Once considered a spot to place the third-best, less-athletic cornerback, no position has seen it's value increase so dramatically over the last decade. Offenses are changing dramatically; no team saw more three receiver sets in 2018 than the Bears’ defense. Per Sharp Stats, opposing offenses lined up in 11 personnel against Chicago 78% of the time. The next closest was the Chiefs at 71%, and the NFL average is 65%. 

“I think nickel is a different ball game,” Amukamara added. “I would say it can be one of the hardest positions on the field, just because you’re on an island, but the receiver has so much room to work with. Plus, it’s a lot of mental gymnastics, so you’ve got to know when you’re blitzing, know when you’re running, and so we put a lot on our nickel.” 

Despite not being considered part of a what teams have traditionally considered base defense, the pass-happy nature of this era in the NFL has all but mandated that nickel corners are on the field for most of the defensive snaps. It’s no coincidence that before breaking his foot against the Rams in Week 12, Callahan was on pace to set a career-high in snap percentage. 

“Nowadays, you see a lot more sub packages,” Bears defensive backs coach Deshea Townsend said. “You’re probably playing 70% in sub during a game now… Otherwise, it hasn’t really changed - he just plays more. That’s the thing - he is technically a starter. He’s probably going to run on the field first in a lot of games, and by rule that’s a starter.

“One thing about the nickel position is that you’ve got to do a little bit of both. You can’t just go out on 3rd down and cover and run the option routes. Now they’re going to hand off the ball and find out where you’re at and you’re going to have to make a tackle. That’s the difference in the position now - it’s a first and second down type of guy that has to be able to do it all.”

While Skrine isn’t considered as good a cover corner as Callahan, Skrine’s pass rush and run defense looks pretty similar. Per Pro Football Focus, Skrine’s run defense graded out significantly higher (80.7) than Callahan’s (57.8). 

“With Buster, it’s about his playing experience,” Townsend added. “He’s a guy who will mix it up in the run. He can blitz, and he’s reliable. He’s tough.”

Cubs taking care to make sure Pedro Strop's hamstring issues are behind him

Cubs taking care to make sure Pedro Strop's hamstring issues are behind him

Pedro Strop said he feels "ready" in his return from a hamstring injury, but he and the Cubs aren't going to rush it.

The veteran reliever has missed most of May with the injury, but threw 25-pitch bullpens on both Monday and Wednesday and has reported zero issues. He said it's been more than a week since he last felt pain in the area.

But considering this is Strop's third hamstring injury in the last eight months, the Cubs want to be extra cautious to make sure this will not happen again.

Plus, there's no point in rushing him back right now, even with the bullpen struggling. The Cubs would certainly welcome Strop back to the active roster immediately, but he's going to be a huge key for them down the stretch and they need to ensure he's healthy for that.

"I think we're just being overly cautious because we don't want this to happen again," Joe Maddon said. 

But how can Cubs avoid another hamstring injury with the soon-to-be-34-year-old? 

"We're building strength, we're working hard to make it stronger instead of just, 'Oh, it's OK and pain-free, let's go out there and have the same thing happen again,'" Strop said. "We're just taking care."

He missed the final two weeks of the regular season last year and pitched through "severe pain" in the National League wild-card game after first hurting his hamstring in Washington D.C. He then missed time in spring training with an issue in the other leg.

The injuries are not all directly related, but hamstrings are tricky by nature.

"That's a hammy, man. When you mess up with those things, they keep reminding you that they're there," Maddon said. "He has to continue to be proactive with the work in between and our guys in the back there do a wonderful job rehabbing and strengthening. 

"I think some guys are just predetermined to do those kinds of things and it really stinks. But it happens. So our next best thing is to create that program that hopefully prevents it from happening again. 

"In the meantime, just really monitoring him and not pushing him too hard, etc. But hamstrings are hamstrings, man. They're just no fun. Once you pull them once, there's a chance to do it again."

Strop said he will throw another bullpen Saturday and doesn't believe he needs a rehab stint. Because this was a leg injury, he's been able to continue throwing throughout the recovery process and keep his arm strength up.

If Strop continues to report well and doesn't go on a rehab assignment, we could possibly see him back in the Cubs bullpen early next week, which would be a welcome sign for a unit that has suddenly run into some tough sledding of late.

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