Bears

Odds and end zones: Aftermath of 49ers debacle

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Odds and end zones: Aftermath of 49ers debacle

Exactly how significant or revealing the Bears 32-7 nightmare against the San Francisco 49ers was wont truly be evident until at least next Sunday against the Minnesota Vikings and the on successive Sundays against Seattle, the Vikings again and Green Bay. By then the season and the questions will quite possibly have been settled.

But the aftershocks from a game like reach potentially beyond the immediate game situations of 2012:

2013 draft plans

Simply concluding that Aldon Smith established that the Bears will address offensive line, chiefly tackle, with anywhere from two to four picks in next years draft may be how matters play out. The performances of Gabe Carimi and JMarcus Webb were collectively as poor as any in recent Bears history.

But there is a cycle to drafting that makes it a deadly proposition to be forced into addressing the same position repeatedly in a short time frame. That draws away picks that should have been addressing other needs coming in the normal replacement cycle. The Bears know from experience.

Sometimes it can work. They used No. 1 picks on tackles in 1981 (Keith Van Horne) and again in 1983 (Jim Covert). That was necessitated by injuries taking Dennis Lick (1976) and Ted Albrecht (1977), both No. 1s themselves.

The Bears overcame that with stellar drafting, including nearly the entire 1983 class plus a succession of hits on high picks on Hall of Famers (Dan Hampton, Mike Singletary, Richard Dent) and high hits like Jim McMahon, Otis Wilson, Wilber Marshall, Tom Thayer and others into a team with a Walter Payton base.

But more common are the disasters on the line after Covert suffered a career-ending back injury. The Bears were forced to use their 1991 No. 1 on Stan Thomas and 1992 No. 2 on Troy Auzenne, both major disappointments in search of replacements for Covert and Van Horne.

The Bears were able to overcome the 2002 No 1 used for Marc Columbo, whose Chicago career was over before it started because of knee injuries. But it took heavy spending in free agency for Fred Miller and John Tait. The Bears cannot count on that kind of success in a time of a diminishing talent pool on the offensive line and a shrinking salary cap.

If Carimi, Webb and now-gone Chris Williams are all draft misses ultimately, the Bears can ill afford to spend multiple picks on the offensive line at the expense of needs on the other side of the ball.

Worth noting?

A division-leading team giving up six sacks in a 20-point blowout loss after cleaning up on doormats. That would be the San Francisco 49ers, stomping the New York Jets and Buffalo Bills in succession by a combined 79-3 score, then being drubbed 26-3 (giving up the 26 without answering) by the New York Giants. At home.

Lovie watch

A debacle like the one Monday in Candlestick Park will start the Lovie Smith haters eagerly anticipating a death spiral that will end with the Bears out of the playoffs and the Bears coach out of a job.

Anything is possible. Mike Tice could be one-and-done as offensive coordinator as well, definitely if the offensive bumbling continues. Jeremy Bates, too.

If someone wants the Bears to collapse just to see Smith be fired, that suggests other issues in play there.

But the Bears had back-to-back nightmares in 2010, losing to Seattle (six sacks of Jay Cutler) and Washington (four sacks four interceptions) in miserable performances -- at home -- and recovered to reach the NFC Championship game.

The 2011 season was over after the two-game embarrassments vs. Green Bay and New Orleans for a 1-2 start, and over again when an unraveling in Detroit (three sacks, six false-start penalties) left the Bears at 2-3. When Cutler went down with his thumb injury, they had recovered to 7-3 with five straight wins.

Thats not likely this year, even with a Cutler return, given the difficulty factor of the next four games.

But the Giants were 6-4 at the 10-game mark last season. The Green Bay Packers were 7-3 at this point of the 2010 season and even lost three of their last six. Their seasons didnt end badly.

The Bears' will if the offense continues to score one or zero touchdowns per game,which it has in four of the last five games, the only exception being the laugher in Tennessee. Still, best to let the whole thing play out before firing coaches, players and anyone else.

For Matt Nagy, there’s a method to the madness of plays like ‘Santa’s Sleigh’

For Matt Nagy, there’s a method to the madness of plays like ‘Santa’s Sleigh’

Taking a step back from last night’s Bears win, consider this: 

The only touchdown scored in a game featuring two first-place teams, one of which has the NFL’s best offense, came on a play with exactly zero running backs, wide receivers and tight ends on the field. Four of the five eligible receivers were defensive linemen, and the other was an offensive lineman. The play started with a run fake to a 332-pound defensive tackle and ended with a pass to a 312-pound offensive tackle.

Call it gimmicky, call it cute — use whatever slightly-veiled critical term you want. It worked on a night when the Los Angeles Rams, a team that averaged 35 points per game, wound up in the end zone once. And that was when Eddie Goldman dropped Jared Goff for a safety. 

“If it wouldn’t have worked, you all would be ripping me right now,” coach Matt Nagy said of “Santa’s Sleigh.”

Nagy hasn’t shied away from not just thinking outside the box in his first year as a head coach. He’s scored touchdowns with two quarterbacks on the field (“Willy Wonka”), a defensive tackle carrying the ball (“Freezer Left”) and a 5-foot-6 running back throwing the ball (“Oompa Loompa”). The Bears converted a two-point conversion against the Vikings with Akiem Hicks and Roy Robertson-Harris lined up as half of a diamond formation on one side of the field. Safety Eddie Jackson and nickel cornerback Bryce Callahan have played offensive snaps, too. 

But the process matters just as much as the results of these plays. And Nagy isn’t just calling these plays just to give his players a morale boost or because he’s showboating in the face of decades of conventional wisdom. There’s a method to his madness, if you will.

“As a quality control coach, when you’re up in the booth and you’re trying to tell the D-coordinator that those four numbers are coming in, and I don’t know if they necessarily prepare for that,” Nagy said. “So I always tell you guys, any advantage you can get — and now you gotta be able to make sure it’s something that you feel like you can be worthwhile and not foolish. There’s that balance there. And so the other part of it too is our guys love it. They enjoy it, they have fun, they’re working. Maybe we’ll stay away from them for a few weeks and come back to it later.”

The other part of these plays: Players believe in them. Bradley Sowell, who caught the touchdown on “Santa’s Sleigh,” made mention of Nagy getting criticized for the first time a play was designed to get him the ball (a pass that should’ve been picked off in the end zone against the New England Patriots). 

“He tried it with me earlier in the season and got flack for it,” Sowell said.  

The Bears trust that these plays are going to work, and that Nagy believes his players can get out of their comfort zone to execute them. That’s why we’ve seen Hicks scoring a touchdown against the New York Giants or Mitch Trubisky and Chase Daniel faking a read option before popping a pass to Taylor Gabriel for a touchdown against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. 

“If you have a ‘why’ behind why you do it, then it makes sense,” Nagy said. “They’re not all gonna work. There’s gonna be some where I’m gonna be standing up here and you guys (the media) are gonna be saying ‘you’re an idiot.’ But that’s inevitable. I’ll accept that. They’re working right now and the guys like it, so keep going.”

One other interesting aspect of “Santa’s Sleigh” is that Nagy said the play wasn’t devised just because Hicks had scored a touchdown on “Freezer Left” the week prior. Getting the Rams to bite on the play fake to Hicks was important, of course, but when the Bears line up with six offensive linemen, four defensive linemen and a quarterback on the field, the natural thought is they’re going to run the ball. Making sure the Rams respect Hicks’ running ability — which is an absolutely wild thought to type — was important, but not the reason why the play was drawn up. 

“You could do whatever you want to do,” Nagy said. “It’s endless. There’s so much good stuff you can do.”

Here's how the Bears can have the NFC North won by the end of next Sunday

Here's how the Bears can have the NFC North won by the end of next Sunday

With the Bears sitting at 9-4, it's time to acknowledge what everyone's been dancing around for two weeks: the Bears are making the playoffs. 

It's no longer an 'if' situation, but a 'when' and 'how?' 

According to 538, the Bears have >99% odds to make the playoffs and a 92% chance to win the division. A first round bye is less likely, with the odds of that currently sitting at 8%. Cut it down to 4% and you have the Bears' Super Bowl chances. 

So, how is this going to play out? The Bears' quickest path to an NFC North title starts tonight, when the Vikings head into Seattle on Monday Night Football. Should the Vikings lose, the Bears have complete control of their destiny. If the Bears can handle the Packers at Soldier on Sunday, the NFC North Champion tshirts and hats are theirs. 

Even if the Vikings win tonight, a playoff berth is still in the Bears' control. They can still beat the Packers and clinch a berth, even with the NFC North title having to wait. They'd also be guaranteed a berth with a Redskins -- who are probably going to start Josh Jackson-- loss against Jacksonville. 

It'd be the first time the Bears made the playoffs since 2010, when they lost in the NFC Championship game to the Packers. That was also the last year they won the NFC North. 

So all they have to do is just go beat Aaron Rodgers and the Packers to win an NFC North title. No big deal. 

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