Cubs

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.

Cubs reportedly a 'main player' in trade talks for Orioles' Zach Britton

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USA TODAY

Cubs reportedly a 'main player' in trade talks for Orioles' Zach Britton

According to Bruce Levine of 670 The Score, the Cubs are a “main player” in a possible trade for Orioles closer Zach Britton before the July 31 non-waiver deadline.

The Cubs will face competition from some familiar names as far as a bidding war for Britton goes. 

After sending Cubs closer Brandon Morrow back to the 10-day disabled list with right biceps inflammation on Thursday, the team could be searching for another reliever.

The 30-year-old is a ninth-inning veteran who tallied a career-high 47 saves with a 0.54 ERA in 2016, the year he finished fourth in American League Cy Young Award voting. He’s also been selected to two All-Star Games in his eight-year career.

But the closer’s 2018 season has had its ups and downs. He’s spent time getting reacquainted to pitching after having surgery for a ruptured right Achilles tendon that kept Britton out until June. He’s only pitched in 15 games while posting a 3.68 ERA in 14 2/3 innings. Britton hasn’t allowed a run in his last seven appearances.

Should the Cubs actually be concerned with his recent health issues?  According to MLB.com, the Orioles reliever has “been showing a dramatic increase in velocity.” It seems it took him some time to get back to his previous form.

If he can even be close to the same player he was two years ago, Britton would be more than useful to the Cubs bullpen.

Bears starting secondary returns intact for ’18 – but is that a good thing?

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USA TODAY

Bears starting secondary returns intact for ’18 – but is that a good thing?

The coach of a woeful college basketball team was asked in a postseason media session if the fact that he had all five of his starters returning was cause for optimism. “The kids tried hard,” the coach pointed out, “but we won two games last year. So having everybody back isn’t necessarily a good thing.”

The Bears approach the 2018 season and training camp returning their entire starting secondary – cornerbacks Prince Amukamara and Kyle Fuller on new, multi-year contracts, safeties Adrian Amos and Eddie Jackson now being touted as one of the NFL’s top safety tandems.

And continuity is unquestionably a prized element, particularly with offensive lines and defensive backfields. Having the four principle starters back should be a good thing.

The problem is, the Bears tied for 29th in the NFL with eight interceptions, matching a franchise-low for the third straight season. The starting DBs four accounted for just five total interceptions, suggesting that for all the supposed continuity, the whole was somewhat less the some of the parts where the critical turnover ratio is concerned.

The last time the Bears intercepted more passes (19) than their opponents (13) was 2013 – the last time the Bears saw .500.

The importance of one statistic can be overstated, but turnovers, particularly interceptions, are the one measurable with the greatest correlation to winning. The top 11 and 13 of the 14 teams with positive turnover ratios all posted winning records in 2017 (the Bears were 15th, with a zero net differential). And while fumble recoveries obviously also count as takeaways, interceptions are key: The top 10 teams in interceptions all posted positive records and all 14 of the turnover-ratio leaders intercepted more balls than they recovered.

Of the takeaways by those top 14 in turnover ratio, 65.8 percent of their takeaways came on interceptions. The Bears and the bottom half of the NFL turnover gatherers picked up only 55.7 percent of their takeaways on interceptions.

“Well, we hope we’re going to improve there,” said defensive coordinator Vic Fangio. “That takes 11 guys doing it, but we’ll see. That’s obviously going to be an emphasis for us.”

Creating a different mindset

Individual Bears defensive backs had flash moments: Jackson became the first rookie in NFL history with multiple 75-yard defensive touchdowns in a season; Amos returned an interception 90 yards for a score; Fuller was one of only two NFL players with at least 65 tackles and 20 passes defensed.

The Bears self-scouted enough to understand those for what they were – exceptions, bordering the fluke-ish, given the overall. The result was that even during minicamps and OTA’s, there was an edge to the play of the secondary. Mitch Trubisky and his quiver of weapons will have to earn things, beginning against their own teammates.

“We’ve been getting the receivers and the running backs a little mad, but they know that we’re just trying to get better at [takeaways],” Amukamara said. “And just catching the ones that the quarterback throws to you. But if we keep making the most of our opportunities we know that those numbers will go up.”

The numbers could scarcely go anywhere but up.

Amos, who was languishing on the bench and a possible roster bubble before Quintin Demps suffered a forearm fracture in week three, went 2,638 career snaps before collecting his lone career interception last season on a ball deflected to him seven yards away.

Amukamara was signed to a new three-year contract with $18 million of its $27 million guaranteed – this despite a dubious streak that has reached 2,340 snaps and more than two full seasons since his last interception.

The goal is to change that by “just getting to the ball, everybody,” Amos said. “Everybody is making efforts at the ball during camp. It’s just something that we just are emphasizing every day trying to create more takeaways.”

Pro Football Focus rated the Bears’ secondary No. 30 going into the 2017 season, factoring in veteran safety Quintin Demps signed coming off his best NFL season and Fuller coming off a season missed with a knee injury.

That is not a given. Pass defense begins with a pass rush, but roster losses have cost the Bears more than one-third (14.5) of their 2017 sack total (42).