Blackhawks

Offensive Grades: Line, Forte earn high marks

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Offensive Grades: Line, Forte earn high marks

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- The offense again failed to control a game that it desperately needed to and was bailed out by the defense scoring as many touchdowns as Jay Cutler, Matt Forte and Brandon Marshall did.
Its not supposed to be that way, but perhaps its fitting that the Bears were what the NFL thought they were, based on the last six games. The offense finished with 297 yards and was an anemic 3-of-13 (23 percent) on third downs, mostly because of failed first- and second-down passes, usually toward Brandon Marshall.
It will not be good enough for the playoffs. It remains to be seen whether it is even good enough to beat the Detroit Lions, who couldn't score more than 18 points at home with Calvin Johnson breaking receiving records.
QUARTERBACK D
Cutler locked in on Brandon Marshall for five targets in the first two series, for zero completions (six attempts) or points in the first quarter. He was 1-of-11 midway through the second quarter and gave the offense no rhythm with sustaining drives through smart completions and moving the chains. Folded in is the fact that he was under limited pressure from the Cardinals, who sacked him just once.
Cutler finished with 12-of-26 passing for 146 yards, a TD and rating of 76.8. This is the second straight sub-standard performance by the central figure of the offense with the season hanging on his play. Cutler targeted Marshall on 14 of his 25 passes and repeatedly put the offense in long-yardage situations on third downs because of questionable throws against a team whose defensive strength was against the pass.
RUNNING BACKS B
The backs combined for 128 yards on 30 carries (4.3 per carry) and took advantage of breakdowns in the Arizona front. Matt Forte bounced a play for 36 yards in the first quarter that seemed to ignite a stagnant offense and then finished the drive with a four-yard TD burst.
Forte was forced to leave the game with an ankle injury after the half but finished with 85 yards on 11 carries, the second time in the last three games hes netted 85 on the ground.
Kalil Bell, signed last week after Michael Bush went on injured reserve with a rib injury, was able to get some snaps, and Armando Allen acquitted himself well with 24 yards on five carries in the third quarter alone after Forte went out.
RECEIVERS C
Brandon Marshall did battle all afternoon with Arizona cornerback Patrick Peterson and safety help and finished with six catches for 68 yards. He exploited a blown coverage in the secondary when Peterson failed to get the anticipated safety help and Marshall also made several catches on sheer physical effort.
He and Evan Rodriguez both posted drops on successive plays from inside the Chicago 5 that could have gotten the offense out of the hole.
Alshon Jeffery caught one pass for 35 yards and drew an interference call on the Cardinals.
Tight ends Kellen Davis and Matt Spaeth sealed the edge for Fortes TD run with their blocking, and got a strong assist from Eric Weems on the play. The Bears spent much of the game in two- and even three-TE packages to help with Arizonas edge rush pressure and running the ball.
Other than Marshall, Davis (two) was the only receiver to catch more than one pass.
OFFENSIVE LINE A-
Against a good defensive scheme and personnel, the line performed well overall, particularly with Chris Spencer back at right guard and Gabe Carimi at right tackle. Spencer had opened the season at left guard and Carimi at right tackle and coaches could have a decision to make when Jonathan Scott is deemed OK from his hamstring injury.
Carimi and JMarcus Webb were solid against two very good defensive ends in Calais Campbell and Darnell Dockett. Center Roberto Garza had assignments under control despite the stunting and blitz work of the Cardinals 3-4
Rookie James Brown took a step of improvement at left guard and kept the stunts at bay. Overall the Cardinals had just one sack, which was Cutler running into the pursuit on an aborted scramble, and one quarterback hit.
COACHING C
Timeouts were wasted in the first half and the offense was fortunate to finish the second quarter with a touchdown in two-minute work. But coaching is not easy to evaluate when the quarterback is making decisions that send such a huge proportion of plays through one wide receiver.
The Cardinals were vulnerable to the run but the Bears repeatedly were going downfield early against the strength of the Cardinals defense. The lack of rhythm in the overall offense can be laid at Cutlers feet to some extent but the game plans continue to lack a sense of purpose, just Cutler dropping back, looking for Marshall and waiting for his favorite target to work open.

NHL Draft Profile: D Quinn Hughes

NHL Draft Profile: D Quinn Hughes

From June 17-21, Charlie Roumeliotis will profile two prospects per day — 10 total (five forwards, five defensemen) — leading up to the NHL Draft.​

Quinn Hughes

Position: Defenseman
Height: 5-foot-10
Weight: 170 pounds
Shoots: Left

Scouting report:

"He's got the puck skills, is a good skater, and is a guy with some high-end offensive talent. He wants to get right in there and play where it's hard and where you get rewarded. When he gets that puck on his stick, he wants to bury it."

NHL player comparable: Torey Krug/Kris Letang

Fit for Blackhawks:

It's no secret the Blackhawks are looking to restock their pipeline with some high-end defensemen. Henri Jokiharju and Ian Mitchell are on the way. But the former isn't a lock to be a full-time NHLer this season and the latter will continue playing in college for the 2018-19 season.

Hughes, who shined at Michigan and the IIHF World Championship with Team USA, would have the best chance of the three to crack the Blackhawks lineup first. The problem is, he likely won't be available at No. 8, so if Hughes is the guy they're locked in on, they'd need to trade up to grab him. 

If they did that, Hughes would give the Blackhawks a third blue line prospect they can get excited about. He's a left-handed shot, which evens out the balance in the system, and he would become a prime candidate to eventually replace Duncan Keith as the team's No. 1 defenseman.

The Cubs are in a way better spot than they were a year ago

The Cubs are in a way better spot than they were a year ago

ST. LOUIS — It's night and day watching the 2018 Cubs compared to the 2017 version.

Even with the injury to Javy Baez Sunday night, the Cubs are in a way better spot now than they were a year ago.

On June 17 of last season, the Cubs sat at 33-34 with a run differential of just +6.

They looked flat more often than not. "Hangover" was the word thrown around most and it was true — the Cubs really did have a World Series hangover.

They admit that freely and it's also totally understandable. Not only did they win one of the most mentally and physically draining World Series in history, but they also ended a 108-year championship drought and the weight of that accomplishment was simply staggering. 

The 2018 iteration of the Cubs are completely different. 

Even though they didn't finish off the sweep of their division rivals in St. Louis Sunday night, they're still only a half-game behind the Milwaukee Brewers in the NL Central and for the best record in the league. A +95 run differential paced the NL and sat behind only the Houston Astros (+157), Boston Red Sox (+102) and New York Yankees (+98) in the AL.

Through 67 games, the Cubs sat at 40-27, 13 games above .500 compared to a game below .500 at the same point last summer.

What's been the main difference?

"Energy," Joe Maddon said simply. "Coming off the World Series, it was really hard to get us kickstarted. It was just different. I thought the fatigue generated from the previous two years, playing that deeply into the year. A lot of young guys on the team last year.

"We just could not get it kickstarted. This year, came out of camp with a fresher attitude. Not like we've been killing it to this point; we've been doing a lot better, but I didn't even realize that's the difference between last year and this year.

"If anything, I would just pinpoint it on energy."

Of course the physical component is easy to see. The Cubs played past Halloweeen in 2016 and then had so many demands for street namings and talk shows and TV appearances and Disney World and on and on. That would leave anybody exhausted with such a shortened offseason.

There's also the mental component. The Cubs came into 2018 with a chip on their shoulder after running into a wall in the NLCS last fall against the Los Angeles Dodgers. They have a renewed focus and intensity.

But there's still plenty of room for more. The Cubs aren't happy with the best record and run differential in the NL. They know they still haven't fully hit their stride yet, even amidst a 24-13 stretch over the last five weeks.

"I think we've been pretty consistent," Jon Lester said. "We've had some ups and downs on both sides of the ball as far as pitching and hitting. But the biggest thing is our bullpen and our defense has been pretty solid all year.

"That's kept us in those games. When we do lose — you're gonna have the anomalies every once in a while and get blown out — we're in every single game. It's all we can do. Keep grinding it out.

"Our offense will be fine. Our defense and the back end of our bullpen has done an unbelievable job of keeping us in these games. And if we contribute as a starting five, even better. 

"You have the games where our guys get feeling sexy about themselves and score some runs. That's where the snowball effect and we get on that little bit of a run. I feel like we've been on a few runs, it just hasn't been an extended period of time. I don't have any concerns as far as inside this clubhouse."

Lester hit the nail on the head. The Cubs sit at this point with only 1 win from Yu Darvish, Tyler Chatwood struggling with command and low power numbers from several guys including Kris Bryant.

Throw in the fact that Joe Maddon's Cubs teams always seem to get into a groove in August and September when they're fresher and "friskier" than the rest of the league and this team is currently in very good shape for the remainder of the year. 

If they can get 3 wins away from the World Series after going 33-34, the sky should be the limit for a 2018 squad that's in a much better position 67 games in.