Why did Rizzo struggle in San Diego?


Why did Rizzo struggle in San Diego?

Anthony Rizzos success in the major leagues with the San Diego Padres in 2011 was short-lived.

The Cubs prospect -- who is expected to make his Chicago debut on Tuesday night -- joined the Padres last June 9 to much fanfare and got out to a fantastic start as he had three hits in seven at-bats in his first series against the Washington Nationals at Petco Park.

But from there Rizzo -- who was traded to the Cubs in a four-player deal in January -- endured struggles he later admitted were more difficult than he had previously experienced in a six-year professional career.

Whether it was Petco Park, which plays extremely tough on left-handed pull hitters like Rizzo, or a swing that got long, the first baseman never got back on track.

After he hit .365 with 16 homers in his first 52 games at Triple-A Tucson in 2011, Rizzo saw his strikeout rate increase and average dip in the majors. He struck out 46 times in 128 at-bats for the Padres and he hit .141.

Even so, Rizzo told the North County Times last September that while his confidence might have wavered, it hadnt disappeared. Rizzo, a sixth-round pick of the Boston Red Sox in the 2007 draft, said he believed the slump would make him mentally stronger for his next chance in the majors.

Ive never struggled like that, Rizzo said. I handled it the best I could. I mean theres times where I was on the verge of snapping or blowing up, but its baseball and Im not as bad as Ive showed. And I know that. I got my feet wet. I gave me good confidence up here. I belong here.

The telltale sign for Cubs general manager Jed Hoye -- then with the Padres -- was how Rizzo constantly missed pitches he had crushed at Tucson. Rizzo struggled with fastballs and ended up with only one home run for the Padres.

The Padres acquired Yonder Alonso from the Cincinnati Reds in the offseason and chose him over Rizzo because they felt Alonsos line-drive approach was better suited for Petco Park than Rizzo, who is more of a flyball hitter.

Rizzo thought the mechanics of his swing were part of the problem.

Once his swing got long, Rizzo admits his head was his own worst enemy.

I didnt see that coming at all, Rizzo said. But it happened. The big thing is instead of worrying about getting hits, youve got to see the ball and hit the ball. When I was here earlier I was so worried about, Ive got to get a hit that I forgot to see the ball. I was just trying too hard. You try harder in this game youre going to get crushed.

Bears film breakdown: Matt Nagy's playcalling shines in critical second-half scoring drive against Seattle


Bears film breakdown: Matt Nagy's playcalling shines in critical second-half scoring drive against Seattle

One of the more important questions the Bears had to answer Monday night was how Matt Nagy would call plays if given another second-half lead. Nagy answered that question well against the Seattle Seahawks, specifically with how he dialed up a well-executed 11-play, 66-yard scoring drive midway through the second half of the Bears' 24-17 win on Monday Night Football. 

The Bears never gained more than nine yards on a single play until the final one of the drive, which went for 10. But the Mitch Trubisky-led offense also never faced a third down, with this group staying on schedule while out-scheming and out-executing the Seahawks. There's an argument to be made it was the Bears' best offensive drive of the young season: The other two touchdown drives of 2018 came on the first drive of each game when plays were scripted.

Nagy had to make an adjustment with the Seahawks frequently dropping eight men into the box and selling out to stop Jordan Howard. He did so on this drive, and it got the Bears into the end zone. Here's the blow-by-blow of how:

First play: First and 10, ball on Bears' 34

Tight ends Dion Sims and Trey Burton are lined up to the near sideline, and Trubisky quickly fires a screen to Taylor Gabriel. It’s the first time the Bears give this look in Monday’s game after Nagy admitted he over-used some screens against the Packers. Gabriel does a nice job after the catch to gain six yards, starting the drive on schedule. 

Second play: Second and four, ball on Bears' 40

In 11 personnel (one tight end, one running back), Howard runs a stretch to the right, away from the middle of the field the Seahawks had so successfully clogged all night. Kyle Long delivers a punishing pancake block, and Gabriel holds his own as a run blocker, too, to net Howard a gain of five and a first down. 

Third play: First and 10, ball on Bears' 45

This is the only ineffective play of the drive, and it underscores how the Seahawks' defense had been playing the Bears' offense. On the far sideline, safety Earl Thomas picks up tight end Trey Burton (red arrow), which would've left Allen Robinson (blue arrow) in one-on-one coverage with no safety help over the top because Bradley McDougald (yellow circle/arrow) is in the box. Trubisky sells the pass fake, but McDougald stays committed to the run. The Bears' offensive line does its job but can't block the extra defender, and McDougald makes a tackle for a one-yard gain. 

Fourth play: Second and nine, ball on Bears' 46

McDougald (green circle) blitzes from the edge on a play fake to Howard. Burton (blue arrow) is open for an easy completion at the line of scrimmage, while linebacker Austin Calitro (yellow arrow) backs up as the ball is being thrown, possibly to carry wide receiver Anthony Miller over the middle. He doesn't make the tackle on the play, which goes for nine yards and a first down. 

Fifth play: First and 10, ball on Seahawks' 45

This is the only time the Bears ran the ball into the interior of the Seahawks' defense on this drive. After attacking the edges and getting in rhythm with some quick passing plays, the Bears' offensive line (as well as Sims and Burton) get their best interior run blocking push of the night, with most of Howard's blockers one or two yards upfield before he crosses the line of scrimmage. Howard gains six on the gorund here. 

Sixth play: Second and four, ball on Seahawks' 39

Gabriel lines up in the backfield to Trubisky's right, and the pair run a zone read. Trubisky makes the correct read on the play, and but Robinson couldn't hold his block as the play stretched toward the sideline. Gabriel does well to get four yards on it. 

Seventh play: First and 10, ball on Seahawks' 35

Credit Sims with a good job in pass protection, as he routes Frank Clark upfield just enough for Trubisky to escape the Seahawks' edge rusher and get into open field. Trubisky is keeping his eyes downfield (blue arrow) while moving to his right, and he doesn't see a throw he likes so he takes off and runs for four yards. That Trubisky kept his eyes downfield was generally a good thing, though had he put his head down and took off sooner he probably could've got more than the four yards he did. That's a lot easier to say from the comfort of a couch, though. 

Eighth play: Second and six, ball on Seahawks' 31

Another play fake to Howard draws linebacker Barkevious Mingo (green arrow) toward the backfield, and Trubisky has no problem throwing a quick swing pass to Josh Bellamy (blue circle) for a gain of six and a first down. 

Ninth play: First and 10, ball on Seahawks' 25

A well-designed and well-executed jet sweep with some misdirection to Gabriel (red arrow) draws linebacker Mychal Kendricks (green arrow) the wrong way. Left tackle Charles Leno gets to block Calitro in space (blue circle), to highlight a good matchup for the Bears. This play is well-blocked, but it's again safety Earl Thomas who's the only reason why it didn't go for more, as he diagnoses the play and makes a tackle on Gabriel for a gain of eight to end the third quarter. 

Tenth play: Second and two, ball on Seahawks' 17

The Bears go back to Howard, who goes off the left end for a gain of seven. While only three of Howard's 14 runs came on this drive, over half his yards (18/35) were gained on it. 

11th play: First and goal, ball on Seahawks' 10

Miller runs an excellent route, beating cornerback Akeem King with a perfectly-set-up move. Trubisky, rolling to his left, fires a perfect pass to Miller. Touchdown. 

Final takeaways

A number of players deserve credit for making this drive work, from the obvious (Trubisky, for taking what was there) and Gabriel (for slipping through or past tackles for a few extra yards) to the less obvious (Sims, in particular, had a strong series as both a pass and run blocker). But Nagy stood out, too, for calling the right plays to kick-start an offense that punted on its previous two second-half possessions. 

Prince Amukamara, Allen Robinson earn highest Pro Football Focus grades for Bears in Week 2


Prince Amukamara, Allen Robinson earn highest Pro Football Focus grades for Bears in Week 2

The Bears had a player on each side of the ball step up big in their Week 2 win over the Seattle Seahawks. Wide receiver Allen Robinson quickly became Mitchell Trubisky’s favorite target, and cornerback Prince Amukamara sealed the game with his pick six in the fourth quarter.

So it’s no surprise that they were the Bears’ highest-graded players on each side of the ball by Pro Football Focus.

Overall, Robinson was the team’s sixth highest-graded player, with the Top 5 all coming on defense. He was targeted a team-high 14 times, but only two of those targets traveled further than 10 yards in the air. Both were intercepted.

Amukamara was targeted seven times in coverage and allowed three catches for 36 yards with his game-sealing interception. Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson had just a 19.6 passer rating when targeting the Bears cornerback.

Both Khalil Mack and Roquan Smith graded lower than they did last week, with the rookie linebacker ranking as the team’s lowest-graded defensive starter. Mitchell Trubisky also didn’t fare well, finishing as the quarterback with the third-lowest grade in the NFL for Week 2.

As a whole, the Bears’ defense is the top-graded unit in the league through two weeks, while their offense ranks 24th.  Next week, they face the Arizona Cardinals, who have PFF’s second lowest-graded offense and defense so far this season.