Bears

Year Won?

Year Won?

Friday, April 23, 2010
1:09 AM

No matter what the year or what the time, there is always one topic I cant avoid while at work, and no its not, What is a guy from Philly doing behind the bar at Harry Carays? Its ALWAYS, Whats up with the Cubs? From minute one, thats what the masses want to talk about more than any other thing. It forces a guy from Philly to try to understand this team that they call the Cubs. Never in my wildest imagination, while I was a youngster racing home to watch Michael Jack bash another ball out of Wrigley, could I have realized how much the occupants of that field would take over my life. In my 15 years here Ive been totally immersed in everything Cub, from the players, to the dugout, to the clubhouse. (A Don Zimmer, former Cubs manager, reference that never fails to make me laugh when I hear it. There is NO crying in baseball!)

The thing Ive learned from that Whats up question, is that it could almost always be phrased, Whats WRONG with the Cubs? 102 years of losing can make a fan base constantly look up to see whats going to fall on them next. The time that Ive been here, relative to decades past, really hasnt been that bad. Easy to say from someone whose team won it all 2 years ago and is a favorite to do so again this year, but I digress. Since 1998 and their appearance in the playoffs as a wild-card, the Cubs have fielded rosters that have been expected to contend. In the last 12 years they have had a winning record 7 times and made the playoffs 4 times. There hasnt been a run like this since the 1930s. (There were 6 consecutive winning seasons under Leo Durocher in the late sixties and early seventies, but no playoffs, the source of much of todays angst.) Bringing in high-profile managers, like Durocher, in Dusty Baker and Lou Piniella have only heightened the sense of expectation. But alas, with this expectation comes the reality of bitter disappointment. No longer are the results of the team greeted by the warm and fuzzy, Well get em next year! Cubs fan.

Lovable loser is no longer a description theyre happy with. The price of having Wrigley Field filled to the rafters game after game is that, after paying the highest average price per seat in baseball, when a Cubs fans takes a moment from their beer and cell phones to watch the game, they want to see a winning, notice I didnt type competitive, baseball team. Being from Philly has enabled me to deal with and understand these fans. I feel their pain, for my scars run long and deep too.

So as we begin year 102, one hyped with the arrival of new ownership, one thing is clear: failure is not an option. And by failure, I mean anything short of a playoff series win. Thats a ton of expectation, and pressure to put on a team. Is this one up to that? That is something that will be discussed here, and at the bar, in great detail all summer long. But one opinion I do have on this, that Ive repeated over and over, will, I believe, hold true. That the team here that does end the suffering, will be a special one off the field as much as on it. I will cite the 2004 Red Sox, 2005 White Sox and 2008 Phillies as examples. Those teams had the weight of years of failure in their past and a brief run of near misses before ultimate success. Sound familiar? But my images of the rosters of the teams that finally ended long periods of futility were ones that were built to handle the immense pressure on and off the field.

As examples, I have talked many times at the bar about the merits of Kevin Millar, Paul Konerko and Chase Utley. Great players on the field, but as leaders and motivators, they were the types that were able to stand up off the field at the most important times in their franchises history and lead the way. So as we enter this 2010 season and watch the team that has bedeviled a city for a century, Im asking: Who is that guy? Or guys? Who is ready to lead this team on and off the field? As time goes on the pressure is only going to get greater, and in Cubs tradition, the path is certainly not going to be easy.

Bears grades: Leonard Floyd keeps getting better and better

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USA Today Sports Images

Bears grades: Leonard Floyd keeps getting better and better

QUARTERBACKS: B+

Mitch Trubisky had a solid take-what-the-defense-gave-him game, completing 20 of 28 passes for 235 yards with two touchdowns, no interceptions and a passer rating of 120.4. More than anything, though, Trubisky’s game can be summed up like this: He didn’t make any blatantly bad decisions, and he made a few special plays when he needed to. 

Some of those special plays: Avoiding a cornerback blitz from his left, scrambling away from it and then sliding back to his left while floating a perfect strike to Adam Shaheen for 23 yards; a 14-yard scramble on third down to pick up a first down and avoid a three-and-out after Green Bay tied the game; and another excellent throw avoiding pressure while sliding to his left to Taylor Gabriel to pick up 15 yards on second and 13. 

This was the kind of game the Bears need from Trubisky in the playoffs. The strong efficiency, sound decision-making and occasional play with his feet was enough to earn the Bears a win on the back of another excellent showing by the defense. 

A few other notes: Trubisky had good rhythm on the handful of run-pass options called, and did make the correct decision on an RP hand off to Taquan Mizzell on third-and-2 that was ultimately stopped short of the line to gain, Nagy said. His knack for sensing pressure and avoiding it showed up, too, and is one of the reasons why no regular starting quarterback has been sacked fewer than Trubisky this year (21 times). 

RUNNING BACKS: B-

Tarik Cohen set up his acrobatic dive into the end zone at with a scything 22-yard dash, with those two plays helping provide the Bears with a critical seven points just before halftime. Cohen, though, did strangely go out of bounds a yard short of the line to gain in the red zone in the fourth quarter, and knew he made a mistake as soon as the play ended. 

Jordan Howard ran tough to start the game, but finished with only 60 yards on 19 carries. He powered the Bears’ first scoring drive, though, with five carries for 22 yards — including an untouched nine-yard touchdown run — and one catch for 15 yards. 

Dinging this unit’s grade is the bungled read option between Cohen and Howard, which resulted in a fumble recovered by the Packers. 

WIDE RECEIVERS: C

Sunday wasn’t the most productive day for this group, but Allen Robinson, Gabriel and Josh Bellamy all made some excellent plays. Robinson picked up two chunk plays early, first bodying up cornerback Jaire Alexander to catch a quick Trubisky throw and dash for a 30-yard gain, and in the second quarter bouncing off a weak tackle attempt for a 19-yard gain. Bellamy’s 18-yard snag was an outstanding catch that helped set up Cohen’s touchdown. And Gabriel caught all three of his targets, picking up some well-earned yards in the process. Anthony Miller, notably, wasn’t targeted on the 20 receiving snaps he played, per Pro Football Focus. 

TIGHT ENDS: B

Trey Burton delivered a good block coming across the line of scrimmage to help spring Howard’s touchdown run, and he slipped open in the end zone for a go-ahead 13-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter. Adam Shaheen had a solid game, too, catching two passes from Trubisky for 39 yards and doing some good things as a run blocker, too. 

OFFENSIVE LINE: B+

Credit Charles Leno, James Daniels and Cody Whitehair for solidly blocking up Howard’s touchdown run and Bobby Massie and Bryan Witzmann for paving the way for Cohen’s 22-yard run in the second quarter. This group did well in pass protection, too, though it was penalized three times. We’ll forgive Leno for his false start on the first play of the game given he was probably a little jittery about proposing to his girlfriend after the game

DEFENSIVE LINE: A-

Holding Aaron Jones (four carries, eight yards) and Jamaal Williams (12 carries, 55 yards) to an average of 3.8 yards per carry is a good starting point here. This group was only gouged on the ground twice: First, on a run toward the end of the first half, which can be forgiven; second, at the end of Green Bay’s lone touchdown drive, which came after the Bears’ blew a fake punt and had to bring their defense back on the field. 

Akiem Hicks had another solid game, totaling four pressures while tipping a screen on third-and-15 to force a punt after the Bears took a seven-point lead in the fourth quarter. Bilal Nichols combined with Khalil Mack on a sack, while Roy Robertson-Harris and Eddie Goldman had some disruptive moments in the second half. 

OUTSIDE LINEBACKERS: A

Leonard Floyd followed what was his best game of the year last week against Los Angeles with a new best game of the year, sacking Aaron Rodgers twice while providing a constantly-disruptive pass rushing presence and defending the run well. Floyd led the Bears with five “stops,” defined by Pro Football Focus as plays that constitute a loss for the offense. He also held his own while occasionally dropping into coverage, too. 

Mack, of course, had another monster game, with 2 1/2 sacks and seven pressures while making Green Bay’s offensive line and Rodgers uncomfortable all afternoon. Aaron Lynch had a big-time tackle for a loss, dropping Williams for a loss of four as soon as Green Bay entered the red zone for the first time Sunday — a drive that ended in a field goal. Isaiah Irving chipped in with a fourth quarter pressure of Rodgers, too, after Lynch left the game with an elbow injury. 

INSIDE LINEBACKERS: A-

Roquan Smith led the Bears with 10 tackles, and a well-designed and well-executed blitz set both him and Mack free on Rodgers, with Mack getting the sack to end Green Bay’s first drive of the game. Smith’s tight coverage and pass deflection in the end zone on Jimmy Graham led to Eddie Jackson ending Rodgers’ streak of passes without an interception at 402. Danny Trevathan had a solid game while playing all 68 defensive snaps, too. 

DEFENSIVE BACKS: A-

Massive credit goes to Sherrick McManis for how well he played in his first full game as part of the Bears’ defense since 2015 — he played 62 of 68 snaps and made a critical pass break-up of a throw to Randall Cobb that Nagy said Monday usually would’ve gone for a touchdown. The Bears’ coverage was largely good, allowing the front seven to get after Rodgers with some second-effort pass rushes. Kyle Fuller had an excellent break-up of a pass to Davante Adams early in the third quarter, while Adrian Amos made five sure-handed tackles. Jackson, of course, was in position to be only the second player to pick off Rodgers in 2018. And while Prince Amukamara was beat a few times by Adams — one of which on a perfectly-placed throw by Rodgers — he helped make sure Green Bay didn’t get any truly game-breaking plays on offense. 

SPECIAL TEAMS: A

We’ll put the fake punt that didn’t work more on coaching than execution from this group, because otherwise, it was a strong day for Chris Tabor’s unit. Pat O’Donnell is probably punting his way into a job next year — he’s only on a one-year, $1.5 million contract in 2018 — as he dropped two punts inside the five-yard line, both of which were downed by Bellamy. And Cohen’s 44-yard punt return — which was sprung by good blocks by Daniel Brown and DeAndre Houston-Carson — gave the Bears a 10-point lead in the fourth quarter when Cody Parkey hit a chip-shot field goal. 

COACHING: C+

Nagy’s aggressiveness and creativity, which on the whole have been a significant positive for the Bears in 2018, wound up backfiring twice on Sunday: First, with a fake punt near midfield on which Benny Cunningham lost a yard, allowing the Packers convert a short field into a game-tying touchdown. And second, when on third and 1 Nagy called for a read option between Cohen and Howard that resulted in a lost fumble in Packers territory. 

So those two miscues drop the coaching grade. But from a larger picture, this was still a well-coached game. On a smaller scale, Vic Fangio’s defensive calls confused Rodgers — which is no small feat — and the Bears’ defense didn’t allow the Packers’ quarterback to throw for a touchdown as a result. And after Nagy preached finishing all week, the Bears did just that to clinch their first NFC North title in eight years. 

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Watch: Manny Machado shows up for meeting with White Sox at Guaranteed Rate Field

Watch: Manny Machado shows up for meeting with White Sox at Guaranteed Rate Field

Manny Machado is in town hearing the White Sox pitch.

Our NBC Sports Chicago cameras spotted Machado heading inside Guaranteed Rate Field alongside his wife and his agent.

Take a look at his arrival in the video above.

The White Sox are confident in their future-focused pitch to both Machado and this winter's other mega free agent, Bryce Harper, who the team met with last week in Las Vegas during the Winter Meetings. While other teams might be able to point to stronger current major league rosters, Rick Hahn and his front office believe the attraction of playing alongside Eloy Jimenez, Michael Kopech, Dylan Cease, Luis Robert, Yoan Moncada and others is just as appealing.

The White Sox also have the advantage of being able to offer a massive contract thanks to the financial flexibility achieved during the ongoing rebuilding process. They have almost no long-term financial commitments to speak of. That doesn't mean they'll offer a record-setting number, something ESPN's Buster Olney reported they are hesitant to do. But the aggressive nature with which they've pursued Machado and Harper, two of the game's best players, makes them seem willing to spend and spend big.

According to reports, Machado also has meetings this week with the New York Yankees and Philadelphia Phillies. And there are also "mystery teams" floating around out there. The Phillies are financially positioned similarly to the White Sox, and the Yankees have a loaded major league roster coming off a 100-win season.

But the White Sox will pitch a long-term vision with Machado at the center, the highly touted prospects arriving and growing up alongside him as the team shifts from rebuilding to contending. They might not be able to sell a 2019 playoff contender, but the plan is to have a perennial championship contender in the not too distant future.

Oh, and the White Sox are the only team that can offer Machado the opportunity to play alongside his brother-in-law, the newly acquired Yonder Alonso, for the next two seasons.

Pair all that with the ability to offer big-time bucks, and perhaps the White Sox pitch something Machado likes.

"There’s very bright days ahead," Hahn said last week during the Winter Meetings. "Now again, it might be a year premature in terms of selling this club as a postseason contender, but we’ve spent a lot of time over the last couple of years to put us in a position where we very reasonably, or objectively we have a bright future ahead of us. And we’ve heard from a number of different players about their interest in being part of it, which I don’t think should be surprising.

"There’s been a lot of positive feedback in terms of the long term. It’s funny because when you are talking about a shorter-term deal, like a one- or two-year deal, you are getting a response from a lot of the players like, ‘Hey, we want to be part of the fun times, too. I’ll just do something a little bit longer.’ It can cut both ways.

"Definitely, the general consensus is one of optimism."

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