Nationals

Cutler realizes Bears need offense to step up

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Cutler realizes Bears need offense to step up

LAKE FOREST, Ill. (AP) Jay Cutler understands the Chicago Bears need help to get to the playoffs, and they could use more than just an assist from archrival Green Bay.

How about getting that offense to pitch in?

It hasn't in recent weeks, and that's one reason the Bears (9-6) are in danger of missing the playoffs for the fifth time in six years. The struggles on offense have played a big role in their free-fall after a 7-1 start, and even if they win at Detroit in the season finale on Sunday, there's no guarantee they'll make it.

They'll still need Green Bay to beat or tie Minnesota. They could also get in with a tie if the Vikings lose.

``This is a big game,'' Cutler said. ``I think last week was a big game. We've got to win. There's nothing else to be said about it. And quarterback play, these are games you've got to have.''

After dropping five of their previous six, the Bears are coming off a 28-13 win over Arizona thanks to two defensive touchdowns. Starting running back Matt Forte's status for this week is in question after he injured his right ankle for the third time this season.

He came through with one of his better performances, running for 88 yards and a touchdown on 12 carries before leaving the game.

He did not practice Wednesday.

``His ankle is looking pretty good,'' coach Lovie Smith said. ``It's a big football game. They're all big. You always play guys when they're healthy and ready to go. Hopefully, that'll be the case with Matt. He's pretty encouraged by what's happened.''

That's good news for an offense that hasn't delivered much in recent weeks.

If Forte isn't ready, the Bears would turn to Kahlil Bell and Armando Allen with backup Michael Bush on injured reserve.

Injuries on both sides have mounted with the losses, but the defense at least has been doing its part. The Bears got back to their ball-hawking ways against an anemic offense last week, with Charles Tillman returning an interception for a score and Zack Bowman returning a fumble recovery one yard for another touchdown.

But the offense again had trouble finding the end zone.

The Bears have just three touchdowns rushing and eight passing over the past seven games and had only one of each against the Cardinals.

Cutler completed 1 of his first 11 passes and finished with 146 yards after throwing for just 135 the previous week in a loss to Green Bay that left the Bears looking for help to get to the playoffs rather than controlling their own destiny.

The offense did click in the two-minute drill just before halftime against Arizona, with Brandon Marshall hauling in an 11-yard touchdown pass.

``It wasn't (that) we were doing anything different or they were doing anything different,'' Cutler said. ``We were just making plays. Running good routes, guys were snagging the ball, the line played well all day. I think we just have to have a sense of urgency on every play and just get up there, like the call and go out there and execute it.''

One thing that's encouraging for the Bears is Cutler's history against Detroit. He's 6-2 against the Lions with 1,565 yards, 11 touchdowns and one interception.

But he also realizes Detroit would love to knock out the Bears.

How Chicago's offense performs could go a long way toward preventing that. The Bears rank 28th in that area and simply haven't clicked the way they envisioned after bringing in Marshall and reuniting him with Cutler.

They've been banged up, and their offensive line has been a mess all year, struggling with injuries and poor play in general. That group actually held its ground last week.

``They're grown men and they get embarrassed,'' offensive coordinator Mike Tice said. ``They don't want to be the group that's screwing it up for everybody. They've taken their turns doing that. We all have.''

Notes: Bears DT Henry Melton teed off on the Lions, calling them a ``dirty team'' that's going to take liberties. ``Oh, they're going to be looking for cheap shots and all that mess. We've just got to hold our composure and play the game we know.'' There have been issues between the teams in recent years, and Brandon Marshall called out Ndamukong Suh on Twitter for what he thought was a dirty hit on a violent sack of Cutler during the Bears' win over the Lions in October. Cutler insisted at the time there was nothing illegal about the hit. ... Besides Forte, Brian Urlacher (hamstring), Tillman (ribs, elbow), S Chris Conte (hamstring), RB Armando Allen (knee) and LB Blake Costanzo (calf) did not practice.

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Astros players plan to make a team statement on sign-stealing scandal during Spring Training

Astros players plan to make a team statement on sign-stealing scandal during Spring Training

The Houston Astros' sign-stealing scandal has rocked MLB and left a dark shadow over the league during offseason. Up until this point, despite a fired general manager and on-field manager, the players at the root of the scandal have remained silent on the subject and avoided questions from the media.

That will all change in Spring Training as the Astros players plan to make "a strong statement as a team," according to Astros' owner Jim Crane. 

"When we get down to Spring Training, we'll all get them together and they'll come out with a strong statement as a team and apologize for what happened and we'll move forward," Crane said in a media scrum.

Over the weekend the team held their annual winter FanFest where several players had to face the music as many players met with the media for the first time. Jose Altuve, who is one of the players who allegedly benefited from the sign-stealing, dodged the question as best he could. The Astros shortstop's comments coincide with Crane's, saying “I think the time to comment about that will come. It’s a little early for me to say something about it.” 

Outside of their FanFest event, there is little that has come out of the clubhouse. Their owner acknowledged the lack of communication from the players and said the players were advised to stay out of the conversation. 

"The players have been beaten up a little bit and they've been all spread out. They've just kinda getting [sic] advice to take it easy."

Already Spring Training in West Palm Beach is going to be awkward between the two teams that made the World Series last season. The Nationals, who won the World Series whether or not the Astros used their system to gain an advantage, have their facilities next door to Houston's.

And if the Astros sign former Nationals' manager Dusty Baker to the same position in wake of A.J. Hinch's firing, there will be even more tense situations at Spring Training this year. 

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Jay Gruden reportedly to join Jaguars as their offensive coordinator

Jay Gruden reportedly to join Jaguars as their offensive coordinator

Just four months shy of his last appearance on the NFL gridiron sidelines, Jay Gruden may already have his 2020 gig lined up, according to NFL Network's Ian Rapoport and Tom Pelissero.

Gruden was head coach of the Washington Redskins for six seasons, beginning in 2014 and going 35-49-1 in his burgundy and gold tenure. Gruden pushed the Redskins to their first postseason appearance since 2012 in his second year with the team, as well as back-to-back winning seasons in 2015 and 2016, not seen in Washington since 1996 and 1997. 

In March 2017, Gruden signed a two-year extension with the Redskins. He was fired after beginning the 2019 season 0-5. 

Recently, Gruden confirmed to Rapoport that he was "itching for something to do" and seeking employment before Jacksonville brought him in to interview for the OC role. 

After playing four years at the University of Louisville and and eight more in various football leagues, Gruden held many offensive roles, offensive coordinator for the Florida Tuskers and Cincinnati Bengals. 

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