Bears hurt by Rodgers, helped by special teams

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Bears hurt by Rodgers, helped by special teams

A first quarter of allowing the Green Bay Packers 30 total yards should have been a sign of good things to come. It wasnt, although only so much of that again, as in Minnesota, can be put on the defense.
Green Bays 21 points could have been more but for Mason Crosbys continuing FG woes (misses from 42 and 43 yards) and fumbling the ball away at around midfield.
But the Bears played better than the 391 yards the Packers amassed, which were largely the result of poor play in the secondary on multiple occasions. The defense sacked Aaron Rodgers three times and had hits on him four other times in addition to four tackles for loss.
Put in perspective: three sacks, four hits, four tackles for loss, four passes defensed, one forced fumble, or 16 impact plays on 71 snaps by one of the NFLs best offenses. Not as many as the group would want and not as many as the Packers executed against the Bears, but the Packers only had to go 26 yards on one scoring drive.
DEFENSIVE LINE C
Corey Wootton had a hand in two first-quarter sacks of Aaron Rodgers, joined by Julius Peppers on the second as the Chicago defense shut down the Packers on third downs. Wootton and Peppers each finished with credit for 1.5 sacks and each added five tackles, a tackle for loss and two quarterback hits.
A problem was that no other defensive delivered virtually any impact. Israel Idonije moved inside to tackle with Henry Melton down with a chest injury but had no recorded contact with Rodgers. Same for tackles Amobi Okoye and Stephen Paea. The overall performance was creditable but allowing Rodgers to escape the pocket on several key situations was catastrophic.
LINEBACKERS C
The position group was hit with more misfortune when Geno Hayes was inactive with a knee injury, forcing Blake Costanzo to start at SLB. Costanzo, starting the first game in his six-year NFL career had two tackles.
Lance Briggs forced a third-down stop with a blitz in the first quarter and had a game-high nine tackles in a strong leadership performance. Nick Roach batted down a pass in the second quarter and finished with six tackles in addition to recovering a fumble caused by Charles Tillman.
The Packers rushed for 113 total yards on 32 carries. DuJuan Harris had one run of 21 yards and Ryan Grant broke one for 14 yards but the Bears closed down most of the Green Bay runs before they did serious damage.
SECONDARY F-
Aaron Rodgers was able to abuse the secondary in some part because of insufficient rush pressure but his 291 total yards (on 23-of-36 passing) marks the fourth time in 14 games that an opposing quarterback has thrown for more than 250 yards.
James Jones annihilated the secondary with TD catches of 29, eight and six yards and Randall Cobb led the Packers with six catches for a total of 115 yards. Four Green Bay receivers had at least one catch of 19 yards or longer and the Packers were repeatedly able to convert third-and-longs against shabby coverage.
A crucial drive to even the game at 7-7 was a defensive abomination. Multiple tackles were missed for one first down; D.J. Moore and the safeties lost Cobb on a broken play for a 31-yard conversion on a second-quarter third down to sustain the drive. Then Kelvin Hayden was completely beaten for 29-yard TD by James Jones.
Chris Conte was second with seven tackles and was hit with a questionable interference call. But the secondary came up with virtually no big plays to offset the spate of them allowed to the Packers.
COACHING D
The Bears uncharacteristically blitzed Aaron Rodgers more than their norm and did some damage early in the game. But the Packers appeared to adjust and exploit the defense which again failed to protect its edges against a dangerous mobile quarterback and paid for it.
Execution was the real problem; no scheming covers up for coverage breakdowns, missed tackles and lost containment.
SPECIAL TEAMS
The Packers tried to give the Bears a way back into the game with a bizarre call for a trick play on a punt return. The gaffe was recovered by the Bears and overall special teams play gave them points and chances.
KICKING A-
The position group made what it could out of limited chances. Olindo Mare was perfect in his first two FG tries as a Bear, both from 34 yards, after the offense blew touchdown opportunities. He does not have Robbie Goulds leg for kickoffs, with two of four for touchbacks.
Adam Podlesh continued strong work with a 40.2 net on six punts and three of those inside the 20.
COVERAGE A
Green Bays first five possessions started at the two-, 14-, 26-, 11- and 26- yard lines after punts and a kickoff. None of the nine Packers possessions after kicks started better than the Green Bay 26.
The heads-up work on Green Bays fake punt resulted in a takeaway that the offense did nothing with.
RETURNS A-
Devin Hester was restored to kickoff returns over Eric Weems. Hester gave the Bears field position with a 24-yard punt return in the first quarter. Hester averaged 14 yards on three punt returns and 31.5 on his two kickoff returns.
The unit gave the offense field position consistently. Nine Bears possessions started at the Chicago 31 or better.
COACHING A
The Bears were prepared and disciplined throughout. Penalties remain a mild concern but the overall scheming contained the Packers while setting up the Chicago offense repeatedly.

Bears add power on RB depth chart with Indiana’s Jordan Howard in Round 5

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Bears add power on RB depth chart with Indiana’s Jordan Howard in Round 5

Running back, one of the foundation pillars of Chicago Bears football, was in some turmoil this offseason. First was the exit of Matt Forte. Then was the failed pursuit of Denver’s C.J. Anderson, a statement that while the Bears were pleased with the futures of Ka’Deem Carey and Jeremy Langford, those two were not necessarily the future of the offense, particularly in situations calling for raw power.

Accordingly, the Bears went big in the fifth round, using the 150th pick of the draft on Indiana running back Jordan Howard, a 230-pound force who averaged more than 123 yards from scrimmage in his combined 32 collegiate games at UAB and Indiana.

At 230 pounds, Howard eschews subtle.

“I feel like I’m a grinder,” Howard said. “I can get those tough yards and in the NFL. You don’t really see those long, explosive runs like you see in college. There are a few, but not many, so I feel my game suits the NFL more than it does college.”

It also appears to suit the Bears, who have struggled too often over the past several years in short-yardage and goal-line situations.

Howard, however, may need to tweak his game just a bit.

Big running backs like Earl Campbell, Larry Csonka and Christian Okoye have had success spikes but not always sustained at those peak levels. The reason: Big backs deliver big hits but they also take more of them, and hits take their toll. John Riggins (240 pounds) extended his Hall of Fame career using speed that away from tacklers rather than taking all of them on.

Howard has a smash-mouth mindset but NFL tacklers will be substantial tiers above what he ran into at Indiana. And he missed time last year with knee and ankle injuries that limited him to nine games, in addition to averaging 216 carries per season for his three college years.

Still, “I feel like my size will benefit me well because a lot of time guys they won’t want to tackle me a lot of times, especially after long games when we’ve just been pounding,” Howard said. “They then start diving and then I can avoid them. I think it works very well for me.”

(Hard to see Aaron Donald, Luke Kuechly, Julius Peppers and J.J. Watt “diving,” but you never know.)

Howard will not be doing a lot of diving himself. He carries a decided chip on his shoulder after getting just one scholarship offer (UAB) coming out of high school, then having UAB drop football while he was there.

"Yeah definitely some pride because coming out of high school I had one offer to play at UAB in Conference USA, so I definitely wanted to prove I could play on a bigger stage," he said. "And I was doing it for UAB because they shut the program down. I wore my heart on my sleeve for them."

Adam Warren emerging as essential piece on Cubs pitching staff

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Adam Warren emerging as essential piece on Cubs pitching staff

Adam Warren was the lowest-profile addition of the Cubs' offseason, but he's already emerged as a vital part of the team out to the hottest start in baseball.

Jason Heyward, John Lackey and Ben Zobrist (plus the re-arrival of Dexter Fowler in spring training) got all the headlines as new acquisitons over the winter.

In fact, Warren wasn't even the main focus in the deal that made him a Cub as the return from the New York Yankees for Starlin Castro, the former face of the franchise who tallied 991 hits in six seasons in Chicago.

Yet where would the Cubs be right now without Warren?

The 28-year-old right-hander has pitched the most innings in the National League without giving up an earned run this season (8) and has allowed just two hits and three walks for a sparkling 0.625 WHIP.

"Just as I thought: outstanding," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. "I try not to abuse him, pretty much. ... I"m very comfortable pitching him in the latter part of the game, whether it's the seventh, eighth, ninth — it doesn't matter to me. 

"I think this guy could finish games. He's got that kinda ability; he's got that makeup. You got that kinda weapon in your toolbox — he's good against righties and lefties, he's durable, he's got all this variety of different pitches, fits our culture beautifully. I just don't want to abuse the guy."

Warren has worked as a starter in the past and said the Cubs initially told him they wanted him to work in the rotation at some point down the road. 

But for right now, Warren is set as a jack of all trades in the bullpen pitching with confidence.

"I like being versatile," Warren said. "I like being able to do a lot of different things. So if I can continue to do that, that's where I like to be in the bullpen, just because I feel like that helps our team out the most."

Warren — like the rest of the Cubs — doesn't like to think too far ahead. He doesn't worry about what his "title" is in the bullpen, which is a necessary attitude to have with a manager that loves to play the matchups and is constantly tinkering with his relievers.

But Warren has emerged as a high-leverage arm Maddon can combine with Pedro Strop (2.89 ERA, 0.64 WHIP, 4 holds) and Hector Rondon (0.00 ERA, 0.29 WHIP, 4 saves) at the back end of the bullpen.

As the new guy on the pitching staff, Warren made it a point to get out to a good start.

"With a new team, you really want to prove yourself," he said. "So I think you have that chip on your shoulder a little bit to want to go out there and start off hot. But really, I think it's just going out there, having a gameplan with our scouting report and just executing."

Warren feels comfortable with his new team and in the bullpen, crediting his teammates and the Cubs coaching staff for welcoming him in.

Coming from the Yankees — a historic franchise with 27 World Series championships and a penchant for doing things a certain way (such as their no facial hair policy) — it was a little bit of a culture shock for Warren to come to a Cubs team that hasn't won the World Series in more than a century and essentially has no rules in a clubhouse designed to let everybody be themselves.

But the transition has gone as smoothly as possible, Warren said.

"It's completely different," he said. "Here, they've created the atmosphere of just be yourself, be laid back. I like that. I like being able to grow facial hair if you want.

"You start focusing completely on baseball. The atmosphere that fans create out there has been unreal to me. Even when it's been cold, they've been up for every pitch. It's really refreshing to see the excitement around the team."

Bears hope they found another Peanut Tillman with CB Deiondre’ Hall

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Bears hope they found another Peanut Tillman with CB Deiondre’ Hall

In the second round of the 2003 draft the Bears took a flyer on a tall cornerback out of a smaller school. Now they have gone a similar route, hoping to land another Charles Tillman.

At the very least they secured a tall cornerback from a smaller school who WANTS to be another Charles Tillman.

Deiondre’ Hall, 6-2, 190 pounds, became a Bear with the team’s third pick in the fourth round of the 2016 draft. Hall comes out of Northern Iowa with 13 career interceptions, six returned for touchdowns, with another 28 passes broken up.

In the Tillman tradition he also finished with four forced fumbles, three of those his senior season.

His role model, “for cornerback, me personally, I’ve always loved him, is Charles Tillman,” Hall said. “Just being a ballhawk and getting that ball. That’s something that’s been huge to me throughout my time at Northern Iowa… .

“I’ve always kind of tried to model my game after him. Like I said, just being a ballhawk and getting that ball out. That’s one of the key emphasis throughout my time at Northern Iowa. Not basically mimicking his game but taking bits and pieces and adding it to mine.”

The turnover bits and pieces of his game will be welcome additions for a team that totaled just 17 total turnovers last season and whose cornerbacks (Kyle Fuller, Tracy Porter) combined for just three interceptions.

But Hall has started at linebacker, is a physical defensive back, and is likely to get at least a look at safety as well. There his football template changes.

“For safety positions, I’ve always kind of saw myself as a ‘Honey Badger,’” Hall said, referencing Arizona Cardinals All-Pro defensive back Tyrann Mathieu. “Being able to play a little corner, coming down in the slot and guarding those quicker guys and being able to stay up top and cover ground. That’s huge in the game these days.”