Bears need to 'lengthen' the field vs. Houston Texans

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Bears need to 'lengthen' the field vs. Houston Texans

A significant key to Sundays Bears-Houston Texans game: length of field. If it is the same for both teams, the situation tilts in favor of the Houston Texans. And the Bears offense knows it.

At the end of the day, with our defense, as long as we make another teams offense go 80, 90 yards, I think were going to be OK, said quarterback Jay Cutler, who has accounted for all 12 of the Bears turnovers with eight interceptions and four lost fumbles.

The Bears have lived by the takeaway (28) and have turned those into points, seven times for scores by the defense. They are 6-0 with a positive turnover ratio in 2012.

For all of the apparent statistical imbalances, the Bears have driven the ball long distances almost as effectively as the Texans. Houston has 23 drives of 50 yards or longer that have resulted in points. The Bears have 21.

The problem with that for the Bears is that Houston has allowed only 12 drives of 50 yards or longer that resulted in points. The Bears have allowed 16, also very respectable, but Houston is not the Jaguars, Titans or even the Lions, teams in the bottom half of the NFL in average yards per rush, a Bears standard.

The Texans are ninth, second in rush yards allowed per game. They will be without starting nose tackle Shaun Cody because of rib and lung issues, so the Texans will use a three-man combination of Earl Mitchell (starting), rookie Jared Crick and Terrell McClain, cut by Carolina and signed last week.

Starting vs. finishing

The Bears will be in serious trouble if they are forced to play from more than one score behind. That has rarely happened this season, with them trailing in a fourth quarter just twice this season (Green Bay, Carolina).

Not surprisingly then, the Bears have had as many scoring drives in the fourth quarter as in the second and third quarters combined this year:

Quarter Drives
1st 9
2nd 6
3rd 7
4th 13

Cutler has directed only six fourth-quarter comebacks in 49 games as a Bear. That plus the Houston defense points to a need to avoid a serious points need late.

We've had some games where we've started well, coordinator Mike Tice said. We scored on the first series a couple of games ago, we scored on the second series a game a couple of weeks ago. We just need to put a couple of drives together. We need to get that rhythm.

While attention will focus on RT Gabe Carimi vs. ex-Wisconsin teammate DE J.J. Watt, the real game may play out with center Roberto Garza and guards Lance Louis and Chilo Rachal against a weakened Houston middle.

I think weve got to recognize what theyre playing and attack them a certain way according to what coverage and fronts were seeing, Cutler said.

Weather or not Bears want nasty

A home-field advantage may be rolling in on Doppler weather maps in the form of rain for Sunday night. The Bears dont necessarily play better in adverse conditions but they are more accustomed to them than the Houston Texans.

So as far as Soldier Field being a sloppy track by Sunday evening , We hope so, said meteorologist Lovie Smith. Its November, and Im sure Houston is expecting to play in bad weather. Ive been watching the forecast a little bit closer than I normally do, and I hear theres a lot of rain and wind supposed to come in.

Temperatures are expected to be around 60 degrees, which wont bother the Texans. The 22-mile-per-hour south wind wont favor anybody who cant run the football. Same with the rain forecast, which is a 20-percent possibility at 7 p.m., 60 at 8 p.m., 90 at 9 p.m., and an ominous 100 percent at 10 p.m. right about the time a close football game is apt to be decided.

Looking back at Texas in 2013 and setting Notre Dame’s defensive expectations

Looking back at Texas in 2013 and setting Notre Dame’s defensive expectations

After allowing 40 points in an embarrassing road loss at Brigham Young three years ago, Texas coach Mack Brown fired defensive coordinator Manny Diaz. Diaz, whose defense only had one sack at the time of his firing, was replaced by a defensive analyst with coordinator experience. Sound familiar?

In-season, high-profile coordinator firings aren’t completely unheard of at the college level, but they are rare. So with Notre Dame replacing Brian VanGorder with Greg Hudson on Sunday, we can look back at Texas’ 2013 season as a rough blueprint for setting expectations for the Irish defense going forward. 

And the expectation is this: A mid-season firing of a coordinator probably won’t fix a broken defense. It didn’t necessarily do that at Texas. 

Like VanGorder’s 2015 defense, Diaz’s group in 2012 was inconsistent and prone to debilitating showings: West Virginia, Oklahoma, Baylor and Kansas State all scored 40 or more points against the Longhorns, with Texas losing three of those four games in a 9-4 season. 

So with championship expectations still on Brown at Texas, and a defense clearly in regression, Brown fired Diaz — who earned $700,000, about $400,000 lower than the salary ESPN reported VanGorder earned in 2014 — just two games into the 2013 season. Here’s how Texas fared after jettisoning Diaz and promoting former Michigan defensive coordinator Greg Robinson to that post in Austin:

Lost, 44-23, vs. Ole Miss (allowed 6.24 yards per play)
Won, 31-21, vs. Kansas State (allowed 5.74 yards per play)
Won, 31-30, at Iowa State (allowed 6.01 yards per play)
Won, 36-20, vs. Oklahoma (allowed 4.46 yards per play)
Won, 30-7, at TCU (allowed 3.90 yards per play)
Won, 35-13, vs. Kansas (allowed 5.19 yards per play)
Won, 47-40, at West Virginia (allowed 4.81 yards per play)
Lost, 38-13, vs. Oklahoma State (allowed 6.13 yards per play)
Won, 41-16. vs Texas Tech (allowed 4.95 yards per play)
Lost, 30-10, at Baylor (allowed 5.52 yards per play)
Lost, 30-7, vs. Oregon (allowed 6.90 yards per play)

Texas still struggled to stop the Big 12’s most powerful offenses in Oklahoma State and Baylor, as well as Oregon in the Alamo Bowl. That win over Oklahoma certainly was impressive — the Sooners went on to beat Alabama in the Sugar Bowl — and this group did do better in terms of putting pressure on opposing offenses, but for the most part, Texas’ defense was still an up-and-down group. 

Its defense did well against Kansas State, Oklahoma, TCU and Texas Tech but struggled to stop Ole Miss, Iowa State and West Virginia. Robinson didn’t magically turn Texas into a reliably-competitive defense: The Longhorns finished 44th in defensive S&P+, 57th in scoring defense (25.8 PPG) and 62nd in yards per play (5.48). It wasn’t good enough to allow Texas to compete for a Big 12 championship (of course, it's worth noting Texas' offense wasn't, either). 

Notre Dame’s circumstances are different, with the Irish possessing a much better offense this year than Texas had three years ago (Case McCoy and a banged-up David Ash were largely ineffective) but less talent on defense (both Jackson Jeffcoat and Cedric Reed totaled double-digit sacks; Notre Dame only has one sack as a team through four games). 

But the lesson here is that a mid-season coordinator change shouldn’t be expected to completely fix a defense. For Notre Dame’s sake, it has to hope Hudson can, at least, inject something into this defense to marginally improve it enough to get the Irish to six wins and bowl eligibility. 

Funky style has Todd Frazier leading White Sox in stolen bases

Funky style has Todd Frazier leading White Sox in stolen bases

It may not be very pretty, but it’s hard to argue with the effectiveness of Todd Frazier’s stolen base technique.

Despite employing a walking-lead style that his manager loves to harp on, Frazier swiped two more bags in Sunday’s victory over the Cleveland Indians. Frazier’s 14 stolen bases this season not only leads the team, it’s also the most by a White Sox third baseman since Luis Salazar also stole 14 bases in 1985.

“He’s got that sneaky little stolen base thing where he sneaks off there,” White Sox manager Robin Ventura said. “He looks like a fan ran on the field. It works. I don’t know how to explain it, but it works.”

Frazier has learned how to make it work.

Successful only 58.5 percent of the time in his first three minor league seasons, Frazier adapted his style after he and Hall of Fame second baseman Joe Morgan discussed his leads. Frazier, who was successful in only 24 of 41 tries between Cincinnati’s Rookie League team and Double-A, said the talk resulted in an alteration and drastically improved results. Frazier’s success rate increased to 81.8 percent at Triple-A as he was successful in 36 of 44 tries.

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Frazier has converted 57 of 85 tries in the majors (67 percent), including 14 of 19 this season.

“Basically every time I stole a base my first move would be coming up in the standstill,” Frazier said. “(Morgan) taught me the walking lead, basically because the more you get your momentum going toward the base I have one or two steps ahead of somebody. We went over that a little bit, I started working on it in Triple-A and I’d get about 15 stolen bags a year. I’m not the fastest guy, but if I can a step ahead and get two or three or four when the guy throws it they’re not going to be be able to throw it. Sometimes I’ll get picked off and you’ll be like, ‘What is he doing?’ But I’ll take five or six of those a year to get to second base and get two big runs there for us.”

Frazier’s steals on Sunday led to two of three runs scored by the White Sox. Even more important (for the purposes of bragging rights), the stolen bases gave Frazier the team lead over Adam Eaton, who has 12 steals.

“I told Eaton I was going to get him, no problem,” Frazier said. “I told him ‘I’m coming for you,’ and I got two today so I took the lead, which is pretty cool.”

Ventura still isn’t quite sure how Frazier does it. But he’s impressed nonetheless.

“He’s not a normal looking base stealer, but he’s able to create some havoc when he’s out there” Ventura said.