Bears-Panthers preview Bears ball


Bears-Panthers preview Bears ball

The 2012 Bears are scoring 27 points per game, offense and defense combined. Three of their six games have been against defenses ranked in the top 10 (Dallas, Detroit, St. Louis).
But for all that the offense has done well keeping the Bears defense off the field on average more than 33 minutes per game, one lost fumble all year and a total of three turnovers over the last four games something is still missing.
Wanted: next-step offense
The offense ranks 22nd in yards per game, 25th in passing despite the playing teams with a combined 14-17 record in games other than against the Bears to this point.
The offense has scored just one touchdown in three of the Bears six games.
Weve got to do our part on offense, said quarterback Jay Cutler. Defense has been carrying us for a while. Weve got to make some strides offensively this week. We missed a lot of things in the second half against Detroit. Weve got to clean it up.
The Panthers should provide a forum for that cleanup.
Carolina ranks 20th in points allowed (24.0 per game) and doesnt stop anything especially well. The Panthers are 19th against both the run (120.3 yards per game) and pass (245.8), and are a lowly 26th in turnover ratio with a minus-4 (vs. the Bears at plus-13, No. 1 in the NFL).
Panther problems
Of more immediate significance, however, Carolina allowed 16 points to Seattle and 19 to Dallas in their last two defeats. Their problems have not been on defense.
And the Bears have problems of their own coming, in the form of road trips to Tennessee and San Francisco and home against Houston over the next four games.
We need to be 6-1, said offensive coordinator Mike Tice. Have you looked at our schedule coming up? We need to be 6-1, and we need to take care of our business. Thats the key in this business -- dont get ahead of yourselves like we did once, and take each game, you know the clich, one at a time.
The Bears have adhered generally to the balance formula that has served them well in particular over the last two years. With Jay Cutler coming in with bruised ribs from his hit by Ndamukong Suh, his already moderate 2012 accuracy may be in more question, possibly putting a larger load on a Bears run game that has begun to reach its levels of the past couple of seasons at this point.
Thinking on the run
Running backs have averaged 135 yards per game over the last three games and Matt Forte has averaged 4 or more yards per carry in all five games hes played. Expectations are that the Bears will eschew the exotic and simply force Carolina to prove it can deal with the run, which creates big-strike opportunities via play-action.
I think Jayll be fine, Forte said. Regular offense.
Carolina is trying to replace middle linebacker Jon Beason, lost for the season with a knee injury. Rookie and No, 9-overall draft pick Luke Kuechly started the first four games at weakside linebacker, moved to the middle and had 34 total tackles and an interception over the last two games.
But teams are converting 45.1 percent of third downs on the Panthers. The Bears are a very respectable 41.4 percent, up from 32.5 percent for 2011, and if the Bears can keep their offense on the field and their defense resting, the Panthers will be in trouble.
Weve improved in most categories, with the exception of third down 27th, said coach Ron Rivera. Weve been below average as far as third down is concerned. If we have one issue weve got to get shored up, it has been our third-down play. Weve gotten after teams.

Kyle Hendricks outduels Clayton Kershaw and delivers legendary performance that puts Cubs in World Series

Kyle Hendricks outduels Clayton Kershaw and delivers legendary performance that puts Cubs in World Series

John Hendricks sent a text message to his son at 11:24 a.m. on Saturday: “Good luck tonight!! Remember, great mechanics and preparation will prevail. Just let it go!!” It ended with three emoji: a smiley face with sunglasses, the thumbs-up sign and a flexed biceps.

The Cubs have bonded fathers and sons for generations, and Hendricks immediately understood what it meant for his boy when the Cubs traded Ryan Dempster to the Texas Rangers minutes before the deadline on July 31, 2012, telling Kyle: “You win in this city, you will be a legend. There is no doubt about it. This is the greatest sports town in the United States.”

This is the intoxicating lure of the Cubs. It didn’t matter that Kyle had been an eighth-round pick out of Dartmouth College, and hadn’t yet finished his first full season in professional baseball, and would be joining an organization enduring a 101-loss season, the third of five straight fifth-place finishes.

Kyle’s low-key personality will never get him confused with an ’85 Bear, but he delivered a legendary performance in Game 6, outpitching Clayton Kershaw at the end of this National League Championship Series and leading the Cubs to the World Series for the first time in 71 years.

Five outs away from the pennant, a raucous crowd of 42,386 at Wrigley Field actually booed star manager Joe Maddon when he walked out to the mound to take the ball from Kyle and bring in closer Aroldis Chapman. Kyle, the silent assassin, did briefly raise his hand to acknowledge the standing ovation before descending the dugout steps. 

After a 5-0 win, Kyle stood in roughly the same spot with Nike goggles on his head and finally looked a little rattled, his body shivering and teeth chattering in the cold, his Cubs gear soaked from the champagne-and-beer celebration.

“It’s always been an uphill climb for me, honestly,” Kyle said. “But that really has nothing to do with getting guys out. My focus from Day 1 – even when I was young, high school, college, all the way up until now – all it’s been is trying to make good pitches. 

“And as we moved up, you just saw that good pitches get good hitters out.” 

At a time when the game is obsessed with velocity and showing off for the radar gun, Kyle knows how to pitch, putting the ball where he wants when he wants, avoiding the hot zones that lead to trouble, mixing his changeups, fastballs and curveball in an unpredictable way that takes advantage of the team’s intricate scouting system and keeps hitters completely off-balance.

“Kyle didn’t even give them any air or any hope,” general manager Jed Hoyer said.

Amid the celebration, scouting/player-development chief Jason McLeod spotted Kyle’s dad and yelled at John: “You f------ called it!” John – who once worked in the Angels ticket office and as a golf pro in Southern California – had moved to Chicago two years ago to work for his good friend’s limo company and watch his son pitch at Wrigley Field. John had told McLeod that Kyle would one day help the Cubs win a championship.

“That was one of the best pitching performances I’ve ever seen,” McLeod said. “Ever.”

[SHOP: Buy a "Try Not to Suck" shirt with proceeds benefiting Joe Maddon's Respect 90 Foundation & other Cubs Charities] 

The media framed Kyle as The Other Pitcher, even though he won the ERA title this season, with all the pregame buzz surrounding Kershaw, the three-time Cy Young Award winner and 2014 NL MVP. Except Kershaw gave up five runs and got knocked out after five innings, while Kyle only gave up two singles to the 23 batters he faced, finishing with six strikeouts against zero walks and looking like he had even more left in the tank at 88 pitches.

“It was incredible,” Ben Zobrist said. “That was the easiest postseason game we’ve had yet and it was the clincher to go to the World Series. 

“He’s just so good, so mature for his age. He just has a knack to put the ball where he needs to. He’s smart and he’s clutch. He deserves to win the Cy Young this year.”

Where Kershaw’s presence loomed over the entire playoffs, Kyle has always been underestimated, coming into this season as a fourth or fifth starter with something to prove, and even he didn’t see all this coming. But big-game pitchers can come in all shapes and sizes and don’t have to throw 97 mph. 

“He wants the ball,” John said. “Every big game – I don’t care if it was Little League or wherever – he wants the ball. Plain and simple, (he’ll) get the job done.”

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