Bears vs. Detroit Lions on MNF: And the winner is...

921101.png

Bears vs. Detroit Lions on MNF: And the winner is...

The Bears and Detroit Lions dont like each other very much. No surprise there; nobody much likes the Lions and their sometimes miscreant ways. NFL officials didnt think much of the Lions last week when they flagged Detroit 17 times and walked off 16 penalties in the game against Philadelphia, won in OT by the Lions.

Its not like I have to bring out the George Halas pep talk to get them ready to play Detroit, coach Lovie Smith said.

Ready will be the key.

Offense ready for next step?

The Bears rank No. 2 in the NFL scoring 29.8 points per game. But that is with five defensive touchdowns in the last three games, without which the average is less than 23 per game.

The offense managed just one touchdown in each game last season vs. Detroit, and even those needed help.

In game two, Matt Fortes six-yard touchdown run came at the end of a drive that started after Julius Peppers forced a fumble that Brian Urlacher recovered and took to the Detroit 16.

The other 30 points in the game came from a Devin Hester punt return, TD interceptions by Charles Tillman and Major Wright, and three Robbie Gould field goals.

The Bears moved the ball reasonably well (359 yards) in the first game but stopped themselves with six false-start penalties.

Since the last time the Bears saw the Lions (in Soldier Field last November) they have muscled up the offensive line mauler Chilo Rachal at left guard, No. 1 pick Gabe Carimi back at right tackle after missing both 2011 games with a knee injury, and JMarcus Webb a long, long way from the false-start machine that the Lions exploited when the teams met in Detroit on a Monday night last Oct. 10.

They have muscled up at wide receiver Brandon Marshall with 35 catches, only two fewer than co-leaders Johnny Knox and Roy Williams had for all of 2011.

And they have powered up overall with Mike Tice as coordinator, with his commitment to running the ball to establish the threat of play action. Tice was at the core of turnaround changes in game planning the past two seasons and the offense right now is statistically ahead of where it was in nearly all key areas from where it was at the time of Jay Cutlers thumb injury last year.

Turning point

Typically it is at about this point of seasons with Cutler, and Tice, that the offense shifts into a bigger gear.

Offensively, I think since Ive been here, weve been learning new offenses pretty much each year and trying to grow with it, so it takes time for those things, Cutler said. Its not like you can just wake up one day and learn a new offense and its just going to click. It doesnt work.

It takes some time for everyone to get a feel for what were doing and know their assignments and experience things, and maybe theyve got to mess a couple things up before they really get it right.

With Green Bay and Minnesota winning on Sunday, the Bears remain the hunted in the NFC North, a division that would be a blown officials call (Green Bay at Seattle) of having three teams in the playoffs if they were starting today.

It should be like that in the division, and when everyone is playing good ball, you have to be ready each play, Smith said. There are a lot of stars for fans to watch in this game. And then to get a chance to play on Monday night. Theres just a lot of things. For us, having played a couple games on the road, were excited about coming back home this week.

And so

Heres how I saw this game and the season to this point back before it all started:

7. Detroit Lions (10-6) Mon., Oct. 22, 7:30 p.m.

Analysis: Character issues are unanswered with the Jim Schwartz Lions, who have talent and went OL with their top pick (T Reilly Reiff) to deal with Julius Peppers. It wont be enough with Detroits problems in the secondary.

Result: W (5-1)

Well, Reiff hasnt been able to unseat aging vet Jeff Backus at left tackle but thats a side story. The Detroit secondary has been helped by the return of safety Louis Delmas from knee surgery but has injury problems at cornerback.

The Lions survived against Philadelphia in part of Matthew Staffords passing and Calvin Johnsons receiving at the finish of a game in which the Eagles proved so inept that they fired their defensive coordinator after the game.

The Bears wont be firing their D-coordinator. They wont have reason to:

Bears 24 Lions 13

Cubs: The Aroldis Chapman Show begins at Wrigley Field

Cubs: The Aroldis Chapman Show begins at Wrigley Field

Rage Against the Machine’s “Wake Up” blasted from the Wrigley Field sound system at 9:51 p.m. on Wednesday as Aroldis Chapman trotted toward the mound. Nothing would get lost in translation as the Cubs unleashed their new closer on the White Sox.

Chapman didn’t feel the full rush of adrenaline, because a revived offense scored five runs in the eighth inning, ending the save situation and any real suspense for the crowd of 41,166. The game within the game became looking up at the 3,990-square-foot LED video board in left field for the velocity reading after each pitch and listening to the oohs and aahs.

Chapman made it look easy against the middle of the White Sox lineup, with 13 of his 15 pitches clocked between 100 and 103 mph in the ninth inning of an 8-1 victory. That triple-digit default setting, fluid left-handed delivery and intimidating presence showed why the Cubs made a game-changing trade with the New York Yankees.

The first impressions from Tuesday’s press conference apparently bothered Chapman enough that he initially refused to speak to the reporters waiting around his locker after his debut. There had been questions about his 30-game suspension under Major League Baseball’s domestic violence policy, the off-the-field expectations from chairman Tom Ricketts and where the wires got crossed with coach/translator Henry Blanco.

After taking a shower – and listening to a few associates inside the clubhouse – Chapman agreed to two minutes of questions with catcher Miguel Montero acting as his translator.

“It happened,” Chapman said when asked about his portrayal in the Chicago media. “Don’t want to go further with it.”

The controversy will begin to fade after Chapman struck out Jose Abreu swinging at a 91-mph slider that almost scraped the dirt, forced Todd Frazier into a routine groundball and struck out pinch-hitter Avisail Garcia looking at a 103-mph fastball.

“It’s just entertaining to watch the gun, beyond everything else,” manager Joe Maddon said. “He’s a different kind of a pitcher. You don’t see that every 100 years or so. He’s just that good. Everybody talks about the fastball. How good is the slider? The slider is devastating.

“He was very calm in the moment. He was able to get through the last couple days to go out there. It was almost good it wasn’t a save situation just to get his feet on the ground.”

Picture the drama and the excitement when Chapman isn’t throwing with a seven-run lead and has to get the final three outs in a playoff game at Wrigley Field.

“I’m not impressed – I thought we were getting a guy that threw 105,” winning pitcher Jason Hammel joked. “I’ve never seen anything like it.

“It’s jaw-dropping. To see that type of velocity and command, it’s almost unfair to have a slider and offspeed pitches after that, too.”

This is what the Cubs envisioned when they decided to weather the media storms and absorb the PR hits, how Maddon could reimagine the entire bullpen and the whole team would sense the game-over feeling when the ball is in Chapman’s left hand.

“That’s a confidence-booster for us and it’s a morale kick for anybody out there,” Hammel said. “For the other side, it’s got to be black clouds: ‘Oh man, we can’t let the bullpen get in there.’”

Cubs felt the inevitable sense of trading a big-time prospect like Gleyber Torres

Cubs felt the inevitable sense of trading a big-time prospect like Gleyber Torres

The New York Yankees directed blanket coverage of the Cubs in the weeks leading up to the Aroldis Chapman deal, looking closely at prospects throughout their farm system. Three names figured to be prominent if the Yankees decided to sell and the Cubs wanted to make a blockbuster trade: Gleyber Torres, Eloy Jimenez and Ian Happ.

The Yankees made Torres their headliner in that four-player return from the Cubs, getting the organization’s top prospect and a supremely talented defensive shortstop out of Venezuela. The Cubs invested $1.7 million in Torres during the summer of 2013, the signing formalized the same day as the Jake Arrieta trade with the Baltimore Orioles.

This has been years in the making for Theo Epstein’s front office, building the first-place team that drew 41,116 to Wrigley Field for Wednesday night’s 8-1 crosstown victory over the White Sox, watching Chapman throw 13 pitches in the ninth inning that hit triple digits on the huge video board, understanding that the Cubs had to sacrifice parts of their future for the now.

“That’s the right word – inevitable – just because of the timing of when we thought we were going to be good,” said Jason McLeod, the senior vice president of scouting and player development. “We all knew as we were doing this that there was going to come that time when you trade the player that you not only feel is an impact-type prospect, but the organization just loves the person.

“Gleyber certainly fits that. That was one of the tougher calls I’ve ever had where we’re trading a guy, just because of how much the kid meant to us personally, and just hearing him, too.

“He was – as you would expect (with) a 19-year-old – shaken up and saddened by it, just because in three short years he had dreamt of nothing but being a Cub and playing here at Wrigley. I just told him: ‘You’ll still be wearing pinstripes. They’ll just be a different (color).’”

The Cubs didn’t want to trade core guys off their major-league roster and have a middle-infield foundation with Addison Russell, Javier Baez and Ben Zobrist. So they gave up a high-floor player from Class-A Myrtle Beach while holding onto Jimenez and Happ and seeking out more possible deals before the Aug. 1 trade deadline.

“All of them would have been hard to swallow,” McLeod said. “But we know that’s part of why we try to stockpile as much talent as we can.”

The Cubs can market Happ as another polished college switch-hitter with first-round pedigree, second baseman/outfielder versatility and an early ETA (already at Double-A Tennessee during his first full season of professional baseball).

Jimenez – who got a $2.8 million bonus out of the Dominican Republic during the same signing class as Torres – enjoyed a breakout performance during the All-Star Futures Game in San Diego and almost has a .900 OPS at Class-A South Bend.

At the age of 19, with a 6-foot-4, 205-pound frame and a smooth right-handed swing, Jimenez reminds the Cubs a little bit of Kris Bryant during his freshman season at the University of San Diego, meaning the sky is the limit.

Tonight on CSN: Cubs-White Sox finale from Wrigley

Tonight on CSN: Cubs-White Sox finale from Wrigley

The Crosstown Classic concludes on Thursday at Wrigley Field as the White Sox square off against the Cubs on CSN Chicago. Coverage begins with Cubs Pregame Live at 6 p.m. Be sure to stick around after the final out to get analysis and player reaction on Cubs Postgame Live.

Today’s starting pitching matchup: Chris Sale (14-3, 3.18 ERA) vs. John Lackey (7-7, 3.79 ERA)

Click here for a game preview to make sure you’re ready for the action.

[SHOP CUBS: Get your Cubs gear right here]

— Channel finder: Make sure you know where to watch.

— Latest on the Cubs: All of the most recent news and notes.

— See what fans are talking about before, during and after the game with Cubs Pulse.