In the desert, some good stuff and a lot of bad facing Bears


In the desert, some good stuff and a lot of bad facing Bears

First the bad news (and theres a lot of it):

A team that spiraled down a nine-game losing streak is usually a doormat. If the Bears regard the Arizona Cardinals as such, they will spend Sunday night explaining a sixth loss in the last seven games.

Arizona bumbled away a 4-0 start because of problems on offense, not defense. Kind of like the Bears. The Cardinals are not in the Bears class at stopping points but they are 11th in scoring defense (21.6 per game). And the Bears have only managed to score that number in one of the past six games, which goes a very long way toward explaining why they lost the other five.

Of some significance possibly is that the Cardinals play a 3-4 defense, and the Bears have scored six (Houston), seven (San Francisco) and 13 (Green Bay) points in their last three games against that scheme.

They show a lot of different looks, theyre not afraid to blitz you and have talented guys in the secondary and linebackers, quarterback Jay Cutler said. They create turnovers, theyre really good on third down so weve got our hands full.

More bad stuff

Some specifics bode ill, or at least challenging, for the Bears.

The offense, what there has been of it, has run through Brandon Marshall. The Packers (twice) and 49ers in particular gave him problems and the Bears lost all three games in dismal offensive performances.

Arizona has an elite cornerback in Patrick Peterson, whose matchup with Marshall rates on the interest scale with Charles Tillman vs. Calvin Johnson.

I got a text message from my college coach that also coached at LSU when he was there and he said, This is the best athlete youre going to go against this year, Marshall said. Ive got my hands full this week. I know hell follow me around a little bit.

I heard some comments he made a week or two ago about how hes playing the best at the position. I agree with him. Watching film now, he really is backing it up. Unfortunately their record doesnt show that. That kind of put a damper on his play right now but hes playing at a high level. This guy is going to be another Pro Bowler.

A little more bad stuff

Defensive end Calais Campbell is 6-8, 300 pounds and has 4.5 sacks, and he likely will be facing off against struggling Gabe Carimi. The second-year right tackle lost his job over failures to block a speed rusher (San Franciscos Aldon Smith); the hope is that other end of the size spectrum is a better matchup.

JMarcus Webb has the task of staving off three-time Pro Bowl selection Darnell Dockett on the other side. Not a good matchup for the Bears.

But the rush nightmare for the Bears is inside linebacker Daryl Washington, who leads the Cardinals with both 120 tackles and 9.5 sacks. Bears' guard play has been spotty at best and rookie James Brown played so badly against Green Bay that he was benched in-game.

We have some guys in place that we think were going to go with, said offensive coordinator Mike Tice. Theyre from the group of guys that played in the game the other days. So well have five guys out there.

The Cardinals, fourth in takeaways with 32 (vs. the Bears 37) have intercepted 13 passes in the last five games, including the three that doomed Matthew Stafford and the Detroit Lions. They rank No. 1 in the NFL in interception percentage and fourth in sacks per pass play, meaning they are precisely what a shaky Bears offensive line and quarterback need with playoff hopes hanging by a thread of a thread.

The last two Bears losses and the one to Houston arguably turned on Cutler interceptions, which has helped quell any ripple of Cutler-for-MVP sentiment that appeared briefly when the Bears were 7-1.

For purposes of comparison, the Bears defense has held opposing quarterbacks to a combined passer rating of 71.4. That is very good.

The Cardinals have held quarterbacks to a combined 68.0. That is even better.

Now, a little good stuff

But for all that the Cardinals have done against the pass, they rank 28th in rushing yards allowed per game and 19th in yards per carry. In six of the losses in the nine-game swoon, opponents rushed for 165 or more yards.

The problem is that the Bears have been as inept running the ball as they have throwing it. They have scored a rushing touchdown (two) in only one of the last six games and the guy who scored those two Michael Bush went on injured reserve this week with a rib injury.

The Detroit Lions lost to the Cardinals last week when they rushed for only 84 yards. The Bears lost to Green Bay and San Francisco with sub-85 rushing totals and the tipping point clearly will be the run game.

Were all searching right now, Tice acknowledged. Theres a lot of what-ifs, is-it-him? but thats the way it is when youve lost a number of games in the last six.

Local product and former fan Jason Kipnis has 'zero conflict' extending Cubs' World Series title drought

Local product and former fan Jason Kipnis has 'zero conflict' extending Cubs' World Series title drought

CLEVELAND — His first loves were Ryne Sandberg, Mark Grace and Sammy Sosa. He believes Steve Bartman is totally innocent. And he’s ecstatic to see the Cubs in the World Series because of what it means to his family and friends.

But don’t mistake any of the Cubs nostalgia that Cleveland Indians second baseman Jason Kipnis is feeling for weakness. When the 112th World Series kicks off between the Cubs and Indians on Tuesday night, the Northbrook native has no issue extending the North Siders’ misery one more year.

“Let me reiterate — there’s zero conflict at all,” Kipnis said at media day on Monday at Progressive Field. “It was like, ‘Why do I have to beat the Cubs?’ Not ‘Why does this have to be versus the Cubs?’ There’s not one part of me that (wants the curse to end). Let’s be clear on that.”

What isn’t quite as certain is Kipnis’ status for Game 1, which starts at 7:08 p.m. CST. The veteran sustained a freak ankle injury — “it wasn’t exactly a mild sprain,” he said — during a victory celebration on Wednesday after the Indians wrapped up their first American League pennant since 1997. Kipnis said the swelling in his ankle has reduced and he’s hopeful to be ready to play “on the biggest stage in front of everyone I know.”

Already pleased with his own accomplishments, Kipnis, 29, said he was overcome with emotion on Saturday night as he read the social media posts of friends and family after the Cubs wrapped up their first trip to the Fall Classic since 1945. Kipnis’ love for the Cubs started early with Sandberg and Grace and flourished with the epic 1998 home run chase between Sosa and Mark McGwire.

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A neighbor of Bartman’s, Kipnis hopes the Cubs reunite with one of the most infamous fans in baseball history now that the club has returned to the World Series after a 71-year absence. Kipnis recalls how the incident made Bartman the talk of the town and how it also required a police presence outside his home in case an overzealous fan took things a little too far.

“He never asked for all the stuff that probably happened to him afterwards,” Kipnis said. “I don’t think he deserved any of that. He’s actually probably a very loyal fan and wanted a foul ball and it was just the way the events turned that turned him into a scapegoat.

“I would love it to see if he threw out a first pitch. Probably everyone would go nuts.”

Despite their love of the Cubs, Kipnis said loved ones refuse to put him in awkward spot. He knows how deep their attachments are and yet Kipnis has never felt any animosity — even if he wants to extend the drought one more year.

“It’s just what I grew up around and it’s just going to be fun,” Kipnis said. “It shouldn’t be a conflict, shouldn’t be nerve-wracking at all. It’s really just one of those professional perfect storms that kind of comes to a player’s opportunity where you get to play in front of everyone you know.

“They’re like, ‘There’s no question who we’re rooting for.’ That means a lot to me.”

Danny Salazar's return gives Cubs another All-Star pitcher to deal with in World Series

Danny Salazar's return gives Cubs another All-Star pitcher to deal with in World Series

CLEVELAND — While official 25-man World Series rosters haven’t been announced yet, Cleveland right-hander Danny Salazar — who hasn’t pitched in the playoffs due to a mild strain of the flexor muscle in his right arm — said Monday he was informed he’ll be a part of the Indians’ efforts to win their first World Series since 1948.

Unless, of course, he has an odd accident (like the infamous drone-related one Cleveland right-hander Trevor Bauer suffered) before Tuesday morning.

“Nothing's official, so if we have another drone incident or anything with model airplanes or anything, we reserve the right until we have to turn it in,” Francona cracked.

So barring another bizarre misfortune befitting of Mr. Burns' softball team of ringers from “The Simpsons,” Salazar gives Cleveland “another really good arm that's kind of a wild card that we think could help us,” Francona said.

The Indians and Salazar aren’t sure how they’ll use the 2016 All Star, but however they do, it’ll likely be in Game 4 in Chicago. Salazar could be in line for an abbreviated start or to relieve rookie left-hander Ryan Merritt, who threw 4 1/3 innings in the Indians’ American League Championship Series clinching win over the Toronto Blue Jays on Oct. 19.

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Salazar, who hasn’t started a game since Sept. 9, said he threw 45 pitches over three innings in a simulated game Sunday and said he’s “ready for everything” in the World Series. He could throw more than 45 pitches if he is called upon as a starter in Game 4 but likely will be on a strict pitch count. His only other limitation is that he hasn’t thrown his curveball while rehabbing yet, though that’s a pitch he only threw 5.1 percent of the time in 2016.

Salazar’s largest weakness in the regular season was an off-and-on lack of control. He issued three or more walks in 11 of his 25 starts. Right-handers had considerably more success against him — a .264/.351/.404 slash line — which could be a positive if Merritt, a left-hander, starts and Salazar is in line to relieve him.

But nonetheless, having to face Salazar adds another wrinkle to the Cubs’ first World Series berth in 71 years, whether or not he pitches out of the bullpen. The 26-year-old led Indians starters with a 27.6-percent strikeout rate, largely using his power changeup to get swings and misses while mixing plenty of mid-90s fastballs and mixing in a few breaking balls here and there.

“He's got unbelievable stuff,” Indians Game 1 starter Corey Kluber said. “That would be definitely an extra weapon to have on our pitching staff.”