Late rally improves offensive grades


Late rally improves offensive grades

The end game will overshadow the middle game but the Bears (6-1) didnt so much defeat the Carolina Panthers (1-6) as escape them.

The 210 total yards of offense were the second-lowest to the 168 at Green Bay. The 25-percent third-down conversion rate was the seasons worst and put the defense back on the field too often too soon.

Because the Panthers werent kicking off deep to Devin Hester, the offense was effectively handed the ball at no worse than the Chicago 34 on four possessions and at the 45 after an interception. On none of those possessions was the offense able to manage even a field goal and only on one did the Bears run more than three plays.

Ball security was one of the strengths of the Chicago offense through the previous four wins and the seeds for disaster were planted when Jay Cutler lost the ball on a first-quarter sack. He proved that was no fluke by doing it again late in the second quarter.

The offense combined to have Cutler sacked on six of his 15 drop-backs in the first half. In one stretch, the Bears went three-and-out on six of seven possessions, two of those ending with fumbles.


Heres how well do this: An F for Jay Cutlers first three quarters, an A for the fourth, and a win for the .

Credit Cutler with his first come-from-behind win of the year, saving the game with a fourth-quarter drive after posting a passer rating of 37.8 through three quarters. His 12-for-14 passing in the fourth quarter, however, was franchise-grade stuff.

Cutler turned in the worst first half since his nine-sack nightmare at the Giants in 2010: six sacks, two fumbles, poor decision-making. Of nine passes thrown, seven were to Brandon Marshall, covered or not, and none to Devin Hester or Earl Bennett.

Cutler created problems for his line by holding the ball too long, contributing to four sacks in the first half, three in the first three possessions, and six overall. Cutler also squandered a potential drive by forcing a deep throw to Marshall into double coverage.

Half of Cutlers 28 attempts went toward Marshall. It wasnt working particularly well too often.

The real measure of a quarterback is winning even when he isnt playing well. Cutler did that, although needing Robbie Gould to hit a 41-yard field goal to finish it was far from dominant.


Matt Forte established the run in the first quarter and with 61 yards in the first half, then was shackled with four carries for just nine yards in the second. His five catches on five targets, however, was crucial even if not producing big yardage (24). Forte provided some help in pass protection but was never a consistent factor after the first quarter (five carries, 44 yards).

Michael Bush was used sparingly, with three carries for net five yards, and did not catch a pass.


Like Cutler, the overall evaluation has to be weighted toward the fourth quarter. Cutlers inaccuracy for three quarters was not helped by drops by tight end Matt Spaeth and WR Devin Hester. But tight end Kellen Davis highlight-reel TD catch was a big grab in the fourth quarter with the game on the line.

Earl Bennett didnt see a ball thrown to him in most of the first three quarters, then jump-started the offense with catches of 24 and 11 yards on consecutive plays. Bennett caught three of the four passes thrown to him and his yards after the catch were pivotal in extending the plays.


Six sacks allowed in the first half, zero in the second. But 64 rushing yards in the first half, 15 in the second. A potential F performance was saved by protection when it mattered.

Run blocking early was strong, with tackles Gabe Carimi and JMarcus Webb sealing edges and left guard Chilo Rachal road-grading on two pulls for big gains that established the run. Pass protection needed to improve but early sacks were more Cutler and coverage than protection debacles.

A Roberto Garza false start hurt momentum in the fourth-quarter and the Bears failed to convert the resulting third-and-long on the first good possession in more than two quarters.

The Panthers slanted their line similar to the plan used by the Detroit Lions. The Bears had trouble with it in the first half but made enough tweaks in the second to keep Cutler from being obliterated.


A gameplan was difficult to discern, whether for reasons of confusion or execution, more likely both. But the six sacks in the first half were troubling for a variety of reasons involving planning by both the line and quarterback getting rid of the ball.

The offense never established any rhythm, not surprising given the number of three-and-outs beginning late in the first quarter.

Fantasy Football Start/Sit: Week 8

Fantasy Football Start/Sit: Week 8

We're living in a bizarre age of fantasy football.

Each week we're questioning whether or not we should start players such as DeAndre Hopkins and Todd Gurley. At the same time, we're making room in our lineups for Jacquizz Rodgers, Ty Montgomery and Terrelle Pryor.

Down is up and up is down.

If you have any questions, hit us up on @CSNFantasy and tune in to our weekly Fantasy Fix Facebook Live show every Thursday.

Let's get right into the Week 8 Start/Sit and as always, Liam Neeson has a message for you:


Devontae Booker, RB, DEN (vs. SD) - With the news that C.J. Anderson is likely done for the season with a torn meniscus, Booker has turned into a must-own/must-start running back. The rookie out of Utah is averaging an impressive 4.8 yards per carry in limited time, and now moves into the starting role in Gary Kubiak's running back friendly offense which ranks seventh in the NFL in rushing attempts per game. Booker is a no-brainer this weekend against a Chargers defense which has allowed the fourth-most rushing touchdowns in 2016. (Scott Krinch)

Ryan Fitzpatrick, QB, NYJ (@ CLE) - I'll get criticism for this prediction, but Fitzpatrick should be a firm QB1 in Week 8. The Browns are always on the fantasy radar as a friendly opponent for quarterbacks, which is the team Fitzpatrick draws on Sunday. Cleveland hasn't allowed less than two passing touchdowns in any game this season, and have given up three scores to opposing signal callers four out of the last five weeks. This is a layup for Fitzpatrick owners. (Krinch)

Ty Montgomery, WR/RB, GB (@ ATL) - Fantasy players were given an early stocking stuffer when Montgomery was granted running back eligibility in the majority of leagues. It doesn't matter which position you want to insert Montgomery in, he just needs to be in your lineup at all costs. With 20 receptions on 25 targets and 12 carries for 66 yards in his last two games, Montgomery is turning into one of the league's most valuable fantasy commodities. The Packers opponent this weekend, the Falcons, have allowed the second-most receptions to running backs. Look for Montgomery to take advantage in that area. (Krinch)

[SHOP BEARS: Get your Bears gear here]


Alshon Jeffery, WR, CHI (vs. MIN) - Jay Cutler's thumb has mysteriously healed and it's time for Jeffery to become a Top 10 wide receiver, right? Not exactly. I like Jeffery's outlook for the remainder of the season, but for this week and this week only, I'm staying clear of him. The Vikings defense presents a major mismatch for the Bears offense, and Jeffery will be in for a long night against a Vikings which ranks No. 2 against opposing wide receivers. (Krinch)

Matthew Stafford, QB, DET (@ HOU) - Stafford is having an MVP-caliber season and in the midst of one of the best stretches of his career so I know I'll get a lot of flack for benching him. Don't get me wrong, I'm a big Stafford fan and think he's one of the best fantasy bargains in 2016. I just expect him to be more of a game manager against a stingy Texans secondary. Look for Stafford to keep the turnovers at a minimum and for the Lions to establish a ground attack, limiting Stafford's fantasy value for this week. (Krinch)

Jonathan Stewart, RB, CAR (vs. ARI) - The forgotten man in most fantasy circles — despite routinely finishing each season as a Top 20 running back — is going to keep that label this weekend. The Cardinals front seven has been a nightmare for opposing running backs, and I expect it to be no different on Sunday. If the Cardinals get up big — a very good possibility — it's going to be a game of catch-up for the Panthers offense which will limit Stewart's touches. (Krinch)

Adjusting to bench role, Nikola Mirotic made big defensive play to seal Bulls win

Adjusting to bench role, Nikola Mirotic made big defensive play to seal Bulls win

Anytime Nikola Mirotic is on an island defensively in a crucial moment of a game, there’s a general sense of nervousness and doubt that’s palpable inside the United Center.

So imagine everyone’s surprise when Mirotic defended Boston Celtics rookie Jaylen Brown well enough to force a travel in the final minute of the Bulls’ 105-99 win Thursday night.

With the Celtics down two, Brown started his drive from the top of the key and pivoted back to his right. When he rose up for a jumper or pass, Mirotic was right in his face and Brown, a talented rookie playing in his second NBA game, didn’t know where to go.

He came back down with the ball still in his hands for a traveling violation, and the stage was set for Dwyane Wade’s closing heroics.

Wade, the closer was set up by Mirotic, the stopper—well, let’s not go that far just yet.

“I tried just to play good defense, to make him drive the ball because we want him to shoot a contested shot,” Mirotic said. “It was big-time defense. We needed that one. After that, Dwyane Wade has huge stop and made that 3. It’s a team job, team defense. I was just trying to be a part of that. I’m very happy about the game.”

In all fairness, Brown is a rookie and the Bulls would rather not see Mirotic in a one-on-one situation late in games defensively. But it appears as if Fred Hoiberg will give him the opportunities to close games so Mirotic will find himself in instances where he’ll have to make plays on both ends.

Hoiberg called it the defensive play of the game, and agreed with the assessment of Mirotic being an underrated defensive rebounder despite his struggles on that end of the floor.

[SHOP: Gear up, Bulls fans!]

“It just goes to show you even when your shot isn’t falling, you can still have a positive impact,” Hoiberg said. “I loved his attack. He was getting in the paint and got some offensive rebound tip-ins as well so just overall solid game.”

Although Hoiberg had to make the decision to insert Taj Gibson as a starter at power forward over Mirotic, it’s not hard to see scenarios like Thursday where both are together to close games—Mirotic will be needed to spread the floor for Wade and Jimmy Butler to create shots in one-on-one situations.

Mirotic missed five of his six 3-point shots but was flawless inside the line, scoring 15 with nine rebounds.

“To be honest, I didn’t feel very comfortable with my 3-point shot,” said Mirotic, although Hoiberg said Mirotic’s attempts were good looks. “I tried to find a way to score, make an impact on the game---rebound the ball, play unselfish. My goal was to play good defense because I know that’s the next step.”

Getting over the idea of losing a starting job many believed would’ve been his given the composition of the roster seems to be behind Mirotic, who was a starter last season before acute appendicitis forced him out of action before the All-Star break.

“It doesn’t feel right to be honest. But no disappointment. It is what it is,” Mirotic said. “I want to not think and be focused and play my game. Now that I come from the bench, it’s like, ‘All right, figure out how you’re going to do that, how you’re going to help your team and play well.’”

Gibson and Mirotic were the only Bulls to shoot over 50 percent, as Gibson’s strong preseason play carried over to the opener. Make no mistake, if the Bulls are to exceed modest expectations, Mirotic will have to step up, as his production is no longer a luxury.

“It’s going to be a long season. But I told Fred it’s no problem,” Mirotic said. “I respect your decision. Taj is an amazing player. He’s playing so good. He’s in great shape. He deserves to be the starter. He has played a lot of years here. So I respect that. I’m cool with that. What I want to do is play my game, improve this year, make my team win more games. That’s all I can do.”