Miller: Bears' offense may be better than you think

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Miller: Bears' offense may be better than you think

The 23-22 victory over the Panthers can be summed up pretty simply: Chicago had three turnovers in the first half which killed drives, then killed five more drives the rest of the game by simply dropping passes. Its hard to log yardage and score points when eight total drives were essentially wasted by nothing more than lack of execution. Brandon Marshall, Devin Hester, Matt Spaeth and Jay Cutler all played a role, but they also all turned on the offensive switch when the Bears needed to score.

As of right now, Chicago boasts a top ten rushing offense averaging 124 yards per game. The Bears will soon face two highly ranked teams in terms of rushing the football: No. 6 Houston (140.9 ypg) and No. 1 San Francisco (166.6 ypg). Both teams are similar to Chicago in that they aim for the early lead and pound opponents into oblivion running the football.

That wasnt the case for the Bears this past Sunday as the offense was forced to throw the ball to get back into the game. When a team is down two scores--as the Bears were 19-7 with only 5 minutes to go in the game--the running game is placed on the back burner.

It does hurt the Bears not having wide receiver Alshon Jeffery in the lineup. Jeffery is still third on the team in receptions with 14 and two touchdowns while recovering from a hand injury. The Red Zone presence of Jefferys game is what is sorely missing.

As for explosive offense, the Bears are right where they need to be and it will only get better. The Bears have 22 explosive plays of plus-20 yards. San Francisco has 24 and Houston has less than the two teams with 18. Everyone thinks the Packers are an explosive offense, well guess what? The Packers offense is tied with the Bears with only 22 plays of plus 20 yards. The Bears only have one while San Francisco (4), Houston (3), and Green Bay (4) have all hit on some big passes. If Cutler leads Marshall on the deep first quarter post route against Carolina, its a touchdown and not an interception. Its a game of inches but the Bears are close to hitting on those plays and its encouraging seeing them attempted.

Yes, the Bears' schedule gets tougher moving forward, but so will their offense. They have proven they can come from behind throwing the football when down two scores, and Houston and San Francisco have not. How did Houstons two minute drill look in their 42 to 24 thrashing by Green Bay? How did San Francisco look coming from behind verse the Vikings (24-13) or the Giants who lambasted San Francisco 26-3? All three of them were losses when playing from behind and forced to throw the football.

The Bears have the advantage, along with their great defense.

Morning Update: Cubs pick up win No. 101, Sale leads White Sox past Rays

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Morning Update: Cubs pick up win No. 101, Sale leads White Sox past Rays

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John Lackey sees Cubs lining up for World Series run: ‘It’s all here’

John Lackey sees Cubs lining up for World Series run: ‘It’s all here’

PITTSBURGH — The Cubs have so much going for them, all this blue-chip talent, a clubhouse mix of young players and grizzled veterans, arguably the best manager in the game, an impactful coaching staff and a front office that blends scouting and analytics as well as anyone.

So, no, John Lackey is not at all surprised by the way this clicked into place, 101 wins and counting for the machine built with October in mind.

“Not really,” Lackey said after Tuesday night’s 6-4 victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates. “I had some pretty good offers from other people, and I chose this one for a reason. It’s all here.”

But to win the World Series — and get the jewelry Lackey talks about — you still need some luck, good health and the guts to perform in those Big Boy Games. That reality of randomness and matchups made a pregame announcement some 250 miles away from PNC Park so telling.

Washington Nationals catcher Wilson Ramos tore the ACL in his right knee, ending his MVP-caliber season. The National League East champions will lose a .307 hitter with 22-homer power from the middle of their lineup and a veteran presence for a playoff rotation that will likely be without injured ace Stephen Strasburg (right elbow) in the first round.

“That’s a tough one when you lose your catcher, a guy who’s that significant for the pitching staff,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. “Think about the pitching staff — it’s so different when you know the guy back there is your guy and he knows what’s going on. The communication’s different. The trust factor, all that stuff is different.”

[SHOP CUBS: Get your NL Central champions gear right here]

Within that big-picture context, the Cubs survived as Lackey limited the checked-out Pirates (77-80) to one run across five innings in his fifth start since recovering from a strained right shoulder and coming off the disabled list. Maddon then used six different relievers — staying away from Pedro Strop, Hector Rondon and Aroldis Chapman — during a three-hour, 49-minute game that felt more like the Cactus League.

After defecting from the 100-win St. Louis Cardinals team the Cubs bounced out of last year’s playoffs, Lackey finished the regular season at 11-8 with a 3.35 ERA and 188 1/3 innings.

“I’m going to get to 200,” Lackey said.

Beyond wins and losses, Lackey called this season his career best in terms of “those numbers that they’ve made up in the last few years” like WHIP (1.04) and opponents’ OPS (.646) and whatever. And, no, he doesn’t know his WAR, either: “Not even close.”

Yes, the Cubs got the old-school attitude they wanted when they signed Lackey to a two-year, $32 million deal before the winter meetings. For all the talk about the pitching deficit and the New York Mets after their young guns swept the Cubs out of last year’s NL Championship Series, the Cubs are getting their money’s worth with a guy who will turn 38 in October.

The amazing Mets have lost three of those frontline starters — Matt Harvey (thoracic outlet syndrome), Jacob deGrom (nerve damage in his right elbow) and Steven Matz (bone spur in his left elbow) — and are still holding onto the first wild-card spot, which says something about this playoff field.

This doesn’t guarantee anything in October, but the Cubs are just about as close to full strength as they could reasonably hope now. Instead of the silence that would have come with losing an irreplaceable player like Ramos, the sound system in the postgame clubhouse blasted Snoop Dogg, Dr. Dre and Notorious B.I.G. after their 101st win.

“Yeah, we lost Dexter (Fowler) for a bit,” Maddon said. “We lost (Kyle) Schwarber all year. Otherwise, when a couple pitchers got banged up, whether you’re talking about Rondon or Strop, I don’t think that our injuries have been as magnified because we’ve covered them pretty well.

“We still had our moments, like everybody else has. But when you get to right now, we’re getting well, and hopefully that trend continues. But to lose somebody of that magnitude for them, that’s got to be difficult.”