Points: Bears struggle scoring, particularly vs. Green Bay


Points: Bears struggle scoring, particularly vs. Green Bay

The tipping point for the Bears in their hope of staving off further disaster and defeating the Green Bay Packers was put in straightforward perspective by their coach last Monday.

Against Minnesota, we put a lot of yards up, said coach Lovie Smith. We did some good things third downs, passing yardage and all that. But its about points and we still havent scored enough points. Its as simple as that.

Nothing about scoring points for the Bears has been simple, however, particularly against Green Bay.

MORE: Bears must worry about more than Rodgers

The Bears have played the Packers close. Six of the last nine games with Green Bay have been decided by seven point or less, meaning most have come down to or play or two. Seconding Smith: Its as simple as that.

Cutler vs. Capers

The biggest single reason among multiple causes that the Green Bay Packers have beaten the Bears five straight times and are favored to make a sixth has been that one quarterback (Aaron Rodgers) has been better than the other (Jay Cutler).

In the eight games with Green Bay since trading for Cutler, the Bears have scored more than 20 points just once and that was in game 15 last season (21) under Josh McCown. They scored 20 in the only Cutler win over the Packers (first game, 2010) when the Packers contributed 18 penalties.

As to why the Packers have effectively owned Cutler, they have a good game plan, Cutler said. Defensive coordinator Dom Capers does a good job of getting those guys prepared and showing different looks and taking away things offenses are good at and what they want to do with the ball.

Maybe it is a Capers thing. Capers arrived in Green Bay the same year the Bears were trading for Cutler. He already had been a problem for Cutler, however.

Capers was a special assistant and secondary coach under Bill Belichick with the New England Patriots in 2008. The Patriots held Cutler to a 64.5 passer rating and intercepted him twice in a 41-7 mauling of the Broncos.

Capers devised a two-man bracketing of wide receiver Brandon Marshall that limited the franchise wideout to two catches and 24 yards, second only to the 2-21 game Marshall suffered through at San Francisco, also a loss on which the Bears scored only one touchdown.

We had a plan and we stuck to it, said Green Bay coach Mike McCarthy. I thought our defensive line played well in the first game. We have a lot of respect for Brandon and his game and what he brings to the table. Hes a target and obviously the favorite target for Jay Cutler.

Marshall was dismissive of the defensive efforts of the Green Bay defense beyond Capers plan. But he dropped a touchdown pass in the game and the fact was that the Bears could not solve the Packers plan.

Just as they failed to solve the Minnesota Vikings.

We also let the team down this past weekend against the Vikings. Marshall said. We had some crucial drops that could have changed the game. That falls on us, that falls on me being one of the leaders in that receivers room, and we have to change it now.

Whither Forte?

The receivers collectively have failed other than Marshalls 101 catches. But the Bears put 441 yards on Green Bay in game 15 last year (yet only two touchdowns) in major part by running 42 times for 199 yards. And that was with Kahlil Bell netting 121 and Armando Allen 40 in place of Matt Forte and Marion Barber.

Most notably, McCown was not sacked. He ran eight times but came off better than Cutler, who was sacked three times in the game-three loss to the Packers.

That worsened to seven sacks in game one this season, in which Cutler threw four interceptions. Coordinator Mike Tice later took responsibility for poor protection scheming, particularly on the edge against Clay Matthews (3.5 sacks) but Forte was given only seven carries. Michael Bush had 14 but is nursing rib injuries and may be of limited value this week.

Its not just one area, said Cutler, himself dealing with neck and reported knee soreness. Ive got to play better, first and foremost and get the rest of the guys up to speed with me. Youve got to run the ball better, pass the ball better, block better theres no one area we cant improve in.

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.”