Bears' grades: Defense and special teams

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Bears' grades: Defense and special teams

When the Bears defense allows just 248 yards, 160 of those after an initial drive, and the Bears lose, the problem was not the defense (again). But a third straight touchdown drive of 80 or more yards (the last two vs. Seattle and Minnesotas first on Sunday) rocked the Bears on both sides of the ball.

In road games coach Lovie Smith typically prefers to have his defense on the field first in order to take home crowds enthusiasm down. He was handed that situation Sunday when the Vikings won the toss and elected to put Adrian Peterson and that offense out to start the game.

The game was dangerously close to be effectively over with less than six minutes played after the defense was trampled by Peterson, who had a franchise-record 104 yards in the first quarter. The unit rallied and did not allow a score over the final 54 minutes of the game but it was not enough with the offense giving Minnesota help in the form of two interceptions that resulted in scores.

The problem with evaluating this side of the ball in this game was that the numbers were generally in the Bears favor but one good Minnesota drive was one too many.

DEFENSIVE LINE B-

Corey Woottons sack of Christian Ponder was a major momentum bump in the first quarter after Minnesota had scored twice. But it was one of the few times the front four got any real pressure on a shake-able quarterback, who took just one official hit in the game.

Julius Peppers played one of his more active games in recent weeks, particularly with little time off. Peppers led all defensive linemen with four tackles, one for loss.

Being without starting nose tackle Stephen Paea hurt the run defense. Shea McClellin missed a TFL of Peterson that allowed a 14-yard gain in the first quarter. McClellin and Henry Melton (for a while) were out with injuries in the first half, forcing the rest of the group to play heavy snaps and Israel Idonije to spend more time inside at tackle.

The lack of work on Ponder was a significant failure.

LINEBACKERS C

The Vikings went right after fill-in Geno Hayes on the first play and were able to gash the front seven and Minnesota schemes got linebackers on wideouts too often in the first half.

Lance Briggs played a superior game, all over the field in coverage and the Vikings backfield. Briggs finished with 11 tackles, one for loss.

Nick Roach had nine tackles two for loss and performed serviceably in the middle in place of Brian Urlacher. Hayes had three solo tackles, one for loss.

But the overall of 154 yards for Peterson, which started with 51 on the first play of the game, was possible because of both sloppy tackling and some late fills into gaps, allowing Peterson to get up speed and pick up additional yardage after first contact.

SECONDARY C

Kelvin Hayden missed a tackle in the hole that allowed Adrian Peterson to break loose for 51 yards on the first play of the game. Hayden was victimized with a second missed tackle in the first quarter for another first down.

Major Wrights interception late in the second quarter ended a threat and gave the Bears an energy boost going in at halftime.

The group was without Tim Jennings (shoulder) and lost safety Craig Steltz in the third quarter. Charles Tillmans unnecessary roughness penalty in the fourth quarter was simply stupid, a late hit into a pile of down players.

COACHING D

The scheme to stop Adrian Peterson was strangely adequate despite the big yardage total. Missed assignments were repeatedly apparent in all areas, not something that falls to the coaches.

However, the Vikings were able to get wide receivers, particularly Jarius Wright, matched up on linebackers in coverage too many times. Christian Ponder was allowed to be an efficient 11 of 17 even for a pedestrian 91 yards and the Bears were not able to harass him even with blitzes.

SPECIAL TEAMS

Losing kicker Robbie Gould during pregame warmups was a setback but did not figure in the outcome. A lack of impact returns did, however. And Bears special teams had three penalties assessed on the unit.

KICKING B-

Robbie Gould appeared to injure his left calf in pregame, forcing Adam Podlesh to handle kickoffs. Podlesh, whose last kickoff came in his first NFL game in 2007, managed to get a touchback on his opening boot. Podlesh averaged 37.5 yards on his six punts, four placed inside the 20 to assist the defense.

COVERAGE A-

The Bears lost a huge opportunity by forcing a fumble on a second-quarter KOR but failing to find the ball in time to make a recovery at what would have been inside the Minnesota 25. Zackary Bowman flipped a ball back out of the end zone to Eric Weems to put the Vikings at the Minnesota 1 late in the third quarter.

The Vikings fair-caught five punts and the sixth was downed. Their only kickoff return was for 20 yards.

RETURNS C-

Eric Weems handled kickoff returns, not well to just the 17- and 11-yard lines. Devin Hester was part of a mixup fielding a 2nd-quarter punt that went out of bounds at the Chicago 3.

Matt Spaeth nullified a long Weems return with a holding penalty in the third quarter.

Hester averaged 11.6 yards on five punt returns but Weems had no kickoff runback longer than 18 yards and averaged 14.8 on his four returns.

COACHING B-

The punt coverage plans were exceptional, with lanes maintained and the Vikings able to do no damage on any returns. The penalties on the unit reflected some lack of discipline but the unit did nothing to hurt the overall for the day.

2017 NFL Draft Profile: Pittsburgh RB James Conner

2017 NFL Draft Profile: Pittsburgh RB James Conner

As part of our coverage leading up to the 2017 NFL Draft we will provide profiles of more than 100 prospects, including a scouting report and video interviews with each player.

James Conner, RB, Pittsburgh

6'1" | 233 lbs.

2016 stats:

216 CAR, 1,092 YDS, 16 TD | 21 REC, 302 YDS, 4 TD

Projection:

Fourth-to-fifth round

Scouting Report:

"Physical, battering-ram style runner who makes the hitting a two-way affair. Conner's lack of speed and reactive quickness could limit his role as a pro, but his heart, work ethic and ability to keep the chains moving could make him a red-zone specialist with the ability to handle some third down duties as well." — Lance Zierlein, NFL.com

Click here for more NFL Draft Profiles

Reports: New contract extensions for Chris Collins, Pat Fitzgerald at Northwestern

Reports: New contract extensions for Chris Collins, Pat Fitzgerald at Northwestern

It's not difficult to argue that Northwestern's highest-profile programs are in the best shape they've ever been in.

So it should come with little surprise that both head basketball coach Chris Collins and head football coach Pat Fitzgerald are reportedly receiving new contract extensions. Big ones.

A pair of separate ESPN reports Monday evening describe that the Cats' coaches have agreed to extensions that will keep them in Evanston for quite some time.

According to ESPN's Jeff Goodman, Collins and Northwestern have agreed to what Goodman describes as a "lengthy" contract extension, one impressive enough that the reporter suggests only an "elite" head-coaching job could pry Collins away from the Wildcats.

"Northwestern's Chris Collins has agreed to a lengthy contract extension, source told ESPN," Goodman reported Monday afternoon. "Would likely take an elite college or NBA job for him to leave Evanston."

Then there's the tweet from ESPN's Brett McMurphy, reporting that Fitzgerald will be sticking with the Cats for the next decade.

In basketball, a contract bump is no shock considering Collins just accomplished what no one before him ever did in getting Northwestern to the NCAA tournament. The Cats recorded a program-record 24 wins, scored big wins at Wisconsin and at home against Michigan, reached the semifinal round of the Big Ten Tournament and defeated Vanderbilt for the school's first-ever NCAA tournament victory.

Collins' work in his four seasons has been nothing short of remarkable, taking a perennial Big Ten basement-dweller of a program, bringing in the highest-rated recruits the school has ever seen and turning the Cats into a winning program in the league.

And that ascension could very well reach more new highs next season. Four of the team's five starters from this past season are returning — senior guard Bryant McIntosh, senior guard Scottie Lindsey, junior forward Vic Law and junior center Dererk Pardon — plus the team gets back an injured starter from the 2015-16 campaign in sharpshooter Aaron Falzon, not to mention several returning reserves.

On the gridiron, Fitzgerald has enjoyed perhaps more success than any Northwestern head football coach ever has, the head man for two of the four 10-win seasons in school history. In his 11 seasons, he's won 77 games and taken the Cats to seven bowl games, winning two of the last three of those postseason appearances, two of the three bowl wins Northwestern has ever had.

And just like Collins, Fitzgerald could be on the cusp of one of his most successful seasons. Running back Justin Jackson returns for his senior season this fall after leading the Big Ten in rushing last year, and junior-to-be Clayton Thorson looked much improved in his second season. The Cats are riding high this offseason after scoring a big 31-24 win over Pittsburgh in the Pinstripe Bowl and could be one of the top teams in the Big Ten West in 2017.

Both programs are also getting brand-new facilities, with football getting a sparkling new facility on the lakefront and basketball getting a completely renovated Welsh-Ryan Arena.

These are big times for Northwestern athletics.