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.

Northwestern quarterback Clayton Thorson gets some love from NFL Draft guru Mel Kiper Jr.

Northwestern quarterback Clayton Thorson gets some love from NFL Draft guru Mel Kiper Jr.

Is Northwestern becoming QB U?

Trevor Siemian and Mike Kafka have already been drafted this decade, and Clayton Thorson — the team's current signal-caller — could be next.

ESPN's noted NFL Draft guru Mel Kiper Jr. ranked Thorson as one of his top five underclassman quarterbacks ahead of the 2018 draft.

Now that doesn't mean much right now. Kiper himself dubbed his position-by-position rankings as "way too early." Thorson's stock could soar or fall depending on what happens next season. And Thorson will still have one season of NCAA eligibility remaining after the upcoming 2017 campaign, meaning he might not even be in the 2018 NFL Draft.

But it's solid praise for a quarterback who looked much better in his second season as the Wildcats' starter than he did as a redshirt freshman the year prior.

As a redshirt sophomore, Thorson completed 58.6 percent of his passes for 3,182 yards and 22 touchdowns (fourth in the Big Ten in both of those categories) compared to nine interceptions. Thorson also rushed in for five touchdowns on the ground.

His quarterback rating skied from 95.9 as a freshman to 125.9 as a sophomore.

Now, there's little telling where Kiper might rank Thorson among all quarterbacks for the 2018 draft. He ranked five seniors and five underclassmen, with Thorson ranked fifth among underclassmen, behind Southern California's Sam Darnold, Wyoming's Josh Allen, UCLA's Josh Rosen and Louisville's Lamar Jackson, the reigning Heisman Trophy winner.

But certainly the Northwestern quarterback has captured the attention of draft evaluators and could follow Siemian and Kafka as recent Wildcats signal-callers to hear their name during the draft.

Jose Quintana rocked as White Sox swept by Diamondbacks

Jose Quintana rocked as White Sox swept by Diamondbacks

PHOENIX -- Jose Quintana looked as if he might be on the way to a second consecutive gem on Wednesday afternoon before it quickly took a turn for the worse.

After three perfect frames, Quintana got hit hard in the middle innings and was forced out of the contest. The Arizona Diamondbacks offense awoke from an early slumber against Quintana to complete a sweep of the White Sox, who fell 8-6 in front of 18,002 at Chase Field. The eight earned runs allowed by Quintana are the most he has yielded in a start in two years.

None of what transpired in the first three innings Wednesday offered any indication of what was to come. Quintana picked up where he’d left off on Friday night in Seattle when he combined with David Robertson on a one-hitter.  

His offspeed was diving and Diamondbacks hitters had no chance. Quintana induced checked swing after checked swing and racked up five strikeouts in three innings. He even made a smooth defensive play on Gregor Blanco’s bunt-base hit attempt to start the fourth inning with the White Sox leading 2-0.

But then it all went south.

Nick Ahmed doubled to left and red-hot Paul Goldschmidt doubled to deep center to make it a 2-1 game before Chris Owings tied it with an RBI single. Things only got worse for Quintana in the fifth inning when he hit the first hitter Brandon Drury with a 1-2 pitch. Quintana then left a 1-0 fastball over the middle and Jake Lamb didn’t miss the mistake, driving it the opposite way for a two-run homer and a 4-2 lead. Four batters later, Ahmed doubled in a pair and the rout was on. Goldschmidt’s single knocked Quintana from the game.

[VIVID SEATS: Get your White Sox tickets here]

Owings had a sac fly off Anthony Swarzak to score one inherited run and Drury singled in the other to put Arizona ahead by six.

Quintana allowed eight hits and struck out seven. The eight runs he allowed were the most he’d allowed in a start since the Detroit Tigers tagged him for nine runs on April 19, 2015.

The poor outing raised Quintana’s earned run-average by nearly a point from 3.92 to 4.82. Even though it’s still more than two months until the Aug. 1 nonwaiver trade deadline, Quintana’s inconsistent start to the season has also almost certainly harmed his perceived trade value. Not only has Quintana pitched poorly, but shifts in the plans of other clubs could provide contending teams with more trade options. However, with teams still focused on the upcoming draft and the deadline a way off, Quintana has more than enough time to get back on track.

One player who has continued to stay hot for more than a month now is first baseman Jose Abreu, who blasted his 100 th homer on Tuesday night. For an encore, Abreu matched his career high with four hits, including a two-run homer in the sixth inning that got the White Sox to within 8-4.

Melky Cabrera had an RBI groundout in the seventh inning and Abreu singled in another to make it an 8-6 game. But the White Sox would get no closer.

Leury Garcia’s solo homer in the second inning gave the White Sox an early lead. Abreu doubled in the fourth and scored on a double play to make it a 2-0 lead.

From April 19th on, Abreu is hitting .347/.404/.677 with 10 home runs and 22 RBIs in 136 plate appearances. He’s currently on pace for 36 home runs, which would tie the career high he established in 2014.