Bears offense fails with division at stake

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Bears offense fails with division at stake

Once again the Bears offense that spoke of itself all offseason and preseason as explosive is every bit of that -- except in the way that a firecracker is particularly explosive and destructive when it blows up in your own hand.

In another game in which the Bears scored exactly one touchdown, losing 21-13 to the Green Bay Packers, the offense has no one to blame but itself. The Bears netted 190 total yards, converted none of nine third-downs and did to itself whatever the Packers couldnt.

Center Roberto Garza killed a third-and-1 with a flinch on a snap that effectively ended a superb drive at the Green Bay 30 on the first drive. One possession later the offense netted nothing on a drive starting at the Chicago 48.

The offense even occasionally handed the Packers the dagger. The turning point was also an offensive disaster with Devin Hester and Jay Cutler combining for an interception on either a wrong route or wrong throw on a first-down play from the Chicago 37 in the second quarter. Cutler responded by throwing an apparent fit on the sidelines to take care of any remaining composure

The poor plays came from everywhere. Alshon Jeffery was flagged for a push-off on an apparent touchdown on a fourth-and-one. It was fourth-and-one because Matt Forte and the offensive line couldnt get the ball into the end zone from a start of first-and-goal from the Green Bay 5.

No position group was exempt from the follies.

QUARTERBACK D

The onus for the second-quarter interception that was a game-changer will be on Devin Hester but Jay Cutler may have made the mistake in throwing the ball to Green Bay rookie defensive back Casey Heyward. Exact responsibility is difficult to assign but the ball came out of Cutlers hand, as he himself said, and not every poor pass play is on the receivers.

Cutler finished with 12-of-21 passing for 135 yards, a TD (to Brandon Marshall) and the interception, for a passer rating of 72.5, actually a little better than his career mark (60.5) against the Packers. But he again contributed to sacks (four) by holding the ball too long into plays and failing to get throws to receivers on time.

RUNNING BACKS D

Matt Fortes failure to get into the end zone for a touchdown in the third quarter was anemic. He carried three times, the last two for no gain. Forte finished with 20 carries but for a mediocre 69 yards, 3.5 per carry, and that average was 2.5 without one 22-yard run.

Michael Bush was a curious no-show. He was limited in practice with lingering pain from a rib injury but if a player dresses, it is assumed he is ready to play. Or maybe the Bears just already had a full complement of inactives due to injuries.

Forte gave something to the passing game with five catches and a team-high 64 yards. But lack of consistent impact and not getting into the end zone on three tries from the five-yard line in is not elite.

RECEIVERS F

Devin Hester appeared to foul up a route in the second quarter, leading to an interception that turned the game. It was a two-man route and in any case, quarterback and receiver were not on the same page, to use the words of one of them.

Brandon Marshall caught six of the seven passes thrown to him in one of the few games where he was not the No.1 Jay Cutler target (Forte was). He accounted for the Bears one touchdown on a 15-yard catch behind good blocking by Hester to take out two defensive backs.

But the story of the game became Alshon Jeffery, who caught none of the four passes thrown (not always accurately) to him. Jeffery was called three times for pass interference after he himself committed a face-mask grab on cornerback Sam Shield with Shields inexplicably drawing the penalty.

One of Jefferys infractions cost the Bears a touchdown. The last cost them a 36-yard completion to the Green Bay 20 late in the fourth quarter on what was a potential drive for a tying score. Jeffery said afterwards that he needed to see the film of the game to assess what was happening, which says that he needs to work on in-game analysis quite a bit if he wants to solve problems at the time when they matter most.

OFFENSIVE LINE F

The inability to punch in for a score in the third quarter was not all on Matt Forte by any means. The offensive line started the game strong with a solid opening drive running the ball but was thwarted by Green Bay adjustments almost immediately.

James Brown remained as the starter at left guard over Chris Spencer and handled himself well in the first quarter before being beaten on a stunt for a sack in the second. Spencer then replaced Gabe Carimi after Carimi committed a holding penalty to nullify a Matt Forte run late in the first quarter.

Roberto Garzas flinch on a third-and-one was a major setback in a game where the Bears could not afford many. Or any.

Brown was benched in the fourth quarter in favor of Edwin Williams for making too many mistakes. Carimis mistakes got him benched although he said afterwards that the plan was to rotate with Spencer; that appeared to be news to Spencer.

Green Bay had four sacks, of which some were Cutlers fault for failing to get the ball off. But at least two were directly on the protection. Where the Bears turn now for a starting five is an unsolved question.

COACHING F

The plan to attack Green Bay with the run worked early as the Bears controlled the line of scrimmage. The Bears had opportunities and simply did not execute on those.

But the rash of game-changing penalties is laid at the feet of the coaching staff. Those were occurring in every area, from Cutler taking delay penalties or time outs because plays were slow coming in; Jeffery was pushing off over and over; or the line was committing penalties and mistakes that had coaches scrambling for answers.

As White Sox bats heat up, Todd Frazier feeling like himself after bumpy start to 2017

As White Sox bats heat up, Todd Frazier feeling like himself after bumpy start to 2017

Three games do not a comeback make, but Todd Frazier is feeling like his normal self again.

Frazier’s been battling a host of health-related issues since the start of 2017, including injuries to his finger and oblique that hampered him in the spring and most recently a bout with the flu that cost him six of eight games and saw him lose 10 pounds.

But the last three games have been more like it for Frazier, as the White Sox third baseman has gone 4-for-12 with five RBIs, four runs scored, three doubles and a pair of walks. In Tuesday’s win over the visiting Kansas City Royals, Frazier had a pair of doubles, matching his total from his previous 12 games.

“It was weird to start off with the finger on something weird that happened last year and that turned into a cast. And then the oblique. It has been a crazy ride,” Frazier said after Tuesday’s game. “That’s why this game you’ve got to work your butt off in the offseason and be ready now, and I feel like I’m getting back to where I need to be.

“I feel fine. I’m good. I’m trying to lift as much as I can. Maybe a little soreness from lifting trying to gain some muscle and some weight back. Trying to eat as much as I can too as well.”

The time off would be enough to knock someone off their game, but Frazier — who posted career lows with a .225 batting average and .302 on-base percentage last season — was still looking to heat up after struggling to produce through the season’s first few weeks. In his first 10 games, the veteran third baseman slashed just .091/.189/.212 with just three hits and one RBI.

So Frazier has been studying up. The entire White Sox lineup has feasted in the first two games of the current series against the Royals, combining for 22 runs on 29 hits. But Frazier credited his personal success to some of the work he’s been doing.

“Just doing my homework,” he said Wednesday. “I’m just trying to go back and understand what I did in the other years  that made me hit the ball better. Talk to the coaches. At the end of the day, it’s mental, that’s all it is. You’ve been hitting for all these years now, just got to understand to focus.

“We see these pitchers a lot. People always told me, ‘You’ve got the upper hand, you see these guys all the time.’ So let’s start figuring out what they’re throwing.”

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Tuesday night, Frazier served as the White Sox designated hitter, the second time he’s been in the lineup but not in the field this season, matching the number of times he played DH in 2016, his first year with an American League team.

While it presented a change of pace, Frazier had a positive review of something he hasn’t done very often.

“I liked it. Every once and a while I think you need a day like that,” he said. “I think we’ve got a lot of guys that can do it. It was good to get Matt (Davidson) in there at third base, get his body going a little bit out in the field a little bit more. It’s like, ‘You got a day off, you’re DH’ing.’ Not really. You’ve got to keep the body moving, keep staying loose. It worked out well for everybody.

“I did a little heavy lifting in the legs the day before, and Rick (Renteria) didn’t even know about that. I was a little sore, and I was like, ‘Good, I got a little DH spot today,’ which was great for me, and now I can focus on defense, as well.”

In baseball, fortunes can change on a daily basis, so who knows if this will be the start of a surge for Frazier or just a brief spike in a long season. But if the White Sox can get Frazier and the rest of the lineup to keep hitting like they have the past few games, it could mean big things.

“Everybody focused and prepared,” Frazier explained when asked about the big run totals in the last few games. “I think the little things, guys getting here earlier, guys wanting to get out there and take extra work, and the focus and determination that we’ve got going right now is pretty nice. Nobody’s trying to do too much.

“You see our plate approach, you see guys hustling out balls. You watch guys like Avi Garcia, he’s got two big infield singles for him. At the end of the year, you look back at some things like that, a guy hits a one-hopper to second base and beats out a ball. That takes your average from .250 to .260 if you get three or four of those. Examples: Leury Garcia beating out a ground ball, getting a play overturned because of hustle. We don’t lack that this year, and I think that’s something big that we’re working on.

“Win, lose or draw, we’re going to give 100 percent. We know we’ve got Rick Renteria coming in here telling us ‘Nobody’s feeling sorry for you. So pick yourself up. We’re professionals. We’re White Sox.’ I think that’s what we’re going by right now.”

Ryan Pace focusing on 'best player available,' at No. 3: Could that be Deshaun Watson?

Ryan Pace focusing on 'best player available,' at No. 3: Could that be Deshaun Watson?

Last month, Ryan Pace described his day-before-the-draft press conference as being one of the “hardest” he does all year.

With only a little over 24 hours until the Bears go on the clock with the third overall pick in the NFL Draft, the third-year Bears general manager wasn’t tipping his hand while answering the media’s questions on Wednesday.

One of Pace’s overarching points, though, was that the Bears have to focus on taking the best player available at No. 3 Thursday night. Pace said the Bears have three players targeted for that spot, and what the Cleveland Browns or San Francisco 49ers do ahead of them won’t impact their decision.

What also won’t impact the Bears’ decision is the need to draft a quarterback.

“I think you get yourself into trouble if you’re not sticking with our philosophy of best player available,” Pace said. “When you start trying to manufacture things or create things, that’s when teams get into dangerous water. I think if we just stay with guys we have a consensus on and best player available we’ll be in good shape.”

Plenty of draft observers — ESPN’s Mel Kiper, Rotoworld’s Josh Norris, NFL Network’s Mike Manock, CBS Sports’ Rob Rang — don’t have a quarterback in the top three of their respective “big boards,” which are headlined by the likes of Texas A&M edge rusher Myles Garrett, LSU safety Jamal Adams, Stanford defensive end Solomon Thomas and/or Alabama’s Jonathan Allen, among a few others.

But what if the Bears’ consensus is that a quarterback is a top-three player?

Over the last few months, Pace has consistently touted intangibles as being of prominent importance when evaluating a quarterback. At the combine in Indianapolis, he pointed to Drew Brees taking Purdue — a perennial Big Ten bottom-feeder — to a Rose Bowl. Pace, of course, knows Brees’ NFL success well having watched him in New Orleans before becoming the Bears’ general manager. 

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There’s one quarterback in this year’s draft class that could have those intangibles to be considered at No. 3: Clemson’s Deshaun Watson. 

Before Watson took over as a full-time starter in 2015, Clemson established itself as a perennial Orange Bowl contender that’d win 10 or 11 games a year. But Watson took Clemson to a different level, going 28-2 and reaching the College Football Playoff title game in 2015 (a loss to Alabama) and 2016 (a win over Alabama). 

“It's big with every position, the intangibles,” Pace said. ‘That's what I continue to stress to our guys right now, because you can get enamored with these physical qualities or these traits. There's enough good players where we don't need to change our standards.

“I really like our locker room right now. I really like the vibe right now in that locker room with the guys that we have here, it feels good, and I want to continue to add to that vibe and add to that excitement. It's up to me to impress that to our scouts and to our coaches that, hey, we've got to make sure we're adding the right kinds of guys, the right kinds of intangibles to our room.”

If Watson isn’t among the team’s consensus top three, he could fit into one of the “clouds” Pace talked about if the Bears trade down into the middle or later part of the first round. But trading down (or back into the first round) carries risk if the Bears believe Watson could be a franchise-changing quarterback. The No. 3 pick is the highest the Bears have had since the early 1970s, and it’s a position the team hardly wants to be in again.

Pace, of course, wasn’t going to reveal much the day before he and the Bears make a critically-important selection. The Bears know who they want, and Thursday night, so will everyone else.

“There’s been so much that’s come into this since August, so you’ve just trust what your eyes see and don’t over-think it,” Pace said. “Trust your conviction and trust your instincts and trust your gut.

“You can get into trouble right now if you’re up there watching additional tape and doing all that; I think you can over-scout players. By now we’ve got enough opinions. We’ve met with enough players. We’ve been through the Combine and been through the Pro Days and seen players play live. At this point we feel good. I don’t think we’re in a situation where we’re overthinking anything.”