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.

Can Deiondre' Hall overcome on- and off-field hurdles to make an impact with Bears?

Can Deiondre' Hall overcome on- and off-field hurdles to make an impact with Bears?

Rookie Deiondre' Hall flashed in the preseason a year ago, leading the Bears coaching staff and fans to believe they found something amidst their trio of 2016 fourth round draft picks. 

He’s hoping to do the same this August after overcoming one physical hurdle, while waiting to see if he can get past a legal hurdle he created for himself.

Let’s start on the field, where, just days after his first NFL interception in the fourth game last season, he sustained an ankle injury in practice, sidelining him for two months. Once his walking boot and scooter were finally put away, he was active for the final four games. But what progress he’d been making on the field was difficult to recapture.

“Just coming off the injury, there was a little rust here and there, but the training staff here’s great and I had to push through it,” Hall said at last week’s minicamp in Lake Forest after he was one of numerous Bears hit by the injury bug, but not one of the 19 who wound up on Injured Reserve. “(I was) getting comfortable with the defense and in myself playing with those guys out there, getting the opportunity in the red zone and making plays. But the injury kinda sucked because I haven’t really had an opportunity to play since Week 5, so I’m not necessarily starting fresh.”

As the offseason unfolded, Hall was informed the coaching staff was going to try him at safety, if not permanently, then as an option for the 6-foot-2, 201-pound Northern Iowa product. 

But Hall’s not totally foreign to the position. He was a free safety his first year in college, then transitioned to outside linebacker/nickel as a sophomore, moved to cornerback as a junior before breaking his hand his senior year, playing through it back where he started at safety. So the decision wasn’t a big deal, especially if it enhances his chances to get on the field. But his preference?

“Defense. Opportunity,” Hall responded. “You get in where you fit in and the more you can do, the better it is for the team. If opportunity presents itself at corner, then I’m at corner. But right now at safety, I’m making strides (there) and keep pushing for that.”

“We’re gonna float him back and forth,” defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said last month, after the Bears signed free agent cornerbacks Prince Amukamara and Marcus Cooper in the off-season, while Bryce Callahan and Cre’Von LeBlanc are expected to battle for slot duty and former first-rounder Kyle Fuller and veterans Johnthan Banks and B.W. Webb hope to impress. “He (Hall) had some experience there in college. When it comes down to picking your team and you’re taking nine or 10 DBs, if someone’s got versatility to play both of those spots, that helps, so we’re gonna see if he’s one of those guys.”

But before Hall gets back to work in Bourbonnais, he’ll find out if he has some other dues to pay. Hall was back at his alma mater’s Cedar Falls campus March 26th when he and a former UNI teammate were arrested outside a bar called Sharky’s. Police had responded to a call, and by the time all was said and done, Hall needed to be tased before being arrested on charges of public intoxication, interference (with an arrest), and disorderly conduct. 

The case was continued late last month and Hall’s jury trial is scheduled for July 11th. Pending the outcome, he could face disciplinary action from the team and the NFL. He’s told his side of the story to Bears management and while expressing remorse for putting himself in the situation, Hall says it wasn’t in character and feels confident in what the outcome will be.

“People make mistakes and the truth always comes out,” the 23-year-old said, adding the situation isn’t weighing on his mind or affected his preparation in off-season workouts. “You gotta let people make their own mistakes. I won’t shed light but the truth always comes out, and (I’ve learned) just don’t take anything for granted.”

“My main focus is football and keep pushing to make strides to become good, and great.”

Saad Day: Blackhawks deal Artemi Panarin for familiar face

Saad Day: Blackhawks deal Artemi Panarin for familiar face

When the Blackhawks found Artemi Panarin, they found a talent who was NHL ready from the start, who found instant chemistry with Patrick Kane and earned a Calder Trophy as the league’s top rookie. It was also a tremendous panacea for a team that couldn’t pull off a deal to keep Brandon Saad, who was the power forward that fit in beautifully in the Blackhawks’ top six.

On Friday, the Blackhawks brought Saad back and dealt Panarin to do it.   

Saad returns to the Blackhawks, who also acquire goaltender Anton Forsberg, in exchange for Panarin and Tyler Motte. The Blackhawks also get the Blue Jackets’ fifth-round pick in the 2018 NHL draft and the Columbus gets Chicago’s sixth-round pick from this weekend’s draft. Elliotte Friedman was the first to report the deal. The Blackhawks inherit Saad’s deal, which has four years remaining at a $6 million cap hit. Panarin was about to enter his current deal, which is two years with a $6 million cap hit. This is key for the immediate future; when Panarin’s latest deal is up, if he keeps up at his current pace, he’ll likely sign for a lot more.

[MORE: Blackhawks deal Hjalmarsson to Arizona]

The Blackhawks have missed Saad terribly since his departure. The team has struggled to find consistent line mates with Jonathan Toews, especially at that left-wing position. They did fairly well with Nick Schmaltz and Richard Panik flanking Toews this season but it wasn’t as strong as the Saad-Toews combination. So it looks like the Blackhawks’ top line will be solidified again.

Now, what about the second line? As good as Toews and Saad’s chemistry was, Panarin’s and Kane’s was dynamite. The two had their respective skill, which they flashed often, and their ability to read each other was evident from the start. The Blackhawks’ second line was as consistent and steady the past two seasons as the top line was during Saad’s time here.

So, there are changes. The Blackhawks will absolutely miss what Panarin brings. But as far as bringing back a former Blackhawks player who could help in the present, getting the 24-year-old Saad back will be very beneficial.