Bears-Vikings preview: Bears ball

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Bears-Vikings preview: Bears ball

With or without Cutler, Bears O facing myriad problems
The Chicago offense was wobbling with Jay Cutler at quarterback. Without him it crashed under backup Jason Campbell, and Cutlers status for Sunday, because of the concussion suffered in the Houston game, remains a question.
Meanwhile, the problems with the Bears offense extend far beyond the offensive line and its shuffling in the wake of six 49ers sacks. So how bad has it all gotten?
The offense has even reached opposing red zones just twice in the past two games and put points on the board on only three of its past 25 possessions.
The Bears offense has scored just one touchdown in the past eight quarters, that a meaningless score at San Francisco when the Bears trailed 27-0. One of the two field goals managed against the Houston Texans came after a takeaway and scoring drive of five yards for a 51-yard Robbie Gould field goal.
The Bears have not scored on an opening drive of either the first or second half in four straight games. And they still rank 32nd on first-down plays at 4.09 yards per.
If there is a positive here it is that the Minnesota Vikings are sixth-worst, giving up 5.01 yards per first-down plays, which are the ones that start possessions off well or not so well, and which have repeatedly had the Bears starting drives with play-calling options limited from the first snap.
The concerns offensively -- the lack of rhythm, the lack of the fast starts, the lack of success on first down -- are still haunting us, said offensive coordinator Mike Tice. We felt like we had a decent plan going in for San Francisco, playing some smash-mouth, getting into that third-and-medium, giving us a chance to convert to stay out of those long situations and giving those nickel pass rushers a chance to tee off. That didnt happen in that football game.
Will it happen vs. Vikings?
The Minnesota Vikings are not the San Francisco 49ers defensively, even though the Vikings did hold the 49ers to 13 points in a Week 3 win. But they do rank eighth in yards allowed per play and yards per rushing attempt and ninth in yards per pass play.
In short, the 49ers are a top-five defense; the Vikings are top-10 in three very key areas against a Chicago offense that is struggling in just about every area.
The Vikings have forced just 12 turnovers (five interceptions, seven fumbles) and allow 22.1 points per game. In the Bears favor: Minnesota has given up 24 or more points in four of the last five games, 30 or more in three of those.
QB questions
The Bears best hope clearly lies with Jay Cutler being past any concussion symptoms. Cutler has played the Vikings six times and has a combined 100.8 passer rating, with 15 touchdown passes and six interceptions.
Since a 38-10 loss in late November 2009, the Bears have scored 36, 27, 40 and 39 points against the Vikings, with only two of the TDs coming on returns, both by Devin Hester.
Maybe its a touch of familiarity, based on what Cutler sees all during the offseason and training camp.
Minnesotas defense is very similar to the defense we have here: Cover-2, Tampa-2, Tony Dungy kind of coaching tree, similar stuff to what we see here, Cutler said. Jared Allen is a problem for us; weve got to account for him. Good linebacking crew, rest of the D-line is good, and the corners and safeties play disciplined football.
Much of the same that we see out of the Chicago Bears and were just going to have to execute, run the ball well and complete passes when we get opportunities.
Matchup concerns
The last time left tackle JMarcus Webb saw Allen the Minnesota defensive end was flying past him on the way to one of three sacks of quarterback Josh McCown in the Bears 17-13 victory to finish last season 8-8.
Webb has allowed seven sacks, three quarterback hits and 22 hurries so far this season, according to ProFootballFocus.com studies. That is an improvement from last years 14 sacks allowed but not enough for the Bears to leave him alone all evening with Allen, who has seven sacks this season in addition to 24 quarterback hits and 11 tackles for loss.
Definitely we will have chip help, Tice said. He knows that. Were going to have to make sure that we account for him every play, every time we drop back to throw the ball, that hes walled up. We have to make sure we know where he is and find him and make sure we have an answer for that. Thats without a doubt.
But the Bears have other concerns of their own, whether Chris Spencer is a sufficient upgrade over Chilo Rachal at left guard, or if Jonathan Scott replacing Gabe Carimi can stop the hemorrhaging of pass rushers past right tackle.
Brian Robision at left end has 5.5 sacks and 13 quarterback hits. Six-time Pro Bowl tackle Kevin Williams has 14 hits to go with his two sacks.
Vikings coach Leslie Frazier was watching last Monday but you dont want to take what happened on Monday night and say OK, thats the blueprint for success, because not all teams have some of the players that San Francisco has, he said.
The problem for the Bears? The Vikings do have some of the players the 49ers have.

White Sox courting of Luis Robert leads to 'Christmas in May'

White Sox courting of Luis Robert leads to 'Christmas in May'

When he learned last November that elite talent Luis Robert could be available by June 15, Marco Paddy didn’t hold back: It was time for the White Sox make their move.

Much like with Yoan Moncada before, the team’s international scouting director had an extensive history scouting Robert, who on Saturday signed with the White Sox after he received a $26 million signing bonus. After watching him for five years, Paddy believed in Robert enough to recommend the White Sox pay several severe penalties to sign a player the franchise thinks could be an everyday center fielder with power.

By signing Robert, 19, the White Sox must not only pay a luxury tax of almost equal value to the bonus, but they’re also unable to sign any international prospect for more than $300,000 in each of the next two classes. But given the limited competition and the unique talent he saw, Paddy let the White Sox know Robert -- a potential top-30 prospect in baseball -- was a player they couldn’t afford to bypass. Thus begun the team’s courtship, one the Cuban cited as having a major impact on his desire to sign with the White Sox. Now, the White Sox not only have Moncada after trading for him in December, but they also have another potential cornerstone to build around.

“From the beginning we were very serious about it,” Paddy said. “Knowing we weren’t going to have 29 other clubs competing against us was a good thing for us because we knew our competition pool was a lot smaller. We went in it with everything we had and if we missed out on some guys that’s fine, that’s the risk you take.

“It’s a dream come true to be honest with you, having those guys with that kind of ability together. There’s still a lot of work that needs to be done. But I saw Moncada about the same age I saw Robert and it’s like Christmas in May.”

The pursuit of Robert -- a player general manager Rick Hahn describes as a “dynamic, potential talent” -- began in December at the winter meetings at National Harbor, Md. Having learned that Robert would potentially be a late addition to the 2016-17 international class, Paddy asked for a meeting with Hahn, executive vice president Kenny Williams and chairman Jerry Reinsdorf. Paddy and Hahn had previously held several similar state-of-the-international-picture meetings to determine when to make a splash on the market.

This was different.

“Marco approached us and said, ‘This is the guy,’ ” Hahn said.

It was still a “what if” proposition because Robert not only had to establish residency, but he also had to receive clearance from Major League Baseball to be part of the 2016-17 class, a critical factor. Under the old Collective Bargaining Agreement, teams could spend whatever they wanted on a player as long as they paid a luxury tax. But under the new CBA, teams are limited to a maximum of $5.25 million for bonuses.

While the White Sox felt Paddy’s familiarity with Robert would give them a chance if he wasn’t eligible until July 2 (the next class), they knew they’d compete against fewer teams for his services under the old rules. Hahn said back in March the White Sox intended to be a player either way. On Saturday, he said it was Paddy’s initial determination that spurred him into action.

“Marco personally was willing to suffer the penalties that it has on his world for the betterment of the organization,” Hahn said. “Marco’s evaluation and presence and willingness to sacrifice potential future signings for this reinforced the notion that this was the right move to make.”

Then everyone else got involved and the White Sox went overboard to recruit Robert.

If Saturday’s pregame presentation is any indication, the White Sox pulled out all the stops.

As Robert was introduced for his press conference, he sat in front of banners featuring current and former White Sox from Cuba, including Alexei Ramirez, Minnie Minoso, Jose Abreu and Moncada.

Once he was on the field to throw out the first pitch, the team played a short video that was filmed Friday night on the scoreboard with numerous White Sox fans welcoming Robert to Chicago. As Robert trotted to the mound to throw his pitch to Abreu, team employees stood atop the home dugout with a sign that read “bienvenidos” and holding Cuban flags.

But the post-signing efforts were nothing compared to the team’s full-court press of Robert last month.

[MORE: Luis Robert will start journey through White Sox organization in Dominican Summer League]

Hahn and Williams brought several showstoppers with them when they traveled to the Dominican Republic for a private workout with Robert last month. Included were a power point production and an iPad with a video presentation that the White Sox communications department put together in six days, Hahn said. Manager Rick Renteria narrated the short video in Spanish and it included personal messages for Robert from Abreu, Moncada and Michael Ynoa, who shares the same trainer (Edgar Mercedes) and worked out with Robert in the offseason.

“It was a beautiful video,” Robert said through an interpreter. “The part (that stood out) the most was when Ricky Renteria was talking straight to me, saying they need me here to win several championships.”

But more than the video, Robert said the desire displayed by the White Sox made his decision easy. Hahn said the White Sox felt confident heading into the final 24 hours that they were in the lead for Robert. Not only had they bid aggressively, Hahn thought the White Sox made a strong pitch. That feeling only increased last Saturday morning when Robert changed his Instagram avatar to a picture of him wearing a White Sox cap.

“The video helps a lot, but the thing that made me make a decision was who was the team that showed more interest,” Robert said. “That was something that made me feel good.”

Paddy had seen enough in five years to feel confident in pushing the White Sox to be a player for Robert.

He first scouted Robert at the under-15 Pan American Championships in 2012 in Chihuahua, Mexico. Paddy’s interest in the 6-foot-3, 175-pound center fielder only grew as Robert matured physically. Paddy suspected that once Hahn and Williams would be on board once they saw the passion with which Robert played.

Robert described himself on Saturday as player who likes to fight and “give all that I have for my team.” Paddy said it wasn’t a difficult call to push Hahn when he considered the player’s tools and makeup, as well as the last opportunity to spend big on an international talent.

“You put all those things together, it becomes easy,” Paddy said. “As I watched him over the years grow, get stronger and get better, it became evident to me that if we had an opportunity to sign this guy, it would be a good thing for the organization.

“The level of ability, the tools that I saw that he had, and the past and now present, it’s something you don’t see every day.”

Tyler Danish gets win in first big league start as White Sox beat Tigers in first game of doubleheader

Tyler Danish gets win in first big league start as White Sox beat Tigers in first game of doubleheader

Usually when a pitcher walks six batters in one game, it’s an outing to forget.

Not the case, though, for Tyler Danish, who will always want to remember what went down Saturday on the South Side.

After making three relief appearances last season, Danish made his first big league start in the first game of Saturday’s doubleheader against the visiting Detroit Tigers. And despite issuing a sextet of free passes, he allowed a goose egg on the scoreboard, earning his first major league victory in the White Sox 3-0 win.

“That's great. I mean you dream as a kid to pitch in the big leagues,” Danish said. “To get my first win in my first career start was special. I'm glad my mom was here, I'm glad she got to enjoy that. It was a very special day, something I'll always remember.”

Danish got into some early trouble and looked like he might’ve been heading for the same type of sky-high ERA that he put up in his blink-and-you’ll-miss-it call up in 2016, when he turned in a 10.80 earned-run average in 1.2 innings. He walked three batters in the first inning Saturday, escaping thanks to a double play and a bases-loaded ground out to end the inning.

Twice more he had multiple runners on base, but he got out of those innings unscathed, too.

“He was throwing enough strikes that with the sinking action, he was able to get that ground ball in the first inning, the double play,” manager Rick Renteria said after the game. “Then most of the game he was still staying down in the zone. He was missing but just missing off on the fringes of the plate.

“I think he was very composed. The first couple of innings he was a little accelerated but he slowed down. In the end we wanted to make sure he was ready to go out and finish it.”

[WHITE SOX TICKETS: Get your seats right here]

Despite the walks, Danish impressed. In addition to throwing five scoreless innings, he allowed just three hits and struck out seven Detroit hitters. Danish became the first White Sox pitcher to throw at least five scoreless frames and give up three or fewer hits in his first big league start in nearly a decade. The last guy to do it was Lance Broadway in September 2007.

“I definitely was nervous in the first inning. I was expecting it,” Danish said. “I came in and tried to pitch as well as I could with that. But I did settle in after the first couple innings and just started breathing a little more. I felt comfortable and the bullpen did a great job, the defense did a great job.

“I think a little bit of nerves. Obviously you don't want six (walks) every game, but I thought I made good pitches when I needed to. Now, go and enjoy this thing and tomorrow we'll be back again.”

Even though offense was hard to come by, the White Sox hitters managed three runs against an otherwise dominant Michael Fulmer. The reigning American League Rookie of the Year yielded just six hits through his first seven innings of work, the lone run in that span scoring on a bases-loaded double play in the fifth.

The White Sox got to Fulmer slightly more in the eighth with runs scoring on a Leury Garcia triple and a Jose Abreu broken-bat bloop single. Fulmer still finished with fewer than 100 pitches thrown in his eight innings, recording every out for Detroit.

The White Sox bullpen was perhaps the most impressive unit of the game. Chris Beck, Anthony Swarzak, Tommy Kahnle and David Robertson threw four scoreless innings and struck out nine hitters, including eight straight at one point.