Cardinals not the only Bears hurdle in Arizona

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Cardinals not the only Bears hurdle in Arizona

To their credit, members of the Bears defense have pretty well stayed the loyal course this season as their offense has effectively turned a playoff gimme into NFL survival-reality TV in which the Bears no longer control their own post-season destiny.
 
But the frustration issue is there and can still fester and split the Bears without a turnaround.
 
I think thats a question you have to ask me at the end of the year, said linebacker Lance Briggs. We win these next two games, and we get into the playoffs, and make a run That question is hard to answer right now.
 
The fact that it is, is an answer in itself.
 
We just focus on what weve got to do, said defensive tackle Henry Melton, likely out of Sundays game with a chest injury that has him listed as doubtful. When were out there, we dont really focus on what the offense is doing. Its always great when you hear the crowd go crazy and they put up points, but we play versus the other teams defense. Were trying to outplay them. Thats what we go into the game trying to do.
 
Low-impact offense
 
The Chicago offense will have its problems with a very good Arizona defense. Indeed, this may be a game decided by whichever defense outscores the other.
 
The Arizona Cardinals do not do anything especially well when they have possession of the football one of the few offenses worse than the Bears at this point of the 2012 season.
 
They dont run well (32nd, 80 yards per game). They dont pass well (30th, 184.2 ypg.). Best of all for the Bears purposes: They dont score (16 ppg., 30th).
 
The Bears have not lost to an offense ranked lower than 17th in scoring (Minnesota).
 
All of this has gone down with a coach (Ken Whisenhunt) from the offensive side of the football, the Pittsburgh offensive coordinator when the Steelers reached the AFC Championship (2004) and won a Super Bowl (2005) and who coached the Cardinals to the 2008 Super Bowl.
 
Whisenhunts Cardinals opened the 2012 season with four straight wins in which they scored no fewer than 20 points. Then came nine straight losses in which they scored 20 in none, bottoming out with a 7-6 loss to the New York Jets and 58-0 pasting by the Seattle Seahawks, both on the road.
 
Weve had our share of injuries, and have had to play different players, and I think thats contributed to where we are, Whisenhunt said. Certainly, continuity is a big part of it for us.
 
Troubled position
 
So are problems at quarterback, where Whisenhunt is on his third different starter (Kevin Kolb, John Skelton, Ryan Lindley) and now is faced with salvaging something from the season with Lindley, a sixth-round pick in this years draft.
 
Lindley has started four of the last five games and been woeful: 45.0 passer rating, sacked 10 times, thrown six interceptions and is yet to throw a touchdown pass. The best thing he may have going for him is that the Bears havent seen a lot of him.
 
We prepare for the quarterback position,said coach Lovie Smith. It hurts you if youre playing an option team or something like that, but when youre playing a prototype NFL quarterback, most of them are in the same area.
 
Arizona has failed to convert at least 30 percent of third downs in eight of its 14 games and are converting a league-worst 25.6 percent. The Cardinals are the only team worse than the Bears on first downs (4.2 yards).
 
The clear implication is that the Bears defense is being presented with a chance to get healthy, literally and figuratively. The Cardinals have lost time of possession in six of the last seven games, which bodes well for a defense that has overall played well but needs to have something in its tank to get past the Lions in Detroit next weekend.
 
We have to build on things weve done well, Briggs said. And defensively weve made some plays. Weve done some good things. We need to have more consistency in some of the things we wanted to do. But we know how were going to approach this game.

Fast Break Morning Update: White Sox, Cubs both drop series openers

Fast Break Morning Update: White Sox, Cubs both drop series openers

Here are some of Monday's top stories in Chicago sports:

Preview: Cubs look to bounce back vs. Giants tonight on CSN

White Sox fall to Diamondbacks in series opener

Cubs can't complete another miracle comeback against Giants bullpen

Should Blackhawks' next assistant coach be Joel Quenneville's choice?

How Bears are using veteran videos to school rookies on NFL way

Luis Robert the latest high-end acquisition for White Sox

For Joe Maddon, Cubs winning World Series came down to Giant comeback in SF and avoiding Johnny Cueto in elimination game

Carlos Rodon 'getting closer' but still without time frame for return

Have the Cubs found their new leadoff hitter in Ben Zobrist?

MMQB's Peter King's thoughts on Trubisky, Howard, White and the Bears offense

Theories on why Cubs haven’t played up to their defensive potential yet

Theories on why Cubs haven’t played up to their defensive potential yet

“That’s what we’re supposed to look like,” Joe Maddon said Monday night after a 6-4 loss where the San Francisco Giants scored the first six runs and Wrigley Field got loudest for the David Ross “Dancing with the Stars” look-in on the big video board, at least until a late flurry from the Cubs.

But for a manager always looking for the silver linings, Maddon could replay Addison Russell’s diving stop to his right and strong throw from deep in the hole at shortstop to take a hit away from Christian Arroyo. Or Albert Almora’s spectacular flying catch near the warning track in center field. Or Anthony Rizzo stealing another hit from Brandon Belt with a diving backhanded play near the first-base line.

The highlight reel became a reminder of how the Cubs won 103 games and the World Series last year – and made you wonder why the 2017 team hasn’t played the same consistently excellent defense with largely the same group of personnel.

“Concentration?” Jason Heyward said, quickly dismissing the theory a defensive decline could boil down to focus or effort. “No shot. No shot. It is what it is when it comes to people asking questions about last year having effects, this and that. But this is a new season.

“The standard is still high. What’s our excuse? We played later than anybody? That may buy you some time, but then what?

“The goals stay the same. We just got to find new ways to do it when you have a different team.”

FiveThirtyEight.com, Nate Silver’s statistical website, framed the question this way after the Cubs allowed the lowest batting average on balls in play ever last season, an analysis that goes all the way back to 1871: “Have the Cubs Forgotten How to Field?”

Even if the Cubs don’t set records and make history, they should still be better than 23rd in the majors in defensive efficiency, with 37 errors through 43 games. The Cubs have already allowed 28 unearned runs after giving up 45 all last season.

“We just got to stay on it and keep focusing and not let the miscues go to our head,” Ben Zobrist said. “We just have to keep working hard and staying focused in the field. A lot of that’s the rhythm of the game. I blame a lot of that on the early parts of the season and the weather and a lot of difficult things that we’ve been going through.

“If we’re not hitting the ball well, too, we’re a young team still, and you can carry that into the field. You don’t want to let that happen, but it’s part of the game. You got to learn to move beyond miscues and just focus on the next play.”

Heyward, a four-time Gold Glove winner, missed two weeks with a sprained right finger and has already started nine times in center field (after doing that 21 times all last season). Zobrist has morphed back into a super-utility guy, starting 16 games at second base and 15 in two different outfield spots.

[MORE CUBS: Have the Cubs found their new leadoff hitter in Ben Zobrist?]

Maddon has tried to drill the idea of making the routine play into Javier Baez’s head, so that the uber-talented second baseman can allow his natural athleticism and instincts to take over during those dazzling moments.

The Cubs are basically hoping Kyle Schwarber keeps the ball in front of him in left and setting the bar at: Don’t crash into your center fielder. Like Schwarber and Almora, catcher Willson Contreras hasn’t played a full season in The Show yet, and the Cubs are now hoping Ian Happ can become a Zobrist-type defender all over the field.

“I’m seeing our guys playing in a lot of different places,” Heyward said. “It’s not just been penciling in every day who’s going to center field or right field or left field. We did shake things up some last year, but we did it kind of later in the season. We had guys settle in, playing every day. This year, I feel like we’re having guys in different spots.

“It’s May whatever, (but) it seems like we haven’t really had a chance to settle in yet. Not that we’re procrastinating by any means, but it’s just been a lot of moving pieces.”

The Giants won World Series titles in 2010, 2012 and 2014 with a formula that incorporated lights-out pitching, airtight defense and just enough clutch pitching. The Cubs are now a 22-21 team trying to figure it out again.

“Defense comes and goes, just like pitching,” said Kris Bryant, the reigning National League MVP, in part, because of his defensive versatility. “I feel like if you look at last year, it’s kind of hard to compare, just because it was so good. We spoiled everybody last year. Now we’re a complete letdown this year.”

Bryant paused and said: “Just kidding. Different years, things regress, things progress, and that’s just how it goes sometimes.”