Bears' defense back to its old ways

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Bears' defense back to its old ways

DETROIT Once again the Bears managed to keep All-Pro receiver Calvin Johnson from running amok in their secondary. The Detroit Lions put 327 yards on the Bears defense and converted half of their 14 third downs but needed Matthew Stafford throwing 42 times to stay close to the Bears.
DEFENSIVE LINE B-
Israel Idonijes sack and forced fumble recovered by Julius Peppers was a huge turning point in the second quarter, setting up a TD on a 10-yard drive. The rush harassed Matthew Stafford with some consistency and forced the fumble and an interception despite registering just two hits (Peppers, Corey Wootton).
LINEBACKERS B
Nick Roach finished with a team-high eight tackles and a pass deflection. Lance Briggs added six tackles, one for loss, and the Bears allowed no run longer than 13 yards, limited Mikel Leshoure to 57 yards on 15 carries (3.7).
SECONDARY C
The Lions found openings for a first-quarter drive that included third-down conversions but was stopped for a field goal. Consistent tackling was a problem.
Tim Jennings intercepted his ninth pass of the season in the second quarter to set up a scoring chance and the overall coverage of Calvin Johnson was excellent again. Johnson had just two catches (on eight targets) in the first half and finished with five for 72 yards and zero touchdowns, leaving him with five for the year.
COACHING B
The Bears offense could not put the game out of Lions reach, forcing the Bears to play under pressure throughout. Several lapses, however, allowed the Lions back into the game after falling behind 20-3 in the first half. Breakdowns on third downs were alarming.

SPECIAL TEAMS
Special teams gave the offense a gift with a fumble-recovery on a Detroit kickoff return and kicking was crucial in a surprisingly close game against a poor team.
KICKING A-
Olindo Mare converted four of five field goal tries, missing wide right from 43 yards. Adam Podlesh was superb with four of five puts inside the 20 and one touchback, all with a 43.8-yard average.
COVERAGE A
Joe Anderson forced a fumble and is a clear favorite to land a roster spot next season, and Eric Weems recovered the ball on the first-quarter kickoff. Coverage units were in position on punts but did allow Joique Bell to average 27 yards on two kickoff returns.
RETURNS D
Devin Hester continued his season of undistinguished returning and sometimes that would be putting it politely. His failure to get the second-half kickoff beyond the Chicago 5 was appalling and gave the Lions a shot at momentum after theyd closed the first half with a TD. Hester finished with a 19.7-yard average on kickoff returns but was no threat to the Lions.
COACHING B
The Bears were prepared and allowed the Lions few seams or opportunities in the return game in a game that was one-score through much of the second half.

Jordan Howard wants to lead Bears... and lead the league

Jordan Howard wants to lead Bears... and lead the league

So Jordan Howard finished second in the NFL in rushing in his rookie season, despite just a dozen carries in the first three games. The fifth-round pick joined the man who beat him out for the rushing title, Ezekiel Elliott, as one of just five rookies in history to average five or more yards per carry on over 250 carries. And he set the Bears' rookie rushing record with his 1,313 yards while becoming just the fourth in franchise history to rush for that many yards in a season.

Sounds pretty hard to top, like we might be set up for the dreaded sophomore slump.

But...

"Things are a lot different this year because I know what to expect," Howard said during the team's minicamp two weeks ago. "I know all the plays and things like that. I’m not out there thinking, so I can just play free and fast.

"I definitely feel like a veteran 'cause I know what to expect and can help the young guys on the plays that they're not understanding. I’m just more comfortable and want to be a leader."

One of the other things we learned about Howard last year is he's low-key, a man of few words. So the Indiana product by way of UAB will make his points verbally when needed, but his actions will speak louder.

"He was a rookie a year ago and didn't even go in trying to be a leader, telling a five-year guy what was up," said head coach John Fox. "I think with time, and obviously with production like he had, I think it's a role he can fall in to. We're in a performance-based business and even in that locker room, what they do on Sundays gives them some credibility."

One of the concerns about Howard coming out of college was durability, but he answered the bell once he became the starter in week four against Detroit. And he probably wasn't used nearly as much as he should have. The good news about that is he was subject to less wear and tear, averaging just 18 carries per game from that Lions game on.

But besides taking more of a leadership role, Howard wanted to work on his speed without sacrificing the strong base that, paired with keen vision and work by the offensive line, allowed him to hit holes quickly and charge toward the second level of opposing defenses.

"Just improving on the little things – my conditioning, my weight, catching passes. And looking for ways to finish runs better," says Howard. "I feel like I’m in much better shape than I was at this time last year, a little more toned-up."

"It's just training," said Fox. "When you get to that it's more like track speed than football speed and I think he proved pretty worthy of that a year ago as a rookie. Y'know we all can improve on things, and that's the expectation. He's trained hard.

"This time of year last year he wasn’t even practicing," Fox remembered. "I like where we are, we’ve brought in more competition, and he’s better for it. He’s kind of gotten used to an NFL season, he’s come back ready to roll, but he still has work to do before we get to training camp."  

Oh, and the 22-year-old has a couple of other goals he didn't mind sharing, besides being a leader and getting a little faster.

"First off, make the playoffs. Be the leading rusher, and just help the team in any way I can and stay consistent."

Did Brandon Marshall disrespect Jay Cutler with Hall of Fame shade?

Did Brandon Marshall disrespect Jay Cutler with Hall of Fame shade?

Brandon Marshall is no stranger to keeping it real.

The outspoken All-Pro receiver never minces his words and that continued over the weekend when he showed off his signed jersey collection.

Marshall took to Instagram and showed off "Santa" hanging all of the jerseys he's swapped with other NFL players:

Santa doing work.. . #jerseychallenge

A post shared by Brandon Marshall (@bmarshall) on

The list includes a host of current and future Hall of Fame players: Champ Bailey, Cris Carter, John Lynch, Darrelle Revis, Lance Briggs, Adam Vinatieri, Adrian Peterson, Larry Fitzgerald, Joe Thomas.

When almost all the framed jerseys were hung, Marshall took his followers through:

@nfl #jerseychallenge

A post shared by Brandon Marshall (@bmarshall) on

Marshall compliments each player before, calling them "Hall of Famers" before getting to Jay Cutler at the end and going "Hall of..." multiple times.

Was that Marshall throwing shade at his former quarterback in both Denver and Chicago? If it was an innocent mistake or whatever, there's no way Marshall would've posted the Instagram video, right?

Marshall and Cutler were good friends from the beginning of their careers with the Broncos. So much so that the Bears traded a pair of third round draft picks in March 2012 to allow the two to continue their bromance by the lake:

But Marshall and Cutler have had a contentious relationship since.

Last summer, Marshall responded to a Tweet saying "of course" he misses Cutler. Last August, Marshall hopped on ESPN's First Take and said he thought Cutler could win the MVP Award in the 2016 NFL season.

At the same time, Marshall talked about his relationship with Cutler and said he was the only person on the Bears with the "huevos" to hold the enigmatic quarterback accountable. Marshall also said he was "sad" he didn't talk to Cutler much in the year leading up to August 2016.