Bears facing important test against New Orleans

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Bears facing important test against New Orleans

Saturday, Sept. 17, 2011Posted: 10:55 p.m.

By John Mullin
CSNChicago.com Bears Insider Follow @CSNMoonMullin
This one matters a whole lot more than the last one, for a whole lot of reasons.

The Bears got the NFLs attention by thumping the Atlanta Falcons in Week 1. But that was in Soldier Field, and Lovie Smith Bears teams are a combined 27-15 at home against NFC teams.

Sunday is on the road. It is in a dome, where Smith's Bears are 10-9. It is also against a team that one a Super Bowl two years ago and leads the NFL in yards per game since 2006, when Sean Payton took over as head coach.

So as impressive and significant as the Atlanta win was for the Bears, what the Bears now have to deal with in New Orleans is even more difficult. Add to the equation the fact that the Saints were out-pointed by the Green Bay Packers in their opener and the Bears are going into the home arena of a desperate team.

Youre supposed to win most of your home games, Smith said. But good football teams win on the road. For us of course, going in a dome, and were just playing a good football team. The Saints are one of the best teams in the NFC. So I talk a lot about improvements you make that second game.
Where to improve

With Tampa Bay going to Minnesota and the Falcons at home against a good Philadelphia team, the entire NFC South is suddenly wobbling and in danger of seeing its supposed elite teams become bottom-feeders at this early point in the season. Losses by Atlanta and New Orleans would leave the two playoff qualifiers of a year ago with 0-2 marks and trailing the rest of the NFC in tiebreakers.

But the issue for the Bears is both to prove that Week 1 against the Falcons was no anomaly and that they can play with the best on the road. In all three of the playoff seasons under Smith, the Bears have lost no more than two games on the road.

The expectation is that the offense should improve weekly as coordination develops, particularly on the offensive line. But the line will be without the right guard (Lance Louis, knee) who started every preseason game and Week 1; the backfield will not have hammer-back Marion Barber (calf) for a second week; and the receivers are expected to be minus Roy Williams (groin), although Williams was officially only questionable late in the week.

The Bears got past the Falcons despite missing TD opportunities twice in the red zone. The results were still field goals but against the scoring likes of the Saints this week and Packers next, those project to be the difference between starting 2-0 and coming home 1-1.

I think that we were very close on two, coordinator Mike Martz said. We had some penalties inside of there. We just missed the screen to a wide-open Kellen Davis a little bit. In terms of the first game, we had some very minor things happen to us that kept us from being even more a little effective down there. But that will come. We got better at that last year, too.

Dominating defense

The organization and the defense in particular were rocked this week by the death of Brian Urlachers mother Lavoyda. Urlacher was at practice Thursday and Friday and the expectation is that he will play against New Orleans and probably at an extremely high level.

Urlacher will indeed get by with a lot of help from his friends.

The team genuinely loves each other, said newcomer and safety Brandon Meriweather. That surprises me more than anything. They take up for each other, bend over backwards for each other. That inspires me a lot.

Meriweather is expected to get his first Bears start at free safety, with Major Wright sliding from free to strong safety in the absence of Chris Harris (hamstring). Meriweather, with rookie Chris Conte on the brink of increased playing time, brings a speed upgrade in the deep middle but his key will be playing within the system, not always his trademark because of his exceptional athleticism and fun in using it.

The bigger, literally, problem for the Bears is the Saints offensive line, a huge step up in class from the Atlanta front five that allowed five sacks last Sunday. Former Bear Olin Kreutz is undersized but flanked by Pro Bowl guards Jahri Evans and Carl Nicks. Kreutz may be a weaker link physically but he has powerful friends and hes a great player and he is smart, said defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli.

We know that. Weve got our own checklist and make sure were on top of our stuff when youre going against a guy like that," Marinelli said. "Even if he wasnt here and you were playing him as an opponent, you have to be on top of it. Hes so bright and so sharp, so itll be a challenge for us.

The Bears defeat of the Falcons was due in large part to the play of the front four, which got two sacks each from tackle Henry Melton and end Julius Peppers and the fifth from tackle Amobi Okoye. If the Bears get close to that level of impact from the front, without blitzing, Drew Brees and the rest of the offense will be pressed to score at the level to which they are accustomed.

And the Bears are 42-9 under Smith when opponents score 17 or fewer points.

Special edge

Robbie Gould was a one-man coverage team with five touchbacks on seven kickoffs. Added to those starts at their 20, the Falcons started at the 15- and 6-yard lines on the two kicks they did return.

Atlanta started all 13 of its possessions in its end of the field, while the Bears defense was giving the ball to the offense either points (Urlacher TD fumble return) or the Chicago 28 or 40.

John "Moon" Mullin is CSNChicago.com's Bears Insider and appears regularly on Bears Postgame Live and Chicago Tribune Live. Follow Moon on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Bears information.

Report: CB K'Waun Williams fails physical with Bears

Report: CB K'Waun Williams fails physical with Bears

The Bears search for cornerback depth will continue.

K'Waun Williams, who the Bears were awarded off waivers from the Cleveland Browns on Tuesday, failed his physical and will now become a free agent, according to the Chicago Tribune.

The 25-year-old Williams was suspended by the Browns for two weeks after he refused to play due to an injury in the team's preseason opener against the Green Bay Packers. Following the team-issued two-week suspension, the Browns waived Williams.

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Williams, who signed with the Browns as undrafted free agent out of Pittsburgh in 2014, served as the Browns starting nickel cornerback over the past two seasons. In 26 career games, Williams amassed 60 tackles, two sacks, three forced fumbles and two passes defended.

The Bears will have to look elsewhere for cornerback depth as starters' Tracy Porter (concussion), Kyle Fuller (knee) and nickel corner Bryce Callahan (hamstring) are currently sidelined.

The Bears roster now stands at 74.

Bears claim Browns castoff defensive back K’Waun Williams

Bears claim Browns castoff defensive back K’Waun Williams

This could be interesting.

Bears coach John Fox made a passing reference to “owies” last week, an apparent reference to the typical nicks and bruises that players suffer, presumably falling on the safe side of the pain-vs.-injury line. Coaches like players to play when they can.

The Cleveland Browns suspended K’Waun Williams this offseason for two weeks after the former No. 1 Cleveland nickel cornerback refused to play in the Aug. 12 Browns preseason opener against the Green Bay Packers.

Now the Bears have claimed Williams, 25, waiving cornerback Kevin Peterson, and hope Williams is past what the Browns look to have deemed just their version of an “owie.”

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Williams’ release comes after a convoluted disagreement between player and team, with Williams obtaining medical opinions that he needed surgery to remove bone spurs from an ankle. The team said that Williams never informed them of his ankle problems until the day after the Green Bay game.

The Bears have struggled mightily this preseason to find anything close to a healthy cornerback. Starters Kyle Fuller (knee) and Tracy Porter (concussion) are currently sidelined along with nickel corner Bryce Callahan (hamstring). Jacoby Glenn started for Fuller at New England but also left with a concussion.

Bears O-line will benefit from ripple effect whenever Kyle Long returns

Bears O-line will benefit from ripple effect whenever Kyle Long returns

Pro Bowl right guard Kyle Long continued doing work on the side of Bears practice on Tuesday. He won’t play Thursday at Cleveland, but he represents a looming one-man shakeup of the offensive line — in a positive way — when he returns from a shoulder injury, presumably next week.

Coach John Fox demurred from saying that Long will be in the lineup when the Bears open the regular season Sept. 11 in Houston.

“We’re anticipating him at least being back out there to get ready for Houston,” was as far as Fox would go on Tuesday.

But Ted Larsen, who has filled in for Long at right guard while Cornelius Edison worked as the No. 1 center, has been taking some snaps at center, a hint that Long might be on course for a return for Houston.

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When that happens, it will effectively improve all three interior-line positions at the same time.

The upgrade at right guard is immediate and obvious. When Long was pressed into an emergency shift to right tackle the week before the opener vs. Green Bay last year, it sent Vlad Ducasse into the starting lineup at Long’s preferred spot. Long now represents an obvious upgrade over Larsen.

Installing Larsen at center, where he went after Hroniss Grasu suffered his season-ending knee injury, upgrades the center position over Edison, who has never played an NFL game.

The third upgrade happens at left guard, where rookie Cody Whitehair has settled in at the job he stepped into when Larsen was out late in the offseason. Whitehair is a rookie; Larsen, who has played center during his career, is better able to help Whitehair than Edison, certainly at this point in the latter’s career.