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.

CSN Bears analyst Chris Boden's 2017 NFL Mock Draft

CSN Bears analyst Chris Boden's 2017 NFL Mock Draft

1. Cleveland Browns: QB Mitchell Trubisky (North Carolina)

Hue Jackson gets a taste of what working for Jimmy Haslam is like. The owner wants the kid from Ohio, but how long will he let him sit behind Brock Osweiler and Cody Kessler. They don't get the top-rated player in Myles Garrett, but can circle back and address the pass rush at 12.

2. San Francisco 49ers: DE Myles Garrett (Texas A&M)

Well look who dropped into their lap. Perhaps a bit redundant after drafting Oregon defensive linemen DeForest Buckner and Arik Armstead in the first round the past two years, but they'll worry about running back, quarterback, you name it…later on.

3. CHICAGO BEARS: S Jamal Adams (LSU)

Tempted by Solomon Thomas, who's not a true 3-4 end, but Vic Fangio would move around, and feeling Jonathan Allen's topped out, potential-wise, they go with the proven, healthy guy who can lead the secondary for the next decade. Malik Hooker more of a playmaking center fielder, but the injury history helps this decision.

4. Jacksonville Jaguars: TE O.J. Howard (Alabama)

They've sunk a ton of money and draft picks on defense the last few years, and while Blake Bortles is on "notice" with Tom Coughlin, he gets a perennial Pro Bowler to throw to with the wideout tandem of Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns. Leonard Fournette also tempting, but they'll stick with T.J. Yeldon and Chris Ivory for the time being.

5. Tennessee Titans: CB Marshon Lattimore (Ohio State)

They'll circle back for a much-needed wide receiver at 18, but roll the dice with the protypical, if hamstrung by injury, top corner on the market to help the 30th-ranked pass defense.

6. New York Jets: WR Mike Williams (Clemson)

Tempted by DeShaun Watson after drafting quarterbacks three of the past four years, Josh McCown needs someone to throw to after parting ways with Brandon Marshall. They go with Watson's deep target from the national champs over Corey Davis.

7. Los Angeles Chargers: S Malik Hooker (Ohio State)

Eric Weddle was great for a lot of years in San Diego, but they found out how difficult he was to replace last season. Defensive Rookie of the Year Joey Bosa has another young star to build that side of the ball around, provided he stays healthy.

8. Carolina Panthers: RB Leonard Fournette (LSU)

The Cam Newton Preservation Society (of which the former MVP still isn't a member) wins the War Room vote in Charlotte.

9. Cincinnati Bengals: DE Solomon Thomas (Stanford)

A surprising drop based on the way his stock skyrocketed since the Sun Bowl, but the 3-4 teams who passed will discover he's a perfect fit for this 4-3 that has a need on the edge and has suffered a defensive exodus recently.

10. Buffalo Bills: LB Reuben Foster (Alabama)

New coach Sean McDermott gets himself the best inside linebacker on the board as he puts his stamp on a defense he hopes to re-create from Carolina.

11. New Orleans Saints: DE Derek Barnett (Tennessee)

Cameron Jordan gets a partner on the opposite side to rush the quarterback on a defense that ranked 27th (last against the pass).

12. Cleveland Browns: DL Jonathan Allen (Alabama)

Allen's ideally a 4-3 tackle, but is versatile enough to provide impact as a "5-tech," alongside stout nose tackle Danny Shelton. If not, blame the Browns after long-term concerns about his shoulders and how much higher he can raise his level after an excellent college career. 

13. Arizona Cardinals: QB Patrick Mahomes (Texas Tech)

Choosing between Watson and Mahomes, Bruce Arians' confidence level over how he can shape Carson Palmer's heir guides him to the gun-slinger.

14. Minnesota Vikings: RB Christian McCaffery (Stanford)

After addressing their main offensive line issues in free agency Let the Post-AP Era begin with an all-purpose weapon that'll cause NFC North headaches.

15. Indianapolis Colts: Edge Charles Harris (Missouri)

The league's 30th-ranked defense needs a lot of help. Harris is a start.

16. Baltimore Ravens: WR Corey Davis (Western Michigan)

Steve Smith has retired. The barely-recruited kid from Wheaton-Warrenville South slides in.

17. Washington Redskins: LB Hasson Reddick (Temple)

His status grew with every practice heading into the Senior Bowl and has gone nowhere but up.

18. Tennessee Titans: WR John Ross (Washington)

The Combine record 4.22 40 pushed him into the first round, but carries a risk with a history of knee injuries before finally staying healthy in 2016. Say hi to Marcus Mariota.

19. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Edge Taco Charlton (Michigan)

Say it. Taco Time in Tampa for a D that finished 22nd against both the run and pass.

20. Denver Broncos: T Ryan Ramczyk (Wisconsin)

There's ALWAYS concern and questions about the Broncos offensive line. Here's one answer.

21. Detroit Lions: LB Jarrad Davis (Florida)

DeAndre Levy's gone, and while they added Paul Worrilow and good use another edge rusher opposite Ziggy Ansah, Davis fits, and fills a need.

22. Miami Dolphins: CB Quincy Wilson (Florida)

Lots of defensive needs for Adam Gase to address. He starts here, and the team saves a bit on transportation costs.

23. New York Giants: TE David Njoku (Miami)

OBJ. Brandon Marshall. And now the fast-rising second-best tight end in the draft.

24. Oakland Raiders: LB Tim Williams (Alabama)

Silver-and-Black lost some defensive personnel this off-season. Williams can cause some distraction from Khalil Mack.

25. Houston Texans: QB Deshaun Watson (Clemson)

Well wasn't this conveeeeenient for Bill O'Brien.

26. Seattle Seahawks: OT Garrett Bolles (Utah)

Sexy? No. But the Seahawks seem to join the Broncos is sweating out O-Line issues every year. Protect Russ.

27. Kansas City Chiefs: DT Malik McDowell (Michigan State)

Dontari Poe and Jaye Howard were off-season salary cap victims.

28. Dallas Cowboys: S Jabril Peppers (Michigan)

Does this say Cowboys, or what?

29. Green Bay Packers: RB Dalvin Cook (Florida State)

Ty Montgomery was pretty good. Cook will be even better.

30. Pittsburgh Steelers: LB Takkarist McKinley (UCLA)

They can go inside with Raekwon McMillan, but decide to go for some James Harrison insurance after parting ways with Lawrence Timmons and Jarvis Jones.

31. Atlanta Falcons: DE Demarcus Walker (Florida State)

The guy just made plays for an elite program and fills a need on Dan Quinn's emerging D.

32. New Orleans Saints: WR Curtis Samuel (Ohio State)

They'll get back to addressing the defense but for now, a Brandin Cooks replacement in the spot the Patriots gave them for Cooks.

 

Clemson's Deshaun Watson is the one situation where a Bears reach has epic upside

Clemson's Deshaun Watson is the one situation where a Bears reach has epic upside

First impressions are so often the right ones, and throughout much of the pre-draft process, View from the Moon has been of the mind that LSU safety Jamal Adams would be the Bears' first selection on Day 1 of the NFL Draft. GM Ryan Pace set forth the premium the organization was placing on a ballhawking safety; Malik Hooker’s injury history raised too many concerns, and Adams was rated among the draft’s premier talents regardless of position.
 
That has changed, which is absolutely zero assurance that it was a change for the better. Because the cone of silence over Bears intentions, which may set the media a-grumbling but is at least something that the Bears have in common with Green Bay and New England, naming just a couple, is securely in place, which is a credit to the administration. (If another Administration out East were as airtight, political pundits would be reading their kids' school poems just to fill air time).
 
The revised decision to posit the Bears selecting Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson came on a wave of second thoughts drawn from information from a variety of sources. Chief among the "sources" was Pace himself, who has placed a premium on an individual capable of lifting not just the defense, but the organization. That bespoke "quarterback," and Watson gains the highest grade by virtue of intangibles on top of experience and results, with nods toward North Carolina's Mitchell Trubisky.
 
Usually the pre-draft process is to fault-find and nit-pick prospects, run 'em down a little, hedge bets. But with Watson, the closer this observer has looked, the better, not worse, the Clemson kid has looked.
 
The chief caveat or qualifier with Watson has been general consensus among draft analysts that Watson has some accuracy issues. Not that this would be any sort of picking nit to find something wrong with the guy, but his career completion percentage is 67.4, with all three of his season hit rate at or above 67 percent. No other top prospect (Trubisky Pat Mahomes, DeShone Kizer, Nathan Peterman, Brad Kaaya, Davis Webb – I stopped looking at that point) has three seasons at that level or anything approaching the consistency of all three of his college years being nearly identical for this one measure of accuracy.
 
But a mantra here this draft has been that stats and measurables should not be the starting point for evaluating quarterbacks; it should be intangibles, THEN the measurables. More on the stats in a moment.
 
On the intangibles/character graph, consider:
 
The kid finished his degree, in communications, in three years, which was how long he planned to be at Clemson. Notably, he’s not alone in this kind of degree-compartmentalizing; Leonard Fournette at LSU and Clemson teammate and wideout Artavis Scott are both on schedule for finishing their studies at about the same time as their football. This would be what this reporter considers a very, very big positive in the character area and one that more players are moving on, a good story for another time.

Watson’s chief negative cited has been turnovers, specifically his 17 interceptions in the 2016 season. That also was the season Watson took Clemson to the national championship over Alabama, and the one in which he threw 579 passes. I can’t do this at the moment, but if there are instances where Watson's play was a bit off for a particular game, it might be amusing to find out what finals/tests/labs he had due the day before. Hopefully teams don't gig him for studying something other than game film that week.
 
But back to the stats and measurables...

Watson’s 17 interceptions in 579 attempts this past college season means an interception rate of 2.9 percent – or just about exactly what Brett Favre had for his college career. Obviously, all purely for academic comparison purposes, Watson for his career was a little better than Favre, at 2.7 percent. Watson completed 67 percent or more of his passes in those three Clemson seasons, if accuracy is a concern. This year’s Super Bowl quarterbacks: Tom Brady’s Michigan pick rate was 2.7 percent; Matt Ryan threw 19 his senior year at Boston College before going No. 3 overall to Atlanta.
 
The Favre/Brady/Ryan point is this: Look beyond just the numbers, and even beyond some of the supposed smudges on Watson's game at this point. The position is about leadership and winning, and Watson comes into the draft with zero concerns there.
 
Suggesting that the Bears send up their first card with Watson's name on it doesn't ignore the dubious wisdom in drafting a player significantly higher than his grade on a draft board. But intangibles factor heavily into the quarterback position, and those aren't generally factored heavily into the grading process. Too many draft mistakes (Favre second round, Joe Montana third, Russell Wilson third, Brady sixth) were made ignoring those elements.
 
Reasons abound for the Bears not reaching for Watson at No. 3 – Jonathan Allen. Adams. Malik Hooker. Marshon Lattimore. Solomon Thomas. (Insert your choice here.) And the overall of "he’s doesn't have a top-five grade."
 
But as laid out here previously during this draft season, the quarterback position is about more than height-weight-arm strength-40 time-and such. The Bears hope they won’t ever be at No. 3-overall again. Whether they see Watson as the best chance to keep that from happening will play out later this week.