Chicago Bears

Bears kick off season with dominating win


Bears kick off season with dominating win

Sunday, Sept. 11, 2011Posted: 4:10 p.m. Updated: 8:45 p.m.

By John Mullin Bears Insider Follow @CSNMoonMullin
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The Bears are perfectly happy to be disrespected. They clearly relish reminding doubters of their doubts.

They will now have a thoroughly told-ya-so week after Sundays 30-12 smashing of the Atlanta Falcons (0-1) , the defending NFC South champions and 2011 favorites after their 13-3 mark in 2010.

The three top-rated teams in the supposedly elite NFC South all fell to NFC North teams in the first week of the NFL season. Besides the Bears defeat of the Falcons, the Green Bay Packers turned back the New Orleans Saints last Thursday and the Detroit Lions were a TD better than the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Sunday.

The Bears (1-0) travel to New Orleans to face the Saints next Sunday before hosting Green Bay in game three.

Its one win, said coach Lovie Smith, whose record in first home games improved to 6-2. Were excited about it. We have a long ways to go. There were a lot of mistakes we made. Normally thats the case the first game.

The Falcons made runs at the Bears at various points, as late as midway through the fourth quarter. With quarterback Matt Ryan completing 31 of 47 passes for 319 yards, Atlanta out-gained the Bears 386-377 and had 20 first downs to the Bears 17.

Dominant performance

But be in no doubt: This was a domination almost from the outset. The Bears never trailed and most of the afternoon was spent simply arriving at a final score; the winning team was evident early.

The yardage totals are meaningless. The Bears defense allowed exactly 2 field goals to an Atlanta offense that scored 25.9 points per game last season. The Bears sacked Ryan five times and hit him six more. The defense was credited with 11 tackles for loss.

"It was great to have everyone pitch in, said defensive end Julius Peppers. It was impressive. Guys get hungry and want to get to the quarterback.

They did. The defense forced three turnovers and had points off all three: a pair of field goals and Brian Urlachers fourth career touchdown when he picked up a Ryan fumble caused by sack pressure from Peppers, who had two sacks to go with two by defensive tackle Henry Melton and one by tackle Amobi Okoye.

We cant relax offensively there in the fourth quarter, said Jay Cutler, who was 22 of 32 for 312 yards, two TDs and a rating of 107.8 despite being sacked five times. The Bears had zero first downs on their final three possessions following an Atlanta interception and TD return.

Our defense kept the clamps on all year long in 2010. We still have to play up to the defenses level, Cutler said. They are still carrying us.

Early breakaway

The offense struck immediately with conversions of 23 yards on their first two third downs, one a Cutler pass to Roy Williams and the second on a dump-off underneath to running back Matt Forte, with both receivers having no defender within 10 yards of them in the first of numerous well-designed plays. The drive stalled and Robbie Gould put up the first points of the season for the Bears on a 41-yard field goal.

Before an opening-day crowd of 59,808, the Bears built a 16-3 halftime lead on a 56-yard catch-and-run by Forte, who broke tackles behind downfield blocks by receiver Johnny Knox and fullback Tyler Clutts and outraced the Atlanta secondary into the right side of the end zone.

The rest of the first-half scoring was provided by Gould on field goals of 23 and 26 yards. The two kicks represented failed red-zone possessions on which the Bears had first downs at the Atlanta 17- and 10-yard lines.

What the offense didnt do, however, the defense more than made up for as the Bears stretched their lead to 30-6 before the Falcons did some brief fourth-quarter damage.

"The defense line got great pressure, Urlacher said. They played their butts off. We played great all training camp. The Falcons didnt run at all the second half, besides that gash the first series. Our guys were able to make plays.

Ill take that

A serious Bears concern throughout the preseason was the lack of takeaways by the defense. That abruptly changed in the first half Sunday as takeaways ended three possessions for one of the NFLs elite offenses.

A corner blitz by D.J. Moore, who never lost control and bore straight in on Ryan without going for any fakes, pressured Ryan into a weakened throw. That was picked off by a diving Urlacher at the Chicago 35, one possession after the Falcons scored their only points of the half, on a 48-yard field goal by Matt Bryant.

The defense struck again on the next Atlanta possession. Major Wright, whose tackling issues in preseason put his job in jeopardy, drilled running back Michael Turner with a helmet on the football and allowed Charles Tillman to make another strip and forced fumble. That turnover also occurred in the Chicago end of the field, this time recovered by Peppers.

Any percolating momentum for the Falcons seemed to be met with a defensive stop. Three plays after tight end Matt Spaeth scored on a one-yard TD pass, Ryan was forced to spin away from pressure from Peppers off the Atlanta right. Ryan lost the ball, which lay on the ground briefly at the Atlanta 16. Peppers beat Ryan to the ball but couldnt control it.

That was a good thing.

Urlacher picked up the loose ball at the 12 and went into the end zone for his fourth career TD and a 30-6 lead late in the third quarter.

"I thought Pep had it, Urlacher said. Luckily it bounced to me. Even if I dont get it, it was third down and long or still down towards our goal line.

The Falcons attacked the Bears with a no-huddle offense from the outset, keeping the Bears from subbing in particular on the defensive line. But the Bears defense, apart from occasional breakdowns, limited the potent Atlanta offense to 170 total yards and 3 points in the first half.

The Atlanta defense was not going to go quietly. Defensive end John Abraham deflected a Cutler pass up into the air where it was gathered in by Kroy Biermann. The defensive tackle rumbled 50 yards for touchdown to put some life back on the Falcons side.

The try for the two-point conversion failed with a sack of Ryan by Julius Peppers, leaving the score 30-12.

With Goulds kickoffs and aggressive coverage, the Falcons had starting position from their 20 four times, their 15 and their 6 (after a penalty) on possessions starting with a kickoff.

But the defense had a breakdown on the last of those, costing the Bears not only field position but also points.

On a third-and-one at the Atlanta 15, Turner burst through the middle and galloped 53 yards before a TD-saving tackle by Tim Jennings ended the embarrassment. Instead of potential field position after a punt, the Bears had to take consolation in a third-down pass defense by end Nick Reed forcing the Falcons to settle for a field goal and a 16-6 score.

Closing burst

But then the offense attacked again. Forte carries, including a nifty jump-cut to get outside the left side where he picked up a block from Earl Bennett, set the ball at the Chicago 46. Another well-designed misdirection play got a Cutler pass to Devin Hester on the short right and he twisted his way through the defense all the way across the field and toward the Atlanta end zone.

Hester was forced out of bounds at the Atlanta 1 (the spot was unsuccessfully challenged by the Bears. From there Spaeth caught his first TD pass as a Bear and the Bears led 23-6 with just under 7 minutes to play in the third quarter.

That went to 30-6 three plays later on the Urlacher TD run-in with the recovered Ryan fumble.

John "Moon" Mullin is'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.

Jordan Howard's eye injury keeps him grounded as Bears fly to Arizona


Jordan Howard's eye injury keeps him grounded as Bears fly to Arizona

The Bears' best offensive player won't be suiting up in Saturday's preseason game. In fact, he won't even be on the sideline. 

Jordan Howard suffered an eye injury Friday, preventing him from flying with the team to Arizona. 

Although ESPN's Adam Schefter believes it's minor, that's not a good sign for an offense that relies heavily on the run game.

Joining Howard on the inactive list are more key offensive guys: 

- Kyle Long, OL

- Jeremy Langford, RB

- Joshua Bellamy, WR

- Markus Wheaton, WR

That means Mike Glennon, who is embroiled in a growing quarterback controversy, will have his work cut out for him. 

On the defensive side of the ball, the Bears will also be missing some notables: 

- Danny Trevathan, LB

- Mitch Unrein, DL

- Bryce Callahan, DB

- Alex Scearse, LB

- Jonathan Anderson, LB

- Kapron Lewis-Moore, DL

Hopefully Howard and the team can get healthy before the real deal begins because last year's injury-plagued season was certainly no fun. 

How Charles Leno Jr. isn't thinking about the big picture heading into a contract year

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How Charles Leno Jr. isn't thinking about the big picture heading into a contract year

One of John Fox’s favorite sayings is that the best ability is availability. No player exemplified that line more than left tackle Charles Leno Jr. in 2016. 

Leno played all 1,010 of the Bears’ offensive snaps last year. His effectiveness may not have matched his availability — Pro Football Focus, for what it’s worth, described Leno as being a “below average” starter. The Bears like Leno, though. But enough to give him another contract?

“He’s pretty reliable and dependable,” Fox said. “But we all have room for improvement so I think he’d tell you the same thing.”

For Leno, there’s no time like the present to make those strides. He’s due to hit free agency after this season, and, unless the Bears sign him to a contract extension, will enter a market that last spring saw five left tackles (Riley Reiff, Matt Kalil, Russell Okung, Andrew Whitworth and Kelvin Beachum) sign contracts each including eight-figure guaranteed money. But Leno, who will be 26 this spring, isn’t doing a lot of thinking about what his future could look like beyond this year. 

“It’s in the back of your mind, but at the end of the day I’m trying to go out there and just perfect my craft,” Leno said. “That’s really what I’m trying to do. I’ve been doing that the last two and a half years now. It’s the same routine every day. Just trying to go out there and perfect my craft, things will take care of itself. If I do what I need to do out there, everything will follow.”

For Leno, perfecting his craft means perfecting the basics of being a left tackle. What he rattled off: Placement of hands, base in pass set, staying square, not opening up too early. Being consistent in those areas is what Leno sees as that next step in his development. 

“I think Charles Leno does a really great job focusing attention to detail within his set,” left guard Kyle Long said. “Whether it’s a set angle, his hands or his strike, he always has a plan and he’s somebody that’s athletic enough to recover if he ever does get in a bad situation. It’s a really difficult position to play out there but I think Charles Leno is one of the most athletic guys that’s been around here.” 

Practice has provided an ideal opportunity for Leno to work on all those things, given the array of pass rushers he’s facing from his own defense. 

“I got a very fast guy (Leonard Floyd), I got a very tall, long guy (Willie Young), and I got a short, powerful guy (Lamarr Houston). I mean, what more do I need on a practice field? I got the best guys in the world to go against every day.”

But the point remains: Leno does have room for growth. A fully healthy Bears’ offensive line, with a more consistent Leno, can be one of the best units in the NFL on which the team’s level of production can be based. 

And if that’s the case, Leno can expect a significant payday next spring, either from the Bears or another team. 

“I never expected I would be in this situation, absolutely not,” Leno said. “I’m very blessed, I’m thankful for the opportunity that I’ve got into. But also, it’s a testament to the work I’ve been putting in for myself and I just don’t ever want that to stop. I don’t ever want the work ethic that I have to ever go down because I’ve got some money or because I’m in a contract year. I want to keep improving whether I have the money or not.”