Bears prepare for Jets, wonder if they're true 'closers'

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Bears prepare for Jets, wonder if they're true 'closers'

Sunday, Dec. 26, 2010
10:05 a.m.

By John Mullin
CSNChicago.com
Few weeks of the 2010 season have passed without at least one question being raised or answered by the Bears performance. Its just been that kind of year.

So the question going into Sundays meeting with the New York Jets (10-4) is there:

Are the Bears true closers yet?

The elite teams in the NFL typically seize true opportunities when they are before them. The Bears have flirted with elite status at times, only to slip back and leave themselves open to doubt, sometimes within their own locker room.

That the Bears (10-4) are a good, even very good, team they have never doubted. But elite has been another matter.

So among the usual tactical questions going into a game is the one as to whether the Bears can finish off a good opponent when the stakes are a step toward a vitally important goal such as the No. 2 seed in the NFC playoffs and earn a bye through the first round of the postseason.

Things have been a little lighter, obviously, since we played on Monday night and this has been a short week, said linebacker Lance Briggs. For us, weve got to keep getting better. Weve got a lot of fight for the rest of the season and into the playoffs so this game is very important to us just securing things in the playoffs.

To take that step toward being the kind of closer that wins championships means taking several specific smaller steps.

Get on the Mark

Mark Sanchez is expected to start for the Jets despite some shaky practice days because of an injury to his right (throwing) shoulder. That could be good news for the Bears, who have gotten some of the best coverage play from their secondary in decades.

Three Bears defensive backs Chris Harris, D.J. Moore, Charles Tillman have 4 interceptions. No other team in the NFL has three DBs with 4 and no Bears team since the 1983-86 teams have had three with that kind of production.

On the other side is Sanchez not throwing a touchdown pass in his last 106 attempts and none in his last three games, two of them losses in which the Jets managed just 9 total points.

Before the last two games before the Pittsburgh game, I wouldve said Im making better decisions., using my legs a little more, sliding a lot better, getting rid of the ball, getting to my check-downs a lot faster, Sanchez said. But those two weeks we didnt play very well, I reverted back to some of those poor decisions, not having two hands on the ball and just got sloppy with my fundamentals.

The Bears have two edge rushers in Israel Idonije and Julius Peppers who are 6-6 and 6-7, respectively, and both with 8 sacks. No team has more than the Bears 21 sacks over the last seven games, six of them wins, and that may be enough to help Sanchez get sloppy again with his fundamentals.
New identity?

The problem is in the run game. The last three opponents each have gained more rushing yards and the last four averaged more per carry than the Bears, a disturbing trend for a team that had allowed 100 rushing yards in just two of the previous six games.

What has changed, however, is any belief that the Bears will go only as far as their defense takes them.

I disagree with that, linebacker Brian Urlacher said. Were known as a defensive team, but our offense scored 40 points last week. I know special teams scored seven of them, but it still goes to the offense.

I disagree with that. I think were a good team, all-around. The offense has been there for us the last eight or nine weeks. Theyve been playing better. Once they figured out the offense, and how to run stuff, theyve been playing well.

They carried us in the Philly game. Detroit; we didnt play well. They carried us. There have been a few games here lately where we needed them and they came through for us

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.

'Owies,' injuries, and the Bears trying to fuse together for Week 3 preseason

'Owies,' injuries, and the Bears trying to fuse together for Week 3 preseason

Bears coach John Fox draws much the same distinction as your Mom might have, between real injuries and “owies,” those nicks and things that she could put a band-aid on and you would be back out playing before you’d missed a turn at bat.

Owies won’t keep players out of the Bears’ Sept. 11 opener in Houston against the Texans, so conclusions about whether it’s an injury or an owie don’t mean much at this point when thinking ahead for Week 1 availability.

But the seemingly endless drumbeat of players missing practice time – typically more than a dozen out of 90 on any given practice day – takes players out of the sessions they need to become parts of a whole on offense, defense or special teams. It means, for instance, that rookie outside linebacker Leonard Floyd, working to master pass-rush moves at the NFL level, misses time to work on those desperately needed moves against tackles and tight ends.

This time last year, linebackers Lamarr Houston and Willie Young were coming off injuries that ended their 2014 seasons. They were established veterans and it still took time, arguably the better part of a half season, for them to come all the way back physically, but also to integrate fully into the scheme with teammates.

[RELATED: Porter balancing job as 'coach' and starting CB]

Now with one of the NFL’s youngest rosters, the Bears could more than some other more veteran teams feel the effects of that lost time and chances to develop cohesion.

Fox has seen this situation before, and every preseason has injury stories. “I think it's pretty much the same in the other 31 [NFL] cities,” Fox said. “It's been about the same for me the last 15 years. So there's a difference between injuries and owies, so we've had a couple injuries and now it's just about getting everybody healthy for Houston.”

The sick-bay list by the time the Bears visit Houston is not expected to include guard Kyle Long, tight end Zach Miller, running back Jeremy Langford or nickel corner Bryce Callahan. But Long (shoulder) was working off to the side with right tackle Bobby Massie on footwork, not at full speed in practice. Callahan (hamstring) was just doing some light running, not in pads and not in concert with the rest of the nickel secondary projected to include him. Miller (concussion) was in a no-contact red jersey that called attention to his history of injury susceptibility.

They and others are not in any sort of game-week schedule.

“Everything is a schedule,” Fox said. “I don’t care who you are or where it is at home or at the office, there's a routine and a schedule. You like getting guys acclimated to the point of where we've got a 12 o'clock kickoff for a preseason game, which is a typical Sunday kickoff for us in our routine so I think the more you can expose guys to scheduling, kind of what you're expecting in the preparation, I think the better.”

Injuries, and owies, are doing that schedule no favors.

Balancing act: “Coach” Tracy Porter works at his own CB job while helping Bears wobbly young secondary

Balancing act: “Coach” Tracy Porter works at his own CB job while helping Bears wobbly young secondary

When Charles Tillman retired earlier this year, more than an elite cornerback was exiting the game. Tillman was a mentor to young defensive backs, even though he made it abundantly clear that he had no interest in moving on to coaching in his next career.

When the Bears re-signed Tracy Porter to a three-year contract this offseason, one that committed some $4.5 million to a cornerback who’d been with five different teams over the past five seasons, they were cementing in place more than just their top defensive back. They were committing to one of those hard-to-find individuals whose presence makes the whole greater than just the sum of the parts.

Porter, who has played 16 games just once (Oakland, 2009) in his eight NFL seasons, has started as many games in his career (79, including six in postseason) as the rest of the Bears defensive backs combined (75). The result is that Porter suddenly becomes the bell-cow for a group that is struggling to establish itself and a level of NFL competence.

“We’re young in the secondary outside of Tracy Porter for the most part and we’re just going to have to see what they’re capable of doing mentally as we go through the process here,” said coordinator Vic Fangio, “and how many schemes we can ask them to do effectively.”

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A significant measure of how many of those schemes and everything else the secondary will be able to do traces (no pun intended) to Porter. He is not only the best defensive back on the roster; he also is the most experienced, from time in schemes with New Orleans, Denver, Oakland, Washington and now the Bears.

The situation is complex, however.

Veterans are too often assumed to be mentors to young players, even to the point of helping know where to line up, techniques and such. That involves in-game help, which is the nature of defense anyway. But a player assuming too much of a role in coaching others in his group can lose focus on his own job, a prelude to disaster.

“It can, but I try to do my best to focus in on what I need to do, and then once I see those guys taking their reps, then that’s when I go into the coaching mode,” Porter said. “But when I’m out there on the field, I’m locked in to what ‘21’ [his own number] and the rest of the defense has to do.

“But when the younger guys are in, I’m definitely in coaching mode. I’m getting my mental reps. At the same time, I’m watching those guys what they’re doing, if they’re having a missed assignment or having a not-so-good technique that I can help them with.”

The Bears had high hopes last year for tall cornerback Alan Ball, who started the first three games as Porter worked his way back from a preseason hamstring strain. Ball failed to capitalize on his opportunity and Porter replaced him at Seattle, then started the rest of the year.

And he has has begun this year working at setting an example as he did last Nov. 26 when he intercepted one Aaron Rodgers pass and broke up four others – most by any player in Rodgers’ career. Last Thursday’s game at New England was preseason, meaning that stats are typically dismissed as meaningless (which they are decidedly not when they indicate a pattern or trend). Inside the Chicago 10 Porter stripped the football from a Patriots running back and recovered it. The play was one the Bears practiced and the result was a takeaway in a second straight game, something the Bears were unable to accomplish over the final seven games of 2015.

It also was the only pass breakup or forced/recovered fumble by any member of the secondary in the game.

But that is part of preseason, and with the spiraling injury list in the secondary, Porter’s work away from the football will continue to be an unofficial on-field “assistant” to defensive-backs coach Ed Donatell.

“My biggest challenge?” Porter reflected. “Just keeping the guys into it that are injured and bringing the guys that weren’t getting many reps, getting those guys up to speed, to catch up the first- and second-team defense.”

Former Bears CB Charles Tillman jumps out of plane at Chicago Air and Water Show

Former Bears CB Charles Tillman jumps out of plane at Chicago Air and Water Show

Charles Tillman is living on the edge a month after waving the white flag on his NFL career.

The former Bears cornerback jumped out of a plane this weekend at the Chicago Air and Water Show.

[SHOP: Gear up Bears fans!]

Tillman even got a chance to see a place that he called home for 12 years: Soldier Field.

Not only that, but he had a ridiculous view of the city's skyline — which you can also see in the video.

It's safe to say he's fully in retirement mode.