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.

Good or better? Why offseason moves are making 2017 Bears better

Good or better? Why offseason moves are making 2017 Bears better

Improvement typically comes in incremental steps, not leaps. And the Bears of 2017, based on what they have done at a handful of positions, the latest being Thursday’s signing of wide receiver Victor Cruz, fit that template.

The clear organizational commitment is to build through the draft, even if injuries have undermined some otherwise apparent upgrades to starting lineups on both sides of the football. But if there is a “theme” to what GM Ryan Pace is doing to muscle up a sluggish roster, it is that the Bears are willing to take flyers on veteran players – with additions like four veteran wide receivers with injury and issue histories – that arguably point to a win-now mindset while draft picks develop and contribute.

Jaye Howard and John Jenkins. Make the defensive line “better?” Than Jonathan Bullard and Will Sutton, probably. But “good?” Mmmmm…..

The game-one tight ends last year were Zach Miller-Logan Paulsen-Gregg Scruggs. Now they’re Miller-Dion Sims-Adam Shaheen (based on a second-round draft choice). “Good?” Maybe, maybe not. “Better?” Obviously, based on Sims alone.

Mike Glennon-Mark Sanchez-Mitch Trubisky. Bears “better” at quarterback? Than Jay Cutler-Brian Hoyer-Matt Barkley, probably. “Good?” Mmmmmm…..

The decisions to sign Glennon and Sanchez to the quarterback depth chart have sparked their shares of understandable cynical skepticism. But Kirk Cousins and Jimmy Garoppolo were not available in trade, so the Pace decision was to gamble on upside with Glennon over the known quantity of Brian Hoyer (the preference of some coaches) and certainly Jay Cutler, for whom “potential” and “upside” no longer applied.

Add in the aggressive draft of Trubisky and the result was three possibilities of hits on a quarterback (Sanchez and Connor Shaw being combined here as a pair entry in the hit-possibility scenarios). All three were deemed an improvement over Cutler and/or Barkley.

The results may not vault the Bears all the way up to “good” at the pivotal position for any franchise. But “better” is sometimes all you can realistically manage.

Taking a wider-screen look at wide receiver in this context… .

Coach John Fox has cited the need for the Bears to establish the ability to get yardage in bigger chunks. Accordingly, all four of the veteran wideout signings this offseason – Cruz, Rueben Randle, Markus Wheaton, Kendall Wright –  have posted yards-per-catch seasons of 14 or longer.

All four won’t be on the opening-day roster, but all four offer the promise of major impact. Cruz, Randle and Wright have had seasons of 70 or more receptions, and Wheaton topped out at 53 in 2015 with the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Randy Moss, Terrell Owens and Jerry Rice weren’t available, so “good” was hard to achieve in an offseason in which Alshon Jeffery and Eddie Royal were expected departures long before their exits. But are Cruz, Randle, Wheaton and Wright, with Kevin White and Cameron Meredith, a “better” starting point than Jeffery, Royal, White, Bellamy, etc. of a year ago?

Obviously. But players with even moderately established NFL “names” (like Cruz, Randle, etal.) are typically available for a reason; teams do not routinely give up on talent. And none of the four come without significant shadows on their NFL resumes, whether for injury or other questions.

Cruz missed most of 2014 and all of the 2015 season, and hasn’t played a full season since his Pro Bowl year of 2012.

Randle was described as a head case by scouts and was so bad that he was let go in the Eagles’ cutdown to 75 last year, followed by disparaging comments from those in and around the organization.

Wheaton flashed promise in his 2014-15 opportunities as a part-time starter but played just three games before a shoulder injury landed him on IR last season.

The Tennessee Titans thought enough of Wright, their 2012 first-round draft choice, to pick up his fifth-year option going into las season. But by week 14 he was benched for tardiness and was a healthy DNP in game 16, announcing after the game that he already knew he was not in the Titans’ plans for 2017.

The prospect of the Bears going from 3-13 to “good” borders on fantasy. But if being among the NFL’s busiest this offseason hasn’t propelled the Bears to that level, the results point to “better.” At this point, that’s something,.

How big of an impact will Victor Cruz have on the Bears?

How big of an impact will Victor Cruz have on the Bears?

The Bears inked Victor Cruz to a one-year deal on Thursday, adding another receiver to an already crowded corps.

But it never hurts to add a veteran one to a young group, especially with a new starting quarterback.

Cruz is 30 years old and isn't the same Pro Bowl-caliber player he was before missing the entire 2015 season with a calf injury, but he surely has a lot left in the tank and can serve as a great mentor for the Bears receivers.

Just how big of an impact will he have on his new team? See what the SportsTalk Live panel had to say in the video above.