Bears thankful to be playing Falcons at home

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Bears thankful to be playing Falcons at home

Sunday, Sept. 11, 2011Posted: 10:05 a.m.

By John Mullin
CSNChicago.com Bears Insider Follow @CSNMoonMullin
During the tenure of Lovie Smith, the Bears are 5-2 in home openers. And Chicago has not been kind to the Atlanta Falcons, although Sunday marks the first trip to the lakefront for Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan.

Since 2004, Smiths first year, only Green Bay (21) has scored more than 14 points against Bears in a Game One and no team scored more than the two TDs the Packers put across in the 2009 season-starter, and that was with Brian Urlacher missing the second half with a season-ending wrist injury.

I'm glad we've got them at home, because they're really good at home down in Atlanta, Urlacher said. We've got them at home, but it's a huge challenge for us.

The last time the Falcons played in Soldier Field (where they havent won since 1983) was in 2005, the conditions were minus-3 wind chill, night game and Michael Vick so clearly didnt want to be out there that he angrily fired the ball at Urlacher after the linebacker had dropped him for a first-quarter loss in the Atlanta backfield.

In Atlanta, the Falcons have won their last two meetings with the Bears, behind Ryan, scoring 22 and 21 points in the games that both were decided in fourth quarters. The 2009 game saw the Falcons score a go-ahead TD with three minutes to play, then stop the Bears at the Atlanta 5-yard line in the final seconds to save a 21-14 victory.

Were really focused on just trying to play well this week, Ryan said. It seems like every time weve played them, its been a great game.

Playing well is something the Falcons have done well in their three seasons under coach Mike Smith. Although Atlanta has flopped in the post-season (0-2), no NFC team won more than the Falcons 13 last season.

But they also have lost their first road game in all three seasons under Smith.
Preseason indicators

The question in Chicago, however, is not about the Falcons. Its about the Bears and what kind of team is coming off an 11-5 year and NFC Championship appearance, and which has changed more than one-third of its roster.

You can go through the preseason, teams arent doing what theyre going to do during the regular season, said coach Lovie Smith. You never really know, so I think as a football team, most coaches and teams they just cant wait to get to that first game to see exactly where they are, you set the bar then and start working form there.

The warmup games mean exactly what coaches and players say they do in terms of the season: zero. The results and the numbers dont count. After all, the 2008 Detroit Lions under Rod Marinelli went 4-0 in preseason, 0-16 when it counted.

The Falcons lost all four of their preseason games this year.

But the meaningless sometimes can foreshadow.

The Bears lost all four games in the 2010 preseason and proceeded to win 12 games on the way to the NFC Championship game. But they also scored just 17 points in one game and 10 or fewer in the other three.

They were the NFLs 30th-ranked offense, 21st in scoring, and they would have ranked even worse but for a complete mid-season course correction.

Through the 2011 preseason, the Bears scored 60 total points but also allowed more than 14 in just one. For a team anchored by its defense, this is perhaps the most positive indicator in the preseason.

Our whole objective, obviously, offensively, is to score points, coordinator Mike Martz said. And we need to do that. We need to score more points than we did last year. We got going pretty good at the end of the year, but consistency is important.

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.

View from the Moon: Bears make statement in taking tight end while passing on defensive backs

View from the Moon: Bears make statement in taking tight end while passing on defensive backs

With their second pick in the 2017 draft, the Bears addressed offense and did it in a way that, when coupled with one of their main offseason moves, makes for some very interesting what-ifs for the upcoming season.

The choice at No. 45 was tight end Adam Shaheen, who at 6-foot-6 and 278 pounds becomes the second significant addition at the position following the signing of Dion Sims (6-foot-4, 270 pounds) to a three-year deal. In a sometimes over-specialized NFL, the Bears have brought in not one but two every-down tight ends.

“Yeah, that’s accurate,” general manager Ryan Pace said. “So it opens up a lot of possibilities for our offense.”

The acquisitions of Shaheen and Sims hold some intrigue, if only because of sheer bulk, because the inescapable conclusion with the commitments to big tight ends is that the Bears might be serious about running the football. They ran 28.4 percent of their 2016 plays in personnel packages of two or three tight ends or with a tight end and fullback.

Under coordinator Dowell Loggains the Bears ran the football just 39.3 percent of the time in 2016. Head coach John Fox and Loggains cite the Bears’ frequent need to play catch-up as the reason why, though in 12 of the 16 games the Bears were tied, led or were within seven points at halftime. In fairness to Fox and Loggains, the Bears in fact arguably did not have the physical firepower at tight end to sustain a smash-mouth base of operations.

That said, both Shaheen and Sims also have a fully formed receiver side to their games, which is where the bigger-picture interest lies. Shaheen had 122 receptions over his last two seasons at Ashland. Sims caught 36, 25 and 35 passes in his final three years with the Miami Dolphins. Both Shaheen and Sims were high school basketball standouts; Shaheen played a year of basketball at the University of Pittsburgh-Johnstown, while Sims was dual-recruited for football and basketball at Michigan State after finishing fourth in voting for Mr. Basketball in Michigan in 2009.

“I definitely think (the basketball stuff) helps,” Pace said. “Half the time, it’s like these tight ends are going up for a rebound and boxing out. And (Shaheen) definitely has it. When we talk about body control and catching radius, the ball is not always going to be on target. And Adam has the ability to do that. We confirmed that through the tape, and Frank (Smith, tight ends coach) was able to confirm it during the workout.”

Why not take a defensive back?

During the NFL owners meetings this spring, Pace said that the draft's depth of talented options was a factor in free-agency decisions as well as the draft. So his willingness to trade down in the second round of this draft was expected, given that it has been rated as one of the best-ever drafts for quality and depth at defensive back.

Of course, these were the same experts’ analyses that concluded that no quarterback would be drafted before the middle of the first round, when in reality three went in the first 12 picks after teams traded up, so ... oh, never mind.

The NFL collective seems to agree with the take on defensive backs: Of the 107 players selected through three completed rounds, 29 (27.1 percent) have been defensive backs (18 cornerbacks and 11 safeties). Meaning more than one-fourth of the 2017 draft picks have been defensive backs.

What wasn’t expected was Pace then making no move at either cornerback or safety even after the trade-down that recovered much of the draft capital expended to deal up to No. 2 for Mitch Trubisky. When the Bears’ pick at No. 45 came around, the Bears instead chose a smaller-college tight end.

First thoughts were that Pace agreed with thinking that said starter-grade corners in particular could be had as late as the fourth round — he reacquired a fourth-round pick in the trade with Arizona, giving him two (Nos. 117 and 119) — or that he had been outflanked by a sudden minor run on defensive backs. In the eight picks from No. 36 (the Bears’ original second-round slot) to No. 43, four defensive backs were snatched up, three of them safeties.

That clearly didn’t bother Pace, though the Bears ended Friday with a plan to take a revised look in the defensive back direction.

“Yeah, we’re going to have to kind of sort through it tonight and we’ll be here late tonight and early in the morning,” Pace said. “Kind of resetting our board and going through it again. We’re going to take best player available, and if it ends up being offensive players, that’s what it is.”

Adam Shaheen travels a different path to being the Bears’ second-round pick

Adam Shaheen travels a different path to being the Bears’ second-round pick

Adam Shaheen was a couple of things coming out of high school in Galena, Ohio: He was 6-foot-4 and weighed about 195 pounds, and was headed to Division II Pittsburgh-Johnstown to play basketball. 

Four years later, the Bears on Friday made the now 6-foot-6, 278 pound tight end their second-round draft pick. He was the fifth tight end selected, behind first-rounders O.J. Howard (Tampa Bay, No. 19), Evan Engram (New York Giants, No. 23), David Njoku (Cleveland, No. 29) and Gerald Everett (Los Angeles Rams, No. 44). 

Shaheen said he missed football after a year of playing basketball (he played football at Big Walnut High School in Ohio), with 2013’s memorable Ohio State-Wisconsin game giving him the itch to return to the sport. He wasn’t big enough to play football when he came out of high school, but coaches at D-II Ashland University saw something in him following his freshman hoops year and brought him into the program.

Then the weight gain began. Shaheen, initially weighing 225 pounds, was Ashland’s No. 3 tight end in 2014. And he continued to grow in his final two years there. 

Shaheen described how he bulked up last month at the scouting combine in Indianapolis:

“A lot of Chipotle burritos,” Shaheen said. “A lot of burritos. No, it all honestly it was a lot of burritos.” 

It wasn’t as easy a process as housing burritos would seem, though. 

“It was just a grind,” Shaheen said Friday. “You know, to put on that kind of weight and still maintain my athleticism, it was a good grind for two years.”

Shaheen went from catching two passes in nine games in 2014 to totaling 122 receptions for 1,670 yards and 26 touchdowns in his final two years at Ashland. Few players at the D-II level have the opportunity to pass up a final year of eligibility — Shaheen could’ve been a fifth-year senior in 2017 — to turn pro, but there wasn’t anything left for him to accomplish. 

“I did all I could really do to help my draft stock there,” Shaheen said. “Another year at that level — I didn’t think after discussing it with my family and friends and stuff it was really going to increase my draft stock if I did similar to what I did the previous two years.”