Close call: Moon predicts the Pack will win the 'Bowl

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Close call: Moon predicts the Pack will win the 'Bowl

Sunday, Feb. 6, 2011
11:05 a.m.

By John Mullin
CSNChicago.com

The Super Bowl has had its high points in drama, ranging from the St. Louis Rams stopping the Tennessee Titans a yard short of a goal line to David Tyree making a fourth-down Velcro catch against his helmet for the New York Giants to sustain a winning drive over the New England Patriots.

And it has had its other, well, games, events where the only drama was settling on a final score in a contest won by double-digit margins. Of the last 10 Super Bowls, five have been decided by 11 points or more, including three of the last five.

But when the two best defenses in football against scoring (Pittsburgh No. 1, Green Bay No. 2) are on the field, chances rise exponentially for a smash-mouth game likely to be decided by one play, whether due to excellence or forced error, in the final 5 minutes in the fourth quarter.

The Pittsburgh Steelers are in their third Super Bowl in the past six years, all behind Ben Roethlisberger, who will assume his spot among the games elite quarterbacks past and present regardless of outcome. The Green Bay Packers were in the NFC Championship in 2007, Brett Favres last game as a Packer, but have been in the playoffs two of their three seasons behind Aaron Rodgers.

The Steelers command the high ground of experience with Roethlisberger, but Rodgers has played significantly better in playoff games than in regular-season games, the hallmark of a great quarterback.

And the hallmark of a great defense is playing to its strength, which the Steelers do, regardless of quarterback.

Our game plan never changes, said safety and defensive player of the year Troy Polamalu. Its always about applying pressure. Its about tackling after the catch. You know Rodgers receivers are going to get the ball because hes such an efficient quarterback. Tackle the guys and then not give up big plays and not let the ball get over our heads.

And finally.

Games between two good teams are the most difficult to assess. Both can play to their levels, which usually guarantees something close. Or ones strength takes away one element or enough of the others to put distance between the two on the scoreboard.

That could happen Sunday but elite defenses are rarely trampled and the guess here is that wont happen to either Green Bays or Pittsburghs. Ironically, the last time the two teams faced each other was in late 2009 when Pittsburgh defeated Green Bay in the final tick of the clock when Ben Roethlisberger connected with Mike Wallace on a 19-yard touchdown pass for a 37-36 win.

I think defensively, based on watching their body of work throughout the season, and I know firsthand that our defense has improved, so with that, their defense has improved, said Packers coach Mike McCarthy. I look for the defenses to impact this game more than they did in last years game.

Indeed, the only offenses to put major points on the Packers since October were New England and Atlanta, and Pittsburgh isnt in the firepower class with either. The Steelers were burned for 39 by the Patriots, then 24 by Baltimore and 19 by the Jets in the playoffs but are still the NFLs best at keeping numbers off scoreboards.

The Packers were No. 2 in the NFL in points differential and this is the tipping point, so to speak. The Steelers have the defensive base to pressure Aaron Rodgers out of a comfort zone and game plan but the big-play potential in the Green Bay offense rates the edge over the Rashard Mendenhall power-running option in the end.
Green Bay 17 Pittsburgh 16

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.