Cutler must deal with confusing, hungry Eagles 'D'

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Cutler must deal with confusing, hungry Eagles 'D'

Saturday, Nov. 27, 2010
6:26 PM

By John Mullin
CSNChicago.com

Bears players have admitted that often it is easier to come back from a good win than a bad loss (witness the Bears disaster vs. New York after the MNF win over Green Bay). The Eagles have had not one, but three good wins in the form of the Indianapolis Colts and NFC Easters Washington and the Giants.

One plus in the Bears favor is that the Eagles, besides those three heady wins and now a trip to Chicago, also have a game coming up Thursday back in Philadelphia against the Houston Texans.

The Bears have had 10 days of rest since shutting out the Miami Dolphins and prepare for Sundays 3:15 p.m. kickoff as perhaps the healthiest team in the NFL: zero players on a Game 11 injury report.

By contrast, the Eagles scheduling crucible has them officially without All-Pro cornerback Asante Samuel, ruled out Saturday with a knee injury. Samuel leads the NFL with 7 interceptions and has caused the Bears substantial problems, with three interceptions in New Englands win over the Super Bowl-bound Bears and three solo tackles in the Eagles win last season over the Bears.

Quarterback Jay Cutler thought enough of the Samuel threat to single him out in conversation this week. But even without Samuel, the Philadelphia defense with its league-leading 26 turnovers does precisely the kinds of things that have bedeviled Cutler and the Bears offensive line, albeit less in the past three games since the return of veteran right guard Roberto Garza.

The offensive line makes us go, said tight end Greg Olsen. The last couple weeks its been evident that theyve stepped up and are doing a great job of protecting Jay so he can find guys downfield. When it gets going, its fun.

Dealing with Philadelphias defense, ranked No. 9 in yardage allowed but a surprising 19th in points allowed, has always been an adventure for the Bears. Cutler produced a decidedly pedestrian game against the Eagles last season, throwing for just 171 yards and completing less than 56 percent of his passes; he was less productive in only three 2009 games.

Theyre going to show you a lot of different things, Cutler said. Theyre going to bring some safeties. Great linebackers. Theyve got a lot of odd blitzes.

Bears chances

Whichever defense can force the opposing quarterback into turnovers (the Bears are No. 2 in the NFL with 25 takeaways) gains a massive advantage. Cutler has proven capable of poor decisions and worse throws even as the Bears have built their 7-3 record with him starting all but one of the games. The Bears had the ball with a chance for a win over the Eagles in the closing minute last season but Cutler was intercepted at midfield with 45 seconds remaining.

But Michael Vick, whose fumble last week in the win over the Giants was his first of the year (he has yet to throw an interception) has been throttled by Bears defenses anchored by middle linebacker Brian Urlacher. The Bears allowed Vicks offenses zero touchdowns in 2001 and 2005 games with the Atlanta Falcons and one in 2002. All games were Bears wins.

Urlacher was out for the year last season when the Philadelphia Eagles defeated the Bears 24-20 in a game where Vick got loose for one run of 34 yards.

Our defense is right at the top right now, coach Lovie Smith said. We feel like we are one of the best defenses in the league. But thats the thing about it: When you get through the season, you get a chance to prove that each week. We know that were playing one of the best offenses in the league and were anxious to see how we match up with them.

The game does have several keys, already chronicled by CSNChicago.com and CSNPhilly.com reporters.

More important than most

Lovie Smith has had only one unbeaten November, in 2005 with Kyle Orton as his quarterback. With a win over Philadelphia his Bears will finish this November with a 4-0 mark.

More important, they will log a crucial win over an NFC opponent, one that well could factor into a post-season tiebreaker scenario with the Bears.

The matchup here becomes particularly intriguing because the Eagles are No. 2 in the NFL scoring 28.4 points per game; the Bears are tied for No. 1 allowing barely half that, 14.6 points per game. The Eagles have scored fewer than 20 points in only two games this season. The Bears have allowed as many as 20 just twice (Dallas, Seattle).

Theyre definitely one of the best defenses in the league, if not the best, Vick said. I dont want to offend anybody else around the league but this group is a great group of guys who play together, play fast, play hard, and you can tell theyve jelled together and play with a tremendous amount of confidence. I see why theyve been able to have the success theyve had.

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.

Bears training camp preview: Three burning questions for the offensive line

Bears training camp preview: Three burning questions for the offensive line

With training camp starting next week, CSN Chicago’s Chris Boden and JJ Stankevitz are looking at three burning questions for each of the Bears’ position groups heading into Bourbonnais. Friday's unit: the offensive line. 

1. Will Kyle Long and Josh Sitton flip spots, and will it be effective?

One of the more intriguing storylines to come out of the Bears’ offseason program was the possibility of a Kyle Long-Josh Sitton guard swap, with Long moving from right to left and Sitton to left to right. The prevailing wisdom is that Long’s athleticism would be better suited for the pulls needed at left guard, while Sitton has made Pro Bowls at both positions. But is it prudent for the Bears to make this switch with Long still recovering from November ankle surgery and some nasty complications that came after it? He’s shown he’s skilled enough to already make one position switch on the offensive line (from right tackle to right guard), so there’s no reason to doubt he couldn’t handle another so long as he’s healthy. We’ll see where he is next week. 

“You want flexibility,” coach John Fox said. “You don’t want as much flexibility as we had to use a year ago because we had to play so many guys due to injury. But we’re messing around with (Sitton) and Kyle both playing opposite sides, whether one’s on the left, one’s on the right. We’ll get those looks in camp, we got plenty of time.”

2. Can Charles Leno Jr. capitalize on a contract year?

Leno has been a pleasant surprise given the low expectations usually set for seventh-round picks. He started every game in 2016, checking off an important box for John Fox — reliability. Whether Leno can be more than a reliable player at left tackle, though, remains to be seen (if the Bears thought he were, wouldn’t they have signed him to an extension by now?). He has one more training camp and 16 games to prove he’s worthy of a deal to be the Bears (or someone else’s) left tackle of the future. Otherwise, the Bears may look to a 2018 draft class rich in tackles led by Texas’ Connor Williams and Notre Dame’s Mike McGlinchey. 

“I know if I take care of my business out here, everything else will take care of itself,” Leno said. 

3. Will Hroniss Grasu survive the roster crunch?

A year ago, Grasu was coming off a promising rookie season and was in line to be the Bears’ starting center. But the Oregon product tore his ACL in August, and Cody Whitehair thrived after a last-minute move from guard to center. If the Bears keep eight offensive lineman this year, Grasu could be squeezed out: Leno, Long, Whitehair, Sitton and Bobby Massie are the likely starters, with Eric Kush and Tom Compton filling reserve roles. That leaves one spot, either for fifth-round guard Jordan Morgan or Grasu. The Bears could try to stash Morgan, who played his college ball at Division-II Kutztown, on the practice squad and keep Grasu. But Grasu doesn’t have flexibility to play another position besides center, which could hurt his case. 

Bears training camp preview: 3 burning questions for tight ends

Bears training camp preview: 3 burning questions for tight ends

With training camp starting next week, CSN Chicago’s Chris Boden and JJ Stankevitz are looking at three burning questions for each of the Bears’ position groups heading into Bourbonnais. Thursday's unit: the tight ends.

1. Will Zach Miller make the 53-man roster?

Miller didn’t play a single down from 2012-14, and has missed seven games in two seasons with the Bears, but he’s been productive when on the field: 110 targets, 81 receptions, 925 yards and nine touchdowns. But the Bears signed Dion Sims to an $18 million contract and then drafted Adam Shaheen in the second round of the draft, moves that seemingly put Miller in a precarious position heading into Bourbonnais. Not helping Miller’s case is the Lisfranc fracture he suffered last November, which kept him sidelined through OTAs and veteran minicamp in May and June. He’d be a valuable player for the Bears to keep around, but at the same time, training camp could be a perfect storm for Miller to be among the cuts.

“They’re going to cutting it close for training camp,” coach John Fox said of Miller (and Danny Trevathan) in June. “But right now they’re right on target and that’s kind of what we expected all offseason.”

2. What can we expect from Adam Shaheen?

Shaheen was among the bright spots during May and June, hardly looking like someone who played his college ball at Division II Ashland while going against NFL defenders. But those were just shorts-and-helmets practices without any contact, so it’d be premature to project anything about Shaheen off of them. The real test for Shaheen will be when he puts the pads on in Bourbonnais and gets his first experience with the physicality of the NFL after a few years of being head and shoulders — literally — above his competition in college. It’s unlikely Shaheen will live up to his “Baby Gronk” hype in Year 1, but if he handles training camp well, he could be a valuable red zone asset for Mike Glennon as a rookie. 

“You don’t know until you put the pads on,” Shaheen said. “That’s what I’m excited for.”

3. How productive can this unit be?

Between Sims — who had a career high four touchdowns last year with the Miami Dolphins — and Shaheen, the Bears have two new, big targets for an offense that tied for 24th in the NFL with 19 passing touchdowns a year ago. If Miller sticks around, this group would have enviable depth. But even if he doesn’t, the Bears liked what they saw from Brown last year (16 receptions, 124 yards, 1 TD in six games). There are fewer questions about the tight ends heading into training camp than the receivers, and it wouldn’t be surprising if Glennon leans on this unit, especially early in the season.