Downing the Packers a key playoff tuneup at least

Downing the Packers a key playoff tuneup at least

Tuesday, Dec. 28, 2010
12:34 PM

By John Mullin
CSNChicago.com

The New Orleans Saints gave the Bears a boost toward the seemingly unlikely prospect of the No. 1 seed when the Saints upset the Atlanta Falcons on Monday night.

If the Philadelphia Eagles lose one of their last two (and playing three games in 12 days makes that a distinct possibility); the Falcons stumble again and lose to lowly Carolina at home (very, very unlikely); and the Saints slip up against Tampa Bay at home (another longshot), the Bears could ease into the NFCs top spot with a win over the Packers in Green Bay.

Downing the Packers in a flexd (to 3:15 p.m. next Sunday) becomes a key playoff tuneup at the very least.

W 19-14 Sept. 12 vs. Detroit Lions (5-10)

Bears survive four turnovers and red-zone failures to escape with a W after officials rule Calvin Johnson did not complete a potential winning TD catch. Jay Cutler passes for 372 yards, Matt Forte nets 201 yards on 24 touches.

W 27-20 Sept. 19 At Dallas Cowboys (5-10)

Cutlers zero INTs plus in-game adjustments to Dallas pressure produced TD passes to Devin Hester, Greg Olsen and Matt Forte. Physical defense forced three Cowboys turnovers, all involving nickel back D.J. Moore who gets his first two career picks.

W 20-17 Sept. 27 (Mon.) Green Bay Packers (9-6)

Nothing like a truly pivotal game just three weeks into a season. The winner gets the first tiebreak edge and the Bears have a chance to go 3-0 in the NFC. All games are statement games this one comes with an exclamation point.

L 3-17 Oct. 3 At New York Giants (9-6)

The missing pass rush returned to get Jay Cutler and vault the Giants squarely back in the midst of a very tight NFC East race among non-exceptional teams. Cutler was sacked nine times and left at halftime with a concussion that ruled out realistic chances for a comeback.

W 23-6 Oct. 10 At Carolina Panthers (2-13)

A horrendous, four-interception performance by Todd Collins was offset by 218 rushing yards, 166 by Matt Forte who scored twice, and the defense shutting down the Panthers with 147 yards. Bears finally exploded in a first quarter and stayed with a run commitment with changes in the OL.

L 23-20 Oct. 17 Seattle Seahawks (6-9)

Seattle bumbled to 3 points in a loss to St. Louis, then came in from the week off to handle the Bears everywhere but special teams. Bears play calling (12 runs, 47 pass plays) becoming an issue as Cutler was sacked six times and Bears rarely got close to laying a hand on Matt Hasselbeck.

L 17-14 Oct. 24 Washington Redskins (6-9)

Jay Cutler throws 4 INTs to DeAngelo Hall and fumbles at the goal line in another game in which Mike Martz refuses to run the football. Bears lose at home for the second straight week, first time since Lovie Smiths rookie year (2004). Questions now are whether Bears can change course on offense after three miserable performances in last four games.

Oct. 31 Off week

W 22-19 Nov.7 At Buffalo BillsToronto (4-11)

Tim Jennings interception led to a game-winning touchdown in a game that the Bears nearly let get away and gave up 3 TDs on defense for just the second time this season (Seattle). Jay Cutler managed the offense with some control and the offensive line allowed just one sack while coaches committed to the run enough to call 26 plays on the ground.

W 27-13 Nov. 14 Minnesota Vikings (5-9)

In a best game of the season with all three phases playing well, the Bears all but bury the season for a dysfunctional Vikings team that has a quarterback done after the season and head coach possibly sooner. Jay Cutler throws three TD passes and backs carry 32 times; defense gets four takeaways; and Devin Hester shows he hasnt forgotten how to return kickoffs as well as punts.

W 16-0 Nov. 18 At Miami Dolphins (7-8)

The defense recorded the first shutout since 06 and the offense, while not punching in red-zone opportunities the way it needs to, was efficient. A third straight game with 30 or more rushes was a first for a Mike Martz offense and has helped the offensive line settle in and taken pressure off Cutler. The result is another solid game of third-down conversions against a respectable defense.

W 31-26 Nov. 28 Philadelphia Eagles (10-4)

The building continues with a new high for Jay Cutler passing as he throws 4 TDs on just 21 attempts and Matt Forte runs for 117 yards in 14 carries. The defense stays basic to deal with Michael Vick, who gets some passing yards but into the end zone only twice.

W 24-20 Dec. 5 at Detroit Lions (5-10)

With third-stringer Drew Stanton in just his second NFL start, the Lions ran over the Bears for 253 yards in the first half as the Chicago offense had to prop up the D for a change. Jay Cutler was sacked four times but big defensive plays in the second half held Detroit to 49 yards and 3 points as the offense turned in a workmanlike performance with more of the run-pass balance that has worked.

L 36-7 Dec. 12 New England Patriots (13-2)

For the second straight week the New England defense showed that statistical rankings mean nothing, and the Patriots offense also showed the Bears to be as vulnerable as any other supposedly top defense. The 33-0 halftime score was jaw-dropping but the overall should have showed the Bears how far from true elite status they are.

W 40-14 Dec. 20 At Minnesota Vikings (5-9)

Brett Favre made what turned out to project as his final NFL start, by virtue of a sack by Corey Wootton of the future Hall of Famer. The weather was abysmal for the game moved outdoors because of the Metrodome collapse and Devin Hester celebrated with a history making TD return to set the NFL record.

W 38-34 Dec. 26 New York Jets (10-5)

A botched fake punt opened the door for the Bears to put up 21 points in the third quarter as Jay Cutler threw 3 TD passes against one of the NFLs elite secondaries. The defense allowing 27 points is worrisome but the offense has become capable of winning games on its own.

Jan. 2 at Green Bay Packers (9-6) Next: vs. Bears

The Packers got Aaron Rodgers back from his concussion absence and obliterated the Giants in a game that kept Green Bay in the playoff discussion. If the Eagles win out and the Bears fall in Lambeau, the Bears and Packers will face each other a week later in Soldier Field, a matchup neither team may find all that appealing.

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.

Rookie class making much-needed impact from Bears

Rookie class making much-needed impact from Bears

Preseason games are about evaluations as well as fusing together the component parts of offense, defense and special teams. But for a handful of Bears, a little more is at stake, for the franchise itself, not just for themselves.

The foundation of any franchise ultimately is the draft, and the Bears are seeing at least preliminary impact from key members of this draft class, and not simply down in the lower third of the projected roster. Why that becomes particularly relevant this weekend is that preseason game No. 3 is when starters and key rotational players, and the top picks in this year’s draft are in fact already firmly ensconced in roles at the top of the depth charts.

[SHOP: Gear up Bears fans!]

Among the most significant:

No. 1 - OLB Leonard Floyd

The No. 9-overall pick has not dominated through two games but insiders told CSNChicago.com that Floyd has not only played the run very well, but also delivered impact pass rushes even if only netting him a half-sack on stat sheets. Floyd has played 68 of opponents’ 126 presesaon snaps already and is a critical part of the current edge rotation with Sam Acho, Lamarr Houston and Willie Young as well of the future Bears defenses.

Floyd has missed practice time with three separate issues but “we've been very, very pleased with his progress,” coach John Fox said, an extra “very” always being noteworthy.

No. 2 - LG Cody Whitehair

After a brief flirtation with him replacing injured Hroniss Grasu at center, Whitehair has resumed his upward-trending at left guard. He has been the starter there since the opening of training camp, given an opportunity with an injury to Ted Larsen, and Whitehair has never given the job up.

“He’s done well,” said quarterback Jay Cutler. “He’s a smart kid. He’s quiet, he kind of fits in with that group and he’s doing exactly what we ask him to do. He’s really talented. You can see some stuff he does, the way he passes things off, it comes natural to him.”

No. 3 - DE Jonathan Bullard

Bullard has been given significant playing time (71 of opponents’ 126 snaps) and has produced four tackles, one for loss, and a half sack. He is part of a rotation with Mitch Unrein primarily and has demonstrated starter-grade impact already. “Our expectations are big,” said Fox. “My experience has been, you don’t expect much, you don’t get much. I think he’s lived up to expectations so far.”

No. 4’s - S Deon Bush/CB Deiondre’ Hall

The Bears selected safety Deon Bush three picks ahead of Hall in the fourth round; Bush did play 44 snaps and make two solo tackles against New England but has been out with an injury this week. 

Hall tied for team high with five tackles vs. Denver, plus two pass breakups, and followed that with two tackles at New England as he took over when starter Jacoby Glenn went out with a concussion.

“[Hall] has improved,” Fox said. “When you bring in rookies you don’t really know. You get them out there, they play. He’s played a lot. He’s actually shown up pretty good. We’ll see where that takes us.”

No. 5 - RB Jordan Howard

Howard was given the ball 11 times during his 31 snaps at New England and netted 46 yards along with rave reviews from scouts. His workload may diminish against Kansas City with Ka’Deem Carey back from injury and Jeremy Langford and Jaquizz Rodgers doing heavy time with the No. 1 offense. But he has already made a strong impression.

“Howard, the rookie, has kind of followed along, picked it up as he goes,” Cutler said. “So with those four guys, you’ve got a lot of options.”

Safety DeAndre Houston-Carson (No. 6) and wideout Daniel Braverman (No. 7) have played but their main work will come next Thursday in the game four at Cleveland.

Bears: One-time starter Christian Jones willing to forge a new role in changing D

Bears: One-time starter Christian Jones willing to forge a new role in changing D

What’s wrong with this picture? Or maybe, what’s right?

Over the past two years, no Bear made more tackles than Christian Jones’ 196 – a total accomplished in spite of being shunted around in a death-spiraling 4-3 scheme under the Marc Trestman staff in 2014 and then moved inside as part of the John Fox/Vic Fangio 3-4 last season.

An undrafted free agent picked up by the Phil Emery regime out of Florida State, Jones also was third in special-teams tackles (11) in 2014 and contributed four last season along with four pass breakups and four quarterback pressures.

Then this offseason Jones could only watch as the Bears made replacing him (and Shea McClellin) a priority, signing inside linebackers Jerrell Freeman and Danny Trevathan. And suddenly Jones finds himself in a battle for a roster spot. He even saw his number (59) taken to one of the new guys (Trevathan).

It is not often that teams put replacing one of their leading tacklers high on their offseason to-do lists. But there it was.

“You can’t really get surprised,” said Jones, still among the most upbeat players to be found anywhere on the roster. “It’s the NFL, and they brought in two good players, and that’s going to help the team, the defense. I was all in for that.

“So it’s taking my role and doing the best I can with that.”

The trouble is, that “role” is fluid.

[MORE: Bears now losing players to rampant stomach virus]

Coaches came to Jones early in the offseason and said they were moving him back to the outside. Fine. He was comfortable there before. Except that since the start of training camp, Jones has been something of a “Where’s Waldo?” character – inside, outside, try finding him.

If there’s an irony, it lies in the fact that not finding Jones a clear role sets him up as a piece of roster versatility that teams crave.

“We went and signed two inside linebackers in free agency and moved him to outside, and now we’ve kind of moved him back inside, so he’s kind of a hybrid,” said coach John Fox. “And sometimes you have to be that.

“There’s the old adage, ‘The more you can do… ,’ and there are a lot of those hybrid guys in different spots. It gives him an advantage, too, as far as offensive recognition.”

Fox and the Bears staff have placed a premium on attitude as well, and Jones has continued to be a factor on special teams, something not every three-year veteran and former starter embraces.

Jones thinks clearly: “You want to have a job,” he said, laughing. “That’s the main thing.”

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The bumping around between positions has not set Jones’ development back. Indeed, “I think it’s been somewhat smooth, and playing both, I’m getting a sense of the defense,” Jones said. “That helps a lot. It’s a good thing to know both spots because you never know with injuries, so in the long run it helps me and helps the team.”

When Jones was tasked with calling defensive signals in McClellin’s absence last season, it did not go overly well. Jones was benched by Fangio in Week 15 for inconsistency.

Indications are that something has changed. “I think there is a maturity difference, in my opinion,” Fox said.

Not enough injury woes? Bears now losing players to rampant stomach virus

Not enough injury woes? Bears now losing players to rampant stomach virus

John Fox could be excused for wondering if someone somewhere is sticking voodoo pins in a Bears doll. If it weren’t for bad luck, the 2016 Bears might have no luck at all. And now things have gotten worse, not better.

The Bears coach has overseen the M*A*S*H unit working to look like an NFL team while dealing with a sick bay situation that some days has made it seem easier to list the Bears who ARE practicing rather than the ones who aren’t.

Besides the injury tsunami that has beset them, the Bears this week are dealing with a flu/stomach virus that has hit as many as a dozen players, some more severely than others, and had one Bears higher-up facetiously (or maybe not) reaching for the Walter Payton Center door handle with his hand covered.

“We've got about six illnesses,” Fox said Wednesday, a list that included rookie cornerback Deiondre’ Hall, right tackle Bobby Massie and fullback Darrel Young for the first time.

Not all of practice was a study of absenteeism. Kicker Robbie Gould capped off Wednesday’s indoor session with a 57-yard field goal, consistent with his standing as one of the most accurate kickers in NFL history.

Gould has converted a respectable 83.2 percent of attempts in the wind tunnel known as Soldier Field. He has converted 90 percent of his kicks in NFL stadiums with either a dome or retractable roof.

[SHOP: Gear up Bears fans!]

Tight end Zach Miller and wide receiver Eddie Royal practiced again on Wednesday wearing don’t-hit-me red jerseys throughout practice, emblematic of their return from preseason concussions. They represent critical elements in the Bears’ passing offense, with Royal signed to put in place a steady veteran for three-receiver packages.

“We’re at a point now where we’re like, 'hey, we’ve got some time here with you guys; let’s get you guys back to 100 percent,’” said quarterback Jay Cutler. “We know what they can do on the field. It’s just a matter of us getting into game week and getting them back in the flow.”

How did Royal look coming back from his missed time? “Fresh,” Cutler said, smiling. “As he should be.”