Lovie: We will have more balance

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Lovie: We will have more balance

Monday, Sept. 19, 2011
Posted: 8:18 p.m.

By JohnMullin
CSNChicago.com BearsInsider Follow@CSNMoonMullin Lovie-speak

The Bears coach had some things to say on Bears Insider Monday night with play-by-play man Jeff Joniak on WBBM-AM 780. The matter of playcalling balance was among the first things brought up and it sounds like Mike Martzs passing fancy wont be allowed to continue for seven games the way it did in the 2010 season.

Its always concerning when you have that amount of rushes, Smith said. You need to have more and we will have more.

Smith looked at the Bears scoring a field goal just before halftime and another by Robbie Gould to bring the score to 16-13 before Jay Cutler was sacked and forced into a fumble that became a New Orleans touchdown five plays later. That turnover really hurt us, Smith said.

But while the offensive line has taken hits on and off the field, between injuries and criticism, Smith was clear that the problems are not all with the front five.

You definitely just cant blame the offensive line, Smith said, citing the receivers, quarterback, tight ends and backs. Its a combinationall of the above.

Receivers coach Darryl Drake joined Joniak and Smith and didnt have a lot to talk about. Not because of anything game-related, just because hes down two wideouts with the injuries to Earl Bennett (chest) and Roy Williams (groin).

I was really pleased with the way Dane came in and stepped up.

What Drake did have was an extended look at undrafted rookie free agent Dane Sanzenbacher, pressed into service after Bennett went down in the first quarter. For his first game with as many plays as he played, Drake said, I thought he did a good job. Sanzenbacher had a drop but managed to catch 3 of his 7 pass opportunities.

Keeping Cutler upright is not just the job of his blockers, as Drake highlighted. Receivers have evolving responsibilities as plays unfold and they can help with giving the quarterback the proper short-term options.

Just understanding whats going on, when pressures coming, when youre a hot receiver, just seeing those things and reacting fast, Drake said. Because theyre going to bring one more pass rusher than you can block, you have to handle that with receivers.

Devin Hester was unfairly credited with being thrown to nine times, and he caught only one. The numbers arent always what they appear.

There really werent nine times he was targeted, Drake said. Sometimes the quarterback is just throwing the ball away. That can sometimes be very misleading.

You might see that it says Devin Hester was targeted nine times and he only caught one, Drake said. Thats so far from the case.

The view from afar

Peter Kings Monday Morning Quarterback is always a worthwhile read, and hes got an interesting quick hit (pun intended) with respect to the Bears (http:tinyurl.com6bes6h9).

Peter still has the Bears in his Fine 15 (at No. 15) and right now he ranks the Packers (2), Lions (5) and Bears in his top 15 teams. One oddity, though, is the Bears being down at 15 and the Atlanta Falcons, whacked by the Bears, are up at No. 9 after beating Philadelphia after the Eagles lost Michael Vick to injury.

Bad timeing

Underscoring (and correcting by 2 seconds) a point made yesterday, one of the real casualties of the Mike Martz runpass program Sunday was the Bears defense. After the Bears controlled the ball for 5:29 on a TD drive in the first quarter, no Chicago possession lasted longer then two minutes 29 seconds for the rest of the game.

Only three of the final 11 possessions lasted even two minutes total. That is putting the defense back on the field too soon and too often when its Drew Brees on the other side.

Lovie Smith touched on special-teams shortcomings in the area of returns, with good reason. Besides the Bears getting just one meaningless takeaway, they started none of their 13 possessions in plus territory, the opponents side of the 50.

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.

Are Bears better than Texans, Broncos, Dolphins and others? Pro Football Focus says yes

Are Bears better than Texans, Broncos, Dolphins and others? Pro Football Focus says yes

Pro Football Focus has more than its share of both supporters and detractors of how it goes about grading NFL players. They break down every snap for every player, and while there are general agreements on what's seen by naked, untrained eyes who don't put the time and investment into its system that PFF does, there are other evaluations that seem to come out of the blue. While there's occasional guesswork on a player's particular assignment on a given play within its scheme, those of us who've watched and studied nuances of the game, or those who've played it, can usually identify how many jobs were done correctly.

Tuesday, PFF released its rankings of all 32 NFL rosters but in essence focused on the quality of each team's starting lineup, listing the Bears — are you sitting down? — 18th in the league. That's ahead of the likes of the Ravens, Saints, Texans, Dolphins, a Jaguars franchise that's had tons of high draft picks in recent years, as well as the Broncos and Lions (whom they rank 28th). The top five are the Falcons, Patriots, Titans, Packers and Steelers (the Bears play three of those teams in September alone). Among other Bears opponents, they rank the Panthers 10th, Vikings 12th, Buccaneers 13th and Eagles 15th.

[BEARS TICKETS: Get your seats right here]

Their evaluation is based on each player's final score from last season, "elite" and "good" being the top two levels, followed by "average" and "below average" to "poor." The only Bear earning elite status was inside linebacker Jerrell Freeman. Another nine Bears finished with good grades: Jordan Howard, Zach Miller, Josh Sitton, Cody Whitehair, Akiem Hicks, Eddie Goldman, Danny Trevathan, Adrian Amos and Quintin Demps (who earned his grade in Houston).

Those earning average grades were Cam Meredith, Kendall Wright, Kyle Long, Charles Leno, Jr., Pernell McPhee and Prince Amukamara. Below average: Mike Glennon (in mop-up duty in Tampa Bay), Kevin White, Bobby Massie, Leonard Floyd and Jaye Howard. The only Bear earning a poor grade among projected starters was tight end Dion Sims (with Miami). The other potential flaw is that PFF lists Kyle Fuller (no grade) and Bryce Callahan (average) as starters when Marcus Cooper and Cre'Von LeBlanc likely have the inside track to start at cornerback and nickel back, respectively.

How did the Bears get to 18th, above three playoff teams and another that won the Super Bowl two years ago? Well, all of those other teams have more elite players at certain positions, but it's offset by a number of spots occupied by more players with poor or below average grades. The Broncos (25th) for instance, had four elite players, just another four falling under the good grade, but five players listed as poor.

Jordan Howard wants to lead Bears... and lead the league

Jordan Howard wants to lead Bears... and lead the league

So Jordan Howard finished second in the NFL in rushing in his rookie season, despite just a dozen carries in the first three games. The fifth-round pick joined the man who beat him out for the rushing title, Ezekiel Elliott, as one of just five rookies in history to average five or more yards per carry on over 250 carries. And he set the Bears' rookie rushing record with his 1,313 yards while becoming just the fourth in franchise history to rush for that many yards in a season.

Sounds pretty hard to top, like we might be set up for the dreaded sophomore slump.

But...

"Things are a lot different this year because I know what to expect," Howard said during the team's minicamp two weeks ago. "I know all the plays and things like that. I’m not out there thinking, so I can just play free and fast.

"I definitely feel like a veteran 'cause I know what to expect and can help the young guys on the plays that they're not understanding. I’m just more comfortable and want to be a leader."

One of the other things we learned about Howard last year is he's low-key, a man of few words. So the Indiana product by way of UAB will make his points verbally when needed, but his actions will speak louder.

"He was a rookie a year ago and didn't even go in trying to be a leader, telling a five-year guy what was up," said head coach John Fox. "I think with time, and obviously with production like he had, I think it's a role he can fall in to. We're in a performance-based business and even in that locker room, what they do on Sundays gives them some credibility."

One of the concerns about Howard coming out of college was durability, but he answered the bell once he became the starter in week four against Detroit. And he probably wasn't used nearly as much as he should have. The good news about that is he was subject to less wear and tear, averaging just 18 carries per game from that Lions game on.

But besides taking more of a leadership role, Howard wanted to work on his speed without sacrificing the strong base that, paired with keen vision and work by the offensive line, allowed him to hit holes quickly and charge toward the second level of opposing defenses.

"Just improving on the little things – my conditioning, my weight, catching passes. And looking for ways to finish runs better," says Howard. "I feel like I’m in much better shape than I was at this time last year, a little more toned-up."

"It's just training," said Fox. "When you get to that it's more like track speed than football speed and I think he proved pretty worthy of that a year ago as a rookie. Y'know we all can improve on things, and that's the expectation. He's trained hard.

"This time of year last year he wasn’t even practicing," Fox remembered. "I like where we are, we’ve brought in more competition, and he’s better for it. He’s kind of gotten used to an NFL season, he’s come back ready to roll, but he still has work to do before we get to training camp."  

Oh, and the 22-year-old has a couple of other goals he didn't mind sharing, besides being a leader and getting a little faster.

"First off, make the playoffs. Be the leading rusher, and just help the team in any way I can and stay consistent."