Moon: Bears must avoid temptation against Packers

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Moon: Bears must avoid temptation against Packers

Sunday, Sept. 25, 2011
Posted: 1:00 a.m.

By John Mullin
CSNChicago.com Bears Insider Follow @CSNMoonMullin
As the Bears began game-planning for the Green Bay Packers, sorting through their own misfortunes in New Orleans and assessing the Green Bay games against the Saints and Carolina Panthers, the first task may have been to avoid temptation.

The Saints and Panthers threw for a combined 851 yards in their games against the Green Bay defense. That is the sort of thing a Mike Martz or any offensive coordinator cannot help but notice.

The idea, however, is expected to be avoiding exactly the kind of game plan that New Orleans and Carolina used.

Because both of them lost their games and the Bears lost their game to New Orleans. Drew Brees threw 49 passes in his defeat, Cam Newton 46 in his and Jay Cutler 45 (not including the six sacks and one scramble). That should have established what hasnt worked against the Packers or for the Bears.

Ironically, however, this may be the week in which Mike Martz can justify turning his quarterback into a launch platform. The Packers have not defended the pass but Martz forfeited some of his influence with the misguided performance in New Orleans.

Much of the early week was spent clarifying, from Lovie Smith on down, that the offense needs to establish, if not that it can run, but that it at least thinks about it. Balance, balance, balance.... And giving the offense the ball in position to do some damage.

Everybody knows what it takes for us to win, said coach Lovie Smith. Defensively we have to take the ball away. When you have two teams like this, a lot of times it comes down to that.

And one other thing, the Bears believe.

In search of returns

For all of the various angles of analysis on dealing with the Packers, the one that has consistently been an indicator of outcome has been the Bears return game. When the Bears make something happen on a kickoff or punt return, they typically win.

In the win last year over the Packers, Devin Hester returned a punt 62 yards for a touchdown. Hester had a 28-yard punt return to set up the offenses one TD. Danieal Manning brought a kickoff back 44 yards for field position if not points.

Contrast that with the 15.5 yards Manning averaged in the 10-3 season-ending loss. Hesters long return was 19 yards. Matters declined in the NFC Championship game, with Manning's average a paltry 15.8 yards on four kickoff returns, none longer than 24 yards. Hesters return efforts shrank again, to 5.3 yards per on his three punt returns.

Through two games this year, the return game has produced virtually nothing.

Johnny Knox has a 30-yard kickoff return but Hester has averaged only 20 yards on five kickoff returns. Hester had one punt return against Atlanta for 14 yards but one for minus-4 yards in New Orleans and had to fair-catch three punts.

We are definitely close, but whats close and whats far? coach Lovie Smith reflected. Return game-wise, we have to get it going. We havent gotten any production from our punt return, kickoff return. But with Devin Hester, the greatest returner of all time, its just a matter of time. Hopefully itll be this week.
Running concerns

Both the Atlanta Falcons (110) and New Orleans Saints (118) rushed for more than 100 yards and averaged a combined 5.3 yards per carry against a defense that allowed just 3.7 per rush last season and was No. 2 in the NFL in fewest rushing yards allowed per game. Neither team ran the ball into the end zone but the trend, if it is that, is alarming. The Saints were 28th in the NFL in rushing yards and Atlanta was 26th in rushing average.

Overshadowed by the Cutler injury firestorm in the wake of the NFC Championship was the fact that Green Bay ran for 120 yards on the Bears and registered their two offensive touchdowns on running plays.

The problem of planning for the Packers is compounded, however, by the simple fact that they are expected to look to pound the Bears on the ground on a day likely to feature rain, and they have Aaron Rodgers regardless of the weather.

We know we have our hands full, said defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli. No doubt about it. But weve just got to tend to our business.

On the receiving end

The true problem with defending the Green Bay passing offense is not that it has a true elite receiver in Greg Jennings, but that it has so many good ones. The Bears had five players catch at least 40 passes but two of them (Matt Forte, Greg Olsen) were not wide receivers. The Packers top four receivers were wideouts Jennings, Donald Driver, James Jones, Jordy Nelson each caught 45 or more, plus the 43 that went to running back Brandon Jackson.

Theyre the best well face all year, cornerback Charles Tillman said flatly. Theres so many of them, individually their effort, their ability to get yards after the catch.

Theyre in a league of their own.

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.

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Next couple weeks a critical opportunity for Brian Hoyer, Bears

Next couple weeks a critical opportunity for Brian Hoyer, Bears

One overarching NFL reality is that with extremely rare exception, the quarterback position is always a matter for discussion and planning.

Even in Green Bay when Brett Favre was setting the standard for durability, the Packers were about succession planning, cycling through quality backups (Mark Brunell, Aaron Brooks, Matt Hasselbeck) until one – Aaron Rodgers – was needed.

Even in New England, where Tom Brady wasn’t missing a game for 14 of the last 15 seasons, yet the Patriots were drafting quarterbacks in the second or third rounds of three of the last six drafts.

What the Bears are confronting last weekend and this Sunday is a template for what could be their tactics for the position in the year or years ahead. The Philadelphia Eagles with Carson Wentz and Dallas Cowboys with Dak Prescott are starting (and winning with) rookies who were selected into a depth chart presumably already set with a starter in place. And the Bears have faced a situation in their recent past eerily similar to one just three years ago that, had it been handled differently, might have positioned the Bears somewhere similar to where Dallas and Philadelphia now find themselves.

With Jay Cutler in the final year of his contract calling for guaranteed money, 2016 was clearly a prove-it year for him irrespective of the Bears’ failure to invest a meaningful draft pick in a possible successor. Now Cutler is injured and Brian Hoyer is the presumptive starter, setting up a potential scenario not altogether unlike what they faced in 2013 when Josh McCown stepped in twice when Cutler was hurt.

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McCown played the best football of his career, giving the Bears the option of re-signing him as a placeholder and pursuing a young apprentice, which the Marc Trestman coaching staff favored, or signing Cutler to a massive contract and committing to him as a franchise quarterback, which GM Phil Emery did.

Hoyer may or may not play remotely as well as McCown did. But this is not entirely a position competition between Cutler and Hoyer, any more than Cutler-McCown was. Should Hoyer perform creditably, however, as he did last year to get the Houston Texans into the playoffs, he gives the Bears another “McCown Option” – an affordable, competent-if-unspectacular veteran who starts until such time as the young quarterback is ready. That could be as early as the draft pick’s rookie season – as Wentz was correctly judged to be in Philadelphia, as Russell Wilson once was in Seattle, and Prescott is demonstrating in Dallas.

Wentz was not going to start for Philadelphia before the Eagles were offered a can’t-refuse offer by the Minnesota Vikings for Sam Bradford. Prescott was not drafted to be a starter, but Tony Romo’s preseason back injury and Kellen Moore’s broken ankle changed whatever QB plan the Cowboys had.

If there’s a twist to the situation it lies in the fact that it is far from necessary to believe that winning quarterbacks lie only in the first round. Jared Goff, the No. 1 overall pick, is still riding the Los Angeles Rams bench. Paxton Lynch, grabbed by Denver at the end of round one, wasn’t able to take the Broncos’ starting job away from Trevor Siemian, the 250th pick of the 2015 draft whose only action last season was one kneel-down.

But Jacoby Brissett, New England’s third-round pick this year, and Cody Kessler, Cleveland’s 2016 No. 3 pick, are starting, jokes about Cleveland notwithstanding.

The Bears looked closely at Marcus Mariota going into the 2015 draft. But they were faced with a franchise decision of expending massive draft capital in a trade, something they did once upon a time in 2009 for Cutler and didn’t want to do again with other needs to fill.

Ryan Pace has had 15 draft choices in his two drafts as Bears general manager. None were invested in a quarterback. He will not go a third draft weekend without discussing the quarterback the Bears selected in (insert round here).