Chicago Bears

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.

WATCH: Deonte Thompson channels inner Devin Hester with 109-yard return in Bears preseason game

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AP

WATCH: Deonte Thompson channels inner Devin Hester with 109-yard return in Bears preseason game

It's been a while since Devin Hester electrified the city of Chicago with his touchdown returns, but we got flashbacks of that Saturday night.

Deonte Thompson took a page out of the book of arguably the best returner in NFL history by returning a 109-yard missed field goal to the house as the first half expired during the Bears' second preseason game in Arizona.

It gave the Bears a 17-7 lead, and even had John Fox going crazy on the sideline:

Deonte Thompson, you are ridiculous?

Five Bears who can improve their stock Saturday night against Arizona

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USA Today Sports Images

Five Bears who can improve their stock Saturday night against Arizona

1. QB Mike Glennon

The Bears’ first team offense as a whole could be included under this subhead, whether it’s the offensive line creating holes for a running back (Jordan Howard won't play with a minor corneal abrasion) or the receivers creating more separation to get open. But the onus is on Glennon to be better than he was Thursday night and prove that 0.0 quarterback rating was the product of a small sample size and not a sign of more serious issues. On the other side of things, a bad game from Glennon only would lead to further questions about his ability to succeed as the Bears’ starting quarterback. 

“I mean, (this game is) bigger than the first but not as big as the third,” Glennon said. “I don’t really know how else to say it. Everything gets more amplified Week 1 to 2, 2 to 3 and then ultimately the season opener. Obviously I want to go out and play well but I don’t want to make too big a deal and put too much pressure on a preseason game.” 

2. WR Kevin White

Cameron Meredith can do a lot to help Glennon’s case, but the Bears have a good idea of what they have in the third-year receiver who’s been one of the more steady performers during training camp. Kevin White is in a different position, having not been targeted at all against the Denver Broncos and still needing to prove plenty going into his third year in the NFL. White’s growth this year may be slow, but he needs to show some signs of that growth during preseason games to build up some confidence for Sept. 10. 

“Anytime you go through some injuries, there’s a whole mental game that plays a part of it,” fellow wide receiver Victor Cruz (more on him in a bit) said. “Just talking to him – I think he’s over it. He understands those things are behind him. His confidence is back in his body with the things that he can do. You’re starting to see that out there on the football field. He’s really hitting another gear, catching these balls, going deep down the field and putting pressure on these defensive backs.”

3. WR Victor Cruz

It was a little jarring to see Cruz, a Super Bowl-winning former Pro Bowler, playing until the final snap of Thursday’s game — even if that had something to do with the Bears not having Daniel Braverman available and losing Rueben Randle and Joshua Bellamy to injuries during the game. But Cruz hasn’t seemed to significantly push Kendall Wright for the No. 1 slot receiver job over the last few weeks, and could find himself on the roster bubble by the end of the month. A good showing Saturday night could provide a nice boost to his chance of avoiding that bubble.  

“I've been impressed with him,” Fox said before the Bears’ first preseason game. “He's got a great feel for the game. Sometimes it might not be just how fast they are physically but how fast they play, and he seems to be that type of guy. He's still got plenty of gas in the tank and we're excited to have him.”

4. DE Jonathan Bullard

Bullard is the only player on this list who flashed last Thursday, with an impressive tackle for a loss probably the Bears’ second-best defensive play of the day behind Leonard Floyd’s first-play-of-the-game sack. He’s had a solid camp, too, showing some promising signs after struggling to show much of anything a year ago. For Bullard, Saturday night will be about keeping his arrow pointing up, perhaps to the point that he could start at defensive end opposite Akiem Hicks in Week 1. 

“He’s definitely stronger, faster,” Hicks said. “He was already explosive, right? He has picked up the game to a point where he can play within the scheme now and see things come and be able to predict the play in order to get a step on the guard or the tackle, whoever he’s playing against. Just the things that come with getting more reps.”

5. CB Kyle Fuller

No player may have a better opportunity Saturday night than Fuller, who should be in line to take first-team reps with Bryce Callahan out and Prince Amukamara missing practices this week with a strained hamstring. What Fuller does with this opportunity could be a major deciding factor of whether or not he’s part of the Bears’ 53-man roster — this coaching staff and front office didn’t draft him, and his fifth-year option for 2018 was declined in the spring. 

“It’s a new year,” defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said earlier this month when asked about Fuller. “We start evaluating guys by what you’ve seen on the field at this point.”