Moon: Bears - not Packers - will hoist Halas Trophy

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Moon: Bears - not Packers - will hoist Halas Trophy

Saturday, Jan. 22, 2011
Posted: 8:35 PM

By John Mullin
CSNChicago.com

Random thought: Do you realize that there are no teams in the Final Four from west of the Mississippi?

Somehow this week leading up to the Bears-Packers NFC Championship game has been more enjoyable without the silly rancor and venom flowing out of the two sides. The players dont hate each other or even really dislike each other. The coaches are the antithesis of Ditka-Gregg or even Halas-LombardiLambeau.

No, the point of the week is the Bears playing for a place in the Super Bowl. Theyre also playing for their own and Lovie Smiths place in Bears history, which is very close to being secure in the long term with his record and in the short term with a contract extension.

A win over Green Bay will give Smith his second trip to a Super Bowl in five years, something Ditka accomplished just once in 11, although he had the good sense (and team) to win his.

But is that going to happen?

I believe it is.

The reasons no

In a game likely to turn, like so many playoff ones do, on the quarterback, the Packers hold a significant edge. Jay Cutler has the capability of playing at a high level; his 111.3 passer rating, one sans interceptions, against Seattle said he can deliver a solid performance in a game of huge import.

But Aaron Rodgers has done the same, at higher levels, more often, against better opposition and in two different postseasons. He is simply a better quarterback as well as a better passer.

And as good as the Bears defense is, the Green Bay defense is as good, better even at allowing points. The Packers ranked No. 2 in the NFL, giving up 15 points per game while standing fifth-overall in passing yards allowed. The Bears are No. 4 at 17.9 per game and rank No. 2 in rushing defense at 90 yards per game, although running the ball is not the key element in the Green Bay offense.

But that is not the entire story.
The reasons yes

The Bears defense held the Packers to 10 points in Game 16, one that meant everything to Green Bay. The Bears played their starters but no player prepares as hard for a game of no consequence as he does for one of significance, and games often are won or lost in preparation, or lack of it. And that game was in Green Bay, on a good field.

Comparative scores arent always a true measure. To that point, the New York Jets, the team I expect to be in the Super Bowl with the Bears, the one that lost 45-3 to New England, took the Patriots to the shed barely a month later. But while it is obvious that the Green Bay defense has throttled the Chicago offense more often than not, its less obvious but accurate to say that the Bears defense has done its due diligence dealing with the Packers.

In their past five games the Packers have lost by 4 points on the road to the New England Patriots, then successively defeated the New York Giants, Bears, Philadelphia Eagles and Atlanta Falcons to reach this point. All teams with 10 wins or more. They have played the best single five-game stretch of football by any team in the NFC to earn their place in the conference championship.

And as good as I thought the Packers would be going into this season (projected division champions), I have a difficult time seeing any team hold to that level of excellence under that much pressure that often.
And so

I dislike picking upsets, and the Packers are favored by 3-12 points, meaning basically by a touchdown given 3 points generally accorded for home-field advantage. And a run like the Packers have had over the past five games against very good opponents is too much to expect.

The Miami Dolphins scored 23 in beating the Packers. The Lions (26) and Vikings (24) scored 50 in losses to Green Bay. None of those teams had a quarterback the equal of Cutler, a true wild card in a championship setting, something he has not seen since high school.

The Bears will score more than all of them. And that will be enough.

Bears 28 Green Bay 21

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: 3 burning questions for coaching staff

Bears training camp preview: 3 burning questions for coaching staff

With Bears players reporting for training camp Wednesday, CSN Chicago’s Chris Boden and JJ Stankevitz have been spending the last two weeks looking at three burning questions at each position group. The series concludes with Boden’ s look at the coaching staff.

1. Can John Fox find a balance between necessary snaps, and staying healthy?

Unless he’s practicing this team every day (he’s not) and hitting every day (he’s not doing that, either), a coach really can’t be blamed for injuries. That out-of-his-hands factor has kept his first two years from a true evaluation, yet every team has to deal with them. He and Ryan Pace have been particularly hamstrung (pun intended) by the fact so many key, high draft picks/building blocks and impact free agent signings (see Pernell McPhee, Danny Trevathan, Eddie Royal) have spent significant time on the sidelines. 

Fox tweaked the workout schedule in Bourbonnais with more consistent start times (all in the 11 a.m. hour), mixing in off-days and walk-throughs. Yet there are heavy competitions to sift through, particularly at wide receiver, cornerback, and safety, and projected starters must learn to get used to each other (and the offense get used to Mike Glennon) so that miscommunication is at a minimum. The Falcons, Buccaneers, Steelers and Packers won’t wait for them to get on the same page over the first 19 days of the regular season.

2. How does Dowell Loggains divide up quarterback snaps?

His starting quarterback basically hasn’t played since 2014 and is trying to master a new system, working with new receivers. All while Mike Glennon tries to be “all systems go”-ready on Sept. 10. Loggains is also in charge of developing the quarterback of the future, who never previously worked under center or called a huddle. If Mitch Trubisky isn’t the backup to start the season, Mark Sanchez, who missed all of minicamp with a knee injury, has to gain enough of a comfort level with the playbook and his receivers to slide in in the event of an emergency. These practices usually top out at about two hours, maybe a bit longer. Will there basically be two practices going on at the same time? If so, how can Loggains and the offensive assistants not overdo it for those at other positions?

3. Are Vic Fangio and Leonard Floyd tied at the hip?

The defensive coordinator still oversees all the position groups, but will focus particularly on the oustide linebackers and the prized pupil, Leonard Floyd. Fangio says he liked what he’s seen of the 2016 first-round pick this off-season, once he recovered from his second concussion. But he said all the bumps, bruises, strains, pulls, and bell-ringing didn’t mean anything more than an incomplete rookie grade. At this point, he’d probably like to be joined to Floyd’s hip in Bourbonnais, because that means he’ll be staying on the practice field, learning. “3b” in this category would be Ed Donatell sorting through a long list of young defensive backs to find the right pieces to keep for the present and future, in addition to finding four starters who’ll take the ball away a lot better than they’ve done the past two seasons.

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.