Moon: Bears still need to find themselves

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Moon: Bears still need to find themselves

Friday, Sept. 9, 2011
Posted: 11:01 a.m.

By JohnMullin
CSNChicago.com BearsInsider Follow@CSNMoonMullin
The New Orleans-Green Bay game was almost exactly what should have been expected from two of the absolutely elite offenses and, in the end, from an elite defense as the Packers stuffed Heisman-Boy Mark Ingram at the goal line to preserve the win.

It was a game that no doubt sent scares through Bears Nation because the reality is that the Bears cannot score with either of those teams.

But thats not the point. The point is whether the Bears even should try. Because they shouldnt.

You dont win by pursuing a strategy that the other guy clearly does better than you do. You play to your strength, not his.

And you begin by knowing yourself. The Bears quarterback sounds like he completely gets that.

You know, its only the second year for a lot of the guys in this offense, and we got some new guys that are just coming into it, quarterback Jay Cutler said. Were still growing, were still figuring things out, were still learning by experience, so we just got to go out there and play mistake-free football. Were going to mess up some plays, and have some mentals out there. We just got to limit them.

One thing that was graphically made clear last year is that the Bears do not have the blocking prowess to run the passing offense Mike Martz operates. Ideally, a quick-release West Coast system puts an average offensive line in its best position for success, but Martz doesnt run that. So if the Bears use a game plan that throws the ball as many times as Green Bay and New Orleans did, the only question is not whether Cutler will be sacked, but how often?

The Bears have a seventh-rounder (JMarcus Webb) at left tackle and a rookie (Gabe Carimi) at right. The Packers have second-rounder Chad Clifton at left and 2010 first-rounder Brian Bulaga on their edges. They run an offense that uses short drops, and notably, Aaron Rodgers was sacked 50 times in 2009 and 31 last season.

But right now, as impressive as Ryan Grant and James Starks were running the ball for the Packers, the Bears have a clear advantage over Green Bay in the persons of Matt Forte and, when he comes in, Marion Barber.

The point of this Bears season will not be how often they throw the football visavis Green Bay or New Orleans. If they throw the ball that often, they will finish up the track, probably without Cutler upright. Cutler doesnt have the Green Bay or New Orleans receiver group, or a tight end the equal of Jermichael Finley.

If they try to play like they do, season over.
Good perspective

Tom Thayer weighed in on Matt Fortes situation during last nights Countdown to Kickoff. '

Running backs are a dime a dozen but football players are few and far between. Matt Forte is a football player, said Thayer, former Bear and current WBBM-AM color commentator. Matt is the perfect fit for the Chicago Bears. Matt deserves an upgrade in this contract because hes a great football player, not because hes a running back.

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."