Moon: This game is more than just another game

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Moon: This game is more than just another game

Sunday, Oct. 2, 2011
Posted: 12:01 a.m.

By JohnMullin
CSNChicago.com BearsInsider Follow@CSNMoonMullin Ron Rivera will not be on the playing field Sunday but make no mistake: He will be a key figure in the game between the Bears and his Carolina Panthers.

Rivera was let go after the 2006 season despite the Bears reaching the Super Bowl. Exact reasons are always difficult to discern -- he and Lovie Smith had increasing differences over schemes; Smith grew tired of Rivera in an annual hunt for a head-coaching job; Rivera was becoming too much of a media darling for a defense that ultimately was Smiths purview.

Where the truth ultimately lies doesnt matter at all at this point. And it does not diminish the regard in which he is still held by his former players.

He was the ultimate players coach, said linebacker Brian Urlacher. You could talk to him about anything.

He wasnt a bitch coach he didnt bitch at you. He would relay his message to you but not where it was demeaning to you. And you definitely got his message.

Rivera has been successful at every stop in his NFL career. He was a member of the 1985 Bears, a second-round pick in the 1984 draft. When he moved into coaching, he was a success with the Philadelphia Eagles (1999-2003), the Bears (2004-2006) and the San Diego Chargers (linebackers coach first, then defensive coordinator). Taking over the woeful Panthers, he already has achieved one-half the victory total for Carolinas full 2010 season.

Lance Briggs was moved from strong-side to weak-side linebacker after Smith and Rivera arrived in 2004, a change that opened the career path for Briggs.

For me, Ron Rivera was just someone who would tell me how difficult it is to make a play, but at the same time, if I can make that play 'we'll shut this play down and you will help our team to win this game,' Briggs said. He had a way of explaining things to a player, to inspire him, and it also let me know that he was there.

He'll tell you, 'That's not an easy play for anybody to make, but if you can make that play, you will shut this play down.' For me, that helps in a lot of ways. I've gone through life with a lot of coaches who say, 'Just do it this way because I told you to do it.' Everybody kind of felt the same way about him."

The feelings are mutual. And this game is more than just another game.

Personally, it means a lot, because its Chicago, Rivera said. Its a great city and the citys been very good to me. The organizations been outstanding. Its kind of a homecoming. I was there for 17 years and its been outstanding.

And Ive told the players, Hey, Chicagos a great city and its been good to me. Im looking forward to coming back and being at Soldier Field.

Run-checking

The Panthers are with the Bears among the bottom-feeders at rushing the football, averaging just 3.3 yards per rush vs. the Bears 3.2.

Ironically, teams can win without being a dominant rushing team. The Detroit Lions average 2.8 yards per carry and are 3-0. San Francisco has gotten to 2-1 despite stumbling along at 2.5 yards per rush. And the Tennessee Titans, with franchise back Chris Johnson, also is at 2-1 despite a 2.4-yard average.

One big difference, however: The Lions have averaged 28 rushes per game, the 49ers 28 and the Titans 22. The Bears average 17.

We have to run and we will, offensive coordinator Mike Martz said. Thats one thing we can do: we can run the football. Well get that right. I have confidence in our ability to run the ball.

The big fella(s)

One of Urlachers assignments often was to spy a mobile quarterback, which he did with a Michael Vick and others. Those also included Minnesota Viking Daunte Culpepper, who was a size-match for Urlacher and then some.

Cam Newton is perhaps a better all-around athlete than Culpepper but he doesn't engender the kind of impact, literally, that Culpepper did.

Hes not like Daunte Culpepper, Urlacher said. Hes not that big. Daunte was big, thick. I dont see Cam as being thick. But theyre all big. Peyton Manning is 6-6, theyre all tall. Its not a big deal.

Were pretty tall, too.

Walter-watching

The firestorm has not abated around Jeff Pearlmans new biography of Walter Payton, Sweetness: The Enigmatic Life of Walter Payton, as chronicled by ProFootballTalk.com (http:tinyurl.com4yadbww).

Former Payton agent and attorney Bud Holmes declared via TMZ that Payton was not hooked on drugs, did not abuse drugs or use illegal drugs. Holmes is quoted in the book as saying Payton was pounding his body with medication.

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.

Good or better? Why offseason moves are making 2017 Bears better

Good or better? Why offseason moves are making 2017 Bears better

Improvement typically comes in incremental steps, not leaps. And the Bears of 2017, based on what they have done at a handful of positions, the latest being Thursday’s signing of wide receiver Victor Cruz, fit that template.

The clear organizational commitment is to build through the draft, even if injuries have undermined some otherwise apparent upgrades to starting lineups on both sides of the football. But if there is a “theme” to what GM Ryan Pace is doing to muscle up a sluggish roster, it is that the Bears are willing to take flyers on veteran players – with additions like four veteran wide receivers with injury and issue histories – that arguably point to a win-now mindset while draft picks develop and contribute.

Jaye Howard and John Jenkins. Make the defensive line “better?” Than Jonathan Bullard and Will Sutton, probably. But “good?” Mmmmm…..

The game-one tight ends last year were Zach Miller-Logan Paulsen-Gregg Scruggs. Now they’re Miller-Dion Sims-Adam Shaheen (based on a second-round draft choice). “Good?” Maybe, maybe not. “Better?” Obviously, based on Sims alone.

Mike Glennon-Mark Sanchez-Mitch Trubisky. Bears “better” at quarterback? Than Jay Cutler-Brian Hoyer-Matt Barkley, probably. “Good?” Mmmmmm…..

The decisions to sign Glennon and Sanchez to the quarterback depth chart have sparked their shares of understandable cynical skepticism. But Kirk Cousins and Jimmy Garoppolo were not available in trade, so the Pace decision was to gamble on upside with Glennon over the known quantity of Brian Hoyer (the preference of some coaches) and certainly Jay Cutler, for whom “potential” and “upside” no longer applied.

Add in the aggressive draft of Trubisky and the result was three possibilities of hits on a quarterback (Sanchez and Connor Shaw being combined here as a pair entry in the hit-possibility scenarios). All three were deemed an improvement over Cutler and/or Barkley.

The results may not vault the Bears all the way up to “good” at the pivotal position for any franchise. But “better” is sometimes all you can realistically manage.

Taking a wider-screen look at wide receiver in this context… .

Coach John Fox has cited the need for the Bears to establish the ability to get yardage in bigger chunks. Accordingly, all four of the veteran wideout signings this offseason – Cruz, Rueben Randle, Markus Wheaton, Kendall Wright –  have posted yards-per-catch seasons of 14 or longer.

All four won’t be on the opening-day roster, but all four offer the promise of major impact. Cruz, Randle and Wright have had seasons of 70 or more receptions, and Wheaton topped out at 53 in 2015 with the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Randy Moss, Terrell Owens and Jerry Rice weren’t available, so “good” was hard to achieve in an offseason in which Alshon Jeffery and Eddie Royal were expected departures long before their exits. But are Cruz, Randle, Wheaton and Wright, with Kevin White and Cameron Meredith, a “better” starting point than Jeffery, Royal, White, Bellamy, etc. of a year ago?

Obviously. But players with even moderately established NFL “names” (like Cruz, Randle, etal.) are typically available for a reason; teams do not routinely give up on talent. And none of the four come without significant shadows on their NFL resumes, whether for injury or other questions.

Cruz missed most of 2014 and all of the 2015 season, and hasn’t played a full season since his Pro Bowl year of 2012.

Randle was described as a head case by scouts and was so bad that he was let go in the Eagles’ cutdown to 75 last year, followed by disparaging comments from those in and around the organization.

Wheaton flashed promise in his 2014-15 opportunities as a part-time starter but played just three games before a shoulder injury landed him on IR last season.

The Tennessee Titans thought enough of Wright, their 2012 first-round draft choice, to pick up his fifth-year option going into las season. But by week 14 he was benched for tardiness and was a healthy DNP in game 16, announcing after the game that he already knew he was not in the Titans’ plans for 2017.

The prospect of the Bears going from 3-13 to “good” borders on fantasy. But if being among the NFL’s busiest this offseason hasn’t propelled the Bears to that level, the results point to “better.” At this point, that’s something,.

How big of an impact will Victor Cruz have on the Bears?

How big of an impact will Victor Cruz have on the Bears?

The Bears inked Victor Cruz to a one-year deal on Thursday, adding another receiver to an already crowded corps.

But it never hurts to add a veteran one to a young group, especially with a new starting quarterback.

Cruz is 30 years old and isn't the same Pro Bowl-caliber player he was before missing the entire 2015 season with a calf injury, but he surely has a lot left in the tank and can serve as a great mentor for the Bears receivers.

Just how big of an impact will he have on his new team? See what the SportsTalk Live panel had to say in the video above.