Moon: How much has changed, really?

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Moon: How much has changed, really?

Wednesday, March 23, 2011
Posted: 11:50 p.m.
By John Mullin
CSNChicago.com

The kickoff rules changes will have implications beyond just the kickers and returners. Matt Bowen gives some interesting perspectives on how these will affect coverage units and players like Brendan Ayanbadejo or Corey Graham or Tim Shaw, all Bears coverage standouts and all who consistently delivered high-impact plays on Bears special teams.

But a veteran special teamer I chatted with Wednesday isnt so sure that anything really has been altered.

The biggest reason for his thinking is that the touchbacks still will be brought out only to the 20 rather than the proposed 25. So unless kickers are unequivocally able to pound kickoffs beyond the end line, the reality is that Josh Cribbs, Devin Hester, Danieal Manning, Leon Washington and others among the returner elite will be bringing balls out of end zones.

Why? Because it will be worth the gamble. If the ball were coming out automatically to the 25, thats a better return than most in the NFL average. But to the 20? Might as well take a chance, and Hester, Manning and others will.

And because coverage units are being restricted to a five-yard running start to getting downfield; they may be five yards closer when the ball is kicked but they will not have control over whether someone is bringing it out.

But watch where balls are being kicked by the better marksmen. With good conditions, a kicker will be operating five yards closer to the opposing end zone, and a special-teams expert said that will make it easier to target balls that force a HesterManning to go 10 yards laterally before they make a catch and can start upfield.

All of which points to the rules changes result in something far less than an elimination of the return.

Caming

Interesting observation from NFL Network draft guru Mike Mayock regarding Cam Newton. Mayock guestd with Mike Florio on Pro Football Talk Live and said he expects the Auburn quarterback to go to a team picking in the top 10.

Meanwhile, Todd McShay with ESPN Scouts Inc. envisioned a scenario where the Bears wind up with a very, very good defensive lineman at a position they regard as a need area.

With Tommie Harris gone after several seasons of diminishing returns anyway, the answer may well lie in the person of an upsized Henry Melton, as noted here previously. That would be a good thing for the Bears, because the three-technique, the defensive tackle the Bears depend on for pass-rush pressure out of the middle, is not easy to find in the draft, and certainly not at No. 29 where the Bears are drafting.

Theres not many perfect fits for that three-technique for Chicago, McShay said, but you could see maybe a Corey Liuget out of Illinois. Ive got him going 14th to the Rams but after the Rams, theres not many teams looking for a true defensive tackle. I personally think hed be a better fit as a nose tackle in a 4-3but if hes there at 29 youd have to think long and hard about passing on a guy like Liuget.

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 guard Josh Sitton named as injury replacement in Pro Bowl

Bears guard Josh Sitton named as injury replacement in Pro Bowl

The Bears have another Pro Bowler.

After initially getting shut out on the Pro Bowl roster, the Bears have since had two players named as injury replacements with guard Josh Sitton now joining running back Jordan Howard.

Sitton was named as an injury replacement Monday afternoon for Packers guard T.J. Lang, who left Sunday's NFC Championship game early.

This will be Sitton's third straight Pro Bowl and fourth career honor.

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The 30-year-old offensive lineman signed with the Bears before 2016 after the Packers released him.

Sitton played in 13 of the Bears' 16 games including 12 starts, helping to anchor the Bears' line when healthy.

Howard replaced Cardinals running back David Johnson on the NFC Pro Bowl roster earlier this month.

Bad blood fueled Bears-Vikings playoff bout profiled in 'Bears Classics: Eclipsing Moon'

Bad blood fueled Bears-Vikings playoff bout profiled in 'Bears Classics: Eclipsing Moon'

From the high ground of hindsight, what unfolded in the Metrodome that day in 1995 was actually quite a big deal. But not for reasons that you could have really understood at the time watching the Bears stun the Minnesota Vikings 35-18 in the wild card round of the 1994 playoffs.

It was not so much the game alone. It was the overall context of the time for the Bears, before and after.

Though the 1995 season would get off to a 6-2 start for the Bears before their near-historic collapse, the Minnesota game would prove to be the high-water mark for the coaching tenure of Dave Wannstedt. This was the postseason, and the Bears looked to be going where then-president Mike McCaskey envisioned when he made the play to beat the New York Giants in securing Wannstedt, who was unquestionably the hot coaching prospect coming out of the Dallas Super Bowl pantheon after the 1992 season.

To fully grasp the situation, you need to understand the undercurrent of venom that had developed between the Bears and Vikings. Bears-Packers might have been the glitzy rivalry, but what had grown between the Bears and Vikings was true hostility, with little of the respect that the Bears and Packers had managed. The Vikings carried grudges for Pro Bowl slights going back almost to the Bears' Super Bowl win. One Bears defensive lineman remarked that his most hated opponent was Minnesota right tackle Tim Irwin, adding, "He's a guy that, if I ran over him with a car, I'd back up over him to make sure I got him." Dwayne Rudd's backpedaling taunt after an interception came a couple years later, but you get the idea.

What's easily forgotten looking back through the mists of time was the epic decision made by Wannstedt to make a quarterback change, from a quarterback he wanted in free agency to one he knew well from their time together at the University of Miami. That was every bit the turning point of the season and the real reason the playoff trip and win ever happened.

The Bears had been annihilated in their first game against the Vikings in the 1994 season — 42-14 — and something was really, really wrong, which become glaringly more evident just a few weeks later, even though the Bears were reaching a 4-2 mark under quarterback Erik Kramer, the centerpiece of an aggressive offseason foray into free agency. But the Bears then lost — badly — to the Lions and Packers, with Kramer throwing three interceptions against Detroit and two against Green Bay, the latter in only 10 pass attempts.

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I talked privately to Kramer after the Green Bay game, specifically about why it was that he was playing his absolute worst against Detroit, Green Bay and Minnesota, all teams with which he was intimately familiar. My thought: You know those defenses and where their people are going to be.

Kramer shook his head: "The 'other guys' I know. It's my own guys. I don't know where they're supposed to be."

It wasn't a comment on his receivers whatsoever. It was Kramer admitting bluntly that he was not getting the West Coast scheme of coordinator Ron Turner and its timing element.

Wannstedt knew it wasn't working and made the change to Steve Walsh, who'd been the Hurricanes' quarterback under Jimmy Johnson when Wannstedt was the defensive coordinator.

That was the tipping point, and Walsh and Wannstedt are among the principals of "Bears Classics: Eclipsing Moon," airing on Monday at 8 p.m. on CSN.

Anyone with any time spent in or around the NFL knows that beating a team three times in a season is incredibly difficult. The Bears had been blown out in the first Minnesota game but had pushed the Vikings to overtime in the second and would have won had Kevin Butler not missed a 40-yard field goal try.

The playoff meeting was No. 3, and after the Vikings put up a field goal in the first quarter, the Bears scored with a Lewis Tillman touchdown in the second and just pulled steadily away from the winner of the only NFL division that produced four teams with winning records.

From there it would be another decade-plus — 2006 season — before the Bears would win a playoff game.