Moon: It's more than just beating the Packers

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Moon: It's more than just beating the Packers

Saturday, Jan. 1, 2011
1:19 p.m.
By John Mullin
CSNChicago.com
There is only one real objective when the Bears face their most storied rival Sunday in Green Bay. Lovie Smith set forth that target way back in 2004 when he succeeded Dick Jauron as Bears coach.

It is not to defeat the Packers. The Bears have done that more often than not under Lovie Smith, including in a nationally televised Monday night game in week three of this season.

It is not to win the NFC North. The Bears have done that already. It would be an accomplishment for the Bears to go 6-0 in the division, something they have never done under Smith. They were 5-0 twice before, in 2005 and 2006, but basically chose to rest starters and lost last games to the Minnesota Vikings and the Packers in successive years.

No, the only meaningful target now is the Super Bowl, Smiths third stated goal from 2004 and one which can only be accomplished by advancing in the playoffs. And that now is the only objective that matters when the Bears visit Lambeau Field.

The debate has been whether or not to rest key players ranging from Jay Cutler to Brian Urlacher. Actually, rest is not the mission statement so much as play it safe so the Bears stay as healthy as they have been.

But more important is to lay in a course based on playoff preparation, whatever that is determined to be. Nothing else matters.

Beating the Packers does carry some significance. The Bears are all too familiar with what Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay defense are capable of, and they would not like the prospect of the Packers showing up in front of them again in something like the NFC Championship game, which could happen if Green Bay wins, qualifies for the playoffs as the No. 6 seed and wins two games.

The Packers are a great team, and I dont want to keep facing the Packers, said receiver Devin Hester. So Im hoping we can go out and eliminate another great team, because I do give them credit. They are a great team, and Id hate to see them three times in one year.

Limited exposure

The Bears are expected to pull selected starters as Sunday plays out. One scenario is to look at the Green Bay game as a form of third preseason game that counts: a game in which the No. 1 units overall need to play for purposes of continuing development but not at the expense of health or getting in-game experience for reserves who may be called upon due to injuries in the playoff run.

Hester does not need extra punt returns for developmental purposes. Nor does Matt Forte need work on his receiving or cuts. They and others will be among No. 1s who will see some cutbacks in playing time Sunday.

Receiver Earl Bennett (ankle) and linebacker Pisa Tinoisamoa (knee) are expected to be on the inactive list in order to give them two full weeks of rehab and recovery.

Weve asked our players to get better each week, said offensive coordinator Mike Martz. Thats how we coach; thats how we play. Thats what were going to try to do this week. This is a very important game for us, pure and simple.
Take it away

The primary interest and concern for the Bears is turnovers. It was their undoing last season when Jay Cutler couldnt stop committing the. It is the key to their 2010 postseason if the defense cannot resume creating them at a level that had the Bears among the league leaders in turnover ratio.

Now they are a pedestrian 10th with a plus-4 largely because the defense has forced zero or one takeaway in five of the last six games. By comparison, only once in the first nine games did they have fewer than 2 takeaways.

As far as getting it back, one of the things that we havent been pleased with is just the amount of takeaways, Smith said. This time of the year, that turnover ratio is big. We havent taken the ball away enough. Hopefully we can get back to that this week.

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.

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.

Bears numbers don't indicate 3-13, yet still lie

Bears numbers don't indicate 3-13, yet still lie

In doing some post-season wrapping up of my Nerdy NFL Notebook as we begin turning the page to the 2017 season, part of it involves compiling where each team finished in big-picture team offensive and defensive categories: overall ranking (total yards), as well as team rushing and passing ranks on both sides of the ball.

So if the Bears wound up ranked 15th overall in total yards gained and allowed, they should've finished…oh, 8-8, right? It adds to the deception of some of the deeper issues that focus on a lack of playmakers, which tied into their inability to make plays when it matters most. In John Fox's 9-23 start, 18 of those games have been decided by six points or less. They've won just six of those games. 

Offensively, the Bears ranked higher in total offense than five playoff teams: Kansas City (20), Detroit (21), Miami (24), New York Giants (25) and Houston (29). They wound up 17th in rushing offense, better than four teams who advanced: Seattle (25), Green Bay (26), New York Giants (29) and Detroit (30). And their 14th-ranked passing offense ranked better than the Giants (17), Kansas City (19), Dallas (23), Miami (26), Houston (29).

On the other side of the ball, they'd be even better off before allowing 109 points over the final three losses. Their total defense ranked better than Detroit (18), Green Bay (22), Kansas City (24), Atlanta (25), Oakland (26) and Miami (29). After being gashed for 558 rushing yards the last three games, they fell to 27th in the NFL against the run (better than only 30th-ranked Miami). But the seventh-ranked pass defense, despite collecting a measly eight interceptions (among only 11 turnovers), was better than nine playoff teams: Miami (15), Pittsburgh (16), Kansas City (18), Detroit (19), the Giants (23), Oakland (24), Dallas (26), Atlanta (28) and Green Bay (31).

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What do all the hollow numbers indicate? A lack of complementary, opportunistic football, playmakers on both sides of the ball, a minus-20 turnover ratio, and a lack of quality and continuity at the quarterback position — to name a few. All of those playoff teams have more impact players (or kept more of their impact players healthy) than the Bears in 2016.

While some of the numbers aren't that bad to look at, and some even raise an eyebrow, there's still a deep climb from the most significant numbers: 3-13.